This is a continuation to The Way I Was, where I wrote about being diagnosed as dyslexic and hyperactive in 1968.
I give my parents credit. As cultural Jews born in the early 1930’s, my parents grew up witnessing the dangers of not questioning authorities, across the sea in the ’40s, and Wisconsin in the ’50s. So when my second grade teacher diagnosed my penchant to write 24 out of 26 letters backwards as a “stage,” my parents sought second and third opinions.
Over Christmas 1968, my mother took my sister and me to Florida. Her parents went every winter. Dad was bogged down at work so the three of us flew south and took up a two-week residence at the grand Colonial Inn on Collins Avenue.
During the holiday my grandmother told mom something was wrong. Dyslexia aside, with nothing for comparison, my mother believed I was just being a boy. My grandmother disagreed vehemently, beseeching mom to get me tested.
I was prescribed Ritalin. The drug’s usage for children was approved in 1962. My parents, ignoring the school that wrote me off as another disruptive young boy, ignoring my pediatrician unfamiliar with the term “hyperactive,” took it upon themselves to better understand what was going on and what to do.
I can still recall the first time I took Ritalin. I was eight. My parents surprised me with a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, a reward slash incentive to give the psychostimulant the old elementary school try. By 1AM, the next morning, I completed the puzzle, having barely moved from the beige, rickety bridge table where I worked until the final piece was in place.
It is difficult to convey the dramatic impact the drug made. At first it seemed like a miracle drug. Over time, I decided, without parental objections, the psychic cost of the drug was too high. Ritalin numbed me. I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t eat much. Eventually I decided to stop taking it and live with both the benefits and challenges of being chemically-unbalanced. The mere acknowledgement I wasn’t willfully a fuck-up was especially validating. My parents were right, the authorities wrong.
In the previous post, I talked about going to a special school to better manage my dyslexia. One technique to address mirror-writing was teaching me to write cursive. Considering you can’t really reverse cursive letters, it makes sense. Near the end of second grade, spring semester, I was writing cursive well enough that my mother went to my elementary school principal. My mother asked permission for me use cursive in “regular” school. The principal agreed without hesitation.
When I turned in my first homework assignment, written in cursive, near the end of the school year, my teacher gave me an “F” and wrote, “cursive isn’t allowed until it’s taught in third grade.”
My mother recently told me that when I showed her the paper, she looked at me and said, “What a bitch.” I’m not sure I can explain how reassuring it has been knowing my mother has always been on my side.
Thanks for listening. Stay in touch. Connect.
P.S. I hope I didn’t break any copyright laws. If you get a chance, check out my Gene Wilder appreciation, Gene Wilder