We only want perfect kids (at this school)

child with ruler
It seems that the worlds of medicine and education have little in common. As physicians, we create a space of openness and safety, where you can share your lifestyle failures and embarrassing habits without shame. When we started my son in preschool this fall, I approached his teachers at the open house with the same attitude, but got a very different response.

The Jade was adopted from an orphanage at 7 months. While it wasn’t a bad place as far as orphanages are concerned, we’re pretty sure he suffered early neglect. Neglect that, as we’ve learned later, can hinder normal sensory development and emotional regulation. He is a smart, exuberant, and sweet little boy. But he is also hyperactive. He can’t regulate his excitement over a new environment or guests at the house. He bounces off us, the walls and the furniture. And he hits, kicks and headbutts when he’s angry. He has a hard time hearing no, and some days he’s very aggressive, others not. Normally Bob and I get the brunt of it, sometimes Nick as well. But thankfully we haven’t had a problem with him attacking other kids.

So, in my medical mode where more information is better, I shared all this with his preschool teachers. I didn’t know how he would react since this was his first time in school, I thought they might want to know how to restrain him just in case. Their response was so casual, so non-threatening, I had no idea what was coming.
The first day of preschool arrived. We took our cute little pictures in the hall- grinning boy with his backpack and lunchbox. I dropped him off at classroom and the teacher said, “Oh, the supervisor wants to talk to you for a minute. Thinking it was related to The Jade’s peanut allergy, I marched cheerfully up to Ms. P, only to be met with a stern look.  We met in her office, where she rehashed the information I had given the teachers a few days ago. “This is full of red flags, she snipped. I don’t think your son is a good match for our preschool”  I sucked in my breath and my stomach turned over.  What!?  My sweet little boy, who I had cherished and tended for the past 4 years, the one my friends and family adored? Not good enough for them? She went on, talking about how this was an academic environment, and they couldn’t have aggressive children here. There was no attempt to clarify our situation or ask about our child’s background and story. “We’ll give him 2 weeks and see”, she said warily, and that was it. My child had been placed on probation his first day of preschool.

And apparently we had done this to him. We had mistakenly assumed the educators valued each child as an individual, that their years of experience had prepared them to speak competently and compassionately to the issue of hitting tantrums. Our vulnerability and honesty was reciprocated with hasty judgement and hurtful labeling. I have shared our experience with other friends who adopted kids with extra needs, and they experienced the same thing. Lesson learned. We will not be sharing our children’s struggles with their educators, no matter how enlightening it may be.  They can figure it out on their own, and we’ll talk about it when they think there’s a problem.

Which brings me to the larger issue. The right of schools to select for perfect, easy, problem- free kids. Kids without anger, anxiety, learning disabilities or special needs. Kids that come from “hard places”.  Let the public schools take them.  We are creating an elite learning environment here. We don’t have time for that. I overheard a lady at the gym the other day bragging about her 3 year old’s superior intelligence to the other kids, and complaining that he was bored in preschool, and they didn’t challenge him enough because the other kids couldn’t keep up. And I had an epiphany. I could have been that person if life circumstances had been different. Competing for the best preschool with my 2 perfect genius potential kids, not caring a whit for anyone else’s. Struggling all the time to show up my child as the best. I guess this is one way that the journey of adoption and infertility is a gift. It wrings out your specialness, your cherished expectations, and replaces them with a sigh of gratitude for the grace you did receive. The Jade is smart, and both our boys have God given gifts. But so does every child. And part of this journey is learning to join my experience to others, to really care when their kid as struggles and not be smug. To pray and long with them in their child’s struggles. To embrace the imperfect child we honestly all were.

Well, I kind of wish I could say I told Ms. P off, stormed out of her office and brought my children to a place that would appreciate them. But we stayed. The Jade has done great there, the teachers really like him despite their early concern, and he hasn’t hit anyone. Everyone acts like that conversation never happened, which makes it super awkward. I’m telling myself they’re embarrassed, and that they learned something from our situation and will go easier on the next set of parents who risk honesty about real issues.

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Finding reflection in a harried life

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I think I’ve killed my blog. I started it with so much joy; the rebirth of my dormant love for writing. A space to process adoption, marriage, infertility, motherhood, and a possible international move. An opportunity to interface with total strangers through the world of ideas and universal connecting points. Thankfully, I never really hoped to become popular, or have x number of followers. The act of processing life was the main goal, and the feedback was a bonus.
But still. Even an African missionary can manage to upload once a month when the internet is working. How did I go 9? Life with young children is intensely sweet and completely exhausting at the same time. The experience of motherhood is convicting, refining, and inspiring. How can something that gives you so much to write about leave you with no energy or opportunity to do so?
According to my friend Webster to “reflect” is 1.”to bend or cast back” 2.”to mirror” 3. “to ponder; to consider seriously”. Life is passing quickly. No day is without transformation and change, ideas and snap decisions that take us in a new direction. Some of these choices are irreversible; they will alter the rest of our lives in an unpredictable way. But how often do we carve out space to process what is happening inside? Will we look back on a choice with less regret if we can carefully remember the reasons we made it? How can I accomplish my purpose in this earth, God’s destiny for me, if I don’t stop to listen? Rushing along and making great time but I took a wrong turn because I didn’t check the map. Maybe we don’t often see our own reality because we don’t see it cast back to us; mirrored by reflection’s honesty.
Not everyone needs to blog. Sharing your intimate ideas with cyberspace might be a bit intimidating. Journaling might be better for some things. Processing with a friend. For some I imagine reflection could happen through writing a song or painting.
But whatever it is that drives us, be it parenthood,a job, an addiction or an overcommitted list, we need to find a way to put the brakes on. Harried. Frantic. Driven. Busy.
No. I don’t want to look back on my life and see a blur. Life is moments, precious and hard, strung together in a linear gift. When I take time to reflect, I see those moments more clearly. Distilled from the fatigue, frustration and distraction of the instant. My oldest son learning to sound out words. My youngest dancing like a Pentecostal. My husband being goofy and making them laugh.
Well, I’m going to try to get this blog back. Even if I hold my writing to a lower standard. Even if I write about something no other human on the planet has an interest in. Even if my engine is running on fumes. The best part about the reflection analogy on a blog is that when we do this we not only see our own lives in clearer focus, but we can also be mirrors for each other. The dishes can wait.
–Joy