Although she wasn’t following a typical eleventh grade curriculum, Samantha managed to make Dean’s List. She also won awards for math and community service for singing Christmas carols at a nursing home. Perhaps more important were the successes in areas most parents would never measure, let alone think about. Persuading Samantha to watch TV—so she would have more in common with her peers and converse with them more easily— had been an uphill battle for a year, until her focus teacher, Beth, assigned American Idol as homework.
“Why do I HAVE to watch?” she argued. “I still have to read my history, practice my singing and get to bed at 10:30.”
“Because it actually IS part of your homework and it’s only 7:00,” I replied, trying not to match Samantha’s rising decibel level. “Don’t you want to join conversations with Andrea and your friends about which singer they want to win, or whether they agree with who gets kicked off? You need to express your opinion and not just sit there with nothing to say.”
“But WHY?” she repeated, entering what Beth called her “washing machine” phase.
Beth Fried, a, pretty woman around 40 with enormous brown eyes, a speech pathologist who’d been at Winston for ten years, had a playful but no-nonsense approach to Samantha’s rigid and repetitive behavior. She taught Samantha—who always wanted her hair loose—to put it back in a ponytail when the temperature was over 85 degrees or for special occasions. When Samantha objected or “got stuck,” Beth told her she was “in the washing machine.” Samantha found this analogy amusing and even adopted the term to help herself break free.
Trying to read my daughter’s thoughts, I suggested, “Maybe you don’t want to watch because you’re afraid you won’t understand what’s going on, and then you’ll feel stupid. American Idol will be a lot easier than Hannah Montana because you have a perfect ear for music, and you know how to sing. So come on out of the washing machine.”
by Marguerite Elisofon