Wednesday, November 16, 2011


What do you do when the one person whose advice you crave is no longer there to give it?

For the last few weeks, Mark and I have been dealing with an emergent situation with Sam and his school. Perhaps I'll go into details on it later, but the short story is that we've had to decide whether it's the right place for him and if perhaps it's time for a move to another school. Obviously, that's a big decision with consequences on either side. Because of the circumstances it didn't seem that there was a clear good choice, and any choice could have some serious and long-term consequences.

Last week after a long talk with Mark (who let me know that he would go with whatever I thought was best), my eyes welled up with tears and I leaned my head on his shoulder and said, "Since my mom died, I've never wished more that she was here to talk to about this." I missed her so much. I knew she'd have the answers I needed.

But I was on my own.

I spent a few days mulling over the various ramifications of each path. I would be moving him in the middle of the year away from friends he'd been in school with in some cases for years, and to a new environment with new kids, and then we'd do it all over again when he started kindergarten. And there wasn't just Sam to consider, there was also Caroline. She is in the 3 year old class at the same school, and is doing well there. It wasn't fair to move her, too, if she was happy there. And how would Sam feel about seeing her get dropped off twice a week at his old school, and seeing his old teachers?

Then, on Wednesday I went to choir practice where I saw my friend, K. K has had dealings with the same school over a similar situation. Her reaction was a pretty uncharacteristically strong one: "That's bull*&#*! Sam's a great kid, you are great parents. Don't let this make you think otherwise." K knows us and Sam pretty well, and is the mother of a somewhat high-maintenance boy herself, so I take her opinion pretty seriously. She went on to tell me that there was still one spot left at the school her son is doing very well at, she wouldn't pressure me and was happy to just listen if I needed to vent, she knew that there were lots of drawbacks and benefits to whatever we decided, and that she knew we were great parents who would make the best decision for Sam. Also, had I thought about talking to Mrs. B, the principal at the school we planned to send Sam to next year? I might find that helpful.

So, I called Mrs. B. She sings with the choir at church on occasion, and she and I are on good terms. She picked up on the first ring, and I went through the list of concerns that the school had regarding Sam. She laughed.

"Oh, man!" she sighed. "Boys just DO NOT belong in our school system, do they? Have you thought about switching schools?" She went on to describe some of the challenges she had with her own high-maintenance son who is now grown and how she felt they made her a better principal. She pointed out with a smile in her voice that she had her eye on Sam at Mass last weekend, and she had a feeling they'd be good friends next year. And I laughed, too. I didn't feel put on the spot or like a failure acknowledging that Sam might spend some time at her office. Her tone conveyed that this was a part of her job that she really enjoyed - helping kids who were a little "more" figure out how they fit into a classroom environment, that she was on my side in helping me as a parent figure all of this out. When I pointed out that I was working on developing the skills to help him, she said,

"Oh, Kate. You already HAVE the skills to help him. You're just finding them. God would not have given you a child with this temperament if he didn't also give you the skills to help him. I firmly believe that."

Breath out.

I hung up the phone with a huge weight off my shoulders. Somehow, in spite of feeling lost and overwhelmed, I had been able to find a way to people who could listen, offer advice, and support my and Mark's parenting. I wasn't as alone as I thought I was.

I thought about all the advice I'd gotten. The old school, with their recommendation that we take Sam to intensive, long-term counseling for what they believed were emotional issues. Our therapist from this summer, who told us after spending several hours with Sam and listening to us that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him, and focused on helping us as parents develop some better skills for helping him. The Sunday school teachers who have approached us and told us how much they enjoy having Sam in class, how he is unusually observant, curious and spiritual. K and Mrs. B's observations and advice. My own instincts, telling me that I wasn't being blind to my own child's challenges, that Sam was in a negative cycle with his teachers at the old school and the issues he seemed to be having were, in fact, a result of him being at a place at which he was no longer thriving, and that taking him to therapy for something that wasn't wrong might make it worse.

So, we've started the process of switching Sam to a different school, and as of today I'm working on tying up some loose ends - mainly, visiting the new school and getting Sam's buy-in, and talking to the old school about our decision in an adult enough fashion that I can feel comfortable keeping Caroline there for the rest of the year. So, you know, just little things. Gulp.

And in thinking about this today, I realized something. If my mom had been around to talk to, I might have fallen into a familiar and easy trap: I could have just taken her advice and done what she thought I should do, because that was often what I ended up doing. After all, she was usually right. Instead, I had to seek out and weigh advice from others, something I'm not usually comfortable with. I had to decide on my own who to give the most weight to based on instinct and past history. I had to trust my mothering gut. I might have reached the same conclusion as I would have if I took Mom's advice, but this time it was MY decision.

And in the end, that is perhaps the greatest gift she could have given me: the realization that I can do this, and I'm not as alone as I thought.


Anonymous said...

So many things I never considered about being a parent. Which is probably at least part of why I'm not one yet. But I believe enough in you, and in Sam, from what I read about him on Facebook :) that he is both bright and awesome, and that has a huge amount to do with his parents. My own parents had some problems with me when I was in school, if you can believe it. I was pulled from Portland Public Schools after kindergarten, partly on the advice of the principal at my elementary school (and thank god he was so candid and honest with my parents). I don't think I was acting out, but I know I was bored. Private school was the best thing that ever happened to me, at least as a child. I went back to public school briefly in 6th grade, my teacher told my parents I had an "attitude problem", a badge I wore proudly for the next couple of years.

I guess what I'm saying is it takes all kinds. Courage to you and your family.

Bob said...

I think you made the right choice. But the problems which made you have to choose are real, and will not simply go away by changing schools. I think Sam will likely grow out of these issues but it would be a mistake to just assume Sam will grow out of these issues. My 2 cents.

Kate said...

Good point, Bob. I should have also explained that we're moving him to a school with two teachers who have Master's Degrees in early childhood ed, one of them with an emphasis on special ed. One of the suggestions the old school had was to get someone with more experience to observe him in the classroom so we could figure out how to approach any issues he has. I'm confident that they are going to be a better fit as we figure out what to work through and what to leave be.

Kate said...

Camille, thanks for sharing that. I think that part of the issues with Sam might be boredom-related, too. This school has a much freer structure with access to pretty much anything the kids want to do during choice time. One kid apparently has been working on a space rocket for days, taking it home and bringing it back to further execute his ideas with the support of the teachers. Right up his alley!

Kate S said...

Hi Kate (it's Kate Simson). I read your blog occasionally, and I just re-read this entry. You know what it reminds me of? Me. When I was in 2nd grade, my school told my parents I needed therapy and counseling and that I had all these problems and was wrong, wrong, wrong. My parents weren't so sure but they also weren't sure what to do. So into therapy I went, at 7 years old, and you know what? I didn't need it. You knew me back then, so maybe you have some memory of how I was as a kid. But to be honest, it wasn't until some therapists helped my parents AND me figure out how to be all supportive TOGETHER (mind you this was when I was 20!) that things really improved. My parents' instincts had been right all along. Now, things are much better (I'm 26 now and have a pretty good relationship with them!) and the hard feelings have largely passed. But... there is definitely something to be said for parental instincts! You were always the very best babysitter, my favorite! I have no doubt that you are also the very best mother, and the very RIGHTEST mother for Sam (and your other 2 darling children as well.) Xo!

Kate said...

Kate, thank you so much for this perspective! I try to think often about how my relationship with Sam will be in the future. I'm happy to say that he is now a happy 1st grader and we've been very lucky to have teachers who are willing to work with us to figure out what is best for him. Hope you are doing well!