There are times when I dearly wish to return to those days when I used to know what I was doing as a parent - which was, not coincidentally, when I was pregnant with my first child and therefore qualified to be considered a "parent" without actually having done any actual parenting. I knew exactly where I stood on everything, from home birthing to cosleeping to screen time to the college application process, and what's more, I was supremely confident in my rightness. Then I had real, live children, and all my hard-won knowledge (i.e., knee-jerk conclusions I had reached based on no lived experience) went straight to hell in the proverbial hand basket. I must say, I find this terribly inconvenient. I was such a good parent! I knew all the answers!! There was such a clear division between right and wrong, good and bad, and I was on the side of the angels every time.
Back when I was The Best Parent In the World, I also knew exactly how my offsprings' education would proceed. Being a teacher, of course I would have children who were model students - not just bright, but invested in school, well-behaved, and of course, eager and willing to learn. Every time I talked to a parent whose kid just wasn't that into school, I secretly heaved a huge sigh of relief that I would never be in their shoes. After all, my kids would be at least a little bit like me, right? So if I'm a schoolteacher, and I loved school when I was a kid, then they were bound to love it too, weren't they?? For India, all went as expected. My quick-witted, rule-following, people-pleasing firstborn is made for the traditional classroom. She loved it from the moment classes began. Then my second child went off to school, and I sat back and waited for her to have the same experience, just as my master plan had anticipated. And then…..
(I'll just sit here for a moment and let you enjoy the impending comeuppance on the way.)
So now I am going to write out the words I never ever thought would apply to a child of mine: Celeste … doesn't really like school all that much. She goes to a great school. She has wonderful, caring teachers. The school makes a great effort to group students so that they will have some familiar faces and some new ones in their class each year. Cici's teachers report that she is always pleasant, polite, and willing to engage during the school day. According to them, Cici is well-liked by her peers, making good progress in her studies, and upbeat in the face of new challenges. It's hard to reconcile this with the kiddo I see at home, the one who asks, "do I have to go to school," in the morning and says the best thing about her week is "Friday, because then I don't have to go to school for two days." When I tell her that her teachers say the other kids like her and she's doing well, she says she feels "invisible," and that she has "no real friends". When I ask about her schoolwork, she says "the other kids are judging" her, she feels bad if she gets something wrong, and that everyone thinks she's "stupid." When she got in the car this last Friday, she asked hopefully, "Mommy, can I go to a new school on Monday?"
Here is where I have to admit: I am completely flummoxed. How do I reconcile these two images, one of a kid who is doing well and making progress, versus a child who is unhappy a great deal of the time? Is this unhappiness caused by something that's purely internal to her, or is it a case of a square peg finding an uncomfortable fit in a round hole? If it's the former, would a change of school do any good anyway? If it's the latter, then what are we going to do? We moved to this location specifically to be in this district, so that I could teach where our kids go to school. I'm a firm believer in public education and I know her teachers are very good at what they do, plus there are complicating factors that could prevent her from attending a private school, even if we found one we liked and figured out a way to afford it. So here I am - I'm her mom, I'm a professional educator, and I have Not. One. Clue. what the right thing is to do. (Actually, I do have one clue - I am NOT homeschooling. But other than that, I am wiiiiide open.) My pregnant, not-yet-a-parent self who had all the answers is not being much help here, either. So if any of you readers happen to know what "the answer" is, or where I might find it, would you please send it my way?