Sunday, May 8, 2016

What's in a Name?

I work in a pretty progressive school. While we have an eye out for learning differences, and we certainly have students tested often and frequently, we tend to not officially "label" children in first grade. But sometimes we do, and recently we worked with some parents around their daughter's classroom abilities. We founds some stuff, to say the least. Stuff that was getting in the way of her learning, stuff that was frustrating her, leaving her feeling overwhelmed and doubting herself. Stuff that leaves her needing (at least for the foreseeable future) devices to help her focus and work in a typical classroom. Her parents are, understandably, nervous, and worried about giving her a name, a disease even, and making her self-conscious. They don't want her to notice anything different.

But here's the thing, at least as I see it. She already notices. She already knows. A name is so powerful. A name gives you an entity separate from yourself to grapple with, to blame, to accommodate. A name is a powerful tool when you are coming to terms with your own abilities.

When the nurse said to me, diabetes, I laughed for several reasons, but mainly relief. A name! A problem! Synthetic insulin--a possible relief! It's so much more than that, of course, but for months my narrative running through my head was "I'm sad. I'm tired. I don't like my life. I'm lazy. I don't want to do anything. I'll never feel good again. I'm trapped. I'm not trying hard enough." I'm, I'm, I'm. Me, me, me. I'm the problem.

But guess what? It's not me. Try as hard as I might, I'll never, never, never be good enough to function without a working pancreas. There's me, and there's diabetes, and they are two things. I'm in charge of both, but they are two things. Sometimes I want a break. Sometimes my diabetes demands one. I have to honor both but I can't blame myself for diabetes' neediness.

Having a name, something to describe, something to know is there along with you, along with your own natural abilities and challenges. That made a world of difference. Sure a label can be challenging. It can shine a spotlight. It can invite comment or misconceptions. It can be a lightning rod. It can be a source of community. It can be an I.D. badge. It can cost a crap ton of money. It can be combative.

But it's not really the name's fault. Whatever was there, needing that name, has always been there. There's always been a there there. What the name does is it takes something that was festering inside of you and it lets you take it out of your heart and sure, maybe you put it into a backpack and carry it as a weight forever and it's heavy but at least it can't hurt you in the same way anymore.

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