This is the baritone played in fourth grade band by the kid who got kicked out of kindergarten.
This is the Book Club selection read by the kid who got kicked out of kindergarten.
These are the Math Club cards owned by the kid who got kicked out of kindergarten.
This is the t-shirt worn as a costume in the elementary musical by the kid who got kicked out of kindergarten.
This is the Reading Olympics ribbon won by the kid who got kicked out of kindergarten.
We probably went a little overboard with the clubs and activities in fourth grade. In my unbounded excitement that my son had reached a place where afterschool clubs are even a possibility for him, I said “yes” when he first expressed interest in joining one — and then yes and then yes and then yes and then yes again. (Also “no,” let the record show, to a whole host of other activities, including Science Club and Fitness Club and the Envirothon, along with anything even remotely resembling after-school sports.)
But even with all the “nos,” we still somehow ended up with five extracurricular activities. For a kid in fourth grade. The same kid who, four years ago, (did I mention) was kicked out of kindergarten.
It hasn’t been an easy road. After our beloved Christian school sent us packing, I felt raw, hopeless, and scared for what the future would hold for my son. I wondered, “Where is God?”
It’s hard to see the hands of Christ when those hands are pushing you out the door.
And thus we began our special education journey at our local public school, where my son seemed bound and determined to do everything in his power to remain a statistical outlier.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” a member of my son’s special education team told me at one of our early Individualized Education Program meetings. “I’ve been working in special education for over a decade, and I have met a lot of special kids…but I have never seen anyone like your son.”
Yet the team persevered. As my son continued to hit us (sometimes literally) with ever-changing new and difficult behavior presentations, I sat back and watched the occupational therapist, the psychologist, the behavioral specialist, the special education teacher, and the teacher of the gifted all harnessing the tremendous powers of their professional expertise to try and figure out how best to help my son. Countless times, I looked at the faces of my son’s special education team and thought, “These are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. Right here, gathered around this laminate table.”
And, slowly, we started to make progress. He started to make progress. Which is how, eventually, the kid who got kicked out of kindergarten wound up with five extracurricular activities in fourth grade.
The day of the Reading Olympics meet I was nervous, to put it mildly. Reading Olympics combines two of my son’s top passions: books and competition. It also combines two of his greatest challenges: being told he’s incorrect, and anything even remotely resembling “not winning.” The end-of-year meet could be awesome, or it could be a catastrophe. As is so often the case for my son, there isn’t a lot of middle ground in between the two extremes.
At the conclusion of the first round, I made a beeline for my son. He’d been doing mostly well, maintaining “expected behaviors” throughout, but I could see he was starting to unravel. As he flung his limbs around and frantically chewed one of his sensory objects, I called out to him.
“Hey, buddy!” I said. “You’re doing great! Do you want to find an empty classroom before the next round so you can do some big movements?”
Before my son could answer, a little girl on his team jumped up.
“Oh, he’s fine!” she told me, not knowing I was his mother. “He’s got a lot of extra energy, but he’s got this chewy thing. So he can chew on that and get his energy out.” She beamed. “He’s fine.”
Having thus explained my son to me, she turned around and sat back down.
“Yeah, he’s fine,” another teammate agreed. A couple of other kids nodded their assent, before they all went back to whatever they were doing.
And a little child shall lead them.
I watched as the team of Reading Olympics competitors swirled back around my son, wondering at this marvel, wondering if his peers had gotten used to explaining him to adults. Because these kids really didn’t seem to care that he was fidgeting or chewing on things. He was a member of their team. And that was that.
I saw Jesus at Reading Olympics.
I thought about the many people in these children’s lives who had modeled accepting the quirky, the different, the sometimes difficult. Our experiences with other children haven’t always been so positive. But this team said my son was just fine. I looked at my son — fidgeting, chewing, flailing his limbs just a little too much, so excited for the second round of questions to start. So excited to be included.
He was, as the kids had said, just fine.
And we survived Reading Olympics. My son’s team missed the top scoring ribbon by two points, but he was, shockingly to me, okay with that. In a state of celebration and minor awe, I bought him a small bag of candy fish on the way out to our car. As he jumped his way down the hall, the bag of fish slipped from his grasp and spilled all over the floor.
“MY FISH!!!” he yelled. And our balance on the razor wire between success and disaster suddenly started to teeter. I did a quick mental calculus of our risk of contracting a serious disease from gummy fish dropped briefly on the floor, versus the risk of our night turning irretrievably bad, and decided to take my chances.
“It’s okay, buddy,” I said. “You can just pick them up if you do it quick.”
He scrambled along the floor, scooping up the errant fish. When he stood, I could see in the set of his shoulders that equilibrium had been restored.
“Reading Olympics was pretty cool, huh?” I asked.
“Reading Olympics was awesome,” he answered. “I really knew my books! I can’t wait to get home and check out the rest of the books so I can read them all now.”
“That should be easy,” I said as we walked. “Now that the meet is over, it won’t be so hard to find the Reading Olympics books in the library, because all of the kids will return them.”
He gave me the look he reserves for my dumbest moments: a mixture of pity, tolerance, and —dare I say — fondness.
“Mom,” he said. “Now it’s going to be even harder to find the Reading Olympics books in the library, because after hearing about them tonight all the kids will want to read all the books, even the ones they weren’t assigned.”
I didn’t correct him. Sometimes, his assumptions of the world are the better ones.
“Two fish tax for transportation,” I said, holding out my hand. He plunked two candy fish into my outstretched palm without comment.
“Those are totally the ones that fell on the floor, aren’t they?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said.
I shrugged and popped the candy fish in my mouth. He grinned at me, twirling his Reading Olympics ribbon around his finger.
Sometimes I see God’s hands at work in my son’s special education team. Sometimes I see God’s hands at work in other children who accept my son just the way he is. And sometimes I see God’s hands at work in my son himself.
We walked out together into the night, wondering where we might see Jesus next.