Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. --1 Peter 4:8 NIV
I hugged him tight through his sobs and tears, trying to lean into my own pain over this very issue. My little 3rd grade boy had experienced Mean Kid Comments that pierced his little heart and mine.
Earlier that evening, we worked on homework, and as my teacher-mom role attempted to coach him through slowing down to write better and read directions carefully before starting, his sighs and moans elevated my anxiety and fears. I helped erase mistakes as he re-wrote correct answers. I breathed long and slow. He patted my arm and intermittently laid his head on my shoulder.
“Make sure to do your very best," I coached softly. “Slow down and write as neat as you can, on the line, so the teacher can read your work. You are SO SMART, and in order for her to see what you know, you must slow down… there. Much better! See? That’s great.”
His Auditory Processing Disorder required extra help, and I was grateful for his dream team of teachers. I attended the IEP meeting the week prior to discuss his progress, and did he meet his annual goals? But this year, there was more…
“Zach seems to be much more active, unable to sit still and focus… it looks like ADHD.”
My heart sunk as I held my game face. The meeting dragged long. I wanted out. As an educator myself, my mind played both roles of parent and teacher, volleying their comments between the two. My parent self defended my son; my teacher self empathized with what it’s like to have a hyper-inattentive kid in your classroom unable to follow directions and distracting others.
I spent that afternoon crying it out and attempting to come to terms with one more issue to address. Along with my own insecurities and having just barely graduated his older brother from high school, I felt that sense of failure rising up… I'm failing my sons. As an educator, I can't help them succeed in school. How did this happen? I loved and excelled in school. Why do my kids suffer through, and why can’t I seem to help them?
So on this night of homework just 5 days after the IEP, I was vulnerable and sensitive. So was he, and when we finished his homework, he said thoughtfully, “Mom, can I tell you something?”
“Of course!” I replied.
“I get upset because I think I’m bad. Kids at school told me I write bad.”
I drew him close and held him tight as he sobbed. Wounds were fresh; pain was deep. It wasn’t fair; it felt cruel. I wanted to pull my son from the classroom right then to protect his heart.
After long moments, he pulled away. “Can we eat dinner? I think I’m just hungry.”
I covered the table with favorite foods in addition to the soup I encouraged him to try. As he filled his belly, I coached some more.
“Here’s the thing, Zach. It would seem the really smart people struggle with handwriting. For example, what do doctors do? They listen to your heart, they operated on your brother when he had his appendix removed, they help make you better when you are sick. They have to be super smart to do all that, right? But guess what? Their handwriting is terrible! I can never read it! Isn’t that funny?"
"Yes," he giggled.
"And guess what other smart people have trouble writing well?" I asked.
"Who?" he wondered.
"Your dad and brothers. So you are kind of like them."
"And you're amazing. Some kids are just better at handwriting. Every kid has things he’s good at and things he needs to work on, and YOU can work on your handwriting and make it better! And I will help you."
I wanted to keep talking and telling him all the great things I thought he needed to hear, but he was already onto the next part of his night.
“Hey Mom, can we watch a show for a little? Let’s get blankets and snuggle….”
The world can be a cruel place. But this night, it would not be. This night, we would snuggle and undo some of the hurt just a little. We would build back in some confidence and hope. We would take this opportunity to pour in love and grace to those little cracks in our hearts and fill them up. And tomorrow, back out into the world, armed with extra doses of deep love to get us through.