Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Battle in my Head

Monday (tomorrow) is the first day of school.  Big Brother is starting 3rd grade and Ballerina and Music Man are entering 1st grade.  All 3 are still in the same school and I think all of them are looking forward to the return of routine.  And for the last week or so, we have been doing the normal "preparing" for another school year.

Before the end of last year, I had a conference with Music Man's teacher.  I knew he was struggling in most ways (non-academic) and I asked the question if he needed to repeat kindergarten.  I was wondering if he had the social maturity to advance with his classmates.  His teacher explained that he was definitely ready to move on to first grade and that she truly believed he was going to be successful. That year, her class was a combined kindergarten/first grade class (8 kindergarteners, 3 1st graders).  I followed up that first question if she thought she would keep Music Man in her class should she have a combined class again.  And she told me that she didn't believe so.  The way it was determined who would stay with her and who would move to the other teacher for that year indicated that Music Man would be moving on.  And, at the time, she wasn't sure if she would have any first graders in her classroom (she's basically a kindergarten teacher after all).

But as the year was about to end, she brought Music Man to the car and mentioned that it appeared that they were getting more kindergarteners for the Learning Center than one teacher could teach adequately.  In this 5 minute conversation, she indirectly suggested that she may keep Music Man in her class after all for first grade, should she have a combined class again.  She felt, at that time, that he may benefit with another year in her classroom (but he would still be a first grader).

On Thursday, she called me.  She wanted to inform me before I saw it through other means that she would be Music Man's teacher again this year.  When I first heard this, I was THRILLED.  This is a teacher that he knows and likes.  He understands what she expects from him and he already knows what he can get away with and when she will put her foot down (for the record, he can't get away with much of ANYTHING).  Her reputation is untouchable, and the reputation is well earned.  We saw a great deal of growth in him all year long and, despite still having many issues that we need to address, we felt he had a very successful year last year.  And they did this combined class just last year, so I knew that the teachers and staff were comfortable handling the transitions that are necessary (as the first graders are more integrated with the general education students than the kindergarteners).

But the more I think about it, the more I am concerned.  I'm still 10000% thrilled that she's his teacher, but I wonder about the thought process that made her keep him in her classroom.  He is very bright and more than satisfies the criteria to be a first grader.  That isn't in question.  But he is very big for his age (not just tall) and he will definitely stick out in this classroom of younger students.  Does he care?  Absolutely NOT.  He doesn't notice anything that has any social context to it.  From a social standpoint, he's probably closer to a 3 year old than a 6 year old.  He is very much an isolationist (if you can call a child by that description) and really has no desire to have friends or peer interactions.  He is a bit of a challenge with his behaviors and his phobias and the kindergarteners in the classroom may be better choices for his peers than the first graders that were in his class last year.

Once again, I need to learn to put my own perception of things to the side and try to see things from my child's point of view.  He will still do his thing and will be quite successful I have no doubt.  And 2 years with this teacher is a prize that I cherish.  I think that, once I see how things work in practice, I'll be more and more comfortable with this arrangement.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Embracing Helicopter Mom-Dom (Part 1)

When you hear the phrase "Helicopter Mom", what is the first thing you think of?  A parent who hovers over their children, stifling their opportunities at independence?  Preventing them from standing up on their own?  A parent fighting their child's battles?

Or do you see an advocate?

Lately, I have come to realize that it's both.

This has been a summer of self-reflection for me, and the way I deal with my children and their activities.  Big Brother has Dad looking out for him at most of his extra-curricular activities (sports, in particular).  But swimming is my thing.  I'm the one who pushes all 3 of my kids to participate on the swim team and use that opportunity as a chance to teach them this important life skill.  And I had several conversations with their coach this year.  And, after each one, I thought about how she likely perceived me to be.

For Ballerina and Music Man, I think she recognized that I was just trying to be sure that they weren't being excluded unnecessarily.  But I was willing to work with her.  If she didn't feel they were ready for something, there was no questions asked.  And we learned quickly that Music Man didn't like away meets and so we didn't push for anything when the meets weren't at our own pool.  But she was willing to have Ballerina try to race in a freestyle race when I requested this, and she was successful.  The last day of racing, she swam both of her races completely independently (with an older swimmer in the next lane ready to help should the need arise).  And Music Man......he did as we expected.  He got through the season.

But in some of our conversations, Big Brother's name came up.  He had a personal goal and I wanted to be sure that the coach was aware of it.  And I wanted to be sure that he understood why things weren't progressing as he would have liked in most circumstances.  So, I had to figure out when it was my responsibility to speak up for him and when to send him to talk to her for himself.  I'm not sure if I was completely successful.  I started by having him go to her and ask these things but he never came back with satisfactory answers, at least from his perspective.  So, I felt I had to jump in.  I never questioned her actions or her responses.....I just needed to understand so I could pass on this information to my 8 year old son in a way that he could understand.

But I find myself wondering what the coach sees when she looks at me.  Does she recognize the subtle difference between trying to advocate for my son and making sure he understands so he can continue to work or improve?  Or does she see a meddling parent?  And what do Ballerina's and Music Man's (or even Big Brother's) teachers see when I do the same kind of thing during the school year?  All can say that it doesn't matter what they "see" because these are MY children and I know and understand their needs better than anyone.  But if someone sees you as meddlesome, doesn't that change the way that they work with you?  Don't they become more guarded and defensive of their own positions?

So, I'm a "Helicopter Mom".  I know it.  And everyone who deals with me and my children know it.  And I feel I have to be.  I need to advocate for them and therefore I need to know what's going on and what problems they are having.  And, like any parent, I hate to hear of and deal with all of the problems that they have.  But I would like to think that the people who count recognize that I do this out of love for my children and my desire to have them succeed as they grow.  Big Brother is encouraged to go out and stand up for himself.  But he knows I'm there behind him if things don't work out.  I will come to his aid the moment he asks.  And for Ballerina and Music Man, I am stepping in on their behalf for a while longer.

"Helicopter Mom" isn't such a bad title.