I have a meeting at my son’s school with his teacher, the principal, the school psychologist, the school counselor, and the local police force. Okay, one of those is an exaggeration. Still, I was called to meet to discuss his bad behavior and the need for testing to place him in special education. I will admit this came as a blow. Special Education? Special Education is for children with learning disabilities and those who can’t function in the classroom. Was I aware he’s been in trouble at school? Yes. He’s in Kindergarten. He’s a rambunctious little boy who would rather be outside playing than sitting at a desk working on a worksheet. I’ve known since he was about 9 months old he was a handful. But outside the norm of society? Worthy of testing, special labeling, and placement? Wow. Really? Are you sure?
I think back early on to all of the things I’ve done to try and be a good parent. I’ve read to him every, single night since he was about 3 months old (and continue to do so) – the physical closeness, the sharing of a story, and the joy of finding books that have built a love of reading are all very important to me. When he was a baby, all the other moms in my mom’s group were setting their child in the carseat and placing them in front of the TV while they did something else, but I didn’t do that. I know how hard it is on young, developing eyes to stare at a television screen. I would get out the dragon puppet and play with him. When he was a little bigger, while all the other moms were talking amongst themselves, I would be watching my son intently while he played with the other kids, looking to see how he interacted with others and gently redirecting his behavior when needed. And I wouldn’t feed him that processed food junk made for kids either – I made him homemade brown rice and broccoli casserole, cut up into tiny pieces so he could easily chew. Annoying? I was that mom.
And yet this little stinker was Trouble with a capital T. I would swear up and down that a child’s temperament is born not learned. He was a mover and shaker since he started toddling around, so before he was even a year old, I put up a baby gate at the kitchen entrance to keep him close to me while I got dinner ready. It wasn’t long before he tried to climb over it. Once he realized he wasn’t tall enough to climb over, he went straight to the cabinet where his formula was, set the tall can next to the gate, climbed on top of the formula can, and attempted to get over the baby gate before I grabbed him. This kid had a master plan! Is he the next Alexander the Great in the making or what? His little brain formulated a plan to solve something he didn’t like, he used creative thinking to find an object he knew he could stand on to get a boost in height, and had the determination to carry it out. These are most definitely higher order thinking skills (ahem- not special ed). He also had far better language skills than other boys his age. His favorite thing to say to people when he was 2 was, “You’re ridiculous.” And he could clearly pronounce “ridiculous,” too. Yes, ridiculous indeed. When I’d take him to the park, instead of playing at the park like all of the other kids, he wanted to know what was outside of the park, and would run off into the woods or out into the street to go on an adventure. Now, he’s also had this small problem with throwing things. Like rocks. And I vehemently let him know that it’s not OK to throw rocks. Especially at neighbors cars. I don’t even know how many times I made it ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that it was NOT OK. I mean, how many times do you punish someone for the same damn thing before you just want to strangle them? And yet his reaction was one of, “Oh look! The Angry Mommy show! Mommy’s red face is funny!” He has all of these characteristics that make him very difficult to manage as a child, but that I think will make him very successful as an adult. He’s whip smart, fears nothing, has a great sense of humor and playfulness, he’s a creative thinker, a problem solver, he stands his ground and can be as stubborn as a mule, but he’s got intense curiosity and furious drive. When I think about putting his personality into today’s tough job market, I think he’d do quite well.
So fast-forward to Kindergarten. On numerous occasions he and a few other boys have pulled their pants down to moon each other. OK, I’ll admit I think this is pretty funny, but I don’t let on when I have serious talks about not showing his butt at school. He has also gotten in serious trouble for “play spanking” other kids on the butt. I understand they have to take it very seriously when a child touches another child’s “private parts,” but can we see the intention here isn’t perverse or mean – he’s playing. He thinks it’s funny. He also sometimes shouts things out in the classroom. Did I mention his Kindergarten class has just 1 recess a day? Would it be unreasonable to assume it’s not developmentally appropriate for 5 and 6 year olds to have 1 short playtime and be expected to sit still in a chair and work quietly the rest of the day?
So I’m not sure where this leaves me. Is he just a strong-willed, spirited little boy? Or is he a dysfunctional human being? Is the school overreacting? Or do I have blinders on? I’m unsure how to take all of this because along with a child with a “behavior disorder” comes the judgment and label of “bad parent.” I know it’s there, even if nobody says it out loud. Good little girls and boys come from good homes and bad little girls and boys come from bad homes. And if I could just get my act together and do the right things, he would behave, right? I feel guilty for not being able to control him. And maybe there’s just a tidbit of anger here – I’m angry with my son for being difficult, and I’m angry that I have to deal with this because I could easily point out 10 other parents that aren’t half as conscientious about parenting as I am , and yet I’m the one sitting in the hot seat. Frankly, it makes me want to give up, throw in the towel. Have child services come and take him away since I’m a failure as a parent. And it only adds to the feelings of ill-ease that I’m currently pregnant. What will this child be like? Will I be able to handle her? I’m just drained. And sad. And helpless.
And then I think about my son (and how much I want to ring his little neck) and I think what he really, truly needs is love and support. After all, isn’t that what we all need? Even when we behave badly? He needs someone in his corner to support him, not to dismiss things he shouldn’t do, but to be proud of him when he does something right. Yeah, pride – it feels hard to be proud of your child when everyone else is irritated and disgusted with him. But I suppose I need to find that place regardless. Because when he’s grown and he looks back on his childhood I want him to have good memories of his time with me, even if he is in prison. Kidding. Not really. Maybe I’ll find that place of strength tomorrow…