one of the hardest days I’ve had to face

Dropping Kaitlyn off her first day of school was nothing compared to this morning. Her first day of school, she was three years old. We’d just moved to France and we’d stopped by the school to make sure they had all the papers they needed from us and to figure out when she would start. Kaitlyn sat down and refused to get up.

Fast forward four years.

Kaitlyn’s attendance at her school in France did not mean she got an education. I had my suspicions the first two years when the teacher’s assistant never bothered to learn how to spell Kaitlyn’s name. Which, really, is just plain rude. But I thought it’s just pre-kindergarden, it’s not that big a deal. It’s a language thing. I shouldn’t have let it go. Then when she got to the level of learning to read (in French), I was so caught up in making sure she knew how to speak French… shuttling her to extra French lessons several times a week… I didn’t pay enough attention to her English lessons. I also assumed that the English teacher would be giving them lessons at the same level as their American counterparts would be receiving back at home. Well, we all know what happens when you assume, don’t we?

If I could go back and deliver any message to Kaitlyn’s English teacher from the last four years, it would be this: Change your lesson plan. It is not on par with the grades here. And if a child is lagging behind, tell her parents. Don’t mention it in passing the days before they repatriate. It’s too late then. Way too late. (Yes, this is what happened to us.)

That’s how we got to today. The day I took Kaitlyn to school to move to her new classroom. In the first grade.

Last Friday, her teacher and principal met with Bill and I. They outlined for us how terribly behind she is. How much extra help they could offer her, but how much time that meant she wouldn’t be in her classroom learning the stuff the other second graders were learning. She’d basically be a second grader doing first grade work. That was when the principal said what Bill and I had been quietly debating all summer: she would perhaps be better off in the first grade.
I cried. Kaitlyn’s teacher cried. To Bill’s credit, he did not and has not since then said “I told you so.” (I probably would not have been able to resist.) But in the end, I had to agree. In the short and the long run, it’s best for Kaitlyn to take a step back in order to be able to run the distance. So to speak.

This morning Kaitlyn didn’t take the school bus. I drove her to school. The principal greeted us. Her new teacher smiled at me. Her old teacher came and walked Kaitlyn and I down the hallway. She pointed out Kaitlyn’s new classroom. She took Kaitlyn into her old classroom where she presented her with all the stuff she won’t need anymore. It reminded me of a funeral where the military presents the widow with the flag that had been draped on her husband’s coffin. (Ok, so I’m a little dramatic. But it’s what I thought of.) Then Kaitlyn went to her new classroom. She poured her supplies into her new supply box. Her new teacher said she’d get her seat when class started. I walked her down to the gym where all the kids gather each morning. They line up by class. I knew that Kaitlyn would sit with her new class and everyone in her old class and everyone she knows from the neighborhood would see her sitting there. And the thought of those other kids pointing and whispering or, God forbid, making fun of her… I had to fight the urge to burst into tears. Then her new teacher came in and introduced her to a Cate in her class… the girls sat down and started talking. Smiling. No obvious problems. So the teacher waved at me and I left.

I made it all the way home before crying again. I know what we did was the best thing to do. I regret what we did in France but I can’t change that now. Now all I can do is hope that the cruelty of children doesn’t play out in the next few hours and days for Kaitlyn.

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