Learning Through Hardship

cs lewis

My father likes to say that he wouldn’t be a teenager again for a million bucks. That makes two of us. Sharing my home with a sixteen year old kid, I am reminded daily what an exacting toll the modern world has on the teen heart.

My kid is an artist and a loving auntie to our three-year old granddaughter. When my teenager is with that little ball of energy and joy, the laughter rings through our house. My kid lives heart first, and she also experiences stress-induced seizures at school that are making it hard for her to complete a full day of classes.

Drawing, creating, conjuring characters out of the depths of her imagination and committing them to paper is my kid’s passion; the floor of her bedroom is littered with discarded sketchbooks with every single page filled to the brim. The images pour from her miraculous mind onto the page, and her hands cramp from practicing her art work. Yet during the quiet of the testing room as she sat to take her PSAT this fall, that same amazing brain sent surging chemicals that culminated in a seizure so severe it resulted in an ambulance trip to Children’s Hospital.

After a lot of tests and brain imaging, the doctors from the Minnesota Epilepsy Center diagnosed her with NEEs.  My teen daughter is under so much stress that her brain is undergoing what medical professionals call conversion. Her doctor explained it like this, “You know when you have to give a presentation at work, and you wake up with a sour feeling in your stomach? You have the presentation in an hour, and your belly doesn’t feel so good, and you may even feel like throwing up. As adults, we tend to convert stress to nausea, and performers can experience vomiting and diarrhea in advance of a stressful concert. Your daughter is converting her stress into a seizure.”

Three times this week, each time in a quiet room group testing environment, my daughter has had a seizure, one caused her to fall to the ground and hurt her neck. As a parent, all I know is this has got to stop. Last week, we consulted with her physician, and next week, we will sit down with the school guidance counselor, the school nurse, and her homeroom teacher and discuss potential avenues forward that will allow my daughter to continue to learn and grow intellectually. Throughout all of her health issues during Junior year, she has managed to maintain a B average.

Life folds in upon itself sometimes. So, here I am, an online educator with over a decade of experience, and I find my work informing my personal life. One of the suggestions that the school team will be discussing next week will be the potential for my daughter to complete some of her academic coursework online. We want to find a way that the high stakes exams necessary to graduate could be delivered in a modality that isn’t a trigger. Ultimately, having my daughter be able to resume all her normal activities is the goals. Triggers such as quiet room group exams are part of living a full life, and college is around the corner. Right now, we are looking at how to give her options for completing high school, and online classes are a perfect fit for that.

Like Daddy, I would not go back to being a teenager for a million dollars. As an online writing instructor, I recognize the authenticity of teaching at a distance, and I feel extraordinarily blessed that my vocation might also provide part of the solution for my artistic child to be her full self, finish high school, and enter the world of work. Online classes are not merely an excellent answer for access, equity, and global educational expansion, they might allow my daughter the breathing room to heal.

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