Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sitting on my Hands

I spent my entire first grade year plopped on top of my hands.

I'm not sure if that's because the teacher wanted to halt my clear propensity for excessive gesticulation, or if she believed squashing my fingers might get me to stop talking.

Either way, I suppose it worked.

"Please stop talking, Laura," she always said with a stern nod.  Then she'd look me square in the eyes and point to the plastic seat that cradled my bottom.  "Now, on your hands."

I complied.  Not because I wanted to, of course.  I complied because she scared me.

And all I remember learning in first grade is that sitting on your hands for long periods of time is pretty uncomfortable.  But I suppose I also learned that you can get used to anything.

As miserable as it was, it stopped my talking.

It also muffled my voice.

And since I no longer possessed the grand ticket to send my hands and my voice traveling across thousands of stale air particles hovering in my first grade classroom, my mind had to invent some place for my over-active self to go.

While I appeared to be following directions, sitting quietly in my seat, I'd often disappear--out the window, through the chalkboard, down the trap door I knew had to exist somewhere on the floor beneath me.  I donned all sorts of costumes and possessed all sorts of powers, and I'm entirely convinced that those imaginative journeys--commencing with my hands pressed beneath my legs--saved me from getting kicked out of my Catholic grade school.

They also saved the voice my first grade teacher was trying desperately to silence.

The following school year, against that teacher's wishes, my parents enrolled me in Mrs. Adams's second grade class.  Her environment instantly changed me.  We sat in desks facing each other; I no longer had to stare at Elizabeth or Andrew's head.

And during silent time--when I finished all of my tasks--instead of telling me to stop talking, stare forward and sit still, Mrs. Adams rested a sheet of paper in front of me.

"Laura, why don't you write me a story?"
"Laura, why don't you make me a poem?"
"Laura, can I share this with my boys as their bed time story?"

She gave me purpose.  She gave me a challenge.  She gave me freedom.

I spilled everything I had onto that cheap, shiny sliver of white paper.  I flipped it, colored it, and surrendered my imagination on it.  With her consistent, reliable words, Mrs. Adams filled my days with joy and my fingers with colorful words.

Sure, I still squirmed--but it was a focused squirm.  I still rocked my foot, bit my lip, and twisted in my seat--but I didn't stop working.  I still chewed my pencil, picked at my fingernails, and bounced my leg--but I heard every word she said and I voiced every important thing I wondered.

And so today, when Betty, Mike and I talked about ADHD accommodations, and Betty and I laughed about my ADHD moments while teaching, I fondly remembered back to first and second grade--why I lost focus to begin with, and how a little bit of challenge and a whole lot of belief helped me to get it back.

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