We’re two months into a new year at a new school. I cringe a little at my own use of the word “we,” as though I’m accompanying Moose to school every day and squeezing my bent knees under a short desk next to his, but I don’t think it’s unusual for parents to feel invested in their kids’ school situations. We all want to see our kids satisfied, happy and in a setting that’s appropriate for their needs.
I do think it’s unusual for parents to feel the need to apologize to other parents for said appropriate school, though.
On the way into school one morning, Moose asks, “Do you miss anything about my old school?”
The bright, one-story school building in the suburbs reminds me of my own grade school. I miss Moose’s old city building, with its three stories and sloping hardwood floors. I miss the scraggly grass out front, flanked by the annual gardens the second graders plant each spring. I miss chatting with other parents while our kids play after school. I miss seeing teachers and knowing their names and what they teach, and knowing that they know my kid and his older cousins, all students cycling through the same school.
So I mention these things to Moose. Then I ask, “Do you miss anything?”
He walks on toward the extended care classroom. “I miss my friends.”
His narrow shoulders shrug under their backpack straps. “Not really.”
I feel sad for the old school. But I also feel relieved for the new one. Because when I see Moose coming out of the building each afternoon with a grin and he takes up half of our commute home with comments about the day, I am so very grateful that a school like his exists. One where highly and profoundly gifted kids make up two entire classrooms, the curriculum is based on the philosophy that “broader and deeper” fulfills the needs of these students, and everyone in Moose’s class can probably point to multiple incidences of feeling left out or different in the schools they came from. This shared experience informs how they now treat each other.
Make new friends but keep the old…
Moose and I decide that on Friday afternoons, we’ll walk back to his old school so he can play soccer with his friends there.
Our first Friday back, the kids come out of the building and run to Moose, yelling his name. They immediately begin dividing up into two teams. I find my same group of parents from last year and we loiter on the sidewalk for well over an hour, catching up on summer stories and who has whom for a teacher this year. It feels great to be back with these parents.
“How’s it going for Moose?” one dad asks.
As I talk about the new school, trying hard not to rave too much about how settled Moose already seems and remembering to mention that he’s told me several times now that he misses his friends, I find myself feeling the need to tone down my enthusiasm. But just a little—these are parents whose kids receive enrichment services too. They get it. Mostly. Their children receive services and are satisfied. My child received services plus special accommodations and was still not satisfied. On many occasions, I found myself wishing I was in their shoes.
A parent I recognize walks by and spots me. “Well, hi! How are you? Hey, where is Moose these days? Chloe says that he isn’t in any of the fourth grades this year.”
I’ve moved my kid to a new school. In the suburbs. For gifted kids. And not just any gifted kids—for HG/PG kids. Who their district bought a special curriculum for. I don’t have an elevator speech for this. And in my die-hard city pride neighborhood, in a city where the g/t magnet carries a certain mystique coupled with an unfortunate reputation for housing Those Kids with Those Parents who manhandle the district to get Their Own Way for their little Einsteins, I don’t want to admit to half of it.
I stumble around. I start out vague by mentioning the name of the city he’s attending school in.
The other parent nods and waits.
I am careful to include the word “public” in my description of the school. I say something about a “challenging curriculum.”
Still, she waits for more.
I mention the fabulous teachers at our neighborhood school and how hard the enrichment specialist worked to help Moose.
“Oh? Really?” Her smile becomes tighter.
I pull in a deep breath. Finally, I finish with how much we loved our neighborhood school. I stop short of actually saying the words I’m thinking: “I’m sorry my child didn’t fit in at this school. I’m sorry it didn’t work for him. We all wanted it to. I wish that in choosing a different school for him, I wouldn’t get that look from some other parents. He needed this. But I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting a PG child, it’s this: I am not responsible for his academic achievements, nor can I take credit for his potential. I am, however, responsible for providing the best learning environment for him that I’m able to provide. This seems to make some other people uncomfortable at best, and judgmental at worst. This says more about them than it does about my decisions, but even so—I feel compelled to apologize.
Advocacy in the school—I can do that. But relationships with other parents? They confound me at moments like this.
I’ll take any good advice you’ve got to offer
At soccer the following Monday evening, I spot one of the neighbors from the block we used to live on. His son is playing for the opposing team. I go over to say hi.
We get around to talking about school, like we always have. His oldest son attended our neighborhood school for kindergarten and first grade. His second son was accepted into a classical charter school the year he entered kindergarten. A spot at the charter school opened up for his oldest son also once he reached second grade, so his parents moved him.
I remember feeling left behind when his second-grader moved to the charter school. If the neighborhood school was good enough for the 500 other kids who showed up there every morning, why wasn’t it good enough for this little boy? But beneath the second-guessing was envy. Our neighbor had found a better option for his son, who flourished with the classical curriculum—a perfect match for his love of geography and reading. Really, I wanted the better option for my son, too.
So now, as we talk about the charter school and Moose’s new school, I find myself automatically downplaying the new school. Instead of saying how thrilled we are to see Moose smiling when he talks about what he’s doing each day, I talk about some of our regrets and the things we miss about the old school.
Finally, my old neighbor says, “Isn’t it how it always is, Ann, that we feel the need to apologize for our decisions? But we don’t need to apologize to other people for making the decisions that we know are right for our kids. That’s what you’ve done for Moose.”
And I know he’s right when Moose and I are sitting next to each other on the sofa one night. Out of the blue, Moose leans in a little closer to me and says something I haven’t heard since kindergarten: “I like school.”
I’ve made the decision that’s right for my child. No apologies necessary.
What have you felt the need to apologize for as the parent of a g/t child? What decision have you made that you knew was right for your child?