| I of the Storm |

I of the Storm: Chapter 5

I wasn’t going to shout incompetence or unfairness; I wasn’t going to put up a fight


I patted my wig for the 16th time. Stop being so intimidated! my voice of reason chided. She’s a regular wife and mother, not some demigod!

So why did it feel like I was about to walk the gauntlet?

“Mrs. Shafer?” a high-pitched voice had said over the phone last week. “Our principal would like to meet with you, along with our educational team. Shira’s morah has, um, expressed, um, concerns about her ability to focus.”

It’s okay, I wanted to reassure the quaking 19-year-old, a secretary in charcoal tights who smiled so much you wondered if her buccinators got charley horse. You aren’t breaking an earth-shattering story.

I’d been open with Shira’s teacher from the start, and had expected a call like this at some point. But what I hated about these meetings was the unspoken amateur psychological assessments. It was Judgment Day: scrutinize Mom from flats to earrings; watch for chinks in her armor; figure out the real reason her kid was such a piece of work (not enough attention, helicopter parenting, neglect in infanthood — the possibilities were endless).

I walked into the office, willing myself to look cucumber-cool before the panel of staring women. Principal Mrs. Rayman, sharply attired in a layered brown wig, burnt orange sweater, and matching chunky necklace, broke the silence.

“Thanks for coming,” she said briskly, tapping a ballpoint pen. “Shira is bright, a ray of sunshine, really. But we’re concerned she’s not following in class.”

I nodded. “We’ve already made an appointment for a neurological evaluation.” The tension in the room seemed to dissipate. I wasn’t going to shout incompetence or unfairness; I wasn’t going to put up a fight.

The resource room coordinator — a loquacious woman with a heavy Brooklyn accent who I suspected landed her job via nepotism — pursed her lips dramatically.

“Mrs. Shafer, I’ve worked in this school 12 years.” She closed her eyes for effect. “Your daughter is a classic profile. You’ll give her the meds, and if my experience means anything,”—she thrust her hand into the air—“you’ll have a different kid.”

Great! Can you just sign on the dotted line now?

Did this woman honest-to-goodness think that a drug would solve all of Shira’s problems? I hadn’t done enough research yet (still waiting for the ordered books to come), but every website I’d seen told me that Ritalin would simply help even the playing field — so the real work could begin.

Mrs. Rayman coughed uneasily. “Well, only the neurologist can determine that, of course.” She looked pointedly at Mrs. Resource Room.

My mother-in-law’s voice rang, uninvited, in my head. She’d phoned me while tending to her organic herbal garden. Daniel told me that you’re going to the neurologist? Yes. What for? We want to evaluate suitability of medication, because Shira’s current cocktail of therapies doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

Aha. A long, painful silence.

I would never meddle, of course, she’d declared, but I do hope you’re going into this with an understanding of the effects.

Seriously? You mean methylphenidate is not just candy? You mean it can cause anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, and possibly psychosis? Plus long-term neuronal changes, years down the line, mimicking the effects of cocaine? I’ve read more about this than you ever want to know, I’d seethed, finishing the conversation as fast as I possibly could.

The rest of the school conversation blurred; I have no memory of what was said. I ached for privacy to process my thoughts, and was heading to the door, when the school psychologist cornered me.

“I wanted to add something — between me and you.” She glanced around furtively. “My gut feeling is that Shira needs an executive function computer-based program. If you don’t get to the core skills, Ritalin is just a Band-Aid.”

I mumbled thanks and sped to the exit. On the stairs, I bumped into a woman enveloped in a cloud of Issey Miyake. “Ilana! Et tu, Brute?” It was Shany, my vivacious sheitelmacher and confidante. She dropped her voice, rolled her eyes. “I was also called in.” She rummaged through her overflowing Kate Spade bag. “I saved you this article, it has your name on it. Metal magnetic testing for hyperactive kids — ama-aaazing, incredible stuff. My sister-in-law swears by it.”

Eureka! We’d found the foolproof formula! I stifled a snort.

Should I laugh or cry?


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 471)

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