Friday, July 9, 2010

On the Eve of Roscoe's 15th Birthday

My son Roscoe is a stud. Tomorrow he turns fifteen. He’s six feet tall. He’s good-lookin. He gets good grades in tough classes. He loves the gospel and pursues righteousness. He makes phone calls on Saturday night to make sure the sacrament is lined up for Sunday. He helps out around the house just because he’s like that. He runs and lifts weights and reads the scriptures and cleans his bathroom without anyone ever asking him. What we worry about with Roscoe are things like is he fasting on a school day and is he stressing out about responsibilities rather than having fun. Which you have to admit are pretty luxurious worries to have about a teenager.

So here’s the thing: Time was, our beloved Roscoe was a bit of a wreck. In elementary school he was a quirky slow bloomer. He didn’t read at all until second grade and he wasn’t on grade level until third. He spent first grade in the back of the classroom looking at books he couldn’t read. He spent third grade under his desk. He spent fifth grade as the class bully magnet. He spent sixth grade in the resource room.

I can’t take much credit for Roscoe's goodness--clearly it just comes from his inside out--and I've done plenty of things wrong. But as I look back there are a few things I'm grateful I did right to give his awesomeness time and room to grow:

  • I never let Roscoe get pinned with a diagnosis. Multiple teachers and school psychologists suggested Asperger’s Syndrome. A diagnosis can be a blessing for some kids, but I knew it wasn’t right for him. In his case, a diagnosis would have made his teachers more comfortable, but it wouldn’t have helped him.

  • I understood Roscoe. I knew and loved him enough to see that behind the sometimes immature behavior, there was a late-blooming genius. I wasn’t scared of him or frustrated by him. I knew he’d read, I knew he’d grow, and I lobbied for him and advocated for him until it happened.
  • I listened to my mom’s advice about meetings with school staff. “They’re professional educators,” she told me, “But you’re a professional mom.” I refused to let myself feel cowed by teachers, principals, resource teachers, or anyone else I felt was off track on how to best help Roscoe. I refused their suggestions and argued with their assumptions as needed. I listened, of course, but ultimately it was my job to figure out what Roscoe needed and then make sure he got it.
  • I pushed him in middle school. Even though Roscoe was still a bit behind the developmental curve, I enrolled him in an accelerated magnet program for middle school. This did a few things: It took him out of the feral pack of a regular middle school and put him in a smaller group of over-achieving kids. A group that largely opted out of the lame, scary stuff that kids do in middle school. It also stretched him to a higher academic level in seventh and eighth grades—when grades don’t really count. By the time he started ninth grade—when every grade has bearing in college options—he had made the adjustment, caught up, and was ready to succeed in AP and IB classes that’ll open doors for him.
Roscoe’s swiss cheese genius is a unique case, but I know there are many boys out there who are late bloomers, who don’t fit neatly in to the K-8 mold. My call to all you moms out there is don’t pigeonhole your boy as a low-performer just because he’s off the mark in elementary school. Many boys literally, neurologically can’t thrive in the school system we’ve set up. Let that be okay. Read to them. Let them learn about dinosaurs or construction or Greek mythology or whatever their favorite topic is. Make the school give them what they need. Support them, push them a little, but wait with a cheerful heart. They’ll come around.


  1. I love that professional mom note. Excellent advice.

  2. Holy cow! He's taller than the fridge!

    And, please remind me to re-read this post as a pep-talk at least once a year for the next 12-16 years.

  3. Angela, you are my hero! (And Roscoe's, I'm sure.

  4. Angela, you are my hero! (And Roscoe's, I'm sure.

  5. Look at the guns on that kid! What a remarkable boy!

  6. We'd have to agree...Roscoe is pretty amazing! His mom is too:) Lucky boy!

  7. I agree with all you've written! Nobody knows your child like you do. Harry is getting ready for his senior year. This summer, he once again has homework for AP classes. It's such a pain. One teacher has threatened to keep kids out of class if homework is not emailed on time. Harry's first assignment was due while we were in Disneyland. Harry emailed it in a day late with an explanation. Now, I've pretty much stayed out of Harry's high school academic drama, but you watch me jump in if this teacher tries to keep him out of the class. By the way...Harry is Valedictorian of his class.

  8. Wow -- perfect post for me 15 times over in the countdown to IB middle school. For one thing, I am pleading to get C into band, which I'm told doesn't fit the IB/Avid curriculum.(After he was named band student of the year this past year.) Grrrrr!

  9. This made me cry. thank you for sharing as there are too many people who are being pushed to medicate, to diagnose etc to make things easier for a system that not everyone is meant to fit into.