I had been expecting the call: "Hello Mrs. Eiben, this is the special education teacher at Theo's school. Your son is having more difficulties than we anticipated."
I knew he was struggling with his writing, but everyone had believed that things would fall into place with the falling leaves. Apparently things were falling apart.
"OK," I said and then held my breath.
"We're now concerned about his math, reading, and listening skills, as well as his writing," the teacher continued.
I listened patiently, with acceptance and maturity that I neither possessed nor felt. None of this came as a surprise. I have seen him tortured by his homework night after night.
Nonetheless, I wanted to shout, "We have been reading to him every day of his life. We have read countless parenting books and taken him on every educational field trip within 40 miles. Why is school so hard for him? What did we do wrong? What can we do right? When will this end ... fourth grade, high school, never?"
I wanted to weep. Instead, I rationally discussed decoding vowel sounds and the complexity of the new math program. We set up a meeting and I thanked her for her concern and help. I told her we would do anything on our end to support the school and Theo.
After I hung up, I dissolved into wrenching sobs.
I know it could be worse. I know he's healthy, sweet, and cooperative. I know he has a creative mind that processes information differently.
Yet, I also know that the milestones of school have confounded him at every step. I sigh when I find his spelling lists and homework sheets in his backpack, knowing that it's going to be another long night.
On especially challenging days, I let my dread of the looming homework mingle with my rising fears. How will he ever learn calculus and Shakespeare if he struggles so in third grade?
Recently, I was interrupted out this negative revery by Theo. "That's what I think," he said with authority.
Jarred from my own fearful thoughts, I asked, "What, honey?"
As if reading my mind, he said, "Mom, I think things are going to come together for me when I'm in college. I just think that by college, I'll be doing great and learning great things."
His words were the equivalent of a cold glass of water on my welling fears. I don't know what the future will hold for Theo but I heard myself saying, "Honey, with your wonderful curious mind, you are going to love college as well as many things about school along the way."
And in that moment, I believed it.
If my 9-year-old son can come home from school, where he faces frustrations that would break a lesser child or adult and find it in himself to dream of his future collegiate academic success, surely I can put my fears aside, sit down patiently, and once again help him with his homework. And so I do.