Artwork by Daniel Kabakoff
By Yocheved Rosengarten
Three dreaded letters. P.T.A. It wasn’t always this way. I sit outside the painted classroom door. I hug my arms tight to my chest and remember. The smiles, the laughter, the compliments.
“Dassi is such a joy,” her nursery teacher had said.
“She’s unique and creative,” said the Pre-1-A Morah. “One day she’ll be head counselor in camp!”
“Dassi is brilliant,” the first grade teacher confided last year.
But this year, it’s different. “Dassi is a genius,” the second grade Morah had said at the first PTA earlier in the year, her smile wavering.
How I’d basked in the sunshine of her words, oblivious to the rain cloud gathering overhead.
“But… she is, um, well, let me see, how should I put this? She’s such a genius that she’s…”
What? I wonder. Too advanced? Maybe she needs to skip a grade?
“She is an absent-minded professor.”
I laugh. “Yes, at home she can be forgetful too,” I say, brushing off the teacher’s worries. “I’ve just had a baby and things at home are quite chaotic, but she’s doing well in school, so obviously it’s not impeding her.”
“Mrs. Rosengarten, this is no laughing matter. Dassi sits in class in her own little bubble. She doesn’t hear me when I talk, she doodles without copying down her schoolwork from the board. The only reason she is doing well in school is because she is so bright, ken ayin hara. But take a look at her notebooks and you’ll see what I mean.”
“See for yourself that the pages are all scribbled on and ripped out and that she’s missing three quarters of her schoolwork since the beginning of the year. See for yourself that she hasn’t done any homework in months, yet she scored 103% on the last chumash test.”
So I went home. Opened Dassi’s backpack. Rifled through her notebooks and cried.
Earlier that week there’d been the phone call from yeshiva ketana. Rabbi Deutsch was worried about Sender. The rebbi said our little boy is a daydreamer. He spaces out and can’t rein himself in. That he has a great memory but can’t seem to follow instructions. That he touches everything and is too impulsive. And I’d laughed.
“Isn’t that what all first grade boys are like?” I’d asked. Rabbi Deutsch is older than my parents. Surely he must be living in the past. Today’s generation are born with ants in their pants and patches on their knees.
“No,” the rebbi had answered. “I think you should get him evaluated.”
So I’d gone to the doctor for paperwork and filled it out and sent it in, thinking all the while that the rebbi was overreacting. Sender was a boy, a little boy. With a very active imagination. Nothing more. But it didn’t hurt to humor the rebbi.
But now it’s my turn to speak to Dassi’s Morah. I unclench my arms and heave open the heavy creaking door. I walk into the classroom in a trance. The Morah smiles at me.
“Dassi is a wonderful little girl,” she tells me, and this time I can feel the ‘but’ coming before she says it.
“I’ve been sitting with Dassi every night,” I tell her, eager to delay, as if I can make her change her mind. “She’s recopied all her notebooks, and every weekend we borrow from a friend to make sure she’s keeping up.”
The Morah waves away all my hard work with a gentle but firm shake of her head. “But she’s not managing to keep up with her peers. Her grades are slipping. She’s daydreaming more and more, and I think it’s time we talked about the next step.
“And what is that?” I ask, though I know the answer.
“I spoke to the resource room teacher the other day,” the Morah says. “We were standing in the corner of the schoolyard, discussing a different student when Dassi approached me. She stood and waited very respectfully, not wanting to interrupt, when the resource teacher asked me, ‘Who is this girl and what is wrong with her?’
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Why is she jumping from one foot to another? Why can’t she stand still? Does she need to go to the bathroom?”
We asked Dassi and she said no, she didn’t. That she wanted to ask permission to take out a jump rope from the supply closet.
After Dassi left, the resource room teacher said, “That girl should get physical therapy. She obviously has a problem with her physical stability. Either that, or it’s ADHD.”
The Morah finishes her story and looks up at me expectantly.
I clear my throat. This year, the rainbows and sunshine have all but disappeared behind a dark rain cloud. This year is the year of four dreaded letters: ADHD.
Ribbono shel Olam, help me.