Stolen - FamilyEducation

Stolen

May 24,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

L. is graduating from elementary school on Thursday.

This Thursday.

Although, as I found out yesterday from L.'s resource teacher, we're not supposed to call Thursday's event a graduation, but a celebration. There's a statewide public school rule, apparently, that the term graduation should be reserved for high school events, lest parents and kids get the impression that 5th grade is an acceptable end-of-the-road stopping point, education-wise. 

Yesterday morning, when L. was dragging his feet and hanging his head low (I was kind of dragging my feet and hanging my head low, too--it was Monday, after all) about going  to school I reminded him that this would be his last Monday morning of elementary school ever. He perked up at that. I can't wait until it's over, he said. I know he'll be glad, but I also know that he's scared inside, too, about leaving the school that has been such a part of his life for all these years. It's embedded into him, like a splinter. This isn't a happy analogy, I know, but I don't have a happy analogy for what elementary school has been for L., for all of us--for what it has done to him, to all of us.

Because I know that leaving will be hard, I'm also trying to help L. say good-bye to the place, in positive ways, so that he's not leaving this school awash in relief and bitter regret.

Actually, maybe that's just what I'm feeling, relief and bitter regret. I try hard not to impose my own feelings onto L., and I don't think I ever do that, but I have to be careful because I know my feelings as a parent could be very different from L.'s feelings as the child.

A few weeks ago, when I was driving L. to school, I asked him how he felt about the end of school. He was in a relaxed, talkative mood, and it didn't take him long to answer.

"I don't know," he said. "When I think about elementary school I have this feeling I've been robbed."

(No one has the power to rock my world more through words than my L., my child who struggles so often to communicate.)

"Robbed of what?"

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe my chance to do good. To be a good student."

I know this is what all children who struggle in school must feel. They may not articulate it at the moment, or ever, even, but I do know that no child ever sets foot into a school building planning to fail, or to flounder, or to struggle, or to be the problem child--the child who just can't seem to get it, who needs intervention. No child ever starts school scheming to become the "behavior problem," or to be labeled the "class clown" or the child who doesn't apply himself, or the underachiever or the learning disabled. I see them all now, as only a parent can, those children with their stolen possibilities. Some of them never get them back. Some of them stumble into the college classroom still looking for what was taken from them years ago, hoping it will, finally, be returned at last.

I may not know much about what the future will hold for L., or how the next year, or two, or three of middle school will play out for him, but I do know that we won't let anything more be stolen from him. He deserves his share of possibilities, as all our children do.  

On Thursday L. graduates from elementary school. It won't be the end of the road at all, but the start of something new and complicated and bigger than all that. It will be a fresh start, a clean slate, a grand do-over, an open door, a new page turned over, a celebration. The beautiful thing about possibilities is that they can always--always--be found again.