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
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.
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
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.
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.