I sent my youngest son off to kindergarten today. I really thought that I was going to be over the moon about this one leaving the house. He is my “busy” child. My days with him are spent performing various forms of damage control, also known as “redirecting.” I am exhausted by the end of the day and often times on the verge of tears. Oh, what a relief it will be to have a few hours a day to just live. I can do normal things, like take my youngest daughter to the museum or the park or even just on a leisurely walk without feeling like I am on high-alert, always surveying our environment for potential disasters.
As I helped him into his pajamas last night, he began to ask me the typical questions of a child about to enter the world of academia.
“Will I have to bring my school supplies home with me every day and then back to school again?”
“No, bud. They’ll stay there.”
“But what if I have homework?”
“You will bring home the work that needs to be done at home, and we will have everything else you need, right here at home.”
“What if I have to cut some paper?”
“We have scissors here, Honey.”
“We do? Where?!”
“Well, I’m not going to tell you that right now. I will get them for you when we need them.”
“What if my teacher yells at me?”
“Now, why would your teacher yell at you?”
“Because, I’m bad. I’m always bad. And what if she hates me?”
Wait. What? Never had I ever gotten the impression that my son felt like he was a “bad kid.” Yes, he is probably (definitely) reminded of what the household rules are and why we must enforce them pretty regularly. Yes, he probably (definitely) spends more time in his room than his siblings do. This time is spent thinking about why we can’t throw a bat across the yard when we strike out, or why we can’t close the drain and then leave the water to run from the bathroom sink until the ceiling below said bathroom starts dripping on Mom’s head. Sometimes he’s sent to his room because he is screaming at the top of his lungs because the guy he picked to win on American Ninja Warrior did not in fact win today.
Despite all of this, we have never told him that we thought he was “bad” or even what he was doing was bad. In fact, my husband and I make a point to do everything we can to not respond in a negative manner — like when, for instance, his little sister walks into our room with a Sharpie mustache and pointy eyebrows. (Cue the “well-meaning” parental responses claiming, “Well, that’s why your boy is a terror! If that were my kid…”)
We have rewarded him with stickers and cotton balls for all of his good behaviors and acts of kindness. We remind him often of how much we love him and how lucky we are to be his parents. But still he sees himself as a “bad” kid. Hearing those words made my heart break for him.
He’s so young and already displays the signs of self-shaming that come along with the long list of ADHD struggles. My little boy, with his big blue eyes and tender heart. The boy who covers his little sister with his own blanket when she falls asleep on the couch on movie night. The boy who cheers for his older brother at his baseball games yelling, “Yes! Great hit, Max!” The boy who sings “Wrecking Ball” into his toy microphone while dancing around his room when he thinks no one is watching. My funny, sweet, caring, thoughtful, boy thinks he is deserving of “hate” from his soon-to-be teacher.
I watch him as he walks away from me, toward the enormous doors of the school. (When did those doors get so big?) I can feel the tears forming in my eyes as he slowly blends into the swarm of children flooding through those doors. He is hidden, in part, by his giant backpack, along with the older kids who tower over him.
He never looks back, my brave little man. I know how nervous he is, but he marches on in to a whole new world — a world that I hope will embrace him and accept him for who he is. A world that I hope will see the kind and loving boy who once ran full-speed for two whole blocks to his brother when he saw that he wiped out on his bike — just to make sure he was OK.
I walk back to my car, and the tears are now falling freely, beyond my control. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” my daughter asks.
I try to compose myself, and I clear my throat to try to gather together enough words to form a comprehensible answer. “I’m just going to miss that boy so much,” I manage to get out between unexpected sobs.
She looks up at me with her sweet and understanding eyes and says, “I know Mommy. He’s my best boy. I will really miss my good boy.”
Oh, how I hope the world will see what we see.