I haven’t written much about Leah in some time. She’s almost twelve now, and old enough to know about this site and old enough to where many of her stories are not necessarily mine to tell any longer. I try to respect that, but in this instance, I’m TALKING.
We put Leah in a private school this year. For many reasons, academic and social, it was the right thing to do – and we have come to understand just how “right” this decision was. This school has been around for a long time and there is a teacher in sixth grade who is something of an institution. I liken her class to a gauntlet. Those who have had her before have honestly said that because of the work (so much work) and approach in her class, they were able to be successful IN COLLEGE. Yes, you read that right. Pay attention, do the work as she asks you to, and you are GOLDEN. She is one of those watershed moments you look back on and both smile and rub the wound a bit.
I’m not usually “that mom”, but in this case, I did call the school and ask if Leah could have this particular teacher. After everything we’d heard about her, it was something we wanted for Leah. This is why we were going to private school after all. They looked at her file from elementary school and said they’d be happy to have her in that class, though they though she might struggle a bit in a few areas at first. We understood (or thought we understood) and knew that not only would LEAH have to commit to a new level of work, but WE would as well.
What we didn’t know was that we had just signed Leah up for the Honors program. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but it’s true. We had no idea. Best parents ever? Possibly.
What happened next was … indescribable. First, we discovered she lacked enormous amounts of content that were just never taught in public school. Basic grammar and terminology. HUGE gaps. She lacked writing skills. She was drowning in math.
We met with her teacher and the Assistant Principal, who were very honest and kind. “We think she can do the work, but she will need some serious support for awhile. Her grades will be disastrous for most of the year. Don’t worry. By the end of the year she will be fine and ready for seventh grade.”
And so, we sat Leah down and told her the exact same thing. Where her gaps were, what she will need, that we are getting tutors for her. It’s going to suck before it won’t, and just know we are not mad at any bad grades that come home this semester. It will be fine.
It was a long semester. There were HOURS of homework – four, five, six at a time, mostly because she was working so hard to catch up, it wasn’t as easy for her as it was for others. There was bad grade after bad grade. There were nights where she just couldn’t finish the work and I had to make executive decisions that it was “enough” – send her to bed and I’ll email the teacher. There were nights that caused tears – hers and mine.
At the semester, we gave her the opportunity to switch classes. No blame, no shame, just some relief. She vehemently opposed the mere THOUGHT of it. She LOVED this teacher and this class and wanted to stay. We ALMOST overruled her, but if she wanted to do it, then we were with her – even if this class was breaking all of us.
She never complained. Ever. She just kept going. She put her head down and worked and worked and worked until the good grades started to show up from time to time. Some classes more consistently than others, but still, progress.
But, one area in particular was never getting any better and there were many late nights where we sat up wondering if we had done her a disservice. It was the end of the year and she was tired and a little beaten down by the pounding she has taken all year. You could see this needed to be over soon. We questioned every decision we made all year. We should have taken her out at the semester, we should have hired a tutor in this area sooner… it was heartbreaking.
Last night was the school’s Awards Night. They inducted the National Junior Honor Society, and gave out various academic and athletic awards. We had gotten an email saying Leah won an award, but we didn’t know which one. Leah was unaware – so we kept it secret. We thought it would be an athletic award since she did well in Track this year. But those awards came and went and it wasn’t her. You could see her shoulders slump when she realized she didn’t win one – she thought that was her only chance.
And then, the awards by grade for making 95% or higher on the standardized Achievement Tests and the invitation to take the SAT in seventh grade (an honor) were announced – and that same Assistant Principal called out “Leah Lewis.”
I will never forget the look on her face. She looked at me with shock and awe and glee and pride and OH, MY G-D in that one little huge moment everything, EVERYTHING we went through this whole year was WORTH IT. Everything. ALL OF IT.
It’s been said that this parenting stuff isn’t for the weak. Actually, it’s been said far more colorfully. There are days where you have NO IDEA whether you’re doing anything right, where you know you did a lot of things wrong. But then there are moments, not even days, when you realize that you still may have done it wrong, but it’s okay. For that tiny moment everything is perfect – and it is etched in your mind and on your heart for the rest of your days.
She went over to hug her teacher afterwards. She’s retiring this year after more than 30 years of teaching. Each year her class gets a special Survivor-esque t-shirt commemorating their time with her. Leah’s class are the last known survivors of this gauntlet and YOU BETTER BELIEVE I bought myself a t-shirt as well. I think we both earned one.
Way to go, Swimmy – you astound me in all the best ways.