I am in the inexplicable position of having to watch my oldest child go off and be an adult. I say “inexplicable” because there is no possible way that 18 years has flown by so quickly. I know it’s a cliche to sit here in stupified silence, reminiscing that an oldest child is “of age,” but here I am.
My oldest is a “textbook” oldest. He is the most stubborn person on the planet. He likes to control the show, not be a spectator. From the time he was a toddler, I knew I was in trouble. Looking back on home videos from his toddler days, there were many times when I would be telling him “NO” when he’d reach for something and he would just turn and look at me with that sparkle in his eye, seemingly saying, “Oh, yeah? Try me.” My bookshelf began to get overtaken with self-help books about parenting a strong-willed child.
This trend continued throughout elementary, although it also meant that he would get to know the principal’s office quite well. Keep in mind that I am a teacher; therefore, my son has that “teacher’s kid” label on him . I was horrified every time I got a call from the principal, telling me that my oldest got sent to the office for talking, messing around during class, whatever. I would beg and plead with him to pay attention. I took away privileges. Soon, school became a freaking nightmare as it seemed to be a place of negativity rather than a place of positivity. Others around me urged me to put him on medication for ADD/ ADHD. My gut instincts, however, told me that was not a good solution. He didn’t have a problem learning. He just had a problem learning the same stuff everyone else was and at their pace. He tended to want to teach himself how to learn before that information was presented in a classroom, and the kid retained information like a sponge.
He loved learning, in fact. He could rattle off all the states and capitols by age 4. I remember him declaring in 1st grade that he was bored with math, so he was going to teach himself multiplication. And he did. Then when his class actually DID learn multiplication, he was bored. So he fidgeted . . . and got sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class.
Truthfully, I wanted to cry. “You are a teacher’s kid!” I would say to him. “You cannot be doing this at school!”
Then, halfway through elementary school, a miracle happened: my son was assigned to a male teacher. It sounds insignificant, right? However, it really wasn’t, and here’s why. That male teacher had kids of his own. He understood how some boys learned – and it certainly wasn’t by being passive and quiet in a desk. To hear my son tell the story, he says it was the first time he didn’t feel like something was wrong with him. (If that doesn’t break a mama’s heart, I don’t know what will. ) Rather than getting sent to the office for being fidgety, my son had the best school year of his life.
To see my son today, you’d never guess that he was a fixture in the principal’s office. He is calm and focused. He is goal-driven. He went on in school to grauduate in the top 1/5 of his class. I truly believe that teacher came into his life at the right time. Rather than thinking of school as a place of torture, my son started looking at school as a place of opportunity.
That teacher retired this year. I wrote a letter nominating him for Teacher of the Year, and he won. What that teacher did for my son is what all of us teachers hope to do in our careers: make a difference – even if it is just to one kid.
Among my son’s many goals were to get an apartment as soon as he graduated high school. He has always been a forward thinker, and he knew what he wanted to achieve after he graduated. He is on his way to getting a criminal justice degree, then off to the police academy he will go. If that part isn’t anxiety-producing in today’s political climate, I don’t know what is.
My son found an apartment near the town where he would be attending school, and last weekend he got the keys to that apartment. A week later, he is gone. I am still adjusting to that extra quiet that exists in this house – including the lack of peanut-butter-covered spoons in the sink. (Protein for his carefully planned diet, y’know.)
I still see that fierce toddler in his eyes – that gleam mischief as he reached for something he knew he shouldn’t touch. Life stretches out before him like a desert highway. Like all mamas have done since the beginning of time, I just have to take a deep breath and pray that he has a good life and makes good choices.