And then there’s the other one…
Round. I’ve heard this word used in a variety of ways throughout our struggles with school this year. Round pegs in square holes.
I’ve got round ones. My youngest, the dancer, is more round than average (on the spectrum of average for a round one, that is). You can’t tell where he starts and stops – he’s just one ball of overlapping personality, emotions, adventure, empathy, and enthusiasm all rolled into one little sphere that spins where it may. He came to us the way he is today. Our exuberant and excitable baby is carving out a path that even I could not have imagined for him. My role as a parent has shifted to no longer trying to shape who he is going to be and what he is going to do, but to responding to his strengths and offering him opportunities to reinforce his interests. He sees pictures in his head. He can whip out memories or big words from conversations that leave you baffled that he heard you. He needs to move. He hears music in his mind. He needs to dance and when he feels like doing a head stand, he does.
His zest for life and for people is unmatched and he has collected a family of those who he loves dearly, guided only by his little spirit and energy. This family ranges from a dance teacher from Cleveland who goes by “Motion”, to a Coptic Egyptian priest who he befriended and bonded with, keeping a photo of both on a shelf in his room. These are his people and they range in age and ethnicity because when this little dancer loves you, you’re in for life.
I believe that all children are born round. Born ready to release their individual beings into the world, and we can only hope that they spin into spaces that embrace their uniqueness and reinforce their strengths. But there are spaces in life where the walls are not curved to let these round ones roll gently into their place. There are spaces where the walls are 90 degree angles and when you put the round ones in the corner, they don’t fit.
He’s in a corner right now, and he doesn’t fit. Unlike our oldest, the dreamer, we have not yet had him evaluated for ADHD. Going through that process with the dreamer, I walked away knowing one thing for certain – if you go, you will get a diagnosis.
First grade has been a struggle for our dancer. Our last meeting about him was at the end of March, right before spring break. We gathered – again – to hear seven or eight people let us know that things still hadn’t improved. They had the “data, ” and we nodded our heads acknowledging that we understood that this behavior was a problem in the classroom. He talks too much. He misses directions. He’s too social. He’s distracted. He gets frustrated easily if the teacher is moving on and he has not yet completed his work. We get it. We have been all hands on deck trying to help him curb some of these behaviors, but we are not ready to go down the ADHD path or even consider medication. He is very different than our oldest and we want to go one step at a time, addressing each outlier (as we did with our oldest), before we even consider medication. He just turned seven. He has 14 boys in his class. Common Core and the new expectations that go along with it has been a big shift for both the teachers and the kids this year. One. Step. At. A. Time.
We were barely into the meeting before the Principal asked why we would want to wait until our son started to struggle to put him on medication. Our answer stayed the same – because we want to systematically rule out everything else before jumping to ADHD. We tried to balance our message by acknowledging that we were not in denial about his behavior but no one at that table chimed in to say that they heard us. It wasn’t long until another woman launched in on a lecture telling us that if he were diabetic, we wouldn’t deny him insulin. I lost it. I knew where she was going and tears of anger sprang to my eyes. I stood up as she was talking and left the room. I couldn’t fight the tears, so in order to not make a scene in the elementary school office, I hid in a cubby where the bad kids sit to wait. I was so mad. I was so mad at the situation. I was so mad at myself for losing my composure. I was so mad that our society has taken all the flexibility out of our public school system, allowing no give so that the walls might bend a little for the round ones.
In his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough makes the case for a shift in perspective on what makes a child successful. That success is not primarily intelligence and test scores, but more about a set of qualities that have more bearing on lifelong success like creativity, optimism, grit, perseverance, and others. In one chapter, he discusses a school of thought based on various research studies that date back to the 70’s which assert that character traits are just as predictive of success, if not more so, than GPA or test scores. One sentence in that book really resonated with me when he said that the findings of one particular research study confirmed the thesis that, “Corporate America’s rulers wanted to staff their offices with bland and reliable sheep, so they created a school system that selected for those traits.” Now there’s a lot more context to this quote, but in essence, it pretty much sums up how I feel right now. Swing by swing, the societal mallet of public school expectations is denting my round one and trying to make him square.
I’m not angry at any one person. I believe that each individual wants to do right by my 1st grade dancer, but the lens through which they are approaching the situation is clouded with the expectations they have for their school, their classes, and their own personal performance. I feel so protective of these round ones right now. I want to scoop them all up and give them a classroom with the round walls of a roller skating rink so that they might learn and thrive in an environment that rewards their strengths and fosters the character traits that are inherent to their big personalities.
Round kids are our future disruptors. Round kids are going to notice things the rest of us do not and ignite shifts in this world that create change. If you have a round one, you are in good company as we not only protect their lights, but work to pop each dent back out so that they stay round forever. May they continue to roll towards the brightest futures they can create for themselves.