I’ve pushed three pink squirming babies into the world. It hurt like hell. I thought nothing could be worse. I was wrong.
Parenting is the most painful experience in the world and one that we are woefully under-prepared for. There’s a reason why psychologists all over the world have couches filled with people blaming their mothers for all their problems. That’s because we are to blame.
Parenting is like putting on a blindfold, been spun around hundred times and then made to (still blindfolded) walk across a tightrope below which yaws an endless abyss. If you pass that, you then have to traverse a million miles of eggshells without crushing a single one in 4-inch stilettos.
If you manage that, you still have to get across a minefield, kill some dragons without singeing your hair or chipping a nail, make lunch, read a bedtime story, do long bloody division and find out what x equals and why.
Forget Navy Seals training. You want hard-core? Try being a mother.
The South African education system is a write-off. You can send your child to a government school and sentence him or her to a lifetime of semi-illiteracy, and a career path that peaks somewhere around nail technician, or you can send them to a private school in the hope that one day they will make enough money as the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company to put you up in a nice old-aged home.
We’d like to laud the success stories of the new South Africa, but when it some to education there aren’t any. Education is for the elite. It’s not racist anymore. It’s just about money. Either you have it or you don’t, and if you don’t you may as well bugger off. The private schools may be non-profit, but they are still businesses and the bottom line is that if your child is not making the grade, they have 70 others waiting for his place.
Alright, they didn’t say it quite like that, but it’s the overall feeling I got. My son is not making the grade.
Yesterday we went in for a group session. My head was pounding, my palms were sweaty and I wanted to be ill. Actually, the first thing I did when it was over was give thanks to my doctor and down half a Xanax. Teachers scare the living daylights out of me. They have ever since my Grade 2 teacher said she could turn into dragon and burn me to a cinder.
Small boy aged 7 lacks the foundation skills necessary for Grade 2. It sounds simple, but it isn’t, because they use buzzwords and phrases that mean nothing to me. Ask me about marketing strategies, social networking and ROI, and I’m your girl, but start using educational terms and you may as well be talking Greek. I know what phonological awareness is as a concept, but I have no idea what it actually means in reality. What is he supposed to be able to do that he can’t?
There were two distinct approaches to the intervention.
The school: Keep him back in Grade 1 for another year
Diametrically opposed points of view. Neither party vaguely resembled the bamboo of Eastern philosophy. Two hours of talking in circles later we got nowhere.
I think we all need to bend a bit. I hate confrontation, so in sitting there in the headmistress’s office my anxiety gets the better of me. Sitting in his classroom, my son’s anxiety gets the better of him.
The thing is that what one person finds totally stress free can move another to tears. Supermarkets are not stressful for most people. For me, supermarkets are a full on nervous breakdown and end with me sobbing in the frozen food aisle. The lovely sunny library at school is a wonderful place for most of the boys, but is a place of terror for my son. His anxiety levels are hindering him from learning.
Perhaps it is time to make a list. Lists are good.
Staying back in Grade 1
· More time to solidify his skills base
· More time to mature emotionally and developmentally
· Less stress with learning as he will have already done it
· An environment he is already comfortable in
· An easy solution
· When the “switch” flicks he’ll get bored
· Anxiety based on having his peers advance while he stays back
· Future stigma attached to “failing”
· Doing the same thing over and over is the definition of insanity
· Should perhaps do this at a new school and the logistical implications at year end mean it is nigh impossible to find him a new school
Going to Grade 2
· Remains with his social peer group
· A new teacher and new environment may break his behaviour cycle
· New skills might excite him
· The “switch” flicking will motivate him to achieve
· His lack of basic skills makes the gap widen more and more between him and his peers
· His confidence fails more as he fails to achieve raising his anxiety levels more
I am sure there are others, but these are the basics.
What about the one thing we are all missing. My son. What does he want to do? He wants everyone around him to be happy to his own detriment. He’ll give me whatever answer he thinks I want to hear. The school psychologist is now going to take two play therapy sessions with him to find out where his head is at.
If he wants to go up a grade I’ll move heaven and earth to help him.
If he wants to stay back and re-enforce his skills, I’ll move heaven and earth to help him
I’m making a decision here that will impact the rest of his life.
There are consequences and risks whatever we choose to do. It is terrifying.
My husband has been scouring research reports. Something like 69% of American high-school drop-outs have been kept back a year at some point in their schooling. There is no quantifiable proof that keeping a child back helps his development and academic achievement in any way in the long term. Short-term there is a great improvement in marks, the next year they are average and the third year they are behind again.
Where to from here?
All of us need to make what the Chinese call “concessions”
My ideal is this:
Let him go to Grade 2 for the first term.
If he copes fantastic first prize.
If he doesn’t we can move him in Term 2 and it gives us the time to find a school that can accommodate him.
Or we can move him down back to Grade 1.
We could let him stay in Grade 1 for the first term and if he exceeds expectations and the “switch” flicks he is moved to Grade 2 in the second term.
Either way, right now I don’t need a full scale IEP (independent curriculum). What I ask is that for the remainder of the term he gets a little less work in class than everyone else so he can complete the task without panicking about time.
The important thing I ask is the hardest to give. Put your pre-conceived notions about my child away. When he achieves something don’t say, “Well, will he remember them tomorrow?”
I love my son. However, I also know him better than just about anyone. He is the middle child. His siblings are louder, more extrovert and run roughshod over him. How does he get attention? He opens those big blue eyes and plays the helpless one. Everyone rushes to comfort him.
He is manipulating the classroom environment to get the most attention possible and it is working.
Why should he read the question when the teacher will read it for him?
Why should he do the work, when the teacher will give him the right answer?
He doesn’t need to be babied. He needs direction, limits and boundaries. I don’t let him away with emotional manipulation at home, so don’t let him do it at school. Be firm. Be strict. Be understanding of his challenges, but empower him to find the answers, don’t give them to him. Praise his successes so he knows that is where he’ll get attention. Right now he gets more attention for his failures than his successes. That’s backwards.
He has a mother. Me. I am not a teacher.
He has a teacher. You. You are not his mother.
We are a team, but we have different roles and responsibilities.
Don’t let him play symphonies on your heartstrings.
He’s a veritable Mozart when it comes to that.