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A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

February 5, 2013

He was always a smart baby. Quick to crawl (6 mos), climb stairs (6 mos 3 days),  walk and hurl himself out of his crib (15 mos).  He would pick out his cloth diaper by color at 18 months old. But it didn’t strike me as odd behavior, even after a lifetime of playing big sister and several years as a nanny. James was my first child and I didn’t assume he was atypical, if anything, I thought other kids were just a little slower.

By age two he had potty trained verbally. He said he didn’t like a mess in his diapers. I said to use the toilet. And aside from over nights, he did. We had welcomed his little brother and rather than dote on the baby as I hoped he would, he dismissed him with a wave of his hand for six months saying, “That’s Ben. He’s cute.” James learned his upper and lower case alphabet by age three. He would ‘read’ to us by listing letters he saw on signs and billboards and asking “What’s that spell?” This was his mantra for a year. Traffic lights became his obsession and he would shriek directions from the back seat as we drove through southern Florida and then later in northern Alabama after we relocated for work. “It’s red, red means stop. Are you stopping?! OK, it is green you may go. Don’t turn right on red!!! Yellow means slow. SLOW DOWN mom!” His Aunt Jane recorded his diatribe on her phone and we listened to it for years, with each time ending in tears of laughter. At this time he also had developed an aversion to what he called “lousy things” or hand driers in public bathrooms. Jane once took him into a rest stop with a “whole wall of lousy things” and he almost had a panic attack.

But once he enrolled in pre-school, it was a little better. He was excited to be able to choose his work, he liked his teachers and the montessori-esque environment was perfect for his active mind. I reminded him to use his powers for good on a daily basis.

ImageHe still insisted on using them for plots that included catapulting his brother off the recliner rocker and making a head shaped hole in the wall or arguing with me over everything from semantics to the way I cut his sandwich. His younger brother is still quieter, more sensitive and does things at his own pace. James’ mind moves faster than most kids his age. He has finally stopped hyperventilating if the alphabet magnets are not in order (ages 3.5-5). He has stopped arranging his toys cars by brand (ages 3-5).

We decided to send him to public school rather than the montessori-style school that he attended for pre-k. He went into kindergarten being able to read. After I begged the school to test him, they finally did even though I had been told that it wasn’t standard procedure and they wouldn’t send him to a reading specialist. He was five. He had a reading proficiency of a child in the seventh month of first grade (1.7). He word recognition level was that of a fourth grader. We were lucky that we had a kindergarten teacher who recognized that James was beyond his peers academically and she allowed him free reign in the library and encouraged him to read whatever he wanted. In the beginning of first grade, he cried himself to sleep for several weeks. James had been so excited to learn new things and be challenged that he had built it up in his mind and then was disappointed when it was mostly a review of kindergarten. This led up to the pig incident: the teacher had been reading them Charlotte’s Web (which I read to him at 3.5, because he could follow plot summary, developments, characters and content at that age). And then she asked them to draw a picture of a pig. But to James, she was asking for a real picture of a live animal, not something a six year old was capable of drawing. He panicked. He told her he couldn’t draw a pig. He wouldn’t. She tried to help him and drew a pink circle with pig features, causing him to erupt with “That’s not even a pig! That’s a pink circle! I don’t know how to draw a pig and you haven’t taught me!” Which then resulted in him moving his behavior clip and getting a note send home regarding his defiant and rude attitude.

I know he needs to learn to control his emotions more. I get it. He needs to show more respect to adults. But the problem here is that most of the time they aren’t respecting him. He would get 100% on his spelling pre-test on Monday. Then he would spend 4 more days reviewing those same words to test again on Friday. This is a kid who could read and spell words three grades above the current level. No wonder he would act out and misbehave. If someone asked me to repeat the same task over and over and I had already perfected it the first time, I would feel down right stabby too. He ended up meeting with a psychologist for his anxiety and perfectionism. She said he “failed out” of his IQ test at 120. He had told her it was boring and he didn’t think she could really measure his brain by it anyway. $500 later and we learned that he had anxiety, he was smart and stubborn. Awesome.

We ended first grade on a shaky note. His teacher refused to let him read books above a third grade level; she said due to content. I countered that I have a Master’s degree in Literature; he’s good. If anyone is qualified to go over content, character development, language and imagery of children’s lit to this kid, I’m going to say it’s me.

Second grade has been OK. We did have the angry chicken incident a few weeks ago, but for the most part he is content with his teacher and she has no qualms about what he reads and she will let him read when he finishes his work early. On the day of the angry chicken, he had lost his quarter for the day from the class bank due to poor behavior (which is mostly talking). So while he took his spelling test he managed to scratch out a note for his teacher.

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An angry chicken giving the bird? He claims no.

He apologized to his teacher and he knows he is not to use the word ‘sucks’ when referring to school anymore. And everyday I wonder if we are doing right by him by sending him to public school. I am not of the home school variety but I almost think that would be best for him. I completely understand that teachers have to teach to the middle; but kids that struggle get extra help. What about the kids that excel? Where is their resource teacher? Our school offers a Gifted and Talented program for third grade and higher, but apparently James didn’t make the cut. (It’s partly based on creativity and that’s not his thing and not mine either if it involves anything more than words.)

So what do we do? Extra ‘work’ at home doesn’t seem fair considering how much homework he has each night. Pulling him out of school is a punishment for him because he likes the socializing and it would infringe on my ability to work. Praying that he gets teachers that recognize his talents and work with him doesn’t seem to work very well. But something has got to give: he is bored. He misbehaves. I don’t want him labeled as a trouble maker or a “bad kid” because he’s been forced to sit through material that he already knew. I don’t want school to become a chore and I don’t want him to lose his edge but I can see that happening over time. What’s the point of being special if everyone just expects you to be average?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 6:46 pm

    Schools suck. Trust me, I know. Zachary STILL can’t control his emotions and he’s in 5th grade. But the whole “I can’t do it perfect, so I refuse to do it at all” Yea. I know that all too well. Don’t stop looking for options. It took us a few years, but Zachary is finally in a school that is right….for him. I didn’t know you’d started a blog…gonna have to start reading 🙂

  2. Devan permalink
    February 5, 2013 7:25 pm

    What’s the point of being special if everyone just expects you to be average? —> That’s the main reason I pulled d out of public school and started homeschooling. I hesitate to talk much about it because people roll their eyes and think that all parents think their kids are special, but I know in my heart he wasn’t getting what he needed. I have seen a lot of positive changes in him since we started and I’m happy with our choice for now. I hope you guys can find something that works for you all.

  3. Suzanne permalink
    March 12, 2013 4:18 pm

    You DO know that L is EXACTLY like James, only a bit younger, right? Just this morning he told me again that school is boring because it is too easy & he doesn’t learn anything. The best thing that I know to do for him is to talk with him a LOT. Ask him questions that are deeper/harder/more advanced than he gets in school. Answer his never ending questions. And find answers together if I don’t know. And we read. It doesn’t feel like extra work to him, yet I know that the average kindergartner is NOT discussing the square root of 100,000,000, or what exactly “square root” means while riding around in mom’s car running errands. 😉

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