I am driving with my sons in the back seat of my SUV. I flip through the channels until they shout, “THIS ONE MOM!”. The song, “7 Years” by Lukas Graham bleeds through the speakers. Their constant bickering miraculously quiets to the sound of their young voices singing. Music to a mother’s ears. As the yellow line zips past me,I watch cautiously those brake lights before me, and the words of the song begin to catch my attention.
“Once I was seven years old my momma told me, go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely”.
This is one of the many fears a mother has raising her children. No mother wants her child to feel out of place or lonely. Unfortunately, many children do. Especially little boys these days.
Last year I went through one of the most difficult years of my life as I watched my six year old son struggle to be accepted in his school. It wasn’t that teachers didn’t like him, or that he didn’t have friends, or that he was unwanted. He was misunderstood. I found the things that make him an individual also made him a target. Many things that were once viewed as normal behavior for little boys such as jumping, singing, and (most outrageous of all) laughing, were putting a bulls-eye on his small back. How a child could be penalized for laughter is beyond me. Laughter (the sound of children reminding us what it is to be alive) should fill the halls. Joy and the spirit of childhood should not be silenced.
Schools have become a graveyard for the imagination of little boys. This has left them seeking attention through disruption and destruction; fiddling with pencils and snapping crayons into tiny pieces. They are being made to feel like the natural impulses they have to explore and invent are somehow wrong. Yet, with the daily criticisms and constant critiquing of every tap of their pen on a desk, they are expected to perform in an environment that is a prison for their adventurous minds. There are too many restrictions and too many rules and boundaries. It goes beyond the “safety of the classroom”. Our little boys are being taught to be robots and are told not to question or create. This was destroying my six year old.
There is a feeling you cannot shake when you are a mother. Call it heightened senses or a mother’s intuition, it’s all the same. We know our children and we know when they are in danger. I will admit that I spent the greater portion of a year in attack mode. There is nothing in this world that would keep me from defending my child. Night, after night, he cried himself to sleep because he knew he would have school the next day. It was clear that it was more than just a little boy disliking school when it carried over to mornings and afternoons with the same despair. After my attempts to have open communication with his teacher failed, I found myself frustrated. Daily, my son was sent home with notes about the”wrong” things he had done during the course of the day.
Dear Mrs. Erickson,
Your son had a hard time today. Tomorrow we will work on not calling out, not getting out of our seat, not talking to friends, not singing, not burping, not dropping our pencil, not laughing, not running at recess,…
I read the list of offenses and shook my head in disbelief. No running in recess? I thought, “when did our schools become prisons?”. The idea that a child would be reprimanded for exerting built up energy infuriated me. When brought to the attention of the principal and other staff, I was met with a mixed message. I sat through meeting after meeting and heard the same things each time, “Your son is a great kid. He is kind, loving, and respectful to staff and students alike.” I would think ,‘Then what are we having this meeting for?’ That’s when the reason was made clear: They wanted me to have him evaluated.
Because my son did not fit their mold he was, as his principal calls it, “On her radar.” That meant a few things:
Each and every move he made was watched and documented.
They watched him eat in the cafeteria and went as far as to ban him from the student bathroom because his trips were deemed “too long”. He was to be escorted down to the nurse’s office each time he had to use the restroom. These facilities were right next to the principal’s office. The principal would often remind him that she did not want to see him down there again.
He was number one suspect.
Any problem that arose in the classroom setting somehow became his fault. So much so, that the other students began to push him away and reject him. They found that blaming him for what they did would garner the teacher’s attention. Lets face it, children can be cruel.
He was voiceless.
This was probably the most difficult to stomach as a mother. He was no longer being heard. He would try to communicate his frustrations and needs and would too frequently be pushed aside because he was purportedly more of a hassle than his fellow students. His inquisitive nature had him frequently raising his hand to ask “WHY?” and “HOW?”, and there often wasn’t ample time to address these questions. After all, there were thirty other little minds in the room. I could not blame his teacher for the frustration she felt as classrooms have been overcrowded for far too long and things like common core have made being an educator stressful.
As his frustration turned to heartache and sadness, mine turned to defeat. As a mom, we are the first to doubt ourselves. I questioned if they were seeing what I could not. Perhaps they were better suited to see problems than I was. With that doubt, I granted their request to evaluate against everything I believed to be true. I shed tears many nights watching him as he slept hoping and praying that I was making the right choices for him and that I was not setting my little boy up for years of failure. I then sat alongside my husband, in a stuffy classroom, at a table full of school employees from the child study team, and it felt like I had signed my life away. I agreed to have him tested for all the issues they thought he had, feeling deep down that it was not necessary. Despite this, I pushed my feelings aside in hope that I would be helping my son. The long nights of watching him cry himself to sleep wore me down. The days of watching him come home from school deflated took its toll. But the thing that pushed me over the edge were the self deprecating comments he would make. He began to say things like, “My teacher hates me and loves everyone else.” “I’m stupid and everyone else is smart.” “I hate myself”. No six year old should ever be made to feel like he is stupid, dumb, or hated for simply being a little boy. The blame did not fall solely on his teacher as she too was just another example of the flaws in our education system. She was being overworked and underpaid. I would go as far as to say his teacher was probably one of the better ones. She seemed to be advocating a higher grade where the children are more mature and able to multitask on command.
The day we got the evaluation results my heart fluttered and my stomach turned. What would those tests reveal about my sweet boy that I didn’t already know? Apparently, not a damn thing. My smart, kind, loving, and energetic little boy tested high average and above average in everything. The school psychologist smiled and looked surprised as he read off the scores to me and my husband. We looked at each other and smiled with the heavy weight lifted from our chests. He sat at the table and told us the news we had already known since our boy was born. He was creative, intelligent, and personable. He was a delight to be around and gentle. Other than a slight issue with attention, he was perfectly “normal”. The year from hell turned out to be for nothing. He was not autistic as a school employee had suggested nor was he ADD or ADHD. He was just a little boy.
The most gratifying point in the meeting was when the school psychologist turned to us and asked if either my husband or I was an engineer or an architect. We learned that our son has a way of thinking that both of these professions require. The same type of brain that his great grandfather, who spent decades working as an engineer for Lockheed Martin and who helped design components for stealth bombers, had. I can only hope that my son grows to be as great a man as he was.
After the smoke cleared and we were able to take a breath, I thought about the other parents who had gone through the same problems and had a different outcome. I thought about those who found themselves facing a life time of the same tests and evaluations and the strength ,endurance,and perseverance it takes. The only advice I can give to another mom facing a similar situation is to trust your instincts. A mother’s love for her child is unmatched. It knows no limit and is willing to take on the world, for one small boy.