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The Week My Child Learned to Be Bored

By Thursday afternoon, even I could see that summer school was a bust. Oh, he tried. What am I talking about? We tried. I spent the second half of June and the first week of July convincing my son that he could handle four weeks of a new classroom, a new teacher and new kids. I reminded him that his 6th grade teacher said it would be fun, that the kids who went last year supposedly had a great time, and that anyway, he had changed.

After a year cocooned in a special ed class of nine students and three teachers; after a year of learning how to pay attention, how to not skip ahead nor give up and fall hopelessly behind; after a year of learning to believe in himself again, and not get rattled by every mishap—after a year of all that, he could handle new places, and new things.

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So the first day finally arrives and I must have done a hell of a sell job, because the kid is jazzed. We head to the classroom list posted on the library window, but his name isn’t there. We dash to the office, only to find a beehive of other unassigned parents and children.

Eventually, someone at the front desk looks my way. I explain our predicament. Go wait outside the library, she tells us. Somebody will be with you in about a half-hour.

My son grabs the hood on his sweatshirt and pulls it low around his face.

But he’s here because of anxiety, I whisper. Because his teacher thought he needed continuity.

Next in line, the woman at the desk says.

“Mom, let’s just go home,” my son says as we leave the attendance office. The smile’s been swapped out for worry lines between his eyebrows.

Nope, I insist. We are going to see this thing through. But inside I’m thinking uh-oh, because we’ve just been doing so well.

It doesn’t take a half-hour. It takes 35 minutes for the summer school principal and his minions to unlock the library door and let in me and my son and the rest of the now sizable crowd of parents and kids. That was plenty of time for me to survey his new schoolmates. There’s a 20-year-old kid who can’t talk or hear, but he can laugh. There’s a high school junior toting a Mario Bros. backpack. There are girls with women’s figures who are not allowed out of their parents’ sight.

My son notices none of this. Restless, itchy, he’s taken solace in games on my phone. I remember, again, what an odd fit he is for special ed—an academically gifted child with age-appropriate social skills, who finds most classrooms a hell house of swirling chaos. He only processes some of what he sees. He filters out much of what he hears. And the stuff that does make it in—well, that’s his job. Figuring out how to mentally organize information so that he can pass for one of the rest of us, who do it so effortlessly we don’t notice it’s a skill at all.

I look at his scrunched up, pink face and what I hear is, I’m scared I will fall apart if you send me there.

By the time he finally gets assigned a classroom, I can see my boy is done for the day. Tilt. Only, that’s not an option. I get him to the door of the room. There’s eight kids in here. That’s the good news. The bad news? I can see, within a few minutes of standing there, that this classroom is remedial. This is special ed summer school, and I realize what that means: all the classrooms here are remedial.

But he’s quit so many things, so many times. The triumph of 6th grade was he saw everything through to its conclusion.

I pat him on the head and he scurries to the last seat in the back of the room.

Four hours later, he meets me at the front gate, bouncing from one foot to another. He was so bored, he reports, he got even more anxious. He was so anxious he chewed up the cuticles on every finger of both hands. Two digits ooze blood.

“Give it one more day,” I say.

The next morning I press the teacher, who listens because he’s already reviewed the initial assessment scores. He gives him harder work, options for going more in-depth. Plus, by the benches at nutrition, out of all the strangers bused in for the session, my son makes a friend.

Day three seems to hold promise, until right before dismissal, when the teacher drops a bombshell: they are one 6th grader short of full enrollment, so they will merge tomorrow with a 12-kid class, and get a new instructor.

“That’s it!” my son declares. “That teacher’s classroom is loud. It’s out of control. And now there’ll be more kids. I won’t do it.”

I look at his scrunched up, pink face and what I hear is, I’m scared I will fall apart if you send me there. Only, look, he’s already made it this far. I know he won’t. The next day, I practically drag him in by his collar.

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I wait for him by the front gate at lunchtime, afraid of what is walking my way, so afraid that I was wrong. But when he comes into sight, he is walking, not running. When he climbs into the car, the skin around his nails is not raw.

“How was it?” I chirp.

“Boring, Mom,” he says. “So boring.”

And that’s all. Four hours in a classroom of 20 kids, with nothing to interest him and a teacher who could not wrestle her pupils under control, and he emerges glassy-eyed. No anxiety. None at all.

“Do I have go back tomorrow, Mom?” he says.

I think we got what we came for.

“Nope,” I say.

And then I take him out for ice cream.

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