I just passed a major hurdle in life; a milestone, if you will. I survived my son’s first year of school! I had my doubts about making it this far, to be honest, but we did it. Now, I sit back and think about the year just gone, its highs and its lows, and a simple phrase floats through my mind…”What the heck just happened?!”
For those who may be coming into this game a little late, I have two children. There’s Emma, age seven, and Ethan, age five. Emma is finishing the first grade this week, while Ethan has just finished pre-Kindergarten. (It seems to be fashionable on blogs like this to give your relatives creative nicknames rather than use their real names, incidentally; I can only assume it’s for privacy reasons. Well, as I plan to humiliate my children on Prom Night some day with every funny thing I’ve ever documented regarding them, I’m inclined to use their real names. I did, however, briefly consider referring to them as Thing 1 and Thing 2, from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat, especially after I posted photos of them in costume as those characters. However, I’ve seen at least one other blogger doing that already, and it would be rude to borrow the idea, I think. Especially with a good blog. Check her out at http://missfannyp.wordpress.com.)
Now, I don’t consider my children to be bad kids. They have the usual mishaps that kids have. They aren’t exactly what I would call discipline problems, but they’re not perfect either. What I CAN say is that they are night-and-day different from each other. For two years with Emma as the only child in school, we never had any issues: not a grade issue, not a parent-teacher conference, not a single call to the principal’s office. Her pre-K class used a color system to evaluate daily conduct: Red, yellow, and green, with green being good behavior, red being bad, and yellow being a warning. I can count on one hand the number of times that she was in the yellow, and only once do I remember her being in the red. With Ethan…ah, Ethan, Ethan. On the day we enrolled him, I looked at his teacher-to-be and said—I kid you not—“This is the child that will make you pay for all the good days with Emma.” And he did! I can count one hand the number of days he was in the yellow…this week. Sometimes that was true of the red, too.
He’s a very excitable boy. The vast majority of his disciplinary incidents, both at home and at school, stem from him getting caught up in what he’s doing, getting very excited, and then telling someone about it. At length. Despite instructions to the contrary. His conduct form tells the same stories over and over: “Talking too much”; “Wouldn’t walk away from the board when instructed”; “Had to be told three times to do [insert activity here]”. Notice, I’m not saying he’s distractible—let’s not jump to the all-too-common conclusion of ADHD—but just the opposite; his attention span is nothing short of amazing. So is his level of interest in whatever he’s doing. It invariably gets him into trouble.
Ethan has his academic issues, too, but it’s a little early to say whether they reflect a real problem or not. He has been a little slow to pick up some of his letters and numbers, and his handwriting didn’t improve much over the year. It was only a month ago that he learned his phone number, and he still doesn’t have his address figured out. (On a side note: Has anyone else, like me, made the transition from landline, household phones to an all-cellular lifestyle? And if so, does it feel weird to teach that number to your child? I’m just grateful that there is only one that my kids have to learn right now; if we were still a two-cell-phone family, the confusion would never stop.) I’ll admit that I lack a good point of comparison; we receive a list of the goals they have in mind, but not a statement of what constitutes acceptable progress. No one fails pre-K here. I think, though, that his progress overall has been satisfactory, if on the low end of satisfactory.
Come to think of it, I’ll take satisfactory. Satisfactory silences the naysayers. You see, I have an overachiever in the family, too, and she has the perilous position of firstborn. Perilous? Oh, yes! I know, because I lived this reality myself as a child.
Emma is a fantastically bright child. Now, if you are yourself one of the naysayers I referred to, here’s the part where you get angry and switch webpages, because you’ll resent the fact that I say that about her. There are three reasons why you might do that:
- You think it’s arrogant of me to say that about my child. You’d say that about anyone doing so, unless maybe it was your child, and then it would just be honest observation, right? Us awful, nearsighted, overparenting Americans, thinking our kids are SO amazing. I’ve heard this so many times, and it always amazes me how vehemently it is said.
- You think it’s favoring one child over another. After all, I just said that Ethan has academic issues. Now I’m turning around and talking about how Emma doesn’t, really, so I must prefer her! She must be my favorite—especially since I just hinted that I was also a bright child. Oh, if only you knew how hard her mother and I have worked to prevent ANYONE, ourselves included from favoring one child over another.
- You think it’s not true. How would a parent know? We’re blinded by the fact that we want the best for our child, and that she is OUR child, so we must be just assuming she’s intelligent, when really she’s just average. Time will tell!
Emma has an IQ of 142. She’s in the top 1% of every subject in her class except handwriting (sloppy writers, this family, myself included). In most of the test categories, her scores read as >99.999%, meaning perfect scores, but the computerized scoring system’s margin of error won’t allow it to say so. She reads on an eleventh grade level in the first grade, with comprehension on an 8th grade level. She entered the local gifted-student class at the beginning of the second semester, having missed the first half of the year, and immediately shot to the top of their class, as well. When I say she’s smart, I’m not just talking.
Lest the common objections start surfacing, let me say that she’s well-adjusted, as well. She’s a happy, social, outgoing child with just a dash of shyness at first meetings. She’s well-rounded in what she can do; she isn’t only academically skilled. She picks up talents the way most of us breathe, but she is not a bit arrogant or proud. She’s happiest when she’s helping others. All around, she’s a wonderful child. She does have her disciplinary issues, as well; we’re going through a stealing phase with her right now. In the past, it was lying, and fighting with her brother. She learns her lesson, and we go on.
And the naysayers? You know the type. The prophets of doom who love to point out all the pitfalls that are waiting to destroy your family! I’ve already mentioned their favorite prophecy of doom: favoritism. After all, if Emma does so well, won’t I give her the lion’s share of my time and energy, and shuffle Ethan off to the side? Obviously he’ll fail, because he’ll get the short end of the parental stick. How awful of me! Except, it didn’t happen that way. If anything, he got slightly more attention, because he did need a little more help. But overall, everything worked out well. And we’re doing well, as a family.
It could have been different, I suppose. This year could have been a disaster. It certainly had all the makings of one. You see, in addition to the challenges I outlined above, we faced another serious challenge this year: This year, I divorced their mother.
I’ve avoided talking about this, except in passing, because…well. Certainly not because I don’t want to talk about it—I do. Rather, because it’s difficult to know what to say and what to leave out. On three or four occasions, I’ve sat down and tried to write a post about my divorce, and why it happened, and the aftermath, and so on; but I failed, every time. I got bogged down. So, maybe it’s better that I tell the brief version of the story here, in a post about school, where it can’t take over the post.
My ex-wife, to put it briefly, is mentally ill. The details aren’t important enough to break her privacy so intimately, so I’ll leave it at that. We were married in 2002 after dating for almost five years; the trouble began two years later, in mid-2004, after the loss of our first child, Samuel. He wasn’t here yet when it happened; she was twenty-six weeks pregnant. I don’t fault her for losing a part of her mind after that; I went more than a little crazy myself for a while. For her, it wasn’t a while; it was forever. The eight and a half years that followed were up and down, but generally down. The pressure of parenting was more than she could handle, although she did try for a long time.
And yet, even with all of that, I didn’t leave her for that reason. (Actually, I didn’t leave her at all—she left me, at least twice—although I did ultimately file the divorce papers.) I didn’t stop loving her, although it was close, and although certainly my love for her changed over the years. Even now, I don’t hate her, or have anything personal against her. When I filed for divorce, it was because she was doing things that would have soon cost us our children, and I couldn’t allow that to happen. (Again, the details aren’t important enough to merit invading her privacy that way, here; but I do feel compelled to put something to rest: She was not in any way abusing or mistreating our children. The things that happened were dangerous in the sense that they created a dangerous environment, which is another matter entirely.) So, I divorced her to protect them from a situation that was otherwise out of control.
It was for the best. I believe that now, even though I hated myself for doing it. But any divorce poses massive problems for children, and I’d be a fool to think that mine is any different. The children live full-time with me, so the burden is on me to make sure their mother is able to be a part of their lives, as backward as that may sound. And make no mistake: They need her to be a part of their lives as much as they need me. It’s a challenge every day.
We’ve risen to the challenge, or so I like to think. It’s very rare to find a divorce in which the parents aren’t at each other’s throats, but we actually get along better now. I’m not responsible for her care, and that allows me to be patient with her in a way that was beyond me before. She’s risen to her own challenges, as well; without the full weight of the day-to-day responsibility for the children, she’s able to do much better for them when she’s with them. As well, she’s much more stable herself; she’s much closer to her old self than she has been in years, to the point that the caregivers who work with her often don’t believe me when I talk about the challenges we faced. I’m not so unwary as to believe that this change is permanent, though; it’s conditioned on the situation she’s in now, and so I would not be wise to consider taking her back, or any such thing. She would relapse almost instantly. But it’s good to see her healthy after so many years of struggle, and it’s good to be able to work with her on things pertaining to the children.
So, all in all, not a bad year. A hard year, but a good one. Now, for the biggest challenge yet: Summer vacation! They’ll be home all day, every day. If you need me, I’ll be in my padded room.