A rocky start to school

My kid did not like the beginning of fifth grade. To start with, his best friend moved to San Diego. For seconds, his other two buds are in the other class. For thirds, as part of a “responsive classroom” technique, all kids were put in groups of four or five and told to go to lunch and recess together.

I’m certain this was done as a way to eliminate cliques and get clashing groups of kids working together in an Odd Couple meets Kum Ba Yah Seratonin Rainbow Connection sort of theory, but it wasn’t flying with Stinker. Sadly, he was put with a few kids who weren’t exactly in his fan club last year. (Those issues were resolved, but some hurts remained.)

After talking briefly to his teacher, I decided to write a letter to the principal. For five years I’ve played “Nice Mama” while I befriended every mean kids’ mama in an attempt to have all parties learn: One to show grace, one to show flexibility, all to show forgiveness and kindness and all that Good Samaritan crap.

This year, I didn’t have it in me. My husband was undergoing major work stuff, it has been hotter than hell, the pressure is up to finish my book and I was worried about my upcoming Baptism where I would be forced to make my “declaration” as well as go into full-body submersion for Christ. Or, as my best friend’s husband likes to put it, “Go into the Dunk Tank for the world’s holiest wet tee-shirt contest.”

I caught the eye of the principal the third day of school, a kind man we’ll call Jay who has more fashion sense than Nate Berkus and a bigger heart than Oprah. He gave me the “I’ll set up something tomorrow” walk by confirmation. “My son wants to be homeschooled,” I interrupted him. “Meet me in the office in 20.”

And so I did — with my son, who was not so happy to be sitting in the Principal’s pad on the third day of school. Picture a lovely gray wall, fabulous table with slip covers, Jay in a fabulous purple checked Oxford and my son — slumped with his Mario shirt and size 9 feet tapping the floor:

Jay: So, Stinker, I hear you’re having a rough year.
Stink: I guess.
Jay: Let’s start with the positive. What do you love about fifth grade?
Stink: I don’t know.
Jay: What do you not love?
Stink: I don’t know.
Jay: What do you love about your teacher?
Stink: I don’t know.
Jay: What do you not love?
Stink: I don’t know.

This continues as Jay patiently looks at him with eyes as blue as marbles and kind as water.

Jay: You know, Stink, I got an email from your mom, and she says things aren’t amazing, but if you can’t talk about it, I can’t help you. And we all know your mom can talk, but you’re a big boy. In the fifth grade. So how about we shelve this… (Jay looks over at me with a confidential nod) until you feel you can get straight with me.

Suddenly, tears well up in Stink’s eyes. He’s trying to hold back the emotion, but one of them pops right off his cheek onto Mario the Plumber’s noggin.
Stink: Well, there is something….

Jay: Tell me, Stink.
Stink: Well…. it’s not my teacher…

Jay nods in empathy.

Stink: And it’s not the work…

Jay continues nodding.

Stink: And it’s not the kids….

Stink’s voice is really starting to crack now as he trails off.

Jay: What is it, Stink?

Big sigh from Stink, who finally, in a rush of held back emotion, explodes: It’s my MOTHER.

If a principal could have whip-lash, I am pretty sure Jay got it. As the victim of my son’s unexpected driving maneuver, I caught Jay’s glance with 1/3 horror, 1/3 fear and 1/3 laughter. This was gonna be good.

Jay: What, exactly, do you mean?

Jay shrugged his shoulders at me. “Is it OK to go on?” he seemed to ask. I gave him a look back that pretty much said What the F—. We didn’t need words. If every gal needs a gay husband to understand her, I was pretty sure at this moment I had found my mate for life in that principal.

Stink: It’s just… well… my mom lets men service her on weekends to pay for my school shoes doesn’t let me play computer games like all my other friends’ mothers. It’s just not fair.
Jay: You mean, that she limits your time?
Stink: YES! You see, I have plants on Toon Town that I need to water every day. But I’m not allowed on the computer during school time. (Starting to well up with tears again) And it’s all I can think about all day long because my plants are going to die!
Jay: (Straight at me) I didn’t see that one coming.

Now I’m laughing out loud. I can’t help it. But Stink is not amused.

Stink: You’re not listening, Mama! I’m really scared about my plants! AND. YOU. DON’T. CARE.
Jay: (Pointing out an orchid in the center of the table.) Stink, I have a real live plant here you can come in and water every single day if you want to.
Stink: It’s not the same thing!
Jay: No, it isn’t. (Then) And you know what else?
Stink: What.
Jay: I used to have that pouty-faced look down pat. And my mom was like your mom which meant sometimes she got played. But not for long. And I’m going to call you out on this one. There might be something else other than plants going on here, but either way, my door is always open for you when you want to talk. Do you know that?
Stink: Yeah.
Jay: You are a bright, beautiful, loving boy who is going to have an amazing year. And I’m here for you. OK? (Stink nods) Now give me a hug.

Stink gives him a half embrace.

Jay: What kind of hug is that? Give me a real hug.

So he does. And then I do, too. If I could, I’d have hugged that man all day long. Folks, I don’t have the answer for why my kid likes virtual plants more than real ones. I don’t always know what to do when kids are being mean to my kid. When does he fight his battles? When does Mom step in? But I sure know this: Fifth grade is hard for lots of kids, not just ones with TS.

I can’t break down over every little “I want to be homeschooled” threat. I will keep a close eye on my kids’ love for computers — is it addiction (doubtful) or just his wiring (likely). But I will always be grateful to a wonderful educator named Jay.

To prove it, the next day, I left Jay a little something in his office. It was a real live plant with a card. The card read: “Thank, Jay, for all you did. Please water this sucker every day.”


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