When School Choice Goes Wrong

It took me two years to not feel anxious when my phone rang during school hours. I had to tell current teachers to please start by saying, “Nothing is wrong,” or send me a text first. I didn’t realize just how traumatized I was from our first school experience.

We started our oldest in school after a strong nudge from a friend at 2.5 years of age. It was the sweetest preschool, and he went three days a week for a half day. He was always our wild child, so we were trepidatious, but it turned out well. We would get a call here or there, but nothing too serious, and the teachers adored him. Even still, it wasn’t until his younger sister entered school that I heard things like, “I wish I had 15 of her in my class.” I never took offense. I knew one of him in the world, let alone a classroom, was enough.

As time edged closer to moving to big-kid school, I felt overwhelmed with school choice options. However, having been in education my entire post-college career, I had seen my fair share of schools and felt equipped to navigate the process. After completing applications, tours, and some interviews to share about our vivacious boy, we narrowed it down to our top three. They were all quite different but had something about them that put them above the rest. I had a solid number one that I thought would be a good fit, but it was a little bit harder communicating with them, and my type A personality got the best of me. Second choice it was.

Within a few weeks of the school year beginning, my house was a ball of angst. I was getting daily calls from the school about our son’s behavior. He would be consistently overcome with big emotions at the smallest occurrences. He has always been a deeply feeling child, but this was out of character even for him. What was worse was that I felt their response to the behavior was only going to increase the likelihood of reoccurring negative behavior because the “consequence” felt like a reward to him.

As a family, we were determined to “get to the bottom of things.” We read books. We reached out to our pediatrician. We got testing done. We got the support of a behavioral therapist. Nothing was “wrong.” Which while thankful and grateful, left us with no answers.

I felt like I was failing him and failing at motherhood in general. We made the decision to pull him from that school and try again. We returned to the original top choice and shared the ups and downs of the year thus far. He went in for a trial day as we waited anxiously for the debrief. Their words, “We think he is a wonderful fit.” And years later, we still are. I still don’t know what he felt in his little body that made him almost night and day difference between the two schools. He still doesn’t know himself.

Though it was miserable to go through, I remind myself that it was necessary. As moms, sometimes we get it wrong. But as moms, we will go to the ends of the earth to make it right. It turns out that life is just like that sometimes. We fail, we cry, we learn, and we get to exactly where we need to be.


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