Tag Archives: believing

The Assumptions We Make

When I first heard the words “presume competence” I had no idea what that meant.  I cobbled together some ideas of what I’d read and thought it meant and did my best to put them into action.  I did a great deal of “acting as if” and reminded myself, when my daughter wandered off in the middle of my explaining something to her, to keep talking anyway.  When she didn’t seem to look at whatever it was I was showing her I pretended that I knew she was taking it all in.  I pretended I believed, even when I didn’t.  And when my energy was depleted I would not place demands on either of us.  If I wasn’t able to take actions that were centered in presuming competence then I tried not to take any actions at all.

In the beginning the best I could do to show a presumption of competence was to read age appropriate books to her.  This was when Emma was eight years old.  I still remember the first book I read that wasn’t considered “young” for her age.  It was a biography of Balto, the Siberian Husky who raced through a blizzard in whiteout conditions delivering a much needed serum saving countless people sick with diphtheria in Alaska.  After Balto, I read a biography of Helen Keller specifically for children and then, because Emma seemed to enjoy it so much, we read the autobiography of Helen Keller, all the Mary Poppins books, followed by The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Tale of Despereaux, Winn Dixie, Bridge to Terabithia,  Little Women and on and on we went.

At first I was unsure whether she was even listening, let alone enjoying any of these books.  But one night as she settled into bed, and when I didn’t pull out a book, Emma sat up and said very clearly and distinctly, “Helen Keller.”  Emma was not typing yet, so I wasn’t completely sure she really wanted me to read Helen Keller or if she was just saying the name because it was what I’d been reading.  I distinctly remember questioning whether she really wanted me to read the book because it interested her or because this was just part of an established routine and then I had a moment of guilt for doubting her.

As I said, Emma wasn’t typing yet, so there was little we could point to that backed up our decision to presume competence.  There was no “evidence” to suggest what we were doing had anything to do with anything other than a hope and a wish.  As presuming competence is not typically done in the general population or at any of the schools she went to, we were definitely doing things differently.  There were times when I doubted what we were doing. There were times I didn’t believe.  There were times I wondered – what if we’re wrong about all of this.  What if what everyone says is true, really is?  What if?  What if?

In the end I just kept coming back to the thought that presuming competence harmed no one, but to not presume competence and to be wrong would do tremendous damage.   As time went on and it became clear just how many mistakes we had made, I became more determined than ever to err on the side of support, encouragement and believing in her rather than the other way around.  It is strange that the focus is so often on all that is challenging, rather than encouraging all that is not.  Often that thought was the only thought that kept me moving forward.  Sometimes one idea, just a single idea is all it takes.

To presume competence became a living amends and a way of life.  At the very least it is something I can do that is not going to add another item to that lengthy list of mistakes made.

Emma and Balto ~ 2010

Emma and Balto ~ 2010

The Joy of Being Wrong

When my daughter was eight I was so envious of my friends who had daughters the same age, because they were going out together, having mother/daughter outings, getting pedicures, doing girlie things and I despaired that I would never have these kinds of outings with my child.  I know how selfish this sounds.  I know this statement is all about me and has nothing to do with my child or her interests or her feelings.  I always dislike hearing parents talk about their children as though they were some sort of glorified extension of themselves, like a conduit for all the parent’s failings, as though this child was a metaphoric phoenix rising from the parent’s DNA, destined to be all that the parent hopes for, but has failed to do and be themselves.  But at the time I did feel envy and also, was aware enough to also feel badly for having those feelings.

Flash forward to this summer.

A friend of ours returned home one Saturday afternoon with Emma, who ecstatically showed off her newly painted RED toenails.  I was astonished. “You guys went and had a pedicure?” I asked.  “Red toenails!” Emma exclaimed with glee, while positioning her foot next to our friend’s, who had the same color red on her toenails.  “They match!”  Since then Emma and I have gone every other weekend for our “pedicure spa” where we sit side by side and have our toenails painted.  Emma picks out the color, which she insists we both have so that we “match.”  Both of us look forward to these outings.

There are other examples of times I’ve despaired, thinking that whatever our current situation is, it will remain so forever.  This is not specific to my daughter, but is something I am aware that I have a tendency to do in life and always have.  The idea that things are fluid and constantly change, is a tough concept for me.  I tend towards extreme thinking.  When things seem bleak, I am convinced they will always be.  When things are good I am suspicious and await the inevitable.

It is as though I believe I will have to pay for those good times, like an invisible law that shows no mercy.  The good times are tempered with the “knowing” that they will be fleeting and won’t last.  Over the decades I’ve gotten better at this, I am aware this is my tendency.  I catch my thoughts quicker and am able to remind myself that I do not know what will happen next.  But still I find myself easily sliding back into that old way of thinking.  It’s not the reality of someone else’s life, it is the idea of someone else’s life that I compare myself to and that idea is never true.

These days I try to head off comparing the minute I become aware of it.  It does not serve me.  It does nothing to help me.  I am not a better person because of it.  It makes me sad and miserable and has nothing to do with either of my children or my life.  In fact that thinking hurts my children.  Both are highly sensitive to other people’s moods, they easily pick up on emotions and take them on.

At the moment, Emma and I are sporting pink toenails and every time I see our toes, I smile. They remind me of all those years when everything seemed grim and hopeless.  When despair surrounded my every breath, when desperation hung in the air I breathed, when I believed I knew what we were up against, when I believed this was going to be our life, when I thought I knew and no one could convince me otherwise.  That toenail polish, that gorgeous pink toenail polish that Emma insisted we both wear is proof of just how wrong I was.  About everything.  About everything.