It was rainy and kinda yucky outside as I ran from the van to the school. I curled my nose up as the scent of old fish hung in the air, strange since I was running up the walk to an inner-city school and not a lakeshore. It was one of those days that makes you want to turn over and ignore the alarm.
In about a month, my middle daughter will graduate from the school she’s attended since she was about six. It’s been a wild ride, one I am insanely proud of. She’s fought back from much. Overcoming shyness and bullying to learning challenges with dyslexia and ADHD, she proved that the little girl who had bounced down my sidewalk with tenacity and spunk never left her.
She once was desperate to be like the athletic girls she looked up to, who let nothing stand in their way; now SHE is the example of sportsmanship and team spirit with her big heart and encouragement to the girls on her soccer team, on and off the field.
I push the buzzer at the front doors. They’re a large set of glass doors in a nondescript brick building. It’s a public school in reality, though the nature of it is far from the standard. Based in a Montessori style and accredited as such, the school strives to maintain the principles of reaching each student as they need reached while still adhering to all the mandated public school curriculum and state standards.
It’s a hard balance to achieve, yet in the eight years we’ve been here (which includes seeing her brother start from age 3 in the accompanying school, housing two years of preschool and kindergarden) we’ve come to know that each student truly is cared for individually in a way that has been a blessing to our family. Each of our kids have had challenges that are out of the mainstream norms. I couldn’t ask for better.
That said, I always have a tendency to bristle when attending the type of meeting I was headed in for. While today was just a routine follow-up and year-end assessment, it would be attended by the counselor for the high school Alli is entering in the fall. With an IEP, things are planned out a bit different than a typical entering freshman.
The buzzer rang beneath my finger and I waited for the click of the lock to let me into the school. I made my way up the stairs to the offices and was rushed, as the bell rang, by students coming and going from their first class. For the changing of classes it was unusually quiet and except for the occasional conversation, a hurried few “Hi, Alli’s MOM,” and the slamming of lockers, it was far from what you’d expect from teens if standing in the middle of a hallway in any school you’d find yourself in.
With one more kid left to graduate up the stairs before graduating out of here, there wasn’t a reason to be wistful as the year was winding down. I’d be back for a long time yet.
The meeting was normal and predictable. I knew her grades already and she even updated me on her laptop as we waited prior to coming in. This kid who used to cry as we used goldfish crackers as “counters” to learn adding and subtracting was flooring me with her math grades. She hated math entering sixth grade. She struggled so much. Now? She proudly showed me a 103 percent grade in math today. Her science was a B, but she’s closing in on an A. She struggles with reading, but she still has a B- in subjects requiring lots of reading. She has to work ten times harder than she maybe would have if she didn’t struggle, but I always told her that her diagnosis of dyslexia and ADHD just meant she’d have to work harder, but those diagnoses were NEVER an excuse to not be able to do or achieve. I refused to hear them as an excuse. They were a reason, and it was stupid hard for us both at times, with nightly tears in the struggle, but they were never a reason she couldn’t do anything she set her heart on.
“Alli’s scores on the test were blah-blah-blah and XYZ, meaning she is not predicted to pass the ISTEPs.”
My brain jerked awake. We had just finished going over scores, grades, her willingness to work, her attitude, her skill and her classroom disposition, and then we got to the bare bones of what the state reduces my child to. The numbers she will or will not score on an aptitude test that does not test her ability, her true knowledge, nor her gumption and moxie.
More numbers and figures were given, and again, stated, “Alli is not predicted to pass.” I felt my daughter stiffen. I felt her shame. I felt her dejection. The test that TESTS her as to whether or not she will pass the ACTUAL test was telling us bad news. Ummmmm… guess what? I stopped caring. Completely. I know, I know. Somewhere it probably matters. To me? Not a bit.
I put my hand up and halted the meeting.
“I understand you have to say all this. Understand I have to say this too: I know this should make me care, but it doesn’t. See, I don’t care about what some test says my daughter will or won’t pass. It’s not even THE TEST, but a test for a test. No part of that test shows that my daughter has an A+ in math. It says she will fail math. It’s wrong. It doesn’t show how good her overall grades are, or her newfound knowledge she clearly knows. When my daughter steps outside into the real world, she is NOT going to fail. She is gonna fly. She is gonna soar. She is gonna make it. All of this is important, I get that, but frankly, that test doesn’t tell me a thing. This is not a kid who is failing. This is a kid who is flying. And I am proud of her. Period.”
There were glances and it was quiet. Carefully, the IEP director, flanked by a teacher, a counselor and the new high school guidance counselor, looked around and said, “I have to say these things, as it’s my job to report the findings, and I cannot comment on what you have said or agree with it,” she stated while nodding her full approval, knowing my daughter intimately and being as proud of her as I am, and the others following suit with their nods in my direction.
What a shame that we can’t build kids up, but must report the findings, so those kids feel about an inch high, like a failure, to hurry back to class and do more of the same. My kid? She will never be held to a grade or a score in order for me to know if she is doing what it’s “going to take” for her to get somewhere in the world when she leaves home. As long as she is doing her 100 percent best, that is all I require.
I refused to let her walk back into her day without my two cents added, knowing full well that it was going into her record, as they typed away as I spoke my mind. Go for it.
Let the record show that I am always my kid’s #1 supporter. I’ve got her back and have been on her side from the day and moment they laid her at mine.
As I pushed open the doors, I let the rain fall on my forehead and drench my curls. I just stood there and let that fishy rain run off my nose. I realized that truly, though I may not have a glorious job title, I may not make more than a few bucks, and I will never have awards presented in my honor for the job I do on a daily basis, but seeing how tall and straight my daughter walked out of the room today headed back to class, I couldn’t be doing a more important job than I was doing. Heck, I’ll take it a step further. You couldn’t pay me to do a job that would make me sacrifice this one.
Being her MOM is enough payment.
One day that girl will walk into a room and she will command attention. She will fulfill her dreams. She will make a difference in the lives of the people she plans to serve and help. I have no doubt my reward will be richer than gold just seeing her get that first job, that first paycheck, with confidence to believe that she is worth more than what a test predicts she will be.
She already IS more. And darlin, your mamma is poppin’ proud.