It's been such an exhausting and stressful couple of weeks that I've been too worn out to talk to you all much.
I'm not going to get into all of the details, but Big Kid had a bit of a breakdown about stuff happening at school. And when I say "a bit" I'm way misrepresenting how sad and physically sick about it he was. He confessed to us that he was having to stay in the classroom for lunch every day to "catch up." When I asked how often and how long it had been going on, he admitted 3-4 days a week, all year long. And he was really upset and worn down about it. I guess they have to show their work for math problems two different ways. He would get the answer and the first way but always had difficulty with the second way and sat there every day through lunch and sometimes recess trying to reverse engineer the work to an answer he already had.
It was extremely frustrating.
I asked his teacher about it and she suggested that he should stay after school and have one-on-one time with her. I felt for him, it seemed an even more frustrating solution to someone feeling overwhelmed with their work level but she insisted this was nothing we could help him with and I wanted him to get caught up. He finally figured out that he was doing the second way wrong. (I was a little surprised she hadn't checked on that during all of the lunches they've spent together.)
He also worked through lunch and recess again that day, stayed for an hour after school, and then had an hour of homework.
He told me that at the beginning of the year, she had said they moved fast at math and she can't slow down because they will fail the FCAT test and if they fail the FCAT test, they will fail 5th grade. Failing the FCAT has been Big Kid's greatest fear since it was introduced in 3rd grade. The FCAT is actually such a source of stress in our home that each year, against common parenting logic, I insist to him that it has zero impact on our lives. That I would never accept him being held back, especially as a straight A student. I look him in the eyes and tell him, "I do not care even one tiny bit what happens on the FCAT. Not one bit."
He scores in the 95th percentile or above each year, yet this is a dance we do again and again. His school really pushes the importance of this test, above and beyond all else. Their messages to him all year definitely outweigh my assurance that this is not significant.
In the meantime, I was making appointments with various doctors trying to figure out what was going on in his body or head that was making him physically sick. I let the teacher know what was going on, begged for a conference, and explained that the lunch room situation was a problem and offered to do whatever it was at home after school with him. She "didn't believe in that." Okay. Her schedule was too full for even a phone conference for over a week.
During all of this, I was unsure what to think. I couldn't ignore my kid's obvious stress level but it's hard to argue if someone is telling you your child is consistently not caught up. I wondered which was the real problem and made sure the teacher knew that I wasn't at all saying this should never happen, just not more often than not and that we needed a break with it to figure out what was going on. I also called every private school in town, researched virtual school, and even seriously and reluctantly considered (and semi fell in love with the idea of) homeschooling.
Mr. Ashley and I would talk in hushed tones in bed every night, now sick with worry ourselves. Was it him? Was it her? Was it a character flaw? Was it a suddenly surfacing learning disability? Was she stubborn and old? Was it ridiculous to demand a midday break? Could we afford private school? Could we give him a good education ourselves? Had we been pounding a square peg into a round hole for his entire school career? Was it us?
One sleepless night, Big Kid was pale and had dark circles under his eyes. Scared for him, I asked what he thought we should do--I said we would do whatever at this point, including home school. Big Kid told me he didn't want to be home schooled but that he couldn't go on like this. He said he thought it would be best if he kept trying. She continued to keep him in at lunch. One day, in the greatest act of defiance of his life, he ignored her request to stay in at lunch and went to the lunch room. And came right home and told me about it. And I had to tell him that I heard him, I understood, but he had to do what she said. That was rough.
And I wondered and I wondered and I wondered what in the hell was going on. I asked for the opinions of friends who are teachers, friends who are mental health professionals, friends who are moms, and friends who know us best, and also asked some strangers. There was an outpouring of support, of people urging me to listen to my instincts, of people reminding me that I know Big Kid, of people insisting it was not right. I reached out to many people who know me well, reminded them that I am lazy and selfish and asked if I could home school, told them they had to be honest--unequivocally, down to the school psychologist who is a friend, they said that I could do it. That we would do it well. That they believed in me. That this wasn't crazy.
One of the strangers said that there was always a part of horror movies where she finds herself thinking that she would just sit down and let whatever was coming eat her, and that's where it sounded like he was right now, and I realized that it didn't even matter which one of them was crazy, that it had to stop.
I felt scared. I also felt lucky. I realized that I had a village in those around me and that many of those people were highly qualified to offer their opinions, and that they loved Big Kid enough that they would not let me go down the wrong path. At the end of another odd day of living with a shadow of our 10-year-old, we decided something was happening immediately and that something might be homeschooling whether he liked the idea or not. I was up all night with racing thoughts researching curriculum.
The next day one of Mr. Ashley's friends called and said he had plead our case to the principal of a new charter school, that had been full a long time ago, and they made one spot for him in their STEM school but we had to accept within 24 hours. It was where we had hoped to send him for middle school. I felt like we won the lottery. I again basked in the gratitude of having a village--and not just any village, a damn good village.
Big Kid looked instantly relieved when I suggested it and broke out into a broad smile. I asked if he would miss his friends. He insisted that it didn't matter, that this was for the best. He has stayed true to this the whole way through. When I suggested that our friend deserves a fruit basket for going to bat for us, he said he deserves 3 fruit baskets.
We signed the papers Wednesday. He starts Monday. Yesterday was his last day of school and I was still slightly sad. I had to pick him up early for his doctor's appointment because the school requires a physical. In the parking lot he told me he had seen his math grade on the interim.
"What was it?" I asked, nonchalantly, curious to know how bad it was but thinking it was the least of my problems.
"It was an A?"
"Yes. A 92."
Seriously? I get that it's probably an A because he stayed in--but I would have taken a C over this complete change in demeanor. I can't believe she continued to insist on doing this after I poured my heart out to her about how it was affecting us. For an A. She probably thinks I'm glad, but actually, I'm probably the only mom in the world who is pissed about an A. I was so mad I was shaking; I went from happily ready to drop it to wanting to pursue the issue even though it will no longer be one.
Yesterday after his physical as we were walking through the lobby, Big Kid grabbed my hand to hold it and said, "Mom? Thanks for doing all of this for me and for believing me and helping me," and all of the doubts I had about him and about what we're doing dissolved.
I know my kid.
We have a village.
Everything will be okay.