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Jackson, Pre-Kindergarten Visit, 1997

Jackson, Pre-Kindergarten Visit, 1997

The kids’ final school year has begun—which is good since I don’t feel like I can keep doing this school thing much longer. Kind of a funny statement from someone who was pretty good at school.

The biggest thing I struggled with was my own procrastination, but I always came through and got things done on time. Yes, there were times I finished thanks to my mom sitting by my side and typing, but the work was my own and done at my own prompting. When I went off to college 1,000 miles from home, I didn’t have Mom to type for me anymore—although one time she did help me through writer’s block during a phone call.

I believe the school systems have gotten harder for kids with ADD than they were in my day—and my kind of ADD wasn’t that affected by how things were done. I didn’t have any other learning differences, so I had no idea how other people struggled. What innocence.

Trina, Art Show, ? 1969

Trina, Art Show, ? 1969

However, my kids weren’t even in school yet when I began to see the challenges my nephews and niece encountered in their early school days. Between the three of them, things like ADD, learning disabilities, and just a right-brained outlook made school seem so stressful for them and their parents. These were smart kids who loved to learn, but I worried that that love was already being beat out of them in the primary grades.

Christiana, Pre-Kindergarten Visit 1997

Christiana, Pre-Kindergarten Visit 1997

Lucky for these kids, their parents were willing to work with them and not afraid to take on the system, if need be. They even volunteered as advocates for other parents and once spoke at a teachers’ convention on the parents’ perspective about learning challenges. But you know there is scar tissue there, even though their older son has graduated from college and their daughter is in her final year of college.

I won’t forget the year all my sister-in-law wanted for Mother’s Day was the proof—which thankfully she received—that her younger son was going to graduate from high school in a few weeks. Not because he skipped classes or didn’t care about learning, but because it was hard for him to do things the school’s way—and, according to his older brother, he was less likely to take advantage of services the school offered to kids who needed help.

My kids loved preschool, jumping into learning with gusto. I really hoped that regular school wouldn’t be as hard for them as it was for their cousins. But I have to say it was.

Christiana, Kindergarten Graduation '98

Christiana, Kindergarten Graduation '98

My daughter has appeared to pull it off. Yet she has plenty of her scar tissue of her own, even if her grade point average doesn’t reflect that. Like me, she has done what it takes, even if the cost to herself was pretty high. The areas where she has struggled would have tripped me up, too, if I had encountered them when I was in school. What I know is the little girl who entered kindergarten full of energy needed to devote a lot of that energy to fitting in—and left kindergarten much more subdued. I can see it in the pictures from those days, even though she had a caring teacher she loved and a birthday party full of new friends.

Sherman & Jackson, Kindergarten Graduation 1998

Sherman & Jackson, Kindergarten Graduation 1998

My son, well, that’s a different story. He never could fit in. Despite the fact he is a high-energy person, even he does not have enough energy to do what it takes. I can’t begin to say how much that has changed his outlook on life, but I think it makes him resistant to other ideas for how to do things, maybe because for so many years left-brained people have insisted he could do things he could not.

And now all these years later, I still encounter a wall from him any time I try to help. As much as I haven’t insisted that he do things my way or a specific way, he thinks the fact I get all Nike with him (“Just do it!”) means I am part of the problem. Almost every time I try to work him through his road blocks, it feels like 4th grade all over again, when the boy who had been singled out as top student in the classroom in 3rd grade found out that school had become something he could no longer “do”—and then took it out on me.

Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, Jeffrey Freed, M.A.T., & Laurie Parsons, (c) 1997

Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, Jeffrey Freed, M.A.T., & Laurie Parsons, (c) 1997

It’s easier for him to be No Man and shoot down every possible idea versus put something on paper that maybe the teacher and—more importantly—he won’t like. Over the years, most suggestions—whether for “how to” ideas or content ideas—have been met with “no” or “but”. I tell him he needs to listen to the advice Large Marge gave Pee Wee in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. She starts out saying, “Everyone I know has a big but . . .”

He does have a lot of “big buts” that are valid, but just because the system doesn’t work as well for him as for many others doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to meet his dreams—even if he has to write a few mediocre papers for classes that are not in his major areas of interest to get there.

Trina, Graduation 1980

Trina, Graduation 1980

I know it’s late in the game, but we now have both our kids working with Jeffrey Freed, an educational therapist and consultant who specializes in helping kids figure out how to use their energies for learning versus just fighting some system that is often hostile to how they process information. The hard part is working through how much scar tissue we all have, parents included, after all these years of jousting against how school is done.

Freed’s book, Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, came out in 1997, the year our kids entered kindergarten with so much enthusiasm. Sadly, so much of what he wrote about how school is done is still accurate all these years later. And since so much of that doesn’t work for our kids, this former salutatorian no longer feels like doing the school thing.

After Jackson’s first writing assignment of the year, although I am feeling defeated again, I have to remind myself that Jeffrey is experienced at breaking through that scar tissue. There is still time to reclaim the joy of learning and find a way to “do school” in our own way—no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

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