You Deserve a Peacock Feather

21 04 2010

Sunday, I was “spring cleaning” some computer files and I rediscovered this little essay written by my niece a few years ago.  Her message is so hopeful, I wanted to share it with you.  Katy immediately gave me permission and says she hopes it helps other children who don’t seem to fit in the traditional classroom – and the parents of those children – to find their own way and to never give up on themselves. I hope you let Katy’s view of her “disability” make you take a more positive look at your own struggles.  It certainly helped me.

It was Friday afternoon, five minutes until three o’clock, and the air in the third grade classroom was thick with anticipation. Somewhere near the middle of the leftmost row of desks sat a round-faced kid, 8 years old, with short, brown hair. She was sitting on the edge of her seat with excitement, holding her breath as the teacher carefully took a vase of beautiful peacock feathers down from the top of a high cabinet. After setting it on her desk, the teacher smiled at the class, looking around at each of them. The moment seemed to last forever. Finally the teacher took a breath, and opened her mouth. The little girl in the left row was hoping, maybe this time… but it wasn’t to be. The teacher gave a peacock feather to the best student in the class each week, and every Friday the same scene ensued.

I watched my best friend walk up to get the feather and sank back into my seat; all the excitement now replaced with misery. Close to tears, I tried to figure out what I had done wrong when I had tried so hard. Maybe it was that worksheet she’d assigned us for homework on Wednesday. I’d done it — I’d worked on it for an hour and a half — but somehow it hadn’t made its way back into my backpack.

This anxious, insecure third-grade Katy would not have been recognizable to someone who had known me in my pre-school years. As a young child, I was always fascinated with everything and wanted to know more. When my parents took me to a museum or a guided tour, I was always asking questions. It seemed there was no quenching my thirst for knowledge.

Yet for four years, I struggled to deal with the public school system, trying my best to please my teachers, to do good work, and to make friends. It was a new and terrible feeling, the feeling of failure. In my heart I knew I was smart enough to do the work, but it would never show on paper. School was torture. I couldn’t sit still for more then a few seconds. I would think of something and say it, only to realize it was not time to talk and my thought had nothing to do with the lesson. Then I’d be scolded. I hated getting yelled at; that was the worst of all. As my grades dropped I began to wonder if maybe I just wasn’t smart. I found myself skipping class for imaginary headaches and spending all afternoon in the nurse’s office.  I got to know her so well that she bought me a Christmas present.

When my teachers told my parents that I was shy and lacked motivation, they thought the teacher was talking about the wrong child. How could their enthusiastic, outgoing, little girl be described with words like “withdrawn?”

By the middle of third grade the grown-ups finally figured out that something must be wrong. I met with some child psychologists to see if they could find what it was that held the true me locked up inside. They diagnosed me with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. When we got the results my parents were upset, but to me the findings were a relief. I wasn’t stupid.

As soon as my teachers got this news, things started changing. I was moved to the front of the room, given more time on assignments, and shown more consideration. The doctor put me on medication. I hated the way it made me feel, but it helped me concentrate in school. By the end of that year, I had won three peacock feathers.

With that diagnosis I realized that though I might have a hard time doing some things, I was still capable of anything. I was able to pull my grades up and start succeeding in school for the first time. This college-bound Katy, applying to the honors program, would not be recognizable to my third grade teacher.

 Katy Little




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