My hands don’t do what I want them to…

It had been a tough night. If you have a preemie, you know.

Oliver the imp

It started simply enough – a card received in the mail from a classmate, written in the large and apprehensive style of a kindergartner. My boys wanted to write a card back. Great idea.

I am always game for handwriting practice

The problem? Oliver’s wrists are weak and so he continues, despite much effort on everyone’s part, to hold the pen in a claw-like grasp, wrist flexed, with fingers clumsily folded over top. This is difficult to control. In addition, he can’t/won’t start the letters from top down.

When I try and correct him he yells, “I know.”

There are words between the two of us and a lot of tears.

At school he uses a little rubber guide to hold his fingers in the right spot. We have them at home. “Let’s get it out,” I suggest?

He doesn’t like it he tells me, and then the crying really starts. Huge tears, more precious than diamonds, well up and drip down his tiny cheeks. He doesn’t like the guide, he says, “It makes me scared.” After much discussion, and many “look at me, Sweethearts” on my part the truth is uncovered.

He knows he is different. He knows he uses the writing tool because his hands do not work the same way as other kids.

Many kindergartners have trouble with penmanship, that is not out of the ordinary, except this is Oliver’s second go round at kindergarten and he sees that the other kids are making progress and quite simply he is not.

My heart is breaking for him.

Physically Victor is more impaired. No one is quite sure how he manages to work those tight muscles, wracked with dystonia, but he does and how. What Victor lacks in physical ability he makes up for in tenacity. He has forced himself, practicing hours and hours until quite literally we have to drag him to bed. When I told Victor that writing at an easel would strengthen his wrist, every free minute he had was spent at that easel. Between bites of food he would run to the easel, work for a minute, and then run back to the table. Victor is a study in mind over matter, that inner strength is the trump card.

So after a long cuddle in which Oliver spoke the heart-breaking truth aloud was for the first time, “My hands don’t do what I want them to,” and both of our tears subsided, I told Oliver that I had terrible handwriting in school. Yes, the joke about doctors and handwriting can be inserted here. How I wasn’t allowed to have a big kid pencil, instead relegated to a horrible over-sized lead monstrosity that screamed poor penmanship until I was in grade 2. So I stole some pencils and lined paper from school and practiced every night. Oliver was equally entranced at the thought of his mom as a little girl and as a thief. Yes, I remind him, mommy was young once.

I told Oliver I had a plan. We would get out the easel. We would practice for 10 minutes every night. We would do legos because that also makes hands stronger.  We would write letters. We would do it together.

Oliver also takes a sewing class and due to what must be the patience of Job on his instructors part he has turned out beautiful little felt objects d’art and Christmas ornaments. “Maybe,” he said cautiously, “I could do sewing twice a week.”

“Of course,” I replied, although inside I was screaming YES, I’ll pay for you to do to sewing 7 days a week if you want!

Pushing your child is hard. There is no way around it. Sometimes I am riddled with doubt. Should I have backed off? Am I pushing too hard?

I don’t know. But I guess what I am really trying to impart is that the success is not in the end product, the success is in the doing and the trying. That when we fall we just have to pick ourselves up.

It just sucks that some of us fall more than others.

Oliver 9 20

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2 Responses to My hands don’t do what I want them to…

  1. Patty says:

    Jennifer: Thank you for this beautiful story about your tenacious and brave boys. Just think how much the rest of us could accomplish if we tried as hard as Victor and Oliver do.

  2. Kate Gladstone says:

    Victor, Oliver, and you may enjoy knowing about the handwriting resource devised by a handwriting specialist who didn’t write legibly until age 24. (My hands, too, wouldn’t do what I wanted them to. I like to say that I became a handwriting specialist because I needed one.)
    Visit the Better Letters informational page at and/or enjoy the brief informational video (<50 seconds) at .

    Kate Gladstone —
    Founder and CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    Director, the World Handwriting Contest
    Co-Designer and Content Provider, Better Letters personal handwriting trainer for the iPhone and iPodTouch

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