As Man eagerly climbed the staircase of the bus for the last ride of his second-grade year, I let out a deep sigh of relief. A year’s worth of emotion flooded out of me as I waved at his smiling face through the window while the bus drove away. He disappeared down the street on his way to his last day of school and I burst into tears. We had made it through another year of school and he was still a happy, sweet, and eager boy.
Second grade had been a success. More than a success, he had thrived. And suddenly I felt all the inner strength, fear, anxiety, worry, and anticipation that had slowly gathered inside of me over the last 180 days pour out at the end of my driveway while my dog looked on in wonder. She walked over and licked the tears from my face, as she could feel the massive release of tension oozing out of me in that moment as well.
I don’t think I had realized just how much I was holding my breath every day until those doors closed behind him. I don’t think I understood how much of my worry got on this bus with him and rode to school each morning until I knew that it was his last ride. For my own survival, I had compartmentalized my fear and anxiety into the furthest recesses of my heart. It was always there behind every beat, but I had refused to let it drive its rhythm.
My goal for Man every year (and I suspect this is the goal for many parents) is to just get him from point A to point B, from the beginning to the end, happily. While I do push his studies and, of course, want him to thrive academically every year, my overarching goal is simple—his happiness and self-esteem. I am of the belief that it doesn’t matter how smart he is or how well he did on that spelling or math test; if he isn’t happy and he doesn’t feel good about himself, then none of that matters. His intelligence is static, it will always be there, ready for action, but it will be useless if we must first fight through depression and poor self-esteem.
Kids like Man are at constant risk for depression. It’s not because they are born with a chemical imbalance (though some might be), it’s because their day-to-day academic and social environment isn’t designed for them. For better or worse, I have accepted that his school setting is one we must live with and make work for us. He, and others like him, will always be the round pegs trying to fit into the square holes. It doesn’t matter what district in what state we live in, the laws of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have not yet caught up with the social, emotional, educational, and executive functioning needs of the diagnosis of ADHD. As I wrote about in my post Your Child is Too Smart for an IEP, he does not qualify for an IEP anymore and because he is doing well enough academically (the law states you must be two standard deviations below the norm), we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if we pushed for them to pay for a program that caters more to his executive functioning and emotional needs.
So here we are, stuck making each new year work for us. We take the social, emotional, and academic demands of each grade and face them head on. We design and implement new strategies to fit that new year, and so far, that has been working. He is still a happy little boy. But with that comes extreme fear and anxiety—what if next year it doesn’t work? I feel my ability to protect him slipping out of my grip with each passing year. As he gets older, he grows to understand more about himself and the world around him. As he climbs through the grades, he sees more clearly both his differences and his similarities. As the years go on, he begins to ask more questions about these differences and how they have come to be. And this makes me worry.
For right now, for today, he loves himself.
For right now, for today, he thinks his group of friends is simply the best—and so do I!
For right now, for today, he thinks he is smart as a whip—and he is!
For right now, for today, he thinks his choices in extracurricular activities are sublime—and they are!
For right now, for today, he is a happy little boy—and I will work to keep it that way with each passing year.