The Mr. and I attended First Born Son’s “Back to School Night” at his High School last Thursday. Parents follow their student’s schedule for that particular letter day (it happened to be D Day). It is a two hour epic journey through the expectations and opportunities for the 9th grade student. Parents are given 15 minute course overviews by the core teachers and allowed a brief introductions. We usually dread these events- mainly because once we are introduced to his teachers, once they find out to whom we belong, they will forever connect our faces and names with our boy. We can no longer hide or pretend we do not know him if he pulls a stunt, let’s say, like skipping Art to hang out in a stairwell. FBS opted out of joining us (it truly wasn’t mandatory) which made me suspect that he already had something to hide.
First Born Son is a bright child, but he is also a flake. It may be par for the course- being that he's a 13 year old boy. He is particularly gifted at developing strong relationships with his peers and his teachers. But, academically he often fumbles. Where the information and the work comes naturally for his cohorts, FBS needs to work twice as hard just to keep his head above water. It may be due to his late birthday (born in December) or his Central Auditory Processing Disorder but he has always been slow to bloom in his studies. We have tried to impress upon him that if he is working to the best of his ability and even pushing himself a little further, it is enough to satisfy us. Good grades are wonderful, but exceptional effort counts, too. For whatever reason, he took our advice and threw it out the window in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 8th grade. And, we were not made aware of it until the 39th week of a 40 week school year. Luckily he passed all subjects; but, we like to see our student aim much higher than the passing mark.
I realized that I needed to abolish all opportunities for lying about school work. I began this school year with a mass email to his teachers. It was a preemptive measure in hopes of creating a partnership and developing an open line of regular communication. In the email, I explained that there had been two dramatic changes within our family: the birth of The Baby in January and the death of FBS’s great grandmother in early February. In addition to these events, FBS had been struggling to increase his scholastic independence while balancing increasingly challenging course work and the obstacles of his Central Auditory Processing Disorder. (The disorder affects him in the classroom when he is to follow multi- step directions or take down notes that are given orally. It is easy for him to lose focus during a lesson and we are working on getting him to recognize when this happens and to not be ashamed to ask for help to recover the information that he missed.) FBS understands that performing well over the next four years is of utmost importance to gaining entry into college. Ultimately the onus of success in school lies on FBS’s shoulders; but, historically, he has been the most successful when we have been given the opportunity to create a partnership with his teachers. That way, no one is in the dark. I asked if the teachers would be agreeable to alerting us if they noticed FBS struggling or slipping in his class work so that we may find the proper supports outside of school to reinforce what he is learning in school. They all kindly replied that they would keep an eye out for him and keep us in the loop.
The first period on FBS's schedule was Gym. We have known his Gym teacher for four years. Mr. K did not have a presentation planned and was distracted by the intermittent buzzing of his cell phone- stepping away periodically to answer it. We needed to kill 14 more minutes until the bell rang for FBS’s next class. We introduced ourselves to the only other parent and child in the gym. The young man, J, happened to be in most of FBS’s classes and acknowledged his friendship with FBS. It dawned on the Mr. that this was a good opportunity to peak into FBS’s world. I begged him to not ask any questions that we really did not want the answers to. I would leave it up to the teachers to let me know how well he was performing in school or what kind of performances he was putting on in class. After some thought, the best question my husband could come up with was “Does he eat his lunch?” Lunch has been a hotly argued subject in our house. We witness him construct a lunch of a ham sandwich, apple slices, a juice box and some crackers every day; but we never had the sense that he really ate it. For FBS, lying has become as effortless as breathing. He has a tell, though. It is subtle and the Mr. is not yet able to detect the nuances. I can’t quite describe it; but, it has something to do with the way he sets his mouth and his gaze. He staunchly stands by his claim that he does in fact consume it. Yet, that tell is ever present; so, I can’t be sure of the truth. J thought for a minute about the Mr’s question. He looked relieved that we did not ask him to delve into anything that would breach the sacred trust of teenagers. “Hmm, if he has a bag of chips, he’ll eat those. But everything else gets tossed in the garbage.” A bag of frickin chips! We don’t even have chips in our house. My husband nodded his head in understanding and thanked the boy as if he received the golden information he needed to solve a long standing mystery. Of all of the possible lies I have worried over, lunch was low on the list.
As we traveled through FBS’s classes, we learned from his instructors that he is doing well, that he is an engaged student and a kind human being. It is still the honeymoon period- but I was grateful to not have to don the dunce cap just yet. Both the Mr. and I walked away pleasantly surprised and with a renewed hope for all of the successes FBS would achieve this year. At the conclusion of the evening, we spoke with FBS’s assistant principal, Mr. F, a man who supported and championed our son even in his lowest moments. He asked how FBS was doing and if he was enjoying school. He wanted to know what feedback we were getting from his teachers. We told him that thus far everything was positive. But, we learned that FBS doesn’t eat his lunch. Mr. F let out a hearty laugh. “Nope. In all of the years I have known him, he hasn’t eaten a single lunch he has brought to school.” If lunch is our son’s greatest failure this year, I will gladly accept the defeat.