Sunday, 7 October 2012

What's a mama to do?

Drop toddler boy off in the morning at Parent's Day Out. Stand outside door listening to boy sob and sob. Hear from teacher at end of the day that he "only cried until lunch time." Continue to take him.

Try out two days a week the next year. Watch him hold his ears along the sides of the room rocking back and forth because the other children are too loud or too naughty. Worry. Learn he needs to eat gluten-free and dairy-free. Notice the difficulty this makes with school snacks, playdates, etc., but also notice how much calmer he becomes over time. How much easier it is for him to embrace the activities and relationships with the teacher and other kiddos.

Third year. Two days a week again. More "school-like" situation. He loves his teacher and she loves him. They both eat gluten-free and sometimes she brings him special snacks. He flourishes.

Fourth year. Move to England. Enroll him in local school. He skips kindergarten and its "learn to do school and play a lot" mentality and moves right into full-day, full-on school because of his age and the way they do school there. Boy cries again every day when I drop him off. Boy cries so hard his teachers send him home with his brother at lunchtime because otherwise he cries all afternoon long. Everyone is patient, but this doesn't get much better. Even after a few months. The afternoon teacher yells at the kids a lot. Never at him directly--he is the epitome of the 'good kid,' but it doesn't matter. The yelling sends him to tears even after he learns to be away from home all day. He loves to learn, makes friends, and enjoys his morning teacher. Mostly though he's miserable. So we take him out at Christmas.

We teach he and his brother at home for a year and a half. This is a delightful time of exploring things he's really interested in. Teaching him to read. Loving our math curriculum. We go to lots of castles. Visit tons of museums. Have a wonderful time. But...boy is lonely. We welcome another baby into the family so mama is busy. Boy asks to please try school again. We acquiesce.

Boy begins school at tiny local village school. He struggles a bit, but his main teacher is lovely and he soon makes lots of friends. The Wednesday teacher upsets him so much we go to talk to the principle about it. Later finding out we are one of the first parents to report her bullying, name-calling, and belittling behavior even though it has happened before. We are shocked by this. I want to call it quits. We hang in though. The principle confirms the teacher's behavior with other students, the teacher is suspended, and the boy learns that standing up for the underdog (he wasn't the one being bullied by said teacher) is important and can bring about change.

We move after his first year at this school. Boy is utterly heartbroken. He pines for his friends, his teacher, and his school and never quite recovers for over a year.

We enroll him in the local neighborhood school in our new town. It's bigger, but has an art, science, music, P.E., and computer specialist. I am stoked about these things. Surely they make for the best sort of education. Boy is less than thrilled. He struggles to make friends. A group of girls totally stress him out with their chasing, song-singing style of crushing on him. He doesn't bond with his teacher. He has hours worth of homework. It gets so bad that he cries every morning and holds onto my clothes begging and pleading not to have to go to school.

I sit down with the teacher and the principle. Asking how we can help him solve his predicament. He meets with the girls--it goes really well. He meets with his teachers--gains a better understanding of the homework and relaxes into the school year. This takes almost until Christmas. I look at other schools. Should we change? What is the solution?

We leave him at the school. He flourishes academically. They enroll him in the gifted and talented program and test scores show what we often suspected--he is beyond his years in reading and math abilities. He does make friends, but never good friends. His main friend treats him poorly and his brother worse which upsets boy. I don't know how to help with this. It's very difficult to watch.

We make him do swim team at the local pool and finally he is making neighborhood friends. He seems really happy. Then we move. Again.

This time he heads to an even larger school. In yet another country. Boy makes friends right away. Even going on a playdate within the first three weeks. He loves the kids. He's stoked about his friends. Relief. But...the reports of the teaching style worries his dad and I. Calling children "babies" when they misbehave. Principles belittling from the front. Constantly communicating their disappointment and what an "embarrassment" the kids are. We worry about the academics as well. Granted, it's the last three weeks of term, but there is no homework at all, they watch a few movies, and the lessons are deemed boring and "really, really easy."

Mama worries. She worries about his future. Welcoming the sage advice from her mother that she too worried about each school change, move, teacher and friend situation. Worrying at each turn that my future hung in the balance. Yet I turned out okay.

Mama still worries though. About the teaching. About her smart boy not being challenged enough. About what it communicates to a child when adults speak that way to them or to those around them. About what it communicates to them when their parent knows it is happening and doesn't stand up for them. About what in the heck one does instead? Is this the real world full of mean people and he needs my love and support as he learns to navigate it now? Or does he need to be protected from it. Is my role to stand in the gap and say, "no way!"

Academically what do we do? How do you find an education that meets the individual academic needs of such a child? One who just sits in a different place learning-wise than his peers?

Mama struggles. That's what she does. She worries and fidgets and talks it through with his daddy and prays and tries to listen to deep Answers. She tries to see the pattern. Of struggle and triumph. Of his resistance to change and of his ultimate resilience as he muscles through. She tries to remember the remarkable experiences of education outside of any classroom. The global citizen she is raising. The boy whose love of culture and adventure flourishes through his expatriate experiences.

Mama practices the excruciating process of letting go. Knowing ultimately that the boy does not belong to her. That she was chosen as his mother and his guide for a short time. That she can only offer her journey, her heart, and her own story. Doing the very best she can. Trying to take a long view. Trying to be as courageous as she urges him to be.

She listens to his tears as Spring Break ends and he begs not to have to go back to school. "I love the kids, Mom. The teachers though. They're so mean! They never have anything encouraging to say! They've never been mean to me, but they are to the other kids and I HATE that! I can't stand it!" She assures him she's listening. That he can tell her everything. That she's open to thinking through some solutions of how to solve this big problem. She says how sorry she is that it's hard.

Mama drops him off at school on the first day of Term 4. Then she cries.

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