In September of this year, child 1’s teacher took me aside at a general meet the teacher evening and said, ‘We need to do something about his fine motor control.’
Pretty innocuous words. She could have meant anything. It could have been anything from ‘take him home and play with a bit more play dough’to ‘he’ll never manage to write properly so get him a laptop now.’ But in those words, I saw a nightmare. I saw him for ever afterwards clutching a pencil that he wasn’t able to properly control, scratching random shapes on his paper, and staring in despair as his classmates moved their pens fluidly, perfectly across the page while his remained stationary. I saw him forever at the lowest literacy table, having to work so hard to form his letters that his myriad and perfectly formed thoughts could never be allowed expression. And I saw him in every disaffected boy that ever walked into my classroom, head full of insightful thoughts that they have long ago given up trying to express.
Every mother nurses a secret fear about their child. From the moment they were born, shiningly brand new and perfect, I searched their faces for a clue, a hint, an idea, of what they would one day become. And, shamefully, I also searched for reassurance – that they were indeed perfect, that there was nothing wrong, that no one would take me aside one day and say, ‘we need to talk about your child.’
Because the thing is that no matter how much we might deny it, to ourselves and to others, we all want out children to be perfect. I don’t mean perfect physically – how could you tell if they were or not? My children are obviously the most beautiful children in the world, as yours are, and yours, and yours. No, not that kind of perfect. Perfect as in healthy, and, more shamefully, clever, popular, good at school. We want to go to the school and for the teachers to tell us that our children are geniuses, that they’re reading way ahead of their age, and that they’re the most amazing child they ever had the good fortune to teach.
So when they say ‘we need to so something about his fine motor control’ (you know, that essential ability to control a pen so that he can write – pretty much the cornerstone of his entire school existence) it’s not just those words. It’s a bucket of cold water over every dream you’ve had and nurtured about his superior intelligence and how he’ll be a neurosurgeon or a rocket scientist, or, more prosaically, the prizes he’ll win at school and how he’ll be just like you were, or wanted to be. It’s a slap in the face when you think of all those other mothers who will secretly comfort themselves with the thought that at least their child’s handwriting isn’t as bad as your child’s. And it’s a realisation that even though you’ve done everything in the world to make your child’s life easier since the day he was born, here is something you can’t make easy for him, no matter how hard you try.
In the end, of course, it was neither just take him home to do a bit more cutting and sticking, nor he’ll never manage to write, but somewhere in the middle. After six weeks of a programme of exercises designed by the amazing Hemispheres Clinic, his progress in writing has been remarkable. Watching him write now, although he won’t catch up with most of his peers for a year or so, is a pleasure that eight weeks ago I didn’t think I’d ever have. And the progress in me has been profound. I never think any more of what other children can do, because they are not my child, and they are all different. I don’t worry about his future at school, (or whether he’ll be a neurosurgeon or rocket scientist) because he has all the help he needs to resolve the problem. I am instead immensely proud of my beautiful child and his little focused face as he writes his first sentences, freeing the articulate and bright thoughts that his teacher and the clinic have talked of so often. The first of many.