I just got back from walking my son to school. My husband and daughter are fast asleep because their school hasn’t started yet.
What’s that? Their school?
Yes, in spite of everything awful that Lei has gone through at schools over the years, we’re going to try one more. This is the school where my husband teaches.
My husband teaches general music and marching band, in addition to running the JROTC program, at a local middle school. It is a level one International Baccalaureate school that provides the safety and structure necessary for its inner-city, predominantly first-generation Mexican students to learn and flourish. It is a really special place.
In theory, when Lei is a student there she will not only feel her dad’s supportive presence, but the other teachers will be able to talk directly to Joel if they notice Lei is struggling. As for her being bullied or ostracized, she will be joining Joel’s JROTC program, which will give her a social group of 75 cadets, most of whom already know her. They already look out for each other. They already look to Joel as a second – or for some, first – father, so by the rules of Mexican culture, that will make Lei their family, too.
The decision to send Lei there has been difficult to make, and we’ve wavered repeatedly. Especially me. I’ve wavered a lot.
So many times I’ve gotten my hopes up about a new school, feeling like this will be a good place for Lei, that all the needed accommodations will be in place, that she will find a sense of belonging there. And so many times those hopes have been dashed on the rocks of uncaring or ignorant teachers and students who lack all empathy.
Each time, though, I’ve gritted my teeth, determined to make this work. I’ve written countless emails to the school, attended countless meetings, explained things in countless different ways. And by spring, for the most part, I’ve had to admit that things were going so badly that my daughter was falling apart.
But of course, if you want to get into a different school here in Chicago, you need to start the process in November. In November I’m usually still trying to make the school experience work.
Not this time. This time Joel and I are going to create contingencies, and those contingencies will have their own contingencies.
- Plan A: Lei attends Joel’s school and has a great year! In that case we will likely stay here until she finishes eighth grade, then move to Pittsburgh to be closer to my parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece.
- Plan B: Lei attends Joel’s school, has a difficult year and we move to Pittsburgh at the end of it, in which case she will need to have been accepted at the creative arts public school in Pittsburgh, or have another school lined up to attend, or be ready to homeschool. (I did say contingencies for our contingencies, didn’t I?)
- Plan C: Lei attends Joel’s school, has a difficult year and we are not able to move to Pittsburgh, in which case she will need to have gotten into another school here, preferably a gifted program. Selective enrollment testing takes place in December. Or be ready to homeschool.
- Plan D: Lei attends Joel’s school and begins to suffer emotional and physical decline there. We haven’t worked out exactly what the signs will be, but Joel and I are planning to build a “kill switch” into our plans. If Lei is not doing well in certain ways, it will tell us that the experiment has failed and we need to get her out of there immediately. In which case, we will homeschool.
Because even the best school might not work out for her.
But something my mom said to me recently gave me strength to face this new stage in Lei’s rocky path of education.
My mom had a rough relationship with her own mother. Once when my mom was telling Lei about the time my grandmother kicked her and her infant son out of her house because my mom became a Baha’i, Lei’s eyes grew round and she asked my mom, “So your mom never told you she would love you no matter what? She never told you she would always support you?”
My mom said in that moment she knew that no matter what Lei goes through in life, she knows she is loved and has her family’s support. Resilience studies have shown that the presence of even one caring adult in a child’s life can make all the difference in that child’s ability to handle stress and overcome obstacles. If that’s true, then I don’t have to worry about Lei. It’s not easy watching her go through so many hardships, but she does know that she is loved. She knows her dad and I, and others besides, are here for her.
Trusting in that article of faith – and relying on a lot of prayer – I can face my own fears and go forward with this new school plan. I’ll let you know how it goes.