The troops have spoken. There is only one question I keep seeing in my inbox, on my text messages, and on Facebook; How’s Kindergarten Going?
As Facebook so lovingly reminded us at the end of August, it was one year ago we had blown up mom groups and chat sites all over the area as we did our desperate last minute search for a temporary aide so that Aleck could start school with his peers. At the breakfast table, Craig shows me his phone with the FB “memories” that I never want to relive. It was a very stressful way to start a new school but it worked, we got to know two incredible women who completely rearranged their lives to get us through Aleck’s first month of school and we will always be grateful for their time.
Well, this year there was no mad dash. There were meetings as soon as the school year ended with his teacher, principal, and counselor so they could put in place the right person to help give Aleck a successful school year. We had three days of orientation where Aleck got to explore the classroom and meet some of the other kids who would be in his class. Then we came back again so Aleck could have a one on one meeting with his teacher, something she offers for all of her students before the start of school, and we got the chance to meet his aide at school and have him meet Aleck. His school supplies were dropped off, his locker was stocked, and he’d perfected the art of sharpening pencils in the classroom. The Persins were ready for school.
Of course, I was very nervous on the first day and we were almost really late as we couldn’t find our special board we’d used for the last years to properly document this milestone. We’d all worked so hard to get to this point I felt like our hopes and dreams were either going to be realized or totally smashed. What if this isn’t a good fit? What if he isn’t happy? What if he disengages like he did last year? What if he doesn’t make any friends and the kids think he’s weird? I mean, he’s a little quirky, muscle or no muscle disorder, just look at his parents, will you? What if the teacher is unable to motivate him?
After all, at orientation, all the kids easily fell in line the first day. They sat on the rug when the teacher started reading, they went to the next classroom and carefully colored in their paper hats, then they went back for the second story, and back again to color their other appropriate paper shapes. But not our little Aleck. I stayed with him even though most of the other parents went upstairs to another meeting. His aide wasn’t there yet and he needs the extra help. The teachers said I could leave but I wanted to see for myself how this was going to play out. Well, Aleck did not fall in line. He didn’t listen to the story, he wasn’t really interested in coloring hats, and he stuck his head into the second classroom for a bit but deemed it too loud and went back to the first room to perfect the art of pencil sharpening. As his teacher walked in and he was wandering around I did that nervous chuckle thing and said, “well, he marches to his own beat.” She assured me that his behavior was typical of gifted children (ooh, there’s that word again, right), and it would be her job to motivate him and keep him challenged throughout the year. Awesome answer. Then she mentioned another girl in the first grade that Aleck should meet, someone with a similar style to him. This time I really giggled as I explained we already met her since she was clearly in a similar orbit as Aleck. After we left Craig explained his similar concerns, and I told him the teacher is on it, she knows what she needs to do.
And then the homework started to roll in. I sat at our dining room table, reviewing what could be in our future. Pages and pages of activities where you write words; in different shapes, in different colors, with and without vowels. Quickly our personalized and family homework assignments materialized in Aleck’s take home folder and we realized that all of Aleck’s homework revolved around writing. There were some fun pages about problem-solving sentences, but even those were to be written out, correcting the mistakes in “incorrect” sentences. Craig tried to adapt that homework, having Aleck circle the mistake and just write the letter to correct it. Unfortunately, my “A” type personality reared its ugly head as I did homework duty and realized the entire purpose was to write the whole sentence so Aleck could get really good at his letters. We couldn’t get through one sentence, and there were 8 on the sheet. That same night Aleck told me that he doesn’t like doing homework. With a bright smile on my face, I explained how once he gets awesome at doing his letters homework will be so fun because he’ll get to do the really challenging stuff and the letters will be easy. Because I like to pretend that my kid isn’t any different from any other kid in the class so why should I even consider the idea that he would do things differently. The instructions were clear, so we were to follow the instructions. Plus, it’s not mandatory, right? So we do some, we don’t do some, and it’ll all work out, right?
And then my friend called today, she called to apologize for not getting back to me sooner about looking for a sitter. Granted I needed the sitter for tonight, and she called today, but her mistiming couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. We were headed to Aleck’s open house and I am really excited about talking to the parents in the class about Aleck’s condition. I want to let them know the diagnosis, what it means for Aleck, and open the door to any other questions they might have. I also thought it was a great way to arm them to answer questions their kids might bring to them about Aleck. She loved the idea, and then like everyone else, she asked how school was going. I explained to her about the homework situation, how it’ll be much easier once he’s good at writing his letters. Without missing a beat she asks, “Why does Aleck need to perfect writing letters? Isn’t there a better way for him to do his homework? I’m sure his IEP allows for homework modifications.” God, I love my friends. Even Craig couldn’t fully explain why he knew Aleck needed to modify his homework, and even though I like to pretend my kid is just like everyone else’s kid, clearly that’s not true. If I feel the need to stand in front of a room of strangers to explain about Aleck’s condition, then he’s not just like everyone else. And if our biggest fear is that he’ll become unmotivated and disengage then we better be careful we aren’t forcing expectations on him that don’t allow him to be his best self. Duh. It really can be hard to see the nose at the end of your face sometimes.
Our plan of action now is to talk to his teacher about modifying homework. She already dolls out individualized homework assignments anyway, so let’s tailor Aleck’s homework to his strengths and not force him to stare his weaknesses in the face day after day. His hands do not work like his peers, and we shouldn’t make him try to keep up with his classmates on that level. I have a feeling that if we can get homework assignments on the computer he could really blow through them, and come back wanting more. It’s time to let Aleck show his teacher what’s he’s really got upstairs, even if his p’s look like d’s.