The Wonder Year
Some people, when faced with a major life change, make a conscious effort to
slow everything else down. A woman whos having a child for the first time might
decide to lighten her load at work. Someone who is taking on new
responsibilities in her job might hold off on starting a family that year.
I have never been one of those people.
For most of my life, I have been a serious doer, undaunted by the notion of having too much on my plate. If anything, I would jump at the chance to juggle more for all the world to see. I had been encouraged early on by my mother and my grandmother to be a high achiever, and I got hooked on the accolades they showered on me. I wanted to be a superwoman, the embodiment of the having-it-all feminist ideal that became so popular when I was in college in the 1970s.
A Special Education
If there was ever a year when I got to shine, it was 1986, probably the most action-packed and thrilling year of my life. I did it all then: I was newly married to my husband, Tom; we had our first daughter, Charlotte; and the Dana Buchman designer label was born. I had everything I had ever wanted. It was a series of dreams come true. I had this amazing husband -- not only handsome but brilliant, loving, and supportive of my career! Then, I received the offer of a lifetime for a young designer, the chance to have my own label. It was practically handed to me on a silver platter by my mentor and boss, Liz Claiborne. (The Dana Buchman label is owned by Liz Claiborne, Inc.) To top it all off, I gave birth to this perfect, beautiful little creature whom I just loved instantly.
Could it get any better? My life was picture-perfect -- on the outside, at least. People thought, Look at her, keeping it all together, doing everything at once with so much grace and style. On the inside, though, I was a bit of a mess, and I didnt even know it. I was so out of touch with my emotions, so into living the dream and seeming perfect, that I dont think I even knew how overwhelming it all was. Here I was, under tremendous pressure to prove myself in designing my first collection, and at the same time, I was just learning how to care for a baby. These were two insanely demanding endeavors unto themselves, let alone in combination.
It was in the next year, when Tom and I started to notice that there was something amiss with Charlotte and her development, that it started becoming harder for me to hold it all together. The idyllic picture of my perfect life began to pixelate like a frozen image when the DVD player gets stuck. In the years that followed, that picture would take on a different hue, colored by the experience of having a child with serious learning differences (LD) and motor deficiencies.
That Girl From Memphis
My adult life has been shaped by many things. Being the mother of a child with LD has turned out to be one of the major, defining details. Its been a rigorous education -- nineteen years and counting. And now its hard to recall a time when LD-speak wasnt a part of my vocabulary.
Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1950s and 1960s, I can assure you I never heard the term learning difference, or even the less politically correct learning disability. Back then, unfortunately, the kids who had difficulty reading and spelling and doing math were labeled the dumb kids. Knowing what I do now about LD -- how it is the result of different brain wiring rather than a lack of intelligence -- I tend to think many of those kids were probably pretty bright, and it breaks my heart to think of the kids I and others judged unfairly.
Me, I was always near the top of the class, an A student who loved sitting at the front of the classroom, raising my hand for the teacher to call on me. I was the youngest of three kids in a family that placed a high value on academic achievement.
From A Special Education by Dana Buchman. Copyright Dana Buchman 2006. Reproduced by permission of Da Capo Press.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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