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As Ye Have Done It to the Least of These

Piano_KeyboardThe author of this post lives in the Mormon corridor and owns two pianos. And a keyboard. Because even though her piano skills are Primary-song level, her children must. practice. every. day.

He’s sitting on the piano bench, utterly refusing to play anything. We wait, the piano teacher and I. For twenty minutes, twenty minutes which cost about three dollars a minute, till he decides to play the sightreading. With those tedious practice instructions. And we can finally get to the songs he and I have labored over all week long, hurrying them into our remaining ten minutes of lessons.

At the end of it I feel drained. I wonder if wrestling my ADHD son with piano lessons is worth the power struggles. But he was named after his grandmother, a musician, and when we first started this journey he talked about that. “I’m just like Grandma, and I’m named for her,” he said. “I’m playing the piano and composing music too.”??That was when I knew we had to stick with it, in spite of the practicing battles, in spite of the challenge of helping his ADHD monkey mind to stay focused and still. In spite of twenty long minutes of time without him playing a note. I want him to feel connected to the woman we named him after, my husband’s mother, who he’s never met, and if piano does that, I will keep going.

But I can’t do it alone, helping this wild and brilliant child tame his inner demons long enough to focus on rhythm and notes. The piano teacher who sat patiently beside us, encouraging him, applauding him with sincere joy when he finally complied, she’s a part of this too.

I have an almost worshipful attitude toward every person who is kind and patient with him, and with me as I’m figuring out how to parent him. “How can you be so patient?” I asked her one day.

“Other students don’t really help you grow as a teacher,” she said. “With him, when he gets it, I know I’m growing my own skills too. Plus he’s fun.”

I can’t express how thankful I am for a woman who finds joy in challenging and encouraging him. And amazingly, I have found others who take that same patience and care: a teacher who, in spite of his having a rough year, actually requested that he be put in her class the next year, because she liked him and knew how to handle him. Primary teachers, years in a row, who have continued to encourage him and know that he is loved and cared for by them even after he leaves their class. His current Primary teachers love him and watch out for him. His patient and fun Cub Scout leader.

I think I’m most amazed by this because I have not been so great with other people’s challenging children myself. Years ago, before this boy was born, I taught a Primary class with a child very much like my own son. I remember feeling frustrated with him on Sunday after Sunday as he teased the girls, wandered around the room, disrupted the class. I was young. I had no idea how to handle him. I gingerly suggested to his mother that perhaps a therapist might be useful.

(In my defense, I did try as hard as I knew how to be good to him. I brought him treats, I prayed for him, and I remember an excellent Sunday we had where he knew all the answers and he was proud of himself and I was proud of him. I think about him every so often–he has moved from our ward–and I hope very much that he is well.)

I’m on the other side now, the side that bristles at this kind of not-so-helpful hint, only because I’ve read many books and talked to various professionals and read online. I’m doing everything I know how to do.

Which is why, when I find those merciful people who speak well of my son, who delight in his wry sense of humor, who can administer calm discipline and enthusiastic encouragement, I am so grateful. From piano teachers, to parents of friends, to Primary and Cub Scout teachers, to neighbors who choose to speak kindly of him, I thank God for them all.

The Spirit has reminded me of this, too: that as grateful as I am for those who are kind to my challenging child, even more is God grateful when I am kind to His challenging children. I have felt this deep in my spirit, a sense of divine approval and thanks, when I see past the surface to the soul God loves and channel that love.

3 thoughts on “As Ye Have Done It to the Least of These”

  1. Wow! Thanks for this reminder of 'the other side'. I have certainly breathed a sigh of relief when I've taught Primary in years past and the 'difficult' child didn't come. I teach institute now and there is a very troubled young man in his mid-twenties. He was adopted from Romania as a child and bore all the signs of abuse and neglect from his orphanage years. Then came the day when I glimpsed past the shell to who he really is. He was interrupting the class discussion telling us for the 100th time about his memories of childhood. Suddenly it occurred to me to ask if he would like me to write these memories down for him. He lit up. We have collaborated on his life story and I see for little moments the soul behind the troubled exterior.

    Your insights into the challenges to your mother's heart and your thoughts about those who go out of their way to love God's children make me want to try harder and love more. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

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  2. Thank you! I am a mother to one of these challenging children, and I never knew how much other people's kind, patient, non-judgmental help would mean to me and to my little girl. My daughter has an adhd diagnosis and is preparing for a full neuro-psych eval as we try to sort out what is really going on. I have seen the difference that loving adults can make in her life,and it is profound. She clings to the memories of those warm, wonderful grown-ups who have taught her in Primary, been her hair stylist, her horseback riding instructor, etc. She loves deeply. I have also seen the negative effect that one teacher can have; one impatient or struggling teacher can derail so much with a shaming comment about her behavior. Even though there is much to complain about behavior-wise (and I was recently her Primary teacher, so I really do get how hard it is), she takes such comments of frustration very, very personally. They hurt her to the core; if you tell her she is bad or imply that she is bad, she believes it and will set out to prove that you are right.

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  3. We have an (or two or three) off the wall Cub Scout and every week, I find something to tell him he did great today. Did he sit through the whole lesson without wiggling (too much?) Great job! I like how you sat and waited patiently. Did he raise his hand and not blurt out the answer? Excellent! I'm so proud of how you excited you were to share but let someone else have a turn until I could call on you. Sometimes it takes careful searching on my part, but I want him/ them to remember Cub Scouts as a safe place.

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