It’s the end of another school year.
We should have had a fifth grader. It was supposed to be the first full year with his 504 plan. The first year he was identified as talented & gifted. I wonder how he would have done. Would we have spoken to his fifth grade teacher as often as we did his third and fourth (usually weekly, sometimes daily). Would we have gone to the office as often? Spoken regularly to the principal, counselor and nurse? Still been on a first-name basis with the office staff? (I realized at my oldest son’s eight grade graduation that I didn’t even know the principal’s name.)
School was always really difficult for my son. Ridiculously bright, yet never, ever content—or able—to go along with “the rules,” he viewed school as something to be endured. Yet for the most part, his educators loved him. He may not have wanted to be at school, but he was pretty darn cheerful about it. He had a unique perspective and sense of humor that was hard not to respond to. We were lucky enough to have teachers that really liked our kid and appreciated him for who he was.
Probably the only exception was the school janitor. When he was in first grade, his nickname was “The Happy Puker.” There was a period of time when he was always getting sick to his stomach. We were pretty concerned, honestly. He legitimately had the most delicate tummy of all my kids, and the stress of school didn’t help. Yet, he was always really cheerful in the nurse’s office, chattering away at her a mile a minute while he waited for us to pick him up, offering to help her. It wasn’t until second grade that his teacher figured out that he was *making* himself vomit, just so he could go to the nurse’s office. When we talked to him about it, he sighed. “Yeah, I probably need to stop. It’s making Mr. [Janitor’s Name] mad to have to clean it up, I bet.” He had to be running a real fever for me to let him to stay home from school—although I admit, sometimes I just let him stay home because I could tell he needed a break.
I tried so hard to help him appreciate school. I’d remind him how much his teachers and educators loved him, and how kind they were to him, whenever he got down on himself. See, I’d say, it’s not just your mom and dad that love you (because when he was angry, he’d insist we only loved him because we had to). I’d remind him of his friends, and how much he liked learning cool new things. He adored recess and art, and like music, reading and science. He hated math with a passion, almost as much as standardized testing.
We talked a lot about home schooling, or finding an alternative school. But honestly, for Charlie it just boiled down to being in a situation where he had to do things he didn’t want, when he didn’t want to. He was still learning how life worked. He was well aware of the value of hard work and effort; he just didn’t care about putting in that effort on anything he didn’t value, and fought against accepting that some times you have to, just because.
I secretly admired him for that. It was a balancing act as his parent, fostering that questioning spirit while still trying to make him a productive member of society. I wanted him to keep that spark, that refusal to go along with status quo or do things “just because.” I would tell him that if you want to break the rules, you need to understand them and figure out which ones you can and should break, when.
His impulsiveness made that really, really difficult for him. So did the sheer intensity of his emotions, the storms that would rage through him like a hurricane. During his last month of school, he had a pretty serious incident that set a whole new benchmark for the concept of a “bad day.” I was pretty shaken by it, and I think he was, too. Yet, by the time we met with his therapist, he was back to his happy self. It’s one of the “what ifs” that haunt me. Did I miss how intense his storms were becoming? How could I have failed to see how ineffective all the coping strategies we tried to teach him for his impulsiveness were?
At his brother’s eighth grade graduation, all of the students walked across the stage for their middle school diplomas. In a particularly touching moment, they called the name of a classmate who had died of cancer last year and there was a moment of silence. I thought about those parents, wondering if they were there, seeing all of their child’s friends grow up, moving on to the high school adventure their child will never have. I thought about how I will never see Charlie graduate from middle school, or high school. How there was one child missing in our end-of-year school picture, and always will be.
I thought about how much he loved summer, and that’s he’s missing it–missing all of the summers, ever. I hope wherever he is, there’s no school and he finally gets what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. I hope he knows how much I miss him.