When my youngest was sent to the principal’s office in preschool, I knew we were in for a wild ride once she got into kindergarten. I mean, honestly, she wasn’t even in school-school yet. I will admit, Aspen is the definition of a feral child. I love the heck out of her. She’s so funny, and so curious, and her laugh is something I couldn’t live without. But the reality is, she DGAF and never has in the full five years of her little life.
This isn’t to say that we haven’t tried with her. We have. We have set boundaries, expectations, and rewards. She has shown improvement, but let’s be real, if she were our first child, she probably would have been our last.
Dropping her off at kindergarten that first day was pretty typical. I got emotional, and she got excited. It was my last kindergarten drop off, so I savored the moment. But on the whole, nothing seemed all that out of place.
Picking her up, on the other hand, was something different. At our kids’ school, they have this clip chart system that works pretty well. Each child begins the day on ready to learn, and then based on their behavior can move up or down. Naturally, on the first day, Aspen went down, and her teacher gave me that friendly smile only kindergarten teachers have. “We had a rough day,” she said. “We will try again tomorrow.”
Then she told me that Aspen went way down, to one box above “process,” which, according to my older non-feral children, is the worst thing imaginable.
My oldest is 12, and I can’t remember him getting a “process.” My middle daughter is 9, and it’s the same with her. But by the second week of kindergarten, I found a process form in Aspen’s backpack. She was talking out of turn, and stepping out of line, and being the non-conformist anarchist that I know and love. Everything mentioned on the report was on brand for her, but there was one question on the form that really stood out to me. It read, “How do you feel about what happened?” and Aspen’s response was, “I feel good.”
Suddenly I was left with this sinking feeling that maybe, just maybe, I was raising the Joker.
But I suppose this is what it’s like sending your wild child to kindergarten. I don’t think we are bad parents, but I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d done something wrong somewhere. I think all parents of wild children feel this way. Perhaps we should have use more discipline with her at home. Perhaps we should have been stricter. Maybe sent her to a toddler boot camp, if such a thing exists. But the difficult part is, she isn’t all that bad at our home — or at least, I don’t think she is. But there is something about Aspen that happens the moment she gets in with other parents or teachers. It’s like the light of the full moon hits a werewolf, and boom … everything goes to pot.
We had several email exchanges with Aspen’s teacher. We made our own clip chart in our house so the rules at home would be consistent with the rules at school. We tried to be more active about encouraging good behavior so she will choose to be better behaved. None of it has worked, and for a while I wondered if we weren’t fit for this parenting gig.
But then Aspen’s kindergarten teacher came forward with this brilliant idea. She suggested that she and Aspen play a game called “Beat The Teacher.”
Each day Aspen and her teacher began filling out this very simple sheet where each of them got a smiley face for good actions. Her teacher seems to always lose, and I think that is by design. But each day, Aspen comes home from school and shows me her “beat the teacher” form. She broadcasts that she won, and then she tells me how she earned each smiley face via one good choice or another. And her clip, that keeps moving up too.
I don’t know how long this game will hold her attention. With my daughter, it’s hard to say. But what I can say is that sending a wild child to kindergarten can be pretty nerve-wracking. And I have no doubt that all of Aspen’s life will be this way.
But what I also know is that it’s moments like this, when a thoughtful teacher takes a step back and tries something new to help rein in that active student, that can make all the difference. Sure, Aspen’s teacher didn’t need to do this extra little game, but thus far, it’s been a game changer. And I am grateful for it.