I’ve debated what to do with the following experience since it took me two weeks to get up the nerve to write it, and even so I kept it simple. It has been sitting in my file box for the past month. Why haven’t I published it? I’m going to go with pride here. This was a terrible moment in my life and I have spent weeks working to uncrinkle the mess that I’ve made of my wonderful little boy Rex (mostly a mess where English is concerned). Now that I can breath and see that yes, he really is going to be just fine, I’m willing to publicize this really terrible German school experience–my last German school experience–of which I take full and complete responsibility.
Two weeks ago I sat down with Rex’s (6) German teachers for his annual parent/teacher conference. I thought I was prepared for their feedback. Big miscalculation on my part.
Because his teachers don’t speak very much English, and because I would rather sell my shoe collection than have personal contact with any of them on a regular basis (for fear of what they might try to tell me), I kind of rely on notes home and the placement of the moon to gauge where Rex is at, Germanically speaking.
Since he seems happy and I haven’t heard anything bad, I kind of assumed things were all hunky dory.
With the help of a translator, Rex’s two kindergarten teachers sat me down for a full scale attack. The school counselor, who works with Rex once a week after school, was also present but with very limited English she didn’t say much throughout the meeting.
“So,” his teacher said after pleasantries were exchanged, “We want to know if Rex ever speaks to you at home.”
I smiled, “You mean German?” I asked, “No, he doesn’t speak German to me at home.”
“I think you’re misunderstanding,” the translator said. “We want to know if Rex knows how to talk in English.”
And that was the start of the worst parent/teacher conference ever.
Rex is about the most unconventional kid I’ve ever met. Not mentally handicapped, not even socially diagnosable (he’s been tested and tested so please don’t email me about Asperger’s), he’s just flat out quirky. Quirky and immature, and as our last pediatric psychologist said, “There’s no diagnosis for quirky and that’s okay.”
We know Rex is smart and healthy and happy, he’s a budding inventor and an animal lover, kind to every creature that walks the Earth and oh so tender hearted. He worries about looking stupid to the other kids, never shuts up about whatever big idea he’s working on, and has an aversion to food from foreign countries (as well as much of the food found in America).
The Rex they see at school is a totally different animal and just as real as the Rex I deal with at home. I think as parents, it’s easy to jump to our kid’s defense simply because we know them better or have access to part of them that the rest of the world doesn’t see. Besides, he comes home from school every single day happy as a lark, proclaiming a love of all things German (excluding the food).
However, after listening to his teachers talk about how checked out he is, I felt total empathy for them. They are dealing with a different kid.
“Let me ask,” I said after carefully listening to their laundry list of what sounded like mentally handicapped symptoms, “How do you handle this with Rex? What do you do when he refuses to pay attention or participate?”
“Oh,” his teacher said, “We are constantly trying to talk to him in English (he ignores them) and German, always trying to get him to look at us. We help him with his worksheets and sit next to him. We do everything for him!”
And there it was. If there’s one thing in this world my kid loves, it’s personal attention. One on one time or words of praise from us hold serious buying power with him. In other words, the boy has realized that the best way to get spoiled with attention at school is to act like an idiot.
See, I knew he wasn’t stupid.
When I picked Rex up that afternoon, the wordless school counselor from our meeting stopped me on my way to the car. In her very broken English, she said, “Today…all they said of Rex was…bad. But Rexy is a good boy, we really like Rex here! I’m sorry that today was so hard.”
I thanked her and barely made it to the car before the floodgates opened and I bawled all over the steering wheel. Sometimes being a parent is hard on the heart.
Update: I have been homeschooling Rex since the beginning of April and am pleased to announce that he’s a most excellent, enthusiastic pupil who can’t get enough of all things learning. Environment really is everything.