McDiesel’s new Kindergarten class newsletter explains the breakdown for daily reports which, in the past three years his older brother has been in school, I have never dreaded—or particularly paid attention to—before:

Happy face

Squiggly face

Frowny face

These three options seem at once overly simplistic and completely adequate. The school day is long and most of McD’s days are filled with happy, squiggly, and frowny faces in different combinations. (Aren’t most kids’?) Yet, slim chance Happy is going to take the day. McD’s a squiggly face kind of kid, after all. His happy-face behavior lights everything up; his frowny-face behavior is impossible to ignore and difficult—in the space of six hours—to forget or overlook. Mr. Squiggles.

On the first day of school, McD proudly displays a happy face with accompanying note that he had a “great” day. Oh. Maybe it won’t be that hard. Maybe he can behave for six hours. My anxiety ebbs.

The second day, he hops off the bus and pulls out his report sheet—obstructing the bus doors—thrusts it in my face and sulks, “Squiggles!” Attached note reads: “Sassy!” (Also a deceptively adequate measure of behavior.) My anxiety flows.

(Same day, Big Brother’s teacher note—ironically—says “So sweet!”)

(My mother says don’t compare children. How do you do that?)

As if on cue, confirming my sense of inevitability, the third day of school, last Friday, brings the dreaded frowny—a symbol that has never entered the house in the two years we’ve been at this school so far. (Big Bro—wide-eyed—gasps and avoids contact with the paper.)  Teacher lists symptomatic behavior alongside: distracting others, talking during instruction, laughing while being disciplined. Anxiety flows some more.

McD sulks. Things had been going so well. Behavior seemed to be on the upswing to the point I was crediting 45 minutes of OT a week for working an almost miraculous transformation: Maybe some beanbag tossing and a sensory tunnel really can undo ADHD! Now OT useless. McD doomed to frowny-face Kindergarten year. I sulk.

Spend all weekend reinforcing the wonderful milkshake celebration we will indulge in if Monday sees the return of the happy face—even madly agree to a trip to the Target toy aisles (negotiated by opportunistic Big Bro) as a reward for a week’s worth of happy faces.

Spend the drive to school Monday quizzing McD on how to earn a happy face (“listen to Mrs. W!”) in case he might have forgotten or tuned out any of my annoying and anxious coaching.

Then Monday afternoon comes and, praise God!, McDiesel has earned a smiley face with a note that he had a “way good day!” Anxiety checked and OT is miraculous once again. We head out for milkshakes.

Now worry I was maybe too lax last night and this morning in continuing behavior pep rally for today. Drive up hopefully to drop-off point in front of school (“parents please allow your children their independence and do not walk them to class this week”). Carpool kids and Big Bro hop out with waves and smiles. McD unbuckles and acts as if he’s about to do the same. Then doesn’t budge, wants me to walk him in, holds up the entire drop-off line, and dangles halfway out the open car door. Frantically (and I hope not too sharply) call Big Bro back from school entrance to grab and drag (if necessary) McD away from car and through the door. Principal announces no tardies today because of traffic back-up. No choice but to jump out of car, walk around to his side, remove him and backpack, close the back door, and leave him standing curb-side in the rain, a squiggly face in my rearview mirror.

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