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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