cafe mama

finding magic every day

a school for pioneers . october 21 . 2007

everett the artist
The Grout principal and our couples counsellor both suggested we tell Everett, not that he was going to this school because he was bad, but just that he was going to a new school. And that he was smart. Jonathan (as is his excitable wont) took this to the extreme, telling him he was going to it because he was smart. It is called the "Pioneer School" so he expended considerable energy describing pioneers. When Everett left his class for the last time on Wednesday, everyone hugged him, jealous because he'd be going to 3rd grade (hmmm?).

On Thursday when we were headed to school, we happened to be waiting for the same bus as a parent of one of his friends. "I'm going to go to a school for pioneers!" he said. Xavier's mom, who I just that minute had decided was a wonderful human, looked confused. She thought he was headed to some sort of survival school. In a way, I thought to myself.

It only took a few days to learn that, not only was this not third grade, but that it was not a good thing. I swear that I did not tell him, but maybe I did. Soon Everett was telling people in his forthright, unapologetic way, that he was going to this new school because he was bad, that he could go back to his old school when he was good enough.

I blame his principal. It could have been me. But I still blame her.

How can I describe the way it was, his first day? Jonathan had, finally, after much agony and agonizing, given in to the reality and necessity and checked himself into a three-day alcohol detox center -- the night before Everett's first day at the new school. It was a very good decision. It was a very bad time. Transportation wouldn't be set for a few days, it is the school district. These things take time. So on a cold Thursday morning, I woke early, I got three boys up, I changed diapers and got breakfast and slinged and donned hats and shoes and boots and backpacks, and waited for two buses in the drizzly chill.

It was good that I had already visited once. It was good that I had adjusted myself to the new reality, the teachers, all barely into their twenties, all diminutive in either body type or self-confidence, all women, all blonde. The students, all boys, all "educationally diagnosed" as special ed, behavioral. The building, fascinating and brilliant for what it should have been -- the school was an experiment in the 60s or the 70s, with some classrooms that didn't have walls, great arches and open spaces and murals. When the neighborhood school had been closed, it had slowly become a special school. No, a Special school. I was a Special parent.

I did not feel special.

That first day, as we approached the building several minutes early, the cabs and the little buses were marching in as if locked in an awkward dance, a dance in which no one really enjoyed his partner. I watched the teachers (many of the teachers for other classes were, in fact, men) organized in little teams to welcome the children off the buses and out of their cabs ("no one is allowed to be without a teacher or a coach," said the giggly one in our initiation). I thought of all the other parents, putting the kids on buses and into cabs, sending them off to be scored, out of 100, on their ability to be safe with their bodies and listen to directions. I wondered who they were, what they thought of this, if they were glad to see their children go in the morning, if they too felt terror at 10 a.m., at noon, at 2:45 p.m., terror that their child could never fit. I wondered if they wanted something different for their children, or if they were grateful for the structure, the attention, the eagerness of these many, many adults.

the holladay center
The first two days were agony. He came home both days with 98s. He got an award at the regular Friday awards assembly ("For a Great First Day!"). He liked his school.

But I did not like it. And he missed Misha. Every day he came home with a drawing he'd made for her. Some nights, we stay up late writing her name, we have conflicts because he's not ready to go to bed yet, he has more to draw for her.

My heart hurts for him, every day, it hurts because he loves her, and I do not know if he will ever go back, I do not know if I have the fortitude to go to his neighborhood school, to leave a note for Misha to take home to her mom, I do not know if I could face her possible rejection. What must the other students say about Everett? What must the other parents think? How can I be so wrapped up in my son's emotional life at age five? Or maybe the question is, how could I not be.

I thought about the school district, deciding what to name this school and arriving at "Pioneer." Are we pioneers, we Holladay Center parents, braving a world in which the teachers are green and the rules of behavior are terrifically modified? Going into this unknown world of special education, not sure if we should be angry -- at our children, or their teachers, or ourselves -- not sure if we should be tougher than before, not sure if it was just love they all needed. I think pioneers is the wrong word entirely, but survivors isn't far off. If I were to name it, it would be the "Survivor Special Programs," or maybe the "Coper Classroom." In the end, all of us from administration to teachers to parents to kids, we're just trying to figure out how to get along in this scary world.

books i am reading
I am grateful for all your advice and supportive words. I am looking into things. I am meeting with a developmental pediatrician. I am wishing I could home school, I am reading book after book after book. I am freaking out about plastics, and food colorings, and television, and the effect of my freaking out on my children. I am realizing that being a really good parent is far, far harder than I ever thought possible.

paying the bills

read my previous post. a story from school . october 09 . 2007