I know. It shouldn’t be a big deal. They go off to school every effing year around this time…
But things change, you know?
Two years ago, we sent Turbo off to third grade at a new school… and we watched him struggle. The funny thing was, he didn’t know he was struggling–or he did, but he pretended not to care, acted like he didn’t notice. His teacher figured out fairly fast that he was ‘active’–that he would be a distraction to other kids. She learned that he wanted to be funny, that he had a hard time controlling his impulses and that he often spoke when he shouldn’t. She found out fast that he liked to get up and move when he was supposed to sit still. She found out he didn’t really sit still. Ever. That wasn’t in his repertoire.
Turbo is social. And energetic. And funny.
But to her, Turbo was noisy. And distracting. And inappropriate.
And you know what? I get her point. He wasn’t the kid that teachers are relieved to see walk through their door. Instead, I know my kiddo was one of the ones the teachers warned each other about. From kindergarten through that hard third-grade year, I was on a first-name basis with the administration. I took a board-level position on the PTA at his first school to try to buy him a second chance in Kindergarten, for crap’s sake…he was going to be suspended. For teachers, and for me…he was a challenge.
He was a bright, shiny, energetic, little boy-shaped challenge. And some teachers don’t want a challenge. Every time I came to his third-grade classroom, Turbo was sitting alone. His desk was against a wall, or next to the teacher’s, even though I’d told her a few times I thought that exclusion was detrimental to his self-esteem. From grades K through 3, I had to listen to Turbo tell me he wasn’t smart, that he was a bad kid, that he couldn’t listen like the other kids did. He knew he was different…and so did we. But we didn’t know what to do.
For Turbo, being different like that made him mad. He spooled up quick if someone challenged him at school, and he always felt on the outside, so he was defensive. He was explosive at home, too. So we took him to a counselor to talk about anger.
And that led to a recommendation to have him “worked up.” I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew something was, and that was why I took that recommendation. It wasn’t easy. It took six months to work through insurance and talk to lots of centers and doctors that didn’t do neuropsychological workups. I was told no such thing existed. I was told I’d been mis-referred. And then we found the right place. We drove two hours to get there, and Turbo spent a day playing games and taking little tests…
And after another three or four months, we’d gotten the results and gotten placed with a center locally that treated ADHD with behavioral therapy and medication. And that was at the beginning of fourth grade. And that year? It was a whole different experience. Maybe it was the diagnosis. Maybe it was the 504 plan. Maybe it was the medication… but Turbo did well. His teachers worked FOR him instead of ignoring him or trying to work around him. And he excelled. We ended last year with good grades and a kid who didn’t call himself bad anymore. We ended last year with a kid who understood that he has unique challenges, but that he also has a family and a support system willing to help him navigate those challenges.
We go into fifth grade prepared. And for the first time since beginning elementary school, Turbo told me that he’s excited to go back to school.
We spent some time with friends tonight–an end-of-summer BBQ. It was nice, and a great end to summer. And I watched my two little boys jumping with their friends on a trampoline, watched them being little and relatively innocent–watched them on the eve of their fifth and second-grade years… and I was profoundly grateful.
We have challenges. I know we’ll have more. But for now, I was grateful that we’d stood behind our little guy, we’d given him tools and help when he needed it. And that made him confident enough to look forward at the new year with hope instead of dread.
I hope that you’re able to sort through the challenges your small people bring home to you. We’ve got other challenges, too… Lunchbox is a whole other can of worms, I assure you. Parenting is hard. We haven’t figured it all out, and I don’t think we ever will. But I’m going to appreciate this small win. Today I have two kids eager to enter a new school year.
Sleep tight, kiddos… who knows what the year will hold?