Monday, May 13, 2019

Not a burden. Never a burden.

I sat across the desk from the headmaster with my three almost-five-year olds beside me. We were visiting the Christian school in our town with the highest academic acclaim and frankly, where most of my friends sent their children. I was anxious to hear if he felt the school could accommodate my children.

"Mrs. Shrader, this is what we can do," he began. "We'll enroll your children on a three-month probationary period. If in three months it proves too hard on my teachers, we will have to ask you to find somewhere else for them to attend school."

I was not quite five years in to this Mama Bear role. My voice was perhaps softer than it would become over time. Perhaps. But I vividly remember clearing my throat and looking him dead in the eyes as I said, "Really? And you think starting kindergarten -- the beginning of their formal education -- on PROBATION is the best way to set them up for success? I can not even imagine the stress that would place on them and on us as a family. No thank you."

We left there bothered but not heart-broken. I had heard of a choice school in town that also had high academic acclaim. I made an appointment with the principal there.

I sat in her office and talked about my amazing children. For her part, she explained that school admittance was on a blind-lottery basis. But if one of their names was drawn, all three would be accepted. I liked those odds. But then she expressed concern about how hard her teachers would have to work to accommodate my boys. All these years later, I remember the feeling that my words were trapped in my throat behind all the emotions. She then told me how the school prided themselves on their racial diversity. I asked her how she ensured that if they had a blind lottery? She assured me she had ways of marking the applications.

And so I walked out knowing that even though the odds were in our favor -- we had THREE entries in the lottery after all -- my children would NOT be selected in her not-so-blind lottery. I was right.

And so I loaded the trio and we went to our local public school for a visit.  The sweet principal met them with a smile. She gave a delightful tour. She encouraged our hearts. And though kindergarten and first grade would not be without their challenges, we never felt we were burdening the teachers in any way.



At the Churchill Elementary School accessible playground -- a playground we worked to build so first grade could be as inclusive as possible.


Of course our education saga did not end in first grade. But as those three little former preschoolers walked across the stages of their respective college stages this past week, conversations about kindergarten were the ones rattling around in my head. It makes sense really that my mind celebrating the end of their formal education (Ok, not really, all three are looking at grad/professional schools), would go back to the beginning to the scary, unsure-of-tomorrow beginning where educators had so much power over how we faced their education.

I would like to call both the headmaster of the private school and the principal of the choice school today. I would like them to know that those little preschoolers whom they so worried would place an undue burden on their teachers graduated with honors this week. Lots and lots of honors. 

I would like to tell them that when Benjamin rolled across the stage with his diploma the faculty were the first to stand in what turned in to a standing ovation throughout the graduation hall. Those faculty did not stand because Benjamin had been a burden on their teaching. They stood because he worked hard in their classes, he engaged on a day to day basis, he encouraged his fellow students and set the bar high for their performance. I would like to tell that head master and that principal that they missed the opportunity to have this Magna Cum Laude graduate as an alum of their respective schools.




I would like to show them the photo of Mason receiving his hood for his thesis. I want them to read his undergraduate thesis on disability in the ancient world. I want them to know that this honors project won the Phi Beta Kappa award for best honors project at his school. I need them to know that they can not list this amazing Summa Cum Laude graduate and all of his accolades among their alumni.






And because they rejected her brothers, they also missed out on having Claire as an alum. My amazing wonderful Claire who also graduated Magna Cum Laude and who won awards for her writing, her Spanish, her leadership. They missed out on a student whose professors stood in line to hug her, to have their photo with her, because she loves big and encourages everyone in her path!!





Honestly, I didn't waste time feeling anger towards these uneducated educators as I sat waiting for my amazing graduates to process. Rather, I felt immense sadness that these people have places of power that might still today be leaving mothers like me -- families like us -- feeling frightened, inadequate, scared to hope for the future.

And then I felt determined -- even more determined than usual -- to keep writing, speaking, bellowing to mothers like me that our children are worth far more than the sum total of their motor skills. FAR FAR MORE WORTHY!! I am committed to helping educate the educators -- I will pour out my heart and our story over and over again to ensure that no other mama is ever told her five year olds can enter a school on probation, for goodness sake.






Did I mention that Benjamin, Mason, and Claire graduated from college this week? Benjamin graduated Magna Cum Laude with his BA in Dramatic Writing and a minor in Political Science. Mason graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Sociology/Anthropology and Greek and Roman Studies and a minor in Archaeology. Claire graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Spanish and a minor in English Writing. And all of that happened in FOUR YEARS!

I am so proud of these amazing kids. I am so proud.





Carol - The Blessings Counter

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