The Boy With Three Moms

For all the negative things I have to say about the State Department, there are a few bright spots. One of them is the Special Needs Educational Allowance (SNEA.) This baby rocks. Right now, it is paying for extra moms for my son!

It was a major leap for me to become a helicopter mom. I wasn’t raised that way, and I certainly no intention of raising my kids that way. My “parenting philosophy” if there actually is one, could be summed up as: listen to your gut, cover the basics, remember you are supposed to be working yourself out of a job, and (very important) don’t panic!

This worked out fine for my first child, whose least favorite stage was being a baby. Oh, she really did not like it. As soon as she could sit up and point to things, there was no going back. All I really had to do was stand out of the way and offer hugs on occasion. I was very well-suited to parenting this kid.

But for the second one, I had to rewrite the book. Because he is ADHD, because he not a first child, because he has a Y chromosome. Oh, BOY.

Of course, standing out of the way can still be a good plan on occasion. But that’s not how the educational system works for a kid like this. It is designed for good little girls who listen to adults, who can intuitively develop a system for organizing themselves, and who are willing to jump through hoops even when they know they are stupid hoops. I ought to know: I was one of these girls (most of the time).

Now, on the positive side, being able to recognize when your time is being wasted is not inherently a bad thing. As an adult, it can even be a very good thing. But as a kid, you just don’t get to decide. Either you are prepared to make your 1,047th poster for science class or you aren’t. You are very unlikely to be able to argue your way out of it. It sucks, but it is what it is.

My son told me just this week when we were picking up school supplies, including a glue stick: “This is why I got bad grades last year, Mom. I wouldn’t glue all that stuff. It was all about gluing stuff.”

Sigh.

For some reason, in the Fairfax County, Virginia school system, where my son was in 3rd to 9th grade, many teachers seem to think they aren’t doing their jobs if they don’t give a ton of homework. Preferably worksheets. Millions of ’em.

I have heard that there are parents who actually request more homework for their kids. Who are these parents and what the hell is wrong with them??

Some kids can keep track of it all. And the teachers put the assignments online so you can look them up and print out a copy at home. Not. Seriously, people, quit saying that this happens 100 percent of the time. Or even 50 percent of the time Because it just doesn’t. This is how I know that the State Department is not unique in its “if we say we are doing it then we must be doing it” attitude. Seven years of dealing with the Fairfax County school system (or possibly any big public school system) can teach you a lot about bureaucracies.

Anyway, what I came to realize by the end of 9th grade was that this was simply an impossible task. Even if I was the best helicopter mom in the world, there was just no way I was ever going to be able to organize this kid’s life for him. Not unless I was willing to literally follow him around at school all day gathering up worksheets and writing things in his organizer. Which I wasn’t.

Oh, and by the way, to all the people who kept telling me that I wasn’t being assertive enough, or that I should sue the school system or whatever….please. I went to all the parent conferences. I got him a 504. I did my best to organize the kid’s life with the information I could get. Not to mention taking him to years of therapy and dragging him out of bed at an ungodly hour every morning for school. The big picture is that this system simply wasn’t set up to educate my son. One already strung-out mom was not going to change that. I couldn’t help the fact that my kid was born too smart for his own good and difficult as heck. And I was not interested in becoming an educational advocate of any kind. I just wanted my kid to get a high school education.

I mean, are public schools there to educate all the kids or just the easy ones?

Anyway, the one bright spot in 9th grade was a student teacher who took an interest in him. She decided to make a project out of getting him through Honors English. With her help, he got a front page story in the school newspaper and completed enough assignments to take him from an F to a C. That’s all it took–a little individual attention from someone who could actually work within the system.

Aha, I said. This is the trick.

Fast-forward to Vienna. Here, the aforementioned SNEA is paying for not one, but two teachers at school to help him get it together. One is a learning support counselor who liaises with all his teachers once a week to see where he is on assignments. She is also a math teacher and tutors him in algebra, his weakest subject. The second is an English teacher who has also “taken an interest” in him and will be providing general homework support on a freelance basis.

It’s like he has moms at school as well as home!

This is just awesome. It’s not just that there is less work for me. It’s that there are now people at school to handle the school things. I handle the room and board, medication management, dealing with the picky eating, telling him to mind his manners, making him do his chores, showing him how to manage money–you know, the regular mom stuff. Which is, of course, more work because he is ADHD. But absolutely within my skill set.

Yeah, this part I am good at. And he’s doing pretty well, too, now that we are not fighting about homework all the time.

This is a huge relief for both of us. Because I don’t think I was very good at being a helicopter mom. My heart wasn’t in it. In retrospect, this was probably obvious to everyone familiar with the situation. I’m OK with that. I don’t have to be a supermom. If there is something you are not good at, it makes sense to pay someone else to do it for you. Or, better yet, find an employer who will.

Last week, we attended a parent teacher conference at the school to discuss some “concerns.” Oh crap, I thought. I’ve learned to hate that word, “concerns.”  I asked my husband to come with me for support. But as it turned out, it was the assistant principal who was nervous. He wanted to discuss a “concern” that my son might not be able to handle the IB diploma. I almost laughed out loud.

After reassuring him that no, we did not expect the school to turn our son into a Rhodes scholar in three months, we proceeded with a plan for a standard diploma with IB certificates in a couple of subjects. Which might not seem like a big deal, but for my son to be on a solid track for graduation, and actually enjoying school is a major achievement as far as we are concerned. We are not about to make everyone crazy by pushing for the full diploma.

Apparently, according to the assistant principal, most parents have a hissy fit when told their kid may not be up to completing the full IB program. I’m guessing these are the same parents who like to make school miserable for the rest of us by pestering teachers for more homework. To those parents, I say, slow and steady wins the race. Slow, steady, and sane.

And don’t panic.

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6 comments

  1. Heck, I remember in public elementary school receiving hints from some of one son’s teachers that there might be something wrong with him, but I was never told that I should have him evaluated for ADHD, or better yet, that the school would evaluate him for ADHD if I asked.

    Apparently, I learned through a later whispered conversation (after we had paid for the evaluation), that It was strictly against school policy to tell any parent that there might be something wrong with their student, and that the school was required to evaluate and help with that. The teacher who whispered this to me said that too many parents get upset at the school when they hear this.

    I am upset that I never heard this! If a good friend hadn’t suggested ADHD, the evaluation might not have happened for years!

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    • That sounds hilarious! I’m kind of out of that phase now (and thank God for that) but I’ll keep it in mind for my daughter one day. I wonder if there is a book about not panicking with teenagers?

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    • Well, thank you! BTW, in your post, you say that you would prefer I didn’t refer to my son as being ADHD, rather than has ADHD. I actually have a reason for that usage. ADHD is something a person experiences for his or her entire life, with lifelong implications. I also say that I am hypothyroid rather than saying I have hypothyroidism. It’s not curable, it’s just something I need to accommodate as best I can. Same with ADHD. That’s the way I see it, anyway.

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  2. What a great post. You made so may TRUE statements about our education system – that I so wish were not true. I wish I would find a few extra moms within the schools. My son also too bright for the schools could use some help on the inside as opposed to just me pushing from the outside.
    Congratulations on the future diploma!

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