“I was not a kind boy, today.”
He looked down. My heart sank.
These were the words from my five year old, three weeks into school. Kindergarten has been a struggle. I wasn’t pained to hear he had a rough day, it was the fact that once again, he was telling me what he did wrong. He has stopped talking about the fun parts of school, and has only started telling me that he was “too loud”, or had to sit out, or he hit too hard when he was playing superheroes. He apparently talks in the hallways, doesn’t stay in line, and “gets wiggly” on the carpet, and today was capped with, “and the kids laughed at me because I was in trouble again….*sigh*….and ill never have a RISE card again”.
Cards that are handed out by the teachers when they see these character traits. He loved them in pre-k. Since school started a month ago, I know of him earning one.
I took a deep breath and said, “you are incredibly kind. Even if you have a rough day, your heart is kind. Even if you do something not so kind, I know you will use your Brave to stand up and say sorry and try again next time.”
And it’s true. He’s my loudest, most impulsive, passionate, “spirited” of the bunch, but he’s also the kindest. He sings kittens to sleep before bed. He slows down so Little Brother can catch up, he always offers you what he’s eating even when he’s “sooooooooo starving”. He reassures his older brother with autism that everything’s going to be okay when his world is falling apart. He wants to be a doctor when he grows up even though he’s scared of going, because he wants to help people. He always reminds people about Kindness and Love, and knows that’s the most important thing. Yes, he does all these things while talking incessantly about superheroes and villains and creatures, and Scooby Doo, but he is kind.
Kindergarten is a time to play and learn the rules, but instead, I am watching his spirit break. I listen to him beg me to, “just be my teacher” because Aiden homeschooled for a year, and mister knows his options. When his dad asked him about school this evening, he said, “school is just ridiculous” and covered his face because he is five and tries out new, big, words in his sentences. He followed it with, “kids don’t think Im a good guy”. This is not okay.
This. Is. Not. Okay.
Although he wants to be a doctor, I imagine him having a side gig as a comedian or a magician, or being in a band that plays at local bars around town. I can see him being in theater or happily playing for a crowd in a one man band like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He is a ham. He is always laughing and tries to get people to join in on the fun.
But school has made him sad. Something is wrong.
We are in the process of talking with the teacher, and have now involved the principal because we are not going to idly sit by and watch this happen. When we talk to them I can hear how we sound. We sound like Those Parents. The ones that think their kid is a Perfect Genius. The ones that point the finger at the teacher, and tsk tsk tsk until accommodations are made for their Precious. I can almost hear the eye rolls when I walk away or hang up the phone or hit “send”. I can smell the wine runneth over thine teachers cup. I KNOW how we sound.
Except, heres the thing: we KNOW Lief is a wiggly little loud-mouthed crime fighting superhero kid. We KNOW he needs to work on using an inside voice and listening ears. We get it. We are asking for positive behavior supports because everyone, kids and adults alike, benefit with positive reinforcement. Before my luxurious career change as a Stay At Home Mom/Wife/Maid/Taxi/Chef/Secretary etc etc, I taught ABA therapy to young children on the autism spectrum. I literally got paid to positively reinforce behavior. For years, I always found loose goldfish or m&ms in my laundry because I lived and breathed reinforcers. Im having to find my balance between wearing my Mom Hat, and my I Know What Im Talking About hat. I imagine it’s like a doctor with a sick kid. You have to be polite and listen to the other guy, but when you know somethings wrong, you know.
Luckily, we are special ed parents. We are well versed in being advocates. We know how to be the voice of our kids when they need one. We know the chain of command, the people at all levels in the district, and we understand that it’s okay to be a different kind of thinker and learner! I have to remind myself this when I want to just be quiet and compliant and not rough up the waters, after all, we will be at this school for years to come. With every thought of, “god, I bet we sound so needy”, I have to remember, Lief *is* needy because he is five. With every curt smile we are met with, I remember my son deserves a smile. Give me the curtness, as long as he is given a chance to RISE UP, as the school slogan goes.
Do not be afraid to use your voice for your child. Whether they have a disability or special needs or special accommodations or they are comfortably “typical”. Don’t NOT rough up the waters for your kid. You are their VOICE. You feel intimidated? How do you think they feel? Handle yourself with dignity and grace because they are watching, they are sponges. If we are going to encourage kids to stand up for what they believe in, we must also stand up alongside them or even for them. Even when it makes us uncomfortable and wiggly.