Thursday, September 12, 2013

Questioning an Involved Parent

Lets just get this over with.

I'm a dad.

I'm involved with my kids.

I encourage them to be active, eat well, be polite, go to school, ride their bikes.

Sometimes, I even put two or three of those things together.

So imagine my surprise when I get a call from my son's speech therapist saying the school doesn't want me riding my bike to school with my son, because I might be a predator or my son could get hit by a car in the parking lot.


Go ahead, if you haven't already, read that again. I'll wait.

Godzilla has been in speech therapy for three years. He has a problem forming some of the more difficult sounds, especially at the beginning of words (S, T, G, K, N - try saying "stick" only the S and T come out more like a D - problematic, you see) . He has never had an issue with recognition, only with forming the sounds. Even at two, he understood anything you said to him, and could identify all the images on the vision charts, but could verbalize little greater than "mmmm". He needed help to know how to form  those sounds. So, we started him with a speech therapist coming into our house, and when he turned three, the program we used graduated him into the local school district.

For the last two years, he has met with his teacher one hour a day, one day a week for what they call "power hour" and he loves it. He loves his teacher, Ms. M who is great and has really helped him make strides in all the developmental areas he needs. He thinks its cool to get to go to school just like his big sister. The best part of it all is that the school is right up the road from our house, so in good weather we can ride our bikes together to class.

We have been riding on occasion since that first year when he was three. He rode a little red tricycle, those tiny legs pumping his peddles like a machine the whole way telling me all along that he's as fast as a peregrine falcon (thank you Go Diego, Go). Last year, when he graduated to a sweet Hot Wheels two-wheeler, complete with "a BMX frame and action REV grip handles", we began riding more often, and he now begs to ride our bikes together to class each week.

I have to say, I couldn't be more proud of the little guy. We've taught him how to be responsible on his bike, to always wear his helmet, to wear closed toed shoes to protect his feet, to be on the lookout for cars, and to only ride in the street or parking lots when a grownup is with him. He's learned that he is little and drivers can easily miss him, so to always make sure he is a safe distance from any car, moving or not.

I know what his riding skills and safety knowledge are because I am his dad. I am involved and have taught him how to ride. Now you might say, "But he's only 5 years old!" And I would agree with you, which is why I always ride with him, and constantly keep an eye on him and any vehicles that may be near by. Its why he knows to stop when I say stop, and why I am never more than a few feet from him when riding to school.

When we went to speech last week and arrived a few minutes early, he did not want to just stand around the door, waiting for Ms. M to come let us in and start his class. He wanted to ride.

Now, another thing I know about my boy, is that he can get antsy sitting in class for his favorite teacher, concentrating on learning how to open his mouth and make a "ga" sound. The best way to help him sit still, is of course to wear him out. Now, if only there was a way I could do that before he went in to class...

When he asked to ride laps of the parking lot, without hesitation I told him we could. In that ten minutes we rode together, three buses and two cars pulled into the lot. Each time, we stopped well away from where they were driving, and waited to make sure we would not be in their way. When our time was up, we rode up to the door, locked up his bike and helmet and sent him in with his teacher.

What happened from there is where things get frustrating. On Monday this week, I received a call from Ms. M saying that we needed to stop riding our bikes. There had been talk around the school all through the end of last week about the random man and little boy who were outside near dismissal time just trolling the lot. Gossip about how unsafe it was for us to be on our bikes around all those cars. Conjecture that I could be a kidnapping threat to the kids who would be dismissed only minutes hence.

No one bothered to come out to address this threat. No one payed close enough attention to see how my son and I interacted, or the precautions we took on our bikes. No one connected the dots that he had a backpack on, or that we were the same two people who were outside that very same door one day every week for the previous two years, often times on those very same bikes.

It was only something to get worked up about and gossip and accuse behind closed doors.

Ms. M was very professional and apologetic over the phone. She knows me, she knows Godzilla, she knows why we were there. The other teachers didn't, and didn't care to find out.

The school principal ended up meeting with her, once she became aware of the talk and claimed us. While I was not present for the conversation, nor did I pry more details from Ms. M over the phone, the result was a request that we not ride any more.

Let me say that again: as a result of a few teachers who thought I could be be a predator and that my son wasn't safe in my care, without addressing me, my son's favorite thing to do, something we are actively encouraged to do - from an environmental standpoint, to a physical standpoint - now has been restricted from him.

What kind of message are we sending here?

In a world where we are inundated with messages of "be more active!" and: "It's bike-to-work week!" or: "Parents, don't let your kids be slugs, get them out to exercise!" How can we also say: "don't you dare bring them to school on their bike if there might be cars around.

How can dad's be told to be more involved, to get off our La-Z-Boys, turn off SportsCenter and do things with our kids, but at the same time hear "What is he doing out there with that little boy? He must be a predator, here to prey on our kids."?

How can a teacher, someone who interacts with a student and his parents every week, someone who has your confidence, someone who should be respected in the community and among her peers not be able to quell the misplaced fear and acquisitions of the people around her?

Ultimately, we will not be riding any more, and Godzilla need not know why. I'm not thrilled about the situation, but resigned to deal with it moving forward. There will always be people who question your parenting. They will know better than you, and have the voice to make it known. They will judge. They will gossip. They will stare and point, and the best you can do is take it.

Why would I just take it though?

Because I'm above it. I know what I do for my family. I know what my kids abilities are. I know their fears, and their quirks. I am an involved parent, and no amount of accusations, or projections can change that.

Godzilla is smart, strong, funny, active and compassionate, and I'll not let anything in the world change that. I am involved; he is my son, and I am so proud of him.

Have you had similar experiences? Please share. Let the world know that you are involved and proud to be so.

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