Three weeks after Eric turned five, I escorted him to his first kindergarten class.

We had stopped by the school the day before so he could meet his teacher. He shook her hand and looked her in the eye and smiled. I had high hopes that this veteran kindergarten teacher with her coordinated outfits and old school methods would encourage his love of learning. I managed to get a big hug goodbye from Eric and I raced off to meet my girlfriends for coffee. At the end of the day the teacher gave everybody the same warm smile. “See you tomorrow!” I got no feedback from Eric. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He answered firmly to every question from “how was lunch?” to “were the kids nice?” On the third day of school, I showed up to help with recess and yard duty. I couldn't see Eric among the crowd of kids. I checked his classroom to find him seated near the door with his bottom lip quivering. “I want to go home,” he said in his soft voice. His teacher was more than happy to explain the situation at great length: “I told Eric that if he takes our time, we will take his. He was not paying attention, and I had to call his name four times.” She went on and on, but I had stopped listening. The rule is when kids “misbehave,” they lose recess privileges. I held my tongue and fought back my own tears as I led him out to recess where 79 other kindergarteners had already formed into small groups. He clung to me as we walked around the field, stopping to examine bugs and wildflowers along the fence. At lunch he put his head on my lap. Monday morning, he didn't want go to school at all. We sat outside his classroom until I was forced to leave him in tears. His teacher was unmoved as she handed out tissues to him and all the other children having a hard time. I cried the whole drive home. The next few days were more of the same. Each day, Eric repeated that he did not want to go. On the eighth day of school, he held up seven tiny fingers. “I been to school dis many days already. I done! I quit!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had years before he could quit.

On the drive home Eric informed me that he had been sent to the principal’s office. When I asked why he said, “I told my teacher to shut up!” I pulled the car over and called the school. His teacher calmly explained that Eric was frustrated, and when he was repeatedly offered help, he refused. He had also called her “a idiot.” She assured me that she had heard much worse over her years of experience and not to worry. I was already worried. Eric and I talked it through, and he promised it would not happen again. Sadly, it did happen again. And… again. He soon became a regular in the principal’s office, and I was mortified. Kindergarten was not going well for either of us. I was not encouraged to volunteer at yard duty again. I was informed that if Eric was sitting with me, he was not playing with the other children. He was having a hard time making friends both inside and outside of the classroom. When he did manage to join a group and play he had a hard time stopping. Transitions were still challenging and he found it harder still to be expected to settle down to work. With Paul I was volunteering in the classroom regularly. He sat on my lap and we sang the Alpha Friends songs together off key. But Eric’s teacher felt that until Eric settled in to the routine, followed the rules and behaved appropriately I should stay away. Unlike Paul’s worksheets from kindergarten, which were all stamped “Great Work!” Eric’s came home unfinished marked: “Please complete at home!” Every morning required ten minutes on the little bench outside of his classroom, convincing him he had to go inside. Then one day he added a new twist. “My teacher finks I’m stupid.” I was sure I misunderstood. “She says I’m da dumbest one!” When I confronted his teacher with this information, she seemed surprised but not concerned. Eric was mistaken; of course she thought he was very bright. He simply needed more responsibilities at home. “Perhaps a sticker chart!” she suggested. Every day I stopped by his classroom on my way to pick Eric up from aftercare, hoping that the day had gone well. Every day I was met with a sad headshake and a grim frown from his teacher. She believed his pencil grip was an example of his bad attitude and not a developmental delay. “He’s just so stubborn.” I planned weekly play dates with other kindergarteners, but they never seemed to lead to return invitations. When I asked him who he ate lunch with the answer was always “nobody.”

I asked his teacher how much she thought was developmental and how much was his being young? Was it just him being stubborn or was there something else going on? She assured me that everything was going to be fine. She felt that Eric was very capable of good work if he could just follow instructions and behave. I remember Paul settling in at kindergarten so quickly. Am I rewriting history? Maybe all Eric needed was more time. It was still so early in the year. Maybe I just needed to back off. I made my husband take over the carpool duties, and I stopped asking for daily reports. By the end of September, Eric no longer refused to go to school every day, and I started to relax. After a couple of weeks without any new calls from the principal’s office, I figured no news was good news. I believed things were getting better and looked forward to our upcoming conference in October.

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