I am an unconventional parent. I have an unconventional child. I’m not sure how that evolved, really—except that when I was failing him,
which was often, I adapted. I read, I researched, and I talked to experts. I will always be learning how to parent my son. I will always be learning how to manage his anxiety, his sensitivity, his intensity, and frankly, his awesomeness. Because that’s what he is: he is awesome and I don’t want to take that away from him. And so on this day, this rainy day, I AM SCARED. I am scared of sending him to public school next year. Why am I scared? Let’s turn to what I will call the “sweatshirt incident.”
This morning I was helping him get dressed for preschool. (He’s 5, by the way.) He could not decide between two very similar pairs of shorts. He was paralyzed. He wanted me to choose, he didn’t want me to choose, he worried if he’d worn them already that week, he worried and worried and worried. He began to cry and rage and then his sister began to do the same. It was just one of those mornings. I told both of them that I had to get dressed now. I told my son to get dressed himself, because I could not help him anymore—we were out of time. I went in my room, locked the door and lay on my bed a moment as both kids cried and banged on my door. Then I got dressed in as much peace as was possible. When the banging finally stopped, I heard a polite knock on my door. I opened it, delighted to see my son had put his shorts on. Perhaps he just needed me out of the way.
I knelt down and told him I was grateful that he’d put his shorts on and thanked him. That’s when he told me the rest. “Mom do you know why I didn’t want to get dressed?” he asked. “No, please tell me.” (Seriously, PLEASE!). “Well because the teachers told me I should wear long
sleeves if I’m not going to wear my sweatshirt.” I listened and commiserated a bit. He continued, “I don’t like to wear my sweatshirt and I hate long sleeves. I get really hot and they make me keep it on.” I replied, “Ok, well, we’ve talked to the teachers about that and we told them that you can decide when you need your sweatshirt, right?” He nodded. “Ok, so you still feel like you can’t take it off?” I asked. He nodded again and asked, “Can you please just not send it with me, then I don’t have to wear it?” I paused and replied, “Well, I’m not comfortable with that. If you want it, you should have it. We will talk to the teacher and find out what we can do.”
The sweatshirt incident has happened before, as I said, and the teacher doesn’t seem to mind if he wears it. The problem is that he’s afraid to talk to them. So I get to school and relay this morning’s events to her and ask her if she can help me figure out why he is feeling so stressed about this. She told me that yesterday he tried to send one of his friends to ask if he could take off his sweatshirt, instead of coming himself. She told me that she made him come and talk to her before he could take it off because he needs to learn to communicate. Of course, he wouldn’t do that.
So I take a deep breath and advocate. I looked at her and said, “Oh, well, that’s a step. He did communicate, just not directly, he still managed to get heard, and that’s progress.” Her face fell and her expression slowly changed to what I could only describe as a smirk. My face fell too. Here it comes, I thought. So I said, “Ok, I know this is different, but maybe you could meet him halfway. Do you think instead of making him do something he is really very scared of, you could go to him and say, ‘Are you trying to tell me you are too hot to wear your sweatshirt?’ Can you let him know that he can trust you enough to tell you himself soon?” She sighed.
I know this is a small battle. But what it shows me is how hard it is to stand up for your child. We were just talking about a sweatshirt here. Just a sweatshirt! What happens when it’s homework, a red card, a reading group, or a name on the board?
This is why I am scared. Because I have to advocate for him over things like sweatshirts. If I send him to an “alternative school,” will it be better for him? My ideal school would let him grow at his own pace and wouldn’t pressure him to perform. It would respect him and his interests. It wouldn’t put his name on the board or give him red cards for “bad behavior,” but find out the reason for the behavior and work with that. It wouldn’t sort him into a reading group by level or keep him in at recess. It would let him enjoy learning through play and exploration and collaboration. It would let him feel good about himself. It would be exciting and cool and perfect for him.
The question on repeat in my head was, “What will be best for him?” What will a red card or homework do to him? Then I thought, what will those things do to me? To ME.
That was my “aha” moment. Will my son and I survive this sweatshirt incident? Yes, and probably the next one after that. The real question is, do I want us to “survive” them? Because there will be many of these battles in any child’s life, but I fear there will be so many more in the life of my anxious child. And these battles are HARD. I kinda think I’d like to pick the easy road on this one. I’d rather us thrive than just survive. We’ll be visiting our public school and a positive discipline, collaborative school to compare, but right now, I think I’d like to pick the alternative school, for both of us.
Coming soon…how I decided on public school, after all that!