“The energy from his core is exploding from within. The tassel swirling around his finger is barely hanging on and is destined to be lost in the next hour or so. It is a dance I know well. A backup has been secretly secured.
The morning isn’t going fast enough for Gabriel. It is going too fast for this momma. The clock ticks away as it does every day, stealing precious time available in treasuring every moment. It cost an eternity for this day to come, counting down years in a slow painful rhythm. This day came in a blink of an eye. How is that possible?
I go through the mental checklist as I do every morning when helping him get his day organized.
‘Where’s your cap?’
He runs up the stairs in a fast sprint. Something crashes in his room and I take note that it isn’t him. He loses his footing on the way down and scores a ten in epic saves.
‘Slow down, buddy!’
Words often said. Maybe they are heard, maybe not.
Twelve years ago, we dreamed of this day as we experienced our first practice. Kindergarten graduation gave out such awards as ‘star student,’ ‘best reader’ and ‘most likely to succeed.’ Gabriel earned them all. He was a happy kid with a compassionate heart and contagious smile. He was a small ball of energy, eager to learn, and excited about life. He blazed his own trail, walked his own walk, and danced to his own tune by beating his own drum.
His kindergarten teacher promised him nothing would stand in his way.
But by the middle of first grade, everything stood in his way.
Parent/teacher conferences ended in disaster. Gabriel was becoming more uncertain of himself by the minute. He was unable to make friends, function in classroom, and worst of all for him, unable to please his teacher.
‘I was so excited to have you in my class, Gabriel.’
Gabriel was brilliant. He caught the meaning. With a heart crushed rejection and tears falling freely we headed to see the school counselor. She flatly told us his ‘problem’ stemmed from home and we needed to get our act together. I was shocked into speechlessness, a moment I have regretted a thousand times.
The year dragged on. Phone call after phone call from the principal’s office beckoned me to another counseling so Gabriel could return to class. A school policy. I was blessed to work five minutes away, blessed to have an understanding supervisor, blessed to have the work availability to make up the hundreds of hours lost. Looking back, I was blessed in countless ways.
It was one phone call in particular while nearing the end of the year that changed my course and understanding to what was happening in the school walls.
‘Yes, Gabriel’s mom? We need you to come down to the school and pick up your son. He has been suspended.’
I squeezed the bridge of my nose and dared myself to ask.
‘What did he do?’
‘Yes. Um. Today, while it was raining at recess, your son placed his head underneath the rain spout to wet his hair.’
When I reported for my mom duty in the principal’s office, he handed me a file gleefully acknowledging he copied it himself to give me documented proof of why he was being suspended. It was full of teacher documented incident reports to the principal, punishments imposed, and how Gabriel failed to learn his lesson. Many were written as follows:
- Tapping pencils on the desk. Supplies taken away from student and he must ask permission to use them.
- Tapping feet on floor. Student must remove shoes when he comes in to the classroom.
- Unable to sit still. Student’s chair has been removed.
- Student forgets to raise his hand before speaking. Student unable to participate in classroom free time.
- Automatic zero on math test for tapping his pencil and disrupting other students.
- Automatic zero on vocabulary test because student wrote answers upside down.
- Student refuses to speak when spoken to. Student will sit in the hall until he can cooperate. (Mind you, he got in trouble for talking previously.)
- Automatic zero on math test for being disrespectful and rolling eyes.
- Student unable to stop talking. (He had gotten trouble for not talking) Student’s desk placed in corner away from others.
- Student now referred to principal’s office for all future disruptions of class.
A momma bear was born that day.
Distraught in finding out how my son had been treated, I finally had an answer to why the light burning in his soul had been snuffed out. With all the brave I could possibly muster and with the fully restrained bear desperate to roar, words flowed through me in a polite and icy tone.
‘Thank you for providing me documented proof this school has willfully and deliberately denied my son access to his education. I will be taking this up with the district office.’
Gabriel was not suspended that day.
I had no idea from that point where to begin, only that I had to. I started at the district office.
There is no doubt Gabriel’s brain functions at the speed of time warp travel. There is no doubt he breathes from a different level of the atmosphere then his peers. There is no doubt his energy is endless. I do not deny he taps his pencils, wiggles in his chair, hums a tune as he thinks, writes upside down for entertainment, draws on any surface available, and is ten steps ahead in thinking and doesn’t hear instruction well. I understand he is often inattentive, forgets his tasks, is unorganized and needs to be reminded a hundred times to do one thing.
He is Gabriel.
Gabriel is smart, charming, witty, loving, compassionate, empathetic of all others and always hoping to please.
‘I am sorry ma’am. Without documentation that your son has a learning disability, the school is unable to provide any accommodations to assist in helping him succeed. It would be disadvantageous to the other students.’
I needed to find a brick wall to hit my head on.
With advice from a dear friend, I set off to get my son to a counselor. The counselor recommended a child psychologist. The child psychologist recommended additional appointments, interviews, testing, follow up appointments, more testing, follow up interviews. With all information compiled he told my son he has a learning disability called ADHD.
Gabriel was brilliant. He caught the meaning of those words.
How do you explain to a seven-year-old boy what had just happened and what it all meant? Driving home, my heart ached.
‘Mom, am I disabled?’
‘Then why did the doctor say I have a learning disability?’
‘It is society’s way of saying you don’t learn like most people. People get uncomfortable with different and they want people to behave and learn in the same way. All these same people acting and thinking the same way make up society. Your soul has chosen to remain unique to you. You remain different. You see, hear, move, and learn differently. People get uncomfortable with different, so they put all who are different but similar to other different people into groups. You are in the ADHD group.
‘So, I need this paper to show the school what group they have put me in to remind them I don’t learn like the rest of the class?’
Gabriel would continue to learn his long and arduous journey through school was anything but easy. We battled endlessly with IEPs and 504 plans. We battled endlessly in getting the schools to agree with the plans. We battled endlessly with teachers who accused him of faking it for special attention. We battled endlessly with a middle-school counselor who refused to assist Gabriel in any way telling him directly he didn’t want ‘such a label to follow him his entire life.’ Gabriel battled fear, depression, anxiety, and the gamut of having a purpose in life and no purpose at all.
He begged countless times to be home schooled. We said no. We had our reasons even if he didn’t agree or see it at the time. We reminded him there was more to school than books.
He needed to learn how to stand up for himself and how to cope with a society who didn’t understand him. He needed to know how to communicate his needs, how to build friendships, and most importantly how to walk his own walk in it all. What we didn’t tell him was life would eat him alive if he didn’t learn these skills.
No matter how many times he said he wanted to be Peter Pan and never grow up, we desperately wanted him ready for it when he did.
I am overcome with Gabriel’s excitement. His smile brightens my world. Words faster than the speed of light pour through him. He can’t sit still, he is tapping a drum beat enthusiastically on his lap, his feet are running their own personal marathon as we drive to the ceremony.
‘Mom, I did it. I actually did it! I actually made it. Where’s my tassel?’
He runs to his friends, three of them lift him in the air. They disappear, get organized and seated, and I am failing to swallow the lump in my throat.
We hear the instructions for expectations of parents and students. Cheer only when our student’s name is called, no excessive noise. Students are to solemnly walk across the stage, shake the hands of the entourage, stop long enough for two photos, walk quietly to the other end of the stage and back to their seats.
I whisper with a laugh, ‘Slow down, buddy.’
We hear Gabriel’s name and scream obnoxiously through tears. He dances across stage, high-fives everyone he walks by, shakes the hand of the principal with such enthusiasm it nearly rattles him off his feet, fails to stand for pictures, turns to the crowd to find us and give his best ‘rock-on’ impersonation, and jumps off the end of the stage.
He didn’t hear a word. It is perfect. He is Gabriel.”
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