I’m not going to lie. It makes my heart sink to walk into my son’s classroom and see that he’s seated at a desk pulled into the middle of the room when all the other kids’ desks are grouped together in fours or fives. Like a child isolated in Alcatraz, able to see the beautiful lights on the shores beyond. Or a castaway, stranded alone on a desert island.
I feel like I’m failing him, not giving him enough self-discipline skills. Or maybe I haven’t imparted upon him the basic knowledge of how he’s supposed to act. Perhaps telling him 500 times that he needs to be cooperative in the classroom isn’t enough. I need to tell him 501 times.
When I see the seating arrangement — the words “problem child” pop into my mind. I can imagine the behavior that put him there. Undoubtedly something I’ve seen. Nothing heinous, just a constant testing of boundaries. Or the irresistible draw of chatting with friends. A story that must be told — this instant — right now in math class. Or maybe a bad mood turned bad attitude. A day when he simply could not stop humming. The possibilities are numerous.
Yet I receive numerous compliments about him. His teachers enjoy him. Other parents who have spent time in the classroom say they love him. He’s a delightful conversationalist, full of fun ideas and information. He’s kind-hearted and fun-loving.
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I had the opportunity to present at a creative writing workshop at an elementary school this week. I didn’t know anyone — none of the kids or the parents. With fresh perspective, I surveyed each room. Most kids sat in groupings of desks, and of course, several were pulled aside, their desks islands on the sea of carpet. The ones by themselves were mostly boys, although a little girl sat hunched in a corner alone, away from the group.
As I began my presentation, I asked questions of the kids. Creative questions — ones with a little basis in knowledge and plenty of room for creative expansion.
“Create a creature, tell me its story…”
The castaways listened, their eyes bright, their brains processing. Their thoughts danced visibly across their faces. Their hands shot in the air as their ideas tumbled out of their mouths — unable to wait to share.
Their ideas? Fantastical. Ethereal. Complex. Compelling.
These little boys made my day. Other kids — those who waited and raised their hands and complied with classroom rules — had wonderful ideas as well. No worse — but also no better — than the boys who were pulled aside. But those boys: Their eyes twinkled with unbridled enthusiasm.
The little girl, the one who looked sullen in the corner, raised her hand to share her tale as well. She read so quietly that I had to lean in closely to hear her completely developed, mature, beautiful story.
I left, my own creativity revitalized by the kids’ energy and with an appreciation for the unbridled enthusiasm that’s loud — and perhaps a little disruptive — but wild and wonderful. Something to appreciate and cherish.
I talked later to a friend — a school librarian — about my experience and how it changed my perspective on my son’s occasional isolation. She pointed out that these kids are pulled aside to help them be successful. That day, I saw a glimpse of those kids’ successes.
I’m so thankful for teachers who understand their kids, who have tips up their sleeves to help them be successful. They certainly have my full trust.
Overland Park mom and freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly.