Good Kids, Bad Kids, and Why That No Longer Matters

With the hot weather, the official start of Summer has arrived at the Conjure and Coffee house. And with it, two of the three kids have finished school for the year. And for the first time since last August, it feels like we can breathe.

When it comes to talking about kids, school and accomplishments, most blogs run by moms turn into a greatest hits collections. You know how it goes. Every kid is a wunderkind and everything they do is gold. Mothers are the ultimate hype men for their children. And so often, that hype machine knows no bounds. Kids are golden gods and can do no wrong. And listen, I’ve been guilty of that too. I fucking love my kids. And I will talk about them whenever I can. But, I’m not going to paint them as anything they are not.

I think my kids are awesome kids. They are funny, intelligent, and wise in their own ways. They are unique little machines of chaos that create (and destroy) some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. They are capable and somewhat diligent and most importantly, they can be loving, caring individuals. To me, they are solidly good kids.  But honestly? They are probably not what other parents would call “good kids”.

I’m willing to bet they would be placed on the “bad kids” list. They might even make the “problem child” list.

Sidenote: It’s been a while since I’ve written about them in depth so I’ve totally forgotten the cutesy names I bestowed on them for the sake of anonymity. I fail at Mommyblogging. So, J is the 11-year-old, D is the 6-year-old, and M is the 4-year-old and the only girl. I think she was featured in a post where I talk about Adventure Time because her and our dog are named after characters from that show.

J

J has ADHD. But we didn’t know that until he began school. Well, we knew it, just not to the point that it was an issue. We just thought he was a spirited child. It’s affected his ability to becomes one with his classmates and really put a dent into his ability to get the basics of elementary school down. Midway through first grade, he was moved from his home school to a smaller classroom in another school, which had a lower population. And it, along with medication, did wonders. Since his return other than a few behavior challenges, he did well. His academics and maturity were still a bit of an issue so we waded through the waters of IEPs and occasionally ISS for impulse control problems. He is the sole reason “Do Not Throw Rocks” is now a playground rule. He was placed in special reading and math classes and sometimes struggled to keep up with his peers. And no matter how hard he tried, he never made the Honor Roll.

But you know what? Everyone in that school loved that kid. Every single teacher, every administrator, and every person that worked with him in a one on one setting loved him. Never did they discuss him as if he was a bad or troubled kid. Even when he was struggling, they focused not on what rules he was bending but on what he was needing and why he was struggling. He was involved in school activities and given jobs to show just how important he was. He wasn’t pushed aside or hidden because he had some behavioral problems. He was shown how he could be a leader and then allowed to do just that. He was given chances and more importantly, room to grow.

While the teachers and staff loved him, while we were sitting at the awards/graduation ceremony last Monday, I couldn’t help but think that most of the other parents in the gymnatorium (I have feelings about this word) would discredit the hell out of him if they knew his story. Maybe they did already, seeing as how these kids had been together for the most part since they were wee things. As student after student was called for their medals or certificates or ribbons for this or that, I wondered what he was thinking, sitting up there on the stage, at the end of the line of students, never being called. (The students were in alphabetical order and our last name sticks us right at the end.)   

And then he was. He got called for “Most Improved” and walked up there like he owned the place. M, sitting on my lap because she was about 75% done with being stuck in one spot, clapped like the mad woman she is. The rest of the gymnatorium (there’s that word again) did too, but not like we did. It was a special moment. It made the sitting, waiting, and swallowing of anxiety worth it.

Sitting in the back row and slightly away from the rest of the audience, I realized that their assumptions about whether my kid was a “good kid” or “ bad kid” didn’t really matter.  Before the program started, one of the ladies in attendance in the rows beside us spent a good ten minutes brushing the dirt from her bare feet while sitting with her flip flops off. So these people and their opinions really didn’t matter a whole hell of a lot. J will probably never be like his classmates. He’s got a lot going on that makes him different. And that’s okay. It doesn’t make him bad. It just makes him who he is. And that’s something worth celebrating. Even if other’s might not think so.

Next year he’s going to be in middle school. And that is its own can of worms. I am afraid for that journey but I am ready for him to begin it. He’s growth has been amazing to watch and I can’t wait to see him accomplish more, even if it doesn’t fit the same flight path as what the rest of those around him are doing.

D

This was D’s first year in school. He had been impatiently waiting to start kindergarten. So when this year started, I thought it was going to be a walk in the park. Cause here’s the thing about D. D is smart. And I don’t say this in the “braggy mom way”, I saw this in “I’ve been around a lot of kids and seen some shit” way. Not reading at 6 months and designing space shuttles while eating his organic Cheerios sort of way, but the little dude was reading my Facebook timeline and writing his name, my name, and his sister’s name before he went off to class.

But once he got into class with twenty-five other classmates, everything went to hell. He began to struggle almost immediately. Following the flow of the class was exceptionally hard on him. Moving from one thing to another without being allowed to finish bothered him immensely. One of the things that came hand in hand with his built-in smarts was his refusal to move on from an activity until he felt it was complete. D did not do well with the constant transitions the class went through. On average, there were about twenty transitions a day he faced. He opposed change when he wasn’t the agent of it. All this change caused so much stress on him and made is so hard for him to just be a kindergartner. He was able to meet the academic goals just fine, but he fell behind in the emotional ones quickly.

But once again, just like with his older brother, the teachers and the administrators stepped up and not only loved him but tried to find what pieces were missing in the plan for him. After struggling through most of the year, the decision was made to move him to a lower population classroom.

And wouldn’t you know it, a lot of D’s problems evened out. In a class of five, he was able to focus and find his path. One of the first things he said to me the first week he spent there was “It’s so quiet!” and smiled big. Finding a place where he could get what he needed was perfect. Sadly, the move didn’t happen until near the end of the year. I feel like if we had tried this earlier, maybe this year would have been less stressful for him and me. Cause let me tell you Dear Readers, I earned every bit of my new gray hairs this year.

On our end, we are awaiting an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. That, because of reasons beyond our control, is a six to nine month wait. But his primary pediatrician did speculate that there may be a chance D is somewhere on the Spectrum. And while that’s a big thing to grasp, it’s not the end of the world. Once we know for sure, we will know what avenues to take and what journeys will be in store for us.

Me

Just like with J, I have the same worries about how others with what others will assume things about D. I realize that these worries don’t matter. Other people’s opinions are worthless at the end of the day. I know this. I swear I do. But I can’t help but wonder if teachers go home and just unload with how much of a problem they are. Or if their friends’ parents say things like “I’m so glad you aren’t like that kid”. I worry that they’ll never be accepted by their peers, which is a faulty worry. I’ve seen them with kids their age. J generally gets along better with older people, which I understand personally. D has this thing where he sees his friends as family. He has “twins” and “cousins”. I forget how many additions to the family we have now, but it’s pretty cool.

And on a purely selfish level, I worry too that other people will think I’m a failure as a mother. A lot of that comes from feeling like I am. The voice that chronicles these worries internally sounds a whole lot like my own mothers so there’s a lot to unwrap here, I know.

I also know most of that is unwarranted. I think it comes from the stupid idea we have ingrained in us that “normal”, “easy”, and“good” (whatever those words actually mean) is correct, is preferred, and is desired. So anything that doesn’t match those designators, anything that is too much or too little, is wrong. Being neurotypical is seen as the high score. And those that fail to reach it, well, it must be someone’s fault. And in the game of motherhood, all responsibility for all the “bad” things typically falls on the mother. Did she take this or do that during pregnancy? Did she allow this or not allow that while the child was young? What did she feed them? How much screen time? Is she doing enough or too much? The questions and blame are endless. And when a mom is faced with children who struggle in settings where strugglings isn’t expected, I promise you, the questions and blame she places on her own self are twice what outside forces have.

No one said motherhood was easy but no one really clued me in that it was this hard. My personal experience growing up didn’t really highlight the difficulties that we are facing now either. Back then the “bad kids” were just that. They were bad. No one gave them any chances other than being the troublemakers. I don’t remember hearing about learning disabilities and autism back then. Emotional wellbeing wasn’t a concern. We were told say our prayers, and the Pledge of Allegiance, and to never do drugs, but not what to do if your feelings go too big. Or if things didn’t make sense. Or how to ask for help.

My kids now go to school in the same school district I attended when I was young. Different schools, but same county district. But  honestly, things have so much changed it doesn’t even feel like the same place. The teachers and administrators I had let my budding anxiety go unnoticed even when it became crippling. The teachers and administrators now saw issues and meet the needs of my kids when they struggled and put us on the path to find answers. Back in my day, the idea of “good kids” vs “bad kids” was so prevalent that because I never acted up, no one noticed me not waving but drowning. Now they know better. And I am so damn thankful.

Now just getting the rest of the world, including the voices in our heads, to catch up, is the struggle.

We all have a lot to forget when it comes to assessing children and ourselves. Good and bad are archaic terms that don’t really have a place when it comes mental, emotional, and educational wellness. When we let go of our neurotypical way of thinking and allow ourselves to see that there are many sides to the same coin, then we can be totally inclusive with our thoughts and understanding. And maybe a little bit nicer to ourselves.


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