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Pecking Order

Pecking Order

As the school year continues, I’m often reminded of the new place in the pecking order of parents I inhabit.

I once was perceived as a good mother, the positive force behind a popular and successful student and athlete. I had many friends among the other parents who waited outside elementary classroom doors at the end of the school day.

It was there I’d be handed invitations to neighborhood BBQs and teachers would seek me out to tutor a student who was falling behind. When my son graduated to middle school I suffered no pangs of sadness because I had another son entering kindergarten at the same time. The elementary school would remain in my family’s life.

From the first day of school, however, things were different with my younger son. He was obviously smart and sweet, but his teacher complained he was a challenge in the classroom. He refused to write, wiggled in his seat during quiet times, poked and prodded other children to distraction and sometimes tears.

Over the following months, my husband and I sought possible causes—food allergies, anxiety, learning disorders—and explored possible treatments. I worried and turned for support to my peers. But my efforts to reach out to the parents of my son’s classmates were returned with little more than chilly politeness and often not even that.

Circles of chatting moms would remain closed to me as I waited nearby to take my son home. One mother handing out birthday invitations hid the stack of envelopes behind her back as I approached.

Clearly my son would not be invited to that party. What I realized that day was that I wouldn’t be invited to any parties, either. My son may have exhibited inappropriate behavior from time to time but it was me the mothers didn’t want to be near.

I moved my waiting place to a bench several yards away to avoid encountering the awkward silence that interrupted the happy chatter of the other moms whenever I approached. We survived that difficult school year, my son and I.

We found a therapist whose treatment has calmed him without diminishing his natural cheeriness and enthusiasm. She taught my husband and me how to parent his unique needs.

This year my son has a new teacher, a man so gifted and compassionate that the school directs many of its so-called “high-maintenance” kids to his classroom. My son has blossomed there.

And life on the bench?

It turned out that I wasn’t alone there after all. My son wasn’t the only child who for one reason or another didn’t fit in. Over time, mothers of those other children approached me and we sought out relationships, as our children became friends. My son’s birthday is approaching. And in addition to whomever else he wants to invite to his party, I’ll be sure to hand out an invitation to every single child whose mother sits on that bench.

By Laura-Lynne Powell

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