I saw stark differences between my children from early on, when the teachers gave us feedback. My daughter Tyler always got rave reviews. Porter struggled.
When Tyler was five, she communicated with Porter better than most of his teachers. Being the family philosopher, she understood what many people tend to overlook: that Porter excelled at the things they don’t grade in school.
From A Bad Reaction:
The teacher pulls out a folder. The teacher’s notes are written in cursive and the space after Tyler’s name is filled with exclamation points.
“She has such a curious mind! So many things she wants to learn about!” the woman says as we sit in tiny chairs around the kids’ lunch table. “I wrote down Tyler’s questions in class because, honestly, I wasn’t able to answer a few of them!” The teacher pulls out a page and starts reading out loud.
“Here is what she asked. This is just last week! ‘How is plastic made?’, ‘Why are there unions?’, ‘Why doesn’t Jamaica have a real winter when the earth rotates halfway around every six months?’ And, ‘What do ants do with their larvae while they are working outside the nest?’ That last one was a stumper. I told her I had to get back to her.” The teacher smiles. “You must be doing something right at home!”
I am at a loss for words and reach for her notes to read over Tyler’s questions. I want to savor this part of the conference since I know Porter’s session will have a different kind of tone. I keep my own notes about his developmental milestones and I know his progress has stalled and begun to slip backwards.
Then kindergarten starts and he isn’t ready. I know this because he’s tested and doesn’t score a single point. His sister Tyler is there. She comes with us as it is Saturday and going for cognitive testing is a family outing.
The evaluation is a combination of facts and problem solving, neither of which is Porter’s strong suit. We go to the kindergarten room and sit in tiny chairs. My knees are bunched up by my chin and the walls are covered with kids’ drawings, the kind with stick bodies and giant bubble heads. There are posters of people smiling with chipper messages. No one wears a helmet.
The woman starts our test with several scenarios. She is earnest. She is young. It’s not her fault.
“Okay Porter,” she says, “we’re going to talk about a few different situations.” Porter flaps. Tyler sits at attention.
“I just need you to answer my questions,” she says.
“He doesn’t answer questions,” I say.
“I bet you’re underestimating him. Let’s give it a try.” I bet I’m not, I think to myself, but we give it a try.
“Okay Porter, what do you do at the end of the day?” Flap, flap. Silence. Teacher scribbles something. Tyler raises her hand.
“Did you want to say something?” the teacher asks.
“You go to bed!” Tyler says and the woman smiles. Tyler has it right since she passed the test just last year, as they are sixteen months apart.
“Let’s see if we can get your brother to answer one,” she says. Tyler pulls her hand down and puts it around Porter.
“Let’s try another one. What happens when you break a friend’s toy?”
Tyler leans over to him and whispers, “Say, “You go to jail!”
Porter says, “Jail!” and Tyler claps.
It worries me that Tyler knows about incarceration and I shake my head. Tyler shrugs her shoulders at me and the teacher watches us and jots things down. I hope it’s not a note to call protective services. It worries me that she thinks I’ve made my children this way.
We switch to the matching game and things look up—Porter knows his name. But he says it the wrong time and things look down.
“What’s this?” the woman asks, holding up a picture of a car.
“Hi Porter,” he answers.
She sounds firm. “What’s THIS?” she asks again, the way Americans scream louder in English when people from other countries don’t speak the language.
He looks at the card and replies, “Hi Porter.”
She pulls another card out of the pile. This one is a flower. “What’s this?” she asks him.
“I had pizza for lunch.” It’s eight in the morning and he didn’t have pizza for lunch; in fact, he hasn’t had pizza in a year since we changed our diet.
She hasn’t quit. She holds up a banana. “How about this one?”
“I had pizza for lunch,” he responds.
Tyler takes charge. “That’s a banana, Porter. Say ‘banana.’”
“Nana” says Porter.
“Very good, Porter. Yes, that’s a banana!” Tyler claps. Porter claps. The woman puts down the pile of cards.
“Alrighty!,” she says, which is the closest Midwesterners get to a swear word. I see her write a zero next to the last question. There is a column of zeroes above it. It seems like she should shield the scores or use a euphemism so the absence is less obvious.
“I don’t think he’s on track for kindergarten,” she says.
“Probably not,” I say. I want her to know I get it, that I’m not one of those parents that claims their disabled kid is normal and should be taking calculus with everyone else. I force a smile.
“We will look at options and get back to you,” she says and stacks up her papers. I stand up. Tyler grabs her brother’s hand. She leans over and whispers in his ear.
“Sorry Porter, you got an ‘F,’ but don’t feel bad. I’ll teach you the flash cards at home.”
I hold both their hands as we walk out. Tyler is feeling philosophical.
“At least Porter got one A,” she says. I assume she is referring to his skilled pouring and I am surprised that she heard this. “They don’t score him on the things that Porter is really good at. They should have other grades.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“Porter never gets mad that he has seizures every day. That’s an A. He never says, ‘Why do I have to go to the hospital all the time!?’ That’s an A. And when I was crying the other day he came over and hugged me.”
Porter gets good grades in the categories that really matter.
To read more from Sarah Bridges, please buy her memoir “A Bad Reaction” (Skyhorse Publishing) available on Amazon.com. For more “Free Range Lives” messages, click and subscribe to the blog. We appreciate your support and your “shares” as we create a community of support and hope.