Best Gift I Ever Received

As we enter the holiday season, I am reminded of one of the best gifts I have ever been given after reading a blog by a mother of a young boy in school. The author used to be a teacher and was now the mother of a bright, busy, energetic young boy and was struggling with her love for him and her knowledge of how his exuberance impacted his teachers. I thought back to my son’s early years in school and the best gift I received was from his kindergarten teacher, 17 years ago.

My son, now 23, was THAT kid. You know, the kid who is always moving, always talking, always engaged with the world, but not always in ways that are easy and pleasant. He was a challenging young boy and is now a challenging man, but in a good way. He is interesting and still engaged in the world. But like when he was little, he still values being right over getting along. And while this trait serves him well now, it didn’t so much as a child, in a classroom.

When my son started school, we lived in a school district in northern California that was overcrowded and valued conformity and control over intellectual curiosity and play. A neighbor whose son was the same age, told me of visiting the elementary school and watching the kids do a drill on the playground in which the teacher blew a whistle and all the kids were to get in line with their hands up—as if in training for being arrested. Neither of us could fathom putting our sons into a school in which this was a part of the daily curriculum. She and her family chose to move to another part of the state, an option that would not work for us, so I started to explore private schools in the area.

We looked at four schools knew that the odds were against us as there were not enough private school spots for the number of families looking. It was an awful situation, in which our son was tested and interviewed for a spot in kindergarten.

We were thrilled when he tested into the school for gifted kids, even though it meant a long commute. But then were crushed when he was rejected because he couldn’t solve do mazes at his interview. I told myself that I didn’t want him in an environment like that, but the truth was I did. I wanted him a resource rich school that valued his mind.

Another school he didn’t get into was the very cool and hip one. While at the visiting day (really interview, but they used euphemisms like visiting day), it became obvious that he wasn’t going to get in either. They wanted children who were quiet, and inquisitive, well behaved and creative. Our son was curious, exuberant and beyond the opposite of quiet. I still remember them talking about why the berries on bushes turn bright red in winter (to attract the birds who will eat, and then through their dropping, propagate the bushes) but my son doesn’t remember learning this. He was too busy running around, enjoying the playground equipment now that all the other kids were dutifully lined up at the edge of the yard, looking at the bushes, listening to the teacher.

The third school he didn’t get into was the more straight-laced, dare I say up-tight school. For that interview (at this school they didn’t use any cool warm fuzzy euphemisms), they had the kids play with manipulatives – something my son loved to do. He loved lining up little objects by height or width or color or fill-in-the-blank. While this school didn’t thrill me, it still was better than the public school. Afterwards, as we were walking back to my car, I noticed he was fiddling with something in his pocket. When I asked him what it was, he got quiet and made a strange face. When he finally pulled out his hand, he had a few small plastic bears in the palm of his hand. His first story was that they gave them to the kids, but that didn’t sound right. And at that moment, I knew in the pit of my stomach that he wasn’t going to get into this school either. My job as his mother was to help him walk back into the school and return the bears. I held onto a thin ray of hope that perhaps they would appreciate our values but I knew as soon as we walked in and my son confessed that they didn’t care one bit for my son or our values. I saw the stern woman mark something on her clipboard and that was that for them and for us.

The last and final school was the one place in which they had plenty of space for kids. And it was because they were connected with a church. But this wasn’t a Christian Church, it was a church that combined Hinduism and Christianity started by a swami and connected to a community of people who lived and worshipped together. A place that I knew make our families uncomfortable. But it was there that I received my best gift ever.

Our son’s kindergarten teacher loved and appreciated him for all of his exuberance and curiosity. This teacher was perfect for my son. She didn’t see trouble or a problem when she saw him, but rather saw a bright young boy, brimming with excitement about all that he would and could learn about the world. And instead of thinking her role was to teach him to stand in line she saw her job as opening up his mind to the wonderful world around him. This was her gift to him. But her gift to me was equally important.

This woman, this teacher, this ‘yoda’ gave me the best gift I have ever received. It happened at the end of the year parent-teach conference. This wasn’t the typical school gift like a portfolio of beautiful drawings or projects our son had created in school. It wasn’t a cute poem that tried to touch my heart strings or his handprints in plaster, all of which I have been given by the kids’ teachers over the years. No this was the gift of recognition of who our son was, along with great information on how best to help him become the man he could be.

She started be telling us how amazing our son was, a real gift and pleasure to teach—something every parent wants to hear. She went on to say that because of his energy and enthusiasm and intellect, we would probably encounter teachers who would reprimand him and might even suggest that we use medication to help ‘control’ him in the classroom. She looked us right in the eye and said that our son did not need medicating. And that any teacher who wanted to do so was looking for an ‘easy’ way out to manage and control her classroom and was not acting in the best interests of our son. Period.

She said that I would need to be a special advocate for him as he was very bright and needed to be in intellectual rich and stimulating academic environments and that IF this was provided, he would not be a distraction or a problem but rather a dream student for talented teachers.

Over the years I took her advice to heart. I remember having one of his teachers tell me how difficult he was in her German class. Turns out he was asking too many questions and she didn’t have the time. I was uncomfortable with telling her how to teach him, but I came up with ideas that would help her and help him. Finally we pulled him out of her class and sent him to German Language camp at the end of 8th grade, hoping that in one month’s time he would be able to catch up with his peers and be ready for German II in 9th grade. Instead he came back ready for German IV (and this on top of also taking Spanish!)

And then there the head of the Math Department one year telling me that he missed the cut off for the advanced math class because they only had room for 20 kids and that he was too rambunctious for that class anyway. When I told her that I knew it was my right as a parent to override her decision and to insist on his placement in the class I heard an earful about being a pushy, overbearing and entitled parent who had no clue about my child’s real capacity. When he scored an 800 on his math SAT and perfect 5s in all his high-school math AP classes, I felt vindicated.

But mostly, I thought back to his kindergarten teacher who gave me the best gift I ever received: to love my boy for who he is and to appreciate all of him—even those parts that others find hard to accept. Because these parts of him are equally important to the whole wonderful, amazing person he is and is yet to be.



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

12 thoughts on “Best Gift I Ever Received

  1. dani

    Heidi! I can totally relate to this post. In my day to day life, I often find myself feeling a bit inadequate because all of my friends make raising kids look soooo easy. I know, I can’t really compare myself to others…but it’s good to know other parents have similar experiences to me.

    Reply
  2. Jeannie Shea

    This is an amazing story, thank you for sharing it with all of us. And truly, what a wonderful gift you did receive, from your son’s kindergarten teacher. How many times you must have held on to her words. I am not a parent, but I am struck by how much we need to be our own advocate, and how we need to hold on to our core beliefs, about ourselves and about our loved ones. It is too easy to believe someone else’s words about us, and presume that they must know something we do not. We all need concrete reminders that being different, or simply not fitting well as a square peg into a round hole, does not make us wrong. And, that just because society values a certain attribute, such as compliance, does not mean it should be where we put our energy.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thank you for your post. What a great example of how we need to mother ourselves. It is hard, but worth it, to celebrate being square pegs surrounded by round holes!

      Reply
  3. Tamara

    I think this is the experience of more parents than we think. I was definitely non-conformist as a kid, and in some ways still am, but I got good grades so that appeased school and parents (at least on the scholastic front). No surprise, one of my children is also non-conformist (and in a much bigger way than I ever had the courage for) but she’s not currently getting good grades. It’s so hard to manage the expectations and hold the vision of who she is and can be in the midst of such a competitive environment of students with 4.5 GPAs carrying full class loads. But I am determined. Thank you for sharing the gift.

    Reply
  4. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

    Sounds like you are a wonderful mother by recognizing your daughter’s courage and valuing her non-conforming ways!

    Reply
  5. Julie Shanson

    I am thrilled to read your thoughtful and courageous stories of motherhood. It’s definitely a journey that bears documentation. I know how tough it can be to organize stories you’ve told into vignettes for others to read and I look forward to reading many more from you.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Thanks Julie for posting. You are right, it can be a challenge, but I am not worrying too much about it until I have lots more blogs posted!

      Reply
  6. Judy Brannigan

    Wow! That is amazing teaching, and good for you for sticking up for your kid!! Many parents think the schools should raise the children, and it is wonderful to find parents that stand up and take responsibility for them. Teachers are being pressured now to do tests, pass everyone, and there are still a few left that care about the kids and it is good you found one!
    Stick to your teachers advice, and it is good he learned early not to take things from others, and it is too bad they did not praise him for doing the right thing.

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      You are right Judy, too many parents are not raising their kids; they are allowing teachers, TV and peers to do it. My observation is that kids want their parents to be parents, and that means guiding them through growing up. Finding teachers with whom parents can partner unfortunately is not easy. We were lucky to have this one come into our lives so early on!

      Reply
  7. Leah

    Heidi,

    I am a mother to a son who sounds a lot like yours. Thank you for sharing your gift. It will help me remember to do what I know to be best for my little monkey when others are telling me different.

    My son is currently three, so we will be walking this “finding the right school” path soon.

    Thank you!

    -Leah

    Reply
    1. Heidi BK Sloss Post author

      Glad my story could help. Our sons can be a source of great joy to us, but it is hard when others around them don’t always appreciate their energy and exuberance. Having a strong support system in place is critical for our sons to grow up seeing love and respect for who they are versus always hearing (and then eventually internalizing) a negative message about what gifts they bring to the world. Good luck and know that whatever choices you make for educating your son can be changed if it isn’t working out. I switched my kids’ schools, once even mid-year when I didn’t like what was going on and the adults ‘in charge’ didn’t recognize the problems.

      Reply

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