Meetings and Dreams

I made it. The last parent-teacher conference. Friday. After having a night of a dozen for my students. Then Tornado E’s. Then Tornado A’s. Finally Friday Tornado S’s.

And I had a plan.

Like the other two, I rushed out of school and drove as fast as I legally could to get to the boys’ school. I would make it with mere minutes to spare, meeting my mom and Tornado S. Tornado S and I would have our meeting. My parents would drop off the other two boys on their way to the football game. The boys and I would have delicious BBQ before going back to the school for the Book Fair/Dance/Chili Cook Off. Then books, soda, friends.

Brilliant!

Except Tornado S and I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

I texted my mom to let her know the issue.

30 minutes later. The parent-teacher conference before us ended. Awesome. And I asked the secretary if Tornado E and Tornado A could wait in the lobby if they were dropped off before we were done.

And it goes like I expected. Tornado S is a sweet kid. He’s bright and oh-so-smart. She tells me how she can see it in his face when he’s following her, when he’s thinking, when comprehension dawns on him. We discuss his testing results. She already has plans for him.

Me: Has he told you what he wants to do when he grows up? The science stuff?

The Teacher (The official science teacher of 5th grade): Why! No! Tornado S, what do you want to do when you grow up?

Tornado S: I want to study Tesla’s work. I think I can finish his work and make electricity from his (looks at me for the word but I just smile) things. I’m going to make electricity out of the air and give it away. Like Tesla.

The Teacher looked at me, surprised. I smiled and shrugged.

The Teacher: You’ll have to tell me when you do that.

Me: Are you kidding? The world will know.

Tornado S beamed.

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Accommodations and Tornado S

Yesterday I met with the neuro-psychologist about Tornado S’s evaluation. Three years of fighting, finally, I had results. Drum-roll. Please.

Tornado S has a reading disability. We sat there for three heartbeats.

What? But he reads find. I mean, ok. He could do better. But his comprehension. Sure, he skips words. But. What?

So apparently, Tornado S is crazy bright and has been fooling everyone all these years on how well he reads.

Well, ok, then.

But he needs more testing. By a neurologist. Something is up with his fine motor skills.

Let the battle for referrals begin.

Tornado S has a crossword puzzle to do that corresponded to the map of the United States. He had to correctly spell the state name in tiny squares of a crossword puzzle. Too tiny for Tornado S to write legibly. I stared at it. I pondered it. I studied it.

My Mom: Fae! Are you going to help your son or not?

Me: (still looking at the crossword puzzle and then the map) Yeah. I just need to figure out how to accommodate Tornado S. (pause) (pause) I got it. I need a map. Or a book with the states’ names.

I got out an atlas and got Tornado S to the table. I opened the atlas to the United States. I gave him the worksheet of a map of the United States with numbers labeling the states.

Me: Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to find the state we need to write on the crossword puzzle, and then you’re going to spell at me while I write it.

Tornado S: Why can’t you just write it?

Me: Because you’re suppose to be writing it. You’re suppose to be practicing writing the states’ names. Since you’re not writing them, you’re spelling them out loud. Go.

Tornado S: Mama, what is “accommodate?”

Me: It’s. It’s. It’s accommodations…?

Tornado S stared at me. I looked around the room. Then I jumped off my chair and grabbed his hand, pulling him into the kitchen. I grabbed the bag of chips off the fridge.

Me: See how easy that was for me? (I put the bag of chips on the top of the fridge) Now you get it.

He tried and failed. And then jumped and grunted, acting like a cartoon.

Me: So accommodations is giving you a tool to do the work I can. If I handed you the bag, that is not an accommodation. I did the work for you. But if I (I ran into the other room and grabbed the stool. I opened it up in front of him) give you a tool to help you do the work, then I’m giving you an accommodation. Now get the bag.

He scampered up the stool and grabbed the bag. He gave me a big smile and held his arms out for victory.

Me: So an accommodation is helping you do the work you should do.

Tornado S: YEA!

Me: Let’s go get that homework done.

Just the Way He Thinks

It was a parent-teacher conference for Tornado E. And even the principal was there. Apparently I’m gaining some sort of reputation. Sure, I’ve advocated in the past, but I’m not unreasonable. It’s just that I’m a teacher too, so I have read the studies on kids who are held back, and I have read the articles on testing. So you better be ready to present your data when you make an educational decision about my kid that I do not agree with.

The last battle they agreed to retest Tornado E, and they received the same results, not ready for advanced math, but by that time, he was earning a C in regular math already. I was near losing it. But it turns out he got a C on his first test, two days in the new math class, and the teacher was impressed and kept the grade. I was less than impressed.

So that brings us back to the conference with the principal and two of Tornado E’s teachers. Since they cannot have ever teacher attend ever conference, two teachers attend; while, the others write notes. Today’s teachers were the language arts teacher and the art teacher, who Tornado E has for 3 classes. The language arts teacher ran the meeting.

LAT: We just love Tornado E. He is so smart. He asks questions. He provides great answers. He’s sharp.

AT: He’s so creative.

LAT: Let’s look at his grades. Oh, A’s in everything but math. Huh. Let’s see what he wrote for his self-reflection. He enjoys language arts. (Wait. My scientist, math-kid?!) But for his weaknesses, he says he isn’t doing well in math and he doesn’t know why. Can you enlighten us?

Most, certainly. You listening, big guy?

Me: Tornado E is a math person, a numbers person. He has always prided himself on his math skills. But then he took the math test and was taken out of the advanced math class and put into a regular math class. He was given a test the second day in, and his teacher told me she would have tossed the grade if it had been bad. But he got a C with only a review and no instruction. She was quite impressed. I am not. Tornado E is capable of more, and so he has been without video games since. At least, at my house. I think he’s struggling because this has been a blow to his ego. He is also a creature of habit and does not do well with change. This whole thing has knocked him off kilter. But thank you for retesting him.

LAT: Oh, thank you (makes some typing notes). This is good to know. Can you shed any more light?

So I went on the usual explanation. The differences in the two households. The stress it puts on Tornado E and his brothers. The actions I’m taking on my end to even things out.

LAT: You’re proactive. That’s great.

The principal: That’s a lot of stress on a kid….

LAT: Let’s go on. (Enter all the good things the teachers have to say. Like he’s a good student and he’s so smart and he’s funny.) Here it is again. Tornado E interprets instructions differently from others.

AT: He interprets instructions in a very creative way.

LAT (rescanning notes): It looks like we have all seen the same issue. It’s not a bad thing. It’s-

AT: He just sees the world different. In a unique way. I think it’s a positive. I can’t wait to see what he does this year.

LAT: I just make sure he understands something clearly. He’s very good at asking for clarification.

AT: I just make sure the block is the correct way or whatever else he’s working on. It’s just…. a Tornado E thing.

A unique thinking. Doesn’t interprets things like everyone else. Where have I heard that before?

“Fae, you just don’t think like everyone else,” said my exasperated boss as he looked over my completed task. Then he pointed where there needed to be changes to match the rest of the population’s understanding of the world. I nodded, took the work, and returned to my desk to make corrections. As I was leaving for the day, my boss called out to me, “Fae, I like how you think. That’s why I want you as an artist and a writer on the website. We need more of you. Have a good night.” I yelled thanks and ran down the stairs to catch the cafeteria before it closed.

So Tornado E inherited more from me than just my hairs and blond hair.

On the Front Porch

There’s nothing funny about this story. There’s no joke, no punchline, no laughter. There’s nothing horrible or sad. It’s just a moment I want to capture forever, preserve in amber, crystallize in time.

I had asked the ex to have Tornado S bring his homework to karate, so that I could check it. Luckily he did, and I did. I found a few mistakes.

So a little after karate, a little after his bedtime, we sat, Tornado S and I, on the steps in front of his dad’s house, using the light of the porch to correct math problems. The night was warm just like any September night in Tucson. Because we were far from the city lights, I could point out a dozen or so constellations. But instead, I pointed out how Tornado S should have multiply instead of divide. I showed him short cuts and asked him to write his best as I held the clipboard steady as he wrote the answer. Instead of fighting or whining or arguing, Tornado S said, “Yes, Mama” and then corrected the problems.

That moment of sitting next to my 10 year old Tornado S is what I wish to keep forever.

Willing Teacher’s Assistant

Tornado A: Mama, can I go to school with you?

Several years ago, when I worked at a charter school, Fridays were only an optional day for students, who could only come during the morning. Friday afternoons were for faculty meetings. And one Friday, I didn’t have anyone to watch Tornado A.

I got permission from my principal. And I brought Tornado A to my school. I brought movies, books, coloring books, toys, snacks, the works.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have any students who needed my help, so I was able to hide in the computer room, grading; while, Tornado A watched movies. He charmed the students. He charmed the teachers. He loved that day. And has been looking for a way to return.

I work at a normal public high school, and Tornado A is a second grader with classes every day. Yet he still asks.

Tornado A: Mama, may I go to school with you?

Me: I’m sorry, baby. You have to go to school. And you would be so bored in my classroom.

Tornado A: I wouldn’t be bored.

Me: I teach the exact same thing 5 times.

Tornado A: I could help!

Me: I’m sure you could. You could teach them how to read a clock.

Tornado A: They don’t know how to do that yet!

Me: Sadly, no. Many of them missed that class.

Tornado A: Mama, may I go to school with you? I can teach them to read a clock.

What have I done?

Tornado S and the Concerts

Every one of Tornado S’s concerts has this running commentary, either in my head or whispered to my mom: Is he? Is he lip syncing? He’s lip syncing. That kid is lip syncing. Tornado S. When I get my hands on you….. You have music class. Jesus. Does anyone else notice? Nope. He’s that good. Talent. But still. I swear, kid. He better not do that for the next song. Yes, yes, he is. That kid. He better not do it with the recorders. Are you kidding me? What does he do in music class? Sit in the back? Hide like a ninja? Wrong note, kid. At least, practice pretending to play your recorder.

Every after concert lecture goes like this: Tornado S. What were you thinking? Why didn’t you sing? Yes, I could tell. How about the recorder? Yes, I could tell. What do you do in music class? Honestly, kid, the world needs your voice. God gave it to you, and He wants to hear you sing, no matter what you think of your voice. Come here. Kid, what am I going to do with you?

Last Friday Tornado S had another concert. Because it had been spitting all evening, they moved the concert from outside to underneath the roof of the outside hallway, drastically reducing the seats. Of course, Tornado S didn’t know when he had to be there, so I assumed a quarter till. Um, no? Maybe. Doesn’t matter because the place was already packed with standing room only.

I was annoyed by all the grandparents for a moment until I remembered my own parents were on their way with the other two boys. My father regularly checks the calendars of the boys’ schools and Boy Scout Troop; while, I monitor the newsletters. Between the two of us, we manage to get everyone where they need to be. Note to self: check teachers’ blogs.

The principal offered the picnic tables behind the children out under the cloudy sky. A couple of parents and I shrugged and walked through the crowd of seats and passed the band and singers to the picnic tables. We pulled them out, wiped them off, and sat in the light sprinkles. My family joined us along with a teacher and a few other families.

It was a lovely concert.

Best of all, I have no idea if Tornado S sang or not.

Dress Up Time

It was Spirit Week at school this week. They do them after 3 day weekends or breaks to entice kids back to school. Right. If you want teenagers in school, bring food. Any ways, one day was Battle of the Ages. They expected us to dress Greek, Roman, or Spartan. Uh… Um….. I …. Nevermind.

Now personally, I thought it was a misfire. Not everyone can dress like a Greek or Roman or have the confidence to. I would’ve, but I was a nerd. And at least, it was better than Gender Swap Day. I cringe just writing it.

So the day came. I took a sheet and folded it into peplos. (Told you I was a nerd. I do nothing in halves, so when I was in middle school, enamored by Greek myths, I learned to dress as the ancient Greeks.) I pinned it with help from my mother and cinched it with a tie.

Because some of the adults who watched my nerdy-ancient-loving teenage phase encouraged me, I have quite a lot of jewelry inspired by ancient designs. I put on earrings, rings, and a necklace.

I braided my hair in a few braids. I put on a few silver headbands. I twisted and knotted my hair before shoving in a dozen or more bobby pins.

Off I went in sandals, instead of my usual combat boots or mary janes.

And the kids loved it.

“Miss, are you a goddess?”

“Miss, you look beautiful!”

“Wow, miss, you’ve got school spirit!”

“Miss, how did you do that?”

“Miss, you’re so cool.”

“Miss, your hair looks amazing.”

As I teach freshmen, I didn’t expect a lot of participation for Spirit Week. They’re too worried that they will look uncool. For fewer participated in Battle of the Ages, only one. None of the student council or cheerleaders.

When I arrived home, I had forgotten that the boys hadn’t seen me yet.

They ran to greet me when they heard the door open. They stopped in their tracks.

Tornado S: Mama! What are you wearing?!

Tornado A: You look pretty, Mama!

Tornado S: You look beautiful, Mama!

Tornado E: You look like a goddess, Mama. Did your students think you were a goddess?

Me: One asked if I was Zeus. I said I didn’t have the beard for it, but he said I would look cool with a thunderbolt.

Tornado E: Pssht. You should have said you were Athena. That’s who you look like.

Me: Thank you, my boys.

I kissed them all.