I’ve blacked a lot of it out. But I do remember that recess was a nightmare for me. My mom told me later that she would sometimes hide in the bushes, and when she saw me sitting by myself, she’d start crying.
The diagnosis was ‘selective mutism.’ I’d get so anxious around people that I physically couldn’t speak. I’d get a rock in my throat, and it would feel like that moment right before you faint—when everything sounds so far away.
It could be lonely at school. I was the only student with a full-time aide. I was the only one who held up a sign when the teacher called attendance. It doesn’t feel good to be different. But my parents did everything they could to minimize that feeling.
Every night before I went to sleep, my mother would say: ‘You’re a terrific kid, and I love being your Mommy.’ When my school had a Halloween parade, she knew I’d be too anxious to do it alone. So she dressed up as Minnie Mouse and marched right alongside me.
She was always very attentive to my emotions. But she was also a lawyer so she made sure that my rights were being respected. She knew that the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act promised a ‘free appropriate public education.’ And that’s exactly what she wanted for me.
She once shut down my entire elementary school for an in-service day, and the entire faculty was taught to ask me ‘yes or no’ questions so that I could nod in reply. She wanted me in a mainstream classroom, having mainstream experiences. So that I would never be left behind.
And by the time I hit 5th grade, I was able to speak. It didn’t happen all at once. But I grew more and more confident. I got better at making friends.
I joined the debate team in high school. Recently I graduated from Cornell and completed my senior thesis on disability rights—which I defended verbally. All of this was possible because of my mother. She was beside me the entire time.
I took the LSAT in January, and even though the test was five hours long, my mom waited in the lobby. She gave me the biggest hug when I walked out. When I asked her why she didn’t leave, she said: “I don’t know. I just wanted to be here. In case you needed anything at all.”
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