Have you ever had an experience that caused you to see your child in a new, significantly altered light? Sometimes this is triggered by something unique he has done, or maybe a surprising comment from someone else?
I know parents of children diagnosed with special needs talk about this sensation, and I often work with them to remember that the child sitting in front of them is the same child they had before the diagnosis – that the diagnosis hasn’t actually changed their child, even though it feels that way for a while.
I had one of those experiences last Thursday and I’ve been too confused and upset to know how to write about it, but I’m going to try. I apologize in advance for the length.
When I picked Baxter up from school, he came running to me and said, “Mommy, Ms. C– wants to talk to you,” and promptly buried his head in my hip and began to cry. (“Oh crap!” I thought, “has he broken classroom crayons again?!”) I walked around the fence with both Baxter and his carpool buddy in tow, and approached his new teacher, who declared in a very loud voice (she’s known for this) and in front of a large group of parents waiting for their kids, “Baxter is having a very, very, very, very, very, very [she really did say it at least this many times] hard time paying attention at school.” Oh. Gulp.
I got through the remainder of this conversation somehow, and later in the afternoon had collected myself enough to call the teacher to talk further about it and try to understand better what she meant exactly. And I don’t know how I feel about it.
A big part of me is irritated with my son. He’s so busy talking to his friends and watching what they’re doing that quite often he’s not even turned towards the teacher when she’s teaching – and this is after she’s seated him at the very front of the group. [Ouch.]
I suddenly have flashes: Baxter at home, blowing us off when we ask him to do something – Baxter at soccer sitting in the grass looking into the distance while the coach is teaching them something – and so on. I never thought it was particularly noticeable in a group of kids; I mean, it always seemed like they all did this stuff sometimes. But now I am told that he’s having a far harder time with it all of a sudden. This makes me furious at him for not being respectful and for not understanding the importance of listening to adults. Which only leads to anger at myself for perhaps not instilling these values in him strongly enough yet.
A heartbeat later I’m worried instead – does he actually have an attention problem? Or a problem processing language that I never saw before (which would be incredibly ironic, given my work)? Is there fluid in his ears again? What’s wrong?
It also, frankly, leaves me feeling irritated with the teacher for expecting so much of my 6-year old on day 8 of school, and at our nation’s public schools for increasing the expectations so greatly that second graders are now expected to do the work that was previously expected of third graders.
I mean, come on – second graders are still really young!! [Or, asks that taunting inner voice, is it just your second grader who is really young?] Baxter started school in California, where the kindergarten cut-off date is in December, and so he is quite a bit younger than his classmates here and would have been in first grade this year by Illinois standards. Since he’s tall, social, articulate and bright, his teachers have never known this until we’ve shocked them with it, or his birthday rolled around, whichever came first. But this begs the question: is it becoming a problem now?
On Saturday I pulled from his folder a math test that had one problem out of three completed. At the top it read “30 minutes. 1 problem. 2/6=33% Please sign here x_____.” and I was so incredibly frustrated with my child. When I sat down with him to complete it together, it turns out that he didn’t understand a critical line in the directions – which I’m sure his teacher explained and he…wasn’t listening.
And suddenly, in my mind, Baxter was having all sorts of problems at school, and I didn’t know how to solve them because I didn’t understand why. There were just so many possibilities.
Yesterday was a very difficult day around here.
However, Matt had all sorts of useful insight into the potential root of this problem, which really helped me to understand it better. And Baxter focused all weekend at home, at soccer, at church, and on a big project for school that we spent 5-6 hours on this weekend. This morning I opened up his homework folder again and discovered – as if they’d suddenly been placed there by divine intervention – three other math sheets he’d done in class last week that had 100% and smiley faces scrawled at the top! Wait a minute here! Do you mean he’s perfectly capable of completing his work – and correctly, to boot?
And not only that, but my son demonstrated in so many different ways this weekend what an exceptional child he is: loving, compassionate, funny, smart, and athletic. I started to be able to see the Baxter I know and love again.
It troubles me that I could only see that Other Baxter for a few days – the new one I met on Thursday who doesn’t (can’t?) pay attention, who’s being disrespectful, who is unable to complete class work, who will perhaps really struggle through this school year.
A good friend said this morning that these situations are like “being given a new pair of glasses” with which to see your child, and that’s exactly it. I saw him through those new glasses, borrowed from the teacher, and was extremely unhappy with the view; when I took them off, there was my child again, the fabulous kid he’d always been.
I told my friend that I’d like to break those glasses and throw them away. I do know, however, that this would be unwise. There is undoubtedly reality worth seeing in both views of my child, and it is important for me to see him clearly in order to help him be his best self.
I just need to remember not to leave the glasses on too long, because we would both become vastly unhappy very quickly and, really, there is no need for that.