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Friday, November 11, 2005


Parent/Teacher Conferences (PTCs – my definition) took place this week at Jack and Sabrina’s school. My two conferences were respectively at 1pm and 1:20pm last Wednesday.

I dread PTCs. Always have. The first one I ever went to was when Jack was a two-year-old preschooler and was still wearing a Pull-up. Mrs. S, his teacher, suggested I should seriously consider waiting a year to put Jack in kindergarten. She cited poor motor skills and immaturity. I was devastated. I cried all the way home, my world shaken. Ultimately, after three years of sweating it out, Bruce and I decided to take Mrs. S’s advice. Jack started kindergarten at six, rather than five, because of all the concerns about emotional and social immaturity.

Almost every other PTC I’ve ever gone to has been a similarly shaking experience. Away from home, children carry on lives totally unknown to their parents. PTCs are a reckoning of sorts, a time when I get a glimpse of another side of my kids, a side that I may have no knowledge of at all.

Jack’s PTCs have almost always involved the suggestion of an unusual level of emotion and social difficulties. While as he’s gotten older, this is less the case, but I always brace myself for some revelation about my oldest son that I am completely blinded to.

Meanwhile, I have always worried about Sabrina’s PTCs because Sabrina has always been…. different, unique, challenging. At home Sabrina has been challengingly emotional and melodramatic. She spent the two years between 16 month-old and 3 ½ screaming almost every waking moment. There has always been this underlying fear, dating back from birth, that her head isn’t growing fast enough, that she has neurological problems, sensory integration issues, and maybe ADHD.

Sabrina’s PTCs have, consequently, always entailed me entreating her teachers to tell me what is wrong with her and what I can do to help her, followed by Sabrina’s teachers wondering what I’m talking about – Sabrina is wonderful and sweet and progressing just fine. The at-home behaviors I describe are met with blank stares. “Sabrina isn’t like that AT ALL at school… It’s almost as if you’re talking about a different person….” And then I feel stupid, like I’M the one just making it up, being melodramatic and emotional.

After a number of years of never knowing what to expect, I’ve tried to eliminate all expectations at PTCs, but also continue to brace myself for blind-siding revelations.

This year I was especially worried because it is Sabrina’s first year of “real” school. I’ve watched her do her homework, practicing her letters, and in spite of the lined paper used to guide her pencil-strokes, she has struggled with her letters, which clearly suggest underdeveloped fine motor abilities (which, of course, I know naturally develop with time). Also, I was bracing myself for the inevitable discussion about Jack’s sensitivities, crying episodes, and perfectionism.

Jack’s teacher was first. The first words out of her mouth were: “Would you ever be willing to consider moving Jack up to second grade?…..Or, enrolling him in Rogers Park?”

Excuse me? WHAT? Second grade? Rogers Park?

Apparently, Jack is reading and comprehending at a sixth-grade level, and basically already knows everything that he is supposed to learn in first-grade. Mrs. G, Jack’s teacher, feels he cannot be adequately challenged in her class. And, in answer to my additional question, Rogers Park Elementary is a program for “highly gifted” kids, ones with IQs over 143, or those who achieve in the top 1% of their age group. Okay. Wow. DIDN’T see THAT coming. Huh.

We talked a little bit more about this, and she suggested another meeting with Bruce present to further discuss her observations and recommendations.

My head swimming, I guided the kids across the hall to Sabrina’s class for my next PTC. Heavily, I sat down across from Mrs. K and said, “Give it to me straight. What’s the bad news?” Mrs. K was baffled by my question, and said that Sabrina is doing very well, she is “progressing satisfactorily” in all areas, although, like Jack, she has a hard time remembering her street address. She also mentioned fine and gross motor skills still developing. I breathed a sigh of relief. No surprises.

At home that afternoon, I made many phone calls. I was very worked up. All I could think was, “This really screws up my plans for our life.” I had had a picture of Jack in the same class with the same kids - neighborhood kids - all through his school years. He is a grade above Sabrina, and that would mean that for two years, all four of the kids would be at the same school together. I LOVED the idea of this. I loved the idea of all the kids and families in the neighborhood growing up together, hanging out together, eventually dating each other (I can see my brother, Doug, laughing at this). I was happy with Jack being ahead academically, so that he could concentrate on social skills, creativity, and physical education. I love that he and Sabrina hang out sometimes at recess, and that he is across the hall from her, meeting her in the hall after school, guiding her and helping her.

I don’t want to face having to make a decision that Jack doesn’t like and that he’ll resist. I don’t want to face the possibility of him going to an entirely different school clear across town – how do I pick-up/drop-off two kids at two different schools at exactly the same time? What if? What if? What if?

Several days have passed since all this started. I’ve talked to a lot of people and have gotten the ball rolling for “testing” for the gifted program. Meanwhile, Jack has again demonstrated his uncanny ability to pick up on language and math concepts that are well beyond his years, and to engage in abstract reasoning. But he is also still such a little boy, crying in despair over the likelihood of changing grades. In his reading pile are Hardy Boys, Captain Underpants, and Mercer Mayer picture books. He is equally comfortable watching Star Wars and Teletubbies (with his little sister and brother, of course). He can catch and throw a football and plays street hockey, but still writes me love letters that he leaves on my pillow.

What to do with Jack?

Right now, we don’t know – we’re undecided, and will continue to be until we actually find out how “smart” he really is. I don’t want to squander his gifts, but I don’t want him to be pressured either. I don’t want him to feel “punished” for doing well. Neither do I want him to NEVER fail or struggle academically. So, I guess we take things one day at a time. I’ve been told this is all a good problem to have, and after shifting my paradigm over the last couple days, I am becoming more comfortable – maybe even excited – about it.

I am once again reminded that as much as we can have a general idea of the direction of our lives, things can turn on a dime at any given moment. Do I cover my eyes and ears and hope the winds of change will just go away so I can stay in my safe little place, or do I face them and boldly state, “Bring it on!”

I very much want to be “bring-it-on-ish”, but struggle with it. So, knowing the biggest mistake I can make is to be rash, I quietly (or, not so quietly) wait, gathering information, moving forward, and hoping the “right” or “best” course (if there is such a thing) will become clearer as the fog lifts to reveal the path ahead.


At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, best laid plans etc. If you ever want to talk about kids who are gifted academically but not in some other areas, just give me a ring!

And the details have a way of working themselves out...don't sweat it too badly.


At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why yes, your brother is laughing out loud to your rediculous notion that childhood friend would end up married.

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love that little guy so much it hurts! Get him an email address so I can send him notes, ok?
Love, Karen


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