… on her pies and a golden tassel


Her pies.

This conversation started out Friday night with Number One Son, Sam calling from New Orleans to let me know that he was feeling as if he was getting sick.  I asked for symptoms and he said he had a tingling in the back of his throat and maybe a stuffy nose.

The next morning, he texted that his throat was starting to hurt more so I suggested he call Phenom of a Nurse Practitioner Niece Meighan to discuss symptoms and see if she thought he should head to the health center for a strep test.

Here is what I got in return:


Not only did I find his response super funny (he has, once again, been banned from WebMD), but the fact that he spelled ‘herpes’ incorrectly and the alternate form he chose was herPIES had me dying.

Oh sure, you are probably thinking that I am a horrible mother and human for poking fun of my darling son’s spelling, but I can promise you – if you got all serious about reading and spelling education and the lack of support I am offering Sam in his time of need – that we would laugh and reassure you that we are both fine.

Well, he is fine.

I am mostly fine, and still getting over his childhood.

Case in point: Fifth grade.

Sam is finally diagnosed as being severely dyslexic, which leads to me yanking him out of the public school in a fit of dumbstrukedness (and actually joy).  Not normally this knee-jerky, you must understand that the first questions about the discrepancy between Sam’s intelligence and his ability to succeed in the classroom happened in the first grade, where he could tell a joke, or appropriately and humorously invoke a line from a movie or book, so nuanced in the first grade that the teacher (or me or John or any adult) would double over with laughter while the class looked completely mystified).  His narrative memory – the ability to remember what was told to him – was also amazing. But ask him to read something, or write or draw something? Not great. Math? Awesome. Being able to show his work for how he got to the answer – the correct answer – not. even. decipherable.

So anyway, after years of me (along with Sam’s teachers) saying that something is amiss – that we have a very smart kid who is failing at school – we paid to have him tested by a psychologist in a private practice. At that point, homework that took his classmates 30 minutes to complete, took Sam two to four hours every night. His grades were terrible, and not at all reflective of the work he was putting into homework and studying. And we were still being told that the school’s testing showed he was in the average range in all categories and he didn’t qualify for any additional support. Which was frustrating, and involved a lot of meetings.

Now, not all of my meetings were unfun. Seriously. Life tosses you some pretty crappy situations sometimes – and for a mama bear, anything threatening her cubs would qualify. And the school system itself had become threatening to Sam’s education (and Sam was a particularly hard-won cub). Mama Bear was bristly, but hadn’t lost her humor.

And many friends and family members would adopt an, ‘Oh I’m so sorry, this must be awful’ stance on Sam’s learning and physical well-being (he is profoundly deaf in his right ear, and has had other medical fiascos – little ones involving small things, like his brain, along the way).  And, you know, sometimes it was awful in the moment. But we – Sam and I and my nearly perfect husband, along with Mac (and now Jack) and Gabe tend toward adopting an “okay, here comes the pitch and striking out isn’t an option” stance.  Also, we laugh.

A lot.

And it’s not in denial.

It’s in acceptance.

This is life, people. Now what are we going to do with it?

I say all of that, of course, with the absolute understanding that Sam was indeed put on this planet to drive me insane.

We’ve both accepted that.

As proof that even a frustrating ‘Academia meets the Department of Education’ meeting can end in a fun, family (and I’ll bet beyond our family) story, I offer the last meeting I ever had, with the public schools, about Sam:

I’m sitting in a conference with our school’s experts. I have spent a ton of money and lots of my time preparing for this meeting, which is the first since we had Sam tested outside the school. The head of Special Needs is late. She comes into this big conference room, with about ten experts around the table including Sam’s teachers, school speech therapists, occupational therapists, the guidance councillor, principal, etc. and does not introduce herself. She does not apologize for being fifteen minutes late to a 30 minute meeting that we have all spent weeks preparing for.

She starts out by calling Sam ‘Robert’ – as in,

“We are here to talk about Robert Dingle…” (Sam’s name is Robert Samuel Dingle, but he goes by ‘Sam’).

She opens her binder on Sam and it is very clear she has never looked at it before.  She says she is looking at the IQ type test.

“This Dr. Connolly,” she emphasized his last name as if he were an annoying gnat, “who performed the test. Huh. He notes that Sam scored in the high average range but that he suspects Sam’s IQ to actually be higher.”

She pauses and looks up at the group and says,

“I don’t see how he could reach that conclusion.” and looks down again.

I lose it internally.

I take a deep breath and say,

“Excuse me, Anne?” (this is because I know her name is, well, ‘Anne’).

The woman looks up at me as if she is only just then aware of anyone else being in the room. She says, coldly,

Doctor Stickupmybutt” (I changed the name).

I was so appalled that she was more concerned with being called doctor than talking about my kid or being, you know, human, that I lost all decorum and leaned forward.

“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry, Doctor Stickupmybutt!”

And then I dramatically pointed at myself, using both of my hands and index fingers, and said,

Master Dingle.” (because I went to cawledge too (and as if it was clear she just wanted to pause so we could introduce ourselves)).

And then I proceeded to say,

“Now that we have introductions out of the way, I can answer your question. Dr. Connolly feels that Sam may have a higher IQ than the tests recorded, because he’s actually met him.” And then Sam’s teacher kicked me under the table (and later e-mailed me that it was the best meeting she had ever been in with Dr. Stickupmybutt).

I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew Sam wasn’t staying where he was. There is a school – The Carroll School – about an hour away from our house. And John and I toured it, and it is an incredible school for smart, dyslexic kids (which is usually the case with dyslexia, by the way).  Our view was that, if he were accepted there, we would figure out how to find the 20 hours a week to drive him (more if he forgot a project or his gym clothes at home, which he did. Often.) and use what we had saved for his college to pay for the tuition (he wasn’t going to get through middle school if we didn’t make a change, so that part was ‘gulp-y’ but easy).

So here’s the thing.

If it wasn’t for Dr. Stickupmybutt and every other unbelievably frustrating meeting or person along the way, if it had been any easier, the scary decision to pull Sam out of the main stream schools would have never happened.

And after another medical ‘incident’ in middle school – and after we were told we might have to live with the fact that he may never graduate high school, let alone college – we had to make more decisions (not always the right ones, either, but we all lived and learned and laughed a little (sometimes a lot) along the way).

In our town, along with the tassel that goes with their cap and gown, high school students are given an extra tassel. The Golden Tassel.

The Golden Tassel is to be given to the person who has had the greatest impact on a student’s high school success.

You can imagine how hard I cried when Sam handed his to me, and leaned down to wrap me up in his arms.

So, you see, I can make fun of his spelling. He does too. We can all laugh at how funny it was to play ‘hangman’ with him growing up – heck, it still is. And by the way, he laughs and defends himself very well:

Mac: “Sam! You spelled XYZ wrong!”

Sam: “Leave me alone, I’m half deaf!”

So, to come full circle, if Robert Samuel Dingle wants to declare – from his college dorm room – that he might have ‘herpies’, that’s fine with me.

But he should probably call his cousin, Phenom-NursePractitioner-Meighan, just to make sure.

Thanks for readin’ – Lisa

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