May, 2014: Elementary School Graduation at SRS
I walked with my family down the aisle of the sanctuary of the church that houses my youngest son’s school (I’ll call it SRS, The School for Remarkable Students). We took our seats on the long pew behind a dozen students who were tussling like puppies, crowded together and as physical and comfortable in each other’s presence as happy siblings.
The teachers took their turns at the podium, passing out awards and speaking kind words about their students, and each student in turn walked to the front, some with heads bowed and hands shoved deep in pockets, some pumping fists and shouting their excitement. The students in the pew cheered and hollered for their classmates.
When the clapping and cheering was finished, my son Carter brought his certificate of elementary school graduation to me and we marveled over it. “I did it, Mom!”
July, 2013: First Day of Fifth Grade at SRS
Carter was anxious about the first day of school, but not so much that he couldn’t walk to the door by himself. He would be the Big Man on Campus, the elementary student who had been at his SRS the longest. He spoke firmly to me about his important work setting an example for newer, younger students. “Mrs. D is counting on me,” he said, “and I could never let her down, especially since it’s my last year with her before I go to the middle school room.”
February, 2010: Carter’s First Day at SRS
“Mommy, Mommy, please! Mommy, promise me it’s not like the other school! Promise you’ll come get me if I need you! Please Mommy, I’m scared!”
“Babe, I promise it’s different. It’s especially for kids like you who have a hard time with some things. Everything is different here.”
Mrs. M, the school principal, met us at the door when she heard Carter crying. “Aw, honey. This is really hard, I know. Lots of the kids have a hard time at first and we’re all going to help you.”
I hugged and kissed him and although he was still crying hard, he allowed Mrs. M to lead him into the classroom. She looked at me from the classroom door and said, “Call me in an hour.”
An hour later, I called her from the parking lot. I’d been unable to drive away.
December, 2009: Homeschooling
“You have to kill me! Kill me, Mommy! Call the police and tell them to kill me!”
I was crouched on my knees over Carter, trying to restrain him without hurting either one of us. His face bled into the couch cushions because he had slammed it against the stairs until his nose bled, his lip was split, and he’d raised a giant blue lump on his hairline.
Carter cried under me for an hour, shrieking for long, wordless minutes. Tears dripped off the end of my nose and onto the back of his head and my muscles trembled from holding my static position for so long. As his rage finally began to burn out, he turned his head and looked into my eyes. Cold and low, he said, “Someday I’m going to kill myself and there won’t be anything you can do about it.”
I made my firm Mom face, the one that caused my three older children to straighten their spines in a hurry, and said, “I will never let you do that. I will always keep you safe no matter what.”
September, 2009: Carter’s Last Day at Public School
Carter screamed. I put him in the car to drive him to the 14th day of school of his first grade year and he screamed.
The day before, he had screamed.
The day before that, he had screamed.
Every day, he screamed. His regular education teacher sent him to his special education teacher because he wouldn’t (couldn’t) stop screaming, and the special education teacher (I overheard her from the hall) told him, “You stop that right now! There is nothing wrong with you!”
The special education teacher sent him to the nurse because he wouldn’t (couldn’t) stop screaming, and the nurse in turn sent him to the principal.
They all (the teachers, the nurse, the principal, the social worker, other people sent to tell me things in stern voices) told me that I must not baby him. I must drop him off on time and I may not pick him up before the final bell, or I would again be referred to truancy court, to which parents are sent after some specific number of absences, no matter the cause.
Except finally, in spite of those threats, the screaming was too much, Carter’s anguish unbearable, and I turned the car around and took him home.
March, 2009: Parent Teacher Conference Day
I had a letter in my purse that informed me, in formal language, that I would soon be referred to truancy court for Carter’s excessive absences. Also in my purse were copies of letters from doctors documenting the cause of those absences: one each from his pediatrician, psychiatrist, gastroenterologist, and psychologist. I had sent each of those letters to everyone at the school. Nevertheless, it seemed I would be facing a judge.
With those letters tucked into my purse, Carter and I headed to the public school to meet with his teacher to discuss his progress during his second trip through kindergarten. On the way, Carter collapsed into a migraine as he did most days back then, and as he moaned over the little bucket we kept in the backseat for that purpose, I decided we would proceed to the conference as planned.
I bundled Carter into the classroom and tucked him in with a blanket and pillow (we were always prepared for illness back then) and his bucket.
I sat across from the teacher and her aide. “Don’t you want to reschedule?” asked the teacher.
“This happens almost everyday,” I answered, dabbing at Carter’s mouth with a wipe. He vomited some more and cried.
“Well, maybe we can talk on the phone or something,” said the teacher. “He should probably be at home.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” I said, and put the truancy letter from the district on her desk.
I picked up my weeping, wretched son and made my way to the door. As I rounded the corner, the teacher said to her aide, “I guess she was telling the truth after all.”
August, 2007: Carter’s First Day of Kindergarten
My husband and I stood on the playground with Carter and all the other parents and their excited 5-year-olds, waiting for the first bell. Carter looked handsome and adult in his khaki shorts and new sneakers.
The teacher came to the door and smiled, “Children, welcome! Wow, look at you, ready for your first day of school! Give your moms and dads hugs and kisses and we’ll all line up and go to class.”
Carter hugged and kissed us and trotted off to line up with the other kids. He walked into his new classroom behind a little girl wearing a sparkly pink backpack and he turned, just once, to wave to us.
May, 2014: Elementary School Graduation
The graduation evening was long and by the time Carter and my husband and I got into the car, Carter was yawning. He buckled himself into his seat and was quiet for a few minutes.
“Carter?” I asked, “How are you feeling? Are you happy?”
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m so proud I could bust.”