When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn
by Kiki Lynn
When my oldest child was small, she was a bright little girl. She learned quickly and seemed to soak up everything that was presented to her. At three, she was reading Level One readers and adding multi-digit math problems. By kindergarten, she was reading chapter books. As much as it saddened me to see her leave the Montessori preschool that we had both grown to love, I was thrilled to see what kindergarten and “real school” held for her. I was sure she was going to grow, thrive, and love every minute of it.
The day came for us to meet her teacher, tour the classroom, and see what kindergarten was all about. I think I might have been more excited than she was. We entered the classroom, and there were colorful posters everywhere and more manipulatives than I had ever seen in one place. And books, so many books! I briefly spoke with the teacher about my daughter. I was curious what they planned to do with a child who was already reading chapter books. The teacher told me that they worked with each child at their level and not to worry. Perfect! This was exactly what I was hoping for. Kindergarten was going to be awesome!
Mere months later, my bright, intelligent little girl was still coloring pages with letters on them while learning little songs about the sounds the letters made. She was bored stiff, and it was starting to show. Her behavior was less than ideal; she was talking instead of working and not completing her worksheets. I suggested that maybe she was just bored, but that was quickly discounted by the staff. By March, the teachers were finally ready to listen and admitted that maybe she was bored after all. At this point, we agreed that it would be best to test her for acceleration (skipping a grade).
The testing process was quite involved. They not only assessed her academic skills, but also her maturity and emotional levels. It was important to not only know if she had the academic skills needed for acceleration, but also if she could handle it emotionally. At the end of the process, we had a meeting with her teacher, the principal and one of the 2nd grade teachers. We were told that after all of the testing, they found that she was a good candidate for acceleration; however they felt that if she couldn’t complete her work in the kindergarten classroom, she would not be able to in a 2nd grade classroom either. I urged them again that maybe she wasn’t completing them because she was bored. She knew her letter sounds and didn’t find coloring enjoyable. This was quickly met with the statement that “gifted children usually accelerate themselves.”
I remember walking out of that meeting feeling like they had done everything in a manner which left me nothing to argue, and yet I was not satisfied. In the end, we agreed not to accelerate her but to give her an IEP for first grade which would ensure she’d be challenged.
First grade went all right. It wasn’t quite the enriching experience that I had hoped for, but it hadn’t gone near as badly as I felt kindergarten had. The following year was amazing. Her second grade teacher was new to teaching and had a passion like none other. My daughter no longer had an IEP, but she didn’t need it. This teacher understood my daughter and knew just how/when to redirect her. He saw through her struggles and took the time to see the beautiful, intelligent child buried under all the difficulties. She felt cared about, and was learning and beginning to love school again. Life was good.
The next year, I made the mistake of filling her teacher in on what we had been through – chalk it up to being new as the mom of a school-aged child. I shared with her the testing, the IEP, and some of the behaviors to watch out for. This teacher took that as a challenge. She went on a mission to prove that my daughter was not as smart as I thought she was. It was almost a personal vendetta. My daughter was scrutinized at every level. It felt as though she could do nothing right.
Now, my daughter is not one to take guff from anyone. She was only nine years old but easily sensed her teacher’s dislike for her. She became revengeful. It wasn’t right, but she was a child. With every push, the teacher pushed back harder. We were constantly working with our daughter, teaching her that her behavior was inappropriate and that she needed to treat her teachers with respect. We had meetings with the teacher and the principal. We were assured many times that she was simply not adjusting well to 3rd grade. I asked for a classroom change as there was clearly a conflict of personalities and was refused with the reasoning that the placements of each child were made with great consideration for what was best for the child.
To this day, I’m still unsure how we made it through that year. My daughter was being hounded with negative feedback from every angle (including home). While her behavior was less than stellar, she was still a child and needed someone who understood her; who cared about her and saw her not as a problem, but as a person. We were not able to get the school to work with us. Looking back, I have no idea how I was able to stand myself knowing that I was sending her back to that place every day, but at the time it was the only option. School was just something you had to do. It wasn’t optional.
Fast forward to the following year – I had a ten-year-old child who was miserable. She had begun talking about how our lives might be better off without her. She heard nothing but negativity everywhere she turned. We, too, were guilty at home, but we had the school calling us on a regular basis. They had basically thrown their hands in the air and said that they no longer knew what to do with her. We had stooped to begging her to just behave. We assured her that we were trying to work with the school, but that she had to help us out and comply.
Everything finally came to a head when my daughter began stabbing herself with pencils and punching herself in the face. She felt worthless. My world was crumbling around me. How could I have let things get this bad? I could no longer sit back and say that we were working on things. I spent many, many nights in tears. I didn’t know how to help my daughter. I felt like her little life was slipping through my fingers and that one day soon I would wake up to find her in an alley on drugs. Dramatic? Yes, but that’s really where I saw her life heading. The path she was taking surely would not end well.
My husband and I began to look into private schools. The cost was far more than we could afford. I felt helpless. My ten-year-old was miserable, suicidal, and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. The only option left was homeschooling. But weren’t homeschoolers strange? Would we be the weirdos? What option did I have though? I had to get her out of that place. I needed to protect my daughter.
I proposed the idea to my husband. After many, many long discussions, we agreed to a one-year trial. By that time she would be ready for middle school, and we hoped that we could spend the year resetting her behaviors and that the change in schools would be enough to break the cycle. I had no idea how much I’d love homeschooling or just how incredible it would be for my daughter.
Fast forward four years: she’ll be a freshman next year. Bringing my daughter home was the single best decision I’ve ever made.
My daughter still struggles with responding appropriately to situations, especially those that are less than ideal, but the strides she’s made are nothing short of a miracle. Because she is home with me, we are able to regularly have in-depth conversations and discuss situations as they arise. She has grown to be a mature and beautiful young woman. Her manners, thoughtfulness, and mature thought processes never cease to amaze me. I’m so fortunate to have this time with my daughter…the child I was so certain would end up on drugs or in trouble with the law.
I recently asked her where she thought she would be today if we hadn’t brought her home. Her answer was quick. She confidently told me that she had no doubt she would be hanging out with the wrong people and doing the wrong things. Validation. It is so very sweet.
Kiki Lynn is a homeschooling mother raising four children in eastern Iowa. Her homeschool journey began four years ago when her oldest child with anxiety, ADD, and likely Aspergers didn’t fit the mold at the local public school. She has since fallen in love with the tremendous benefits of having her children home with her each day and looks forward to being an integral part of their growth and learning. “Crunchy” and more introverted than she ever realized, Kiki Lynn enjoys dance, gymnastics (as a coach), and crafting.