We’re chronically late to school. I drive my first-grader and preschooler to their magnet program every morning, and back in the afternoon, since the school does not provide preschool transportation. Next year, when the little one moves up to Kindergarten, they’ll both be eligible to take the bus. I’m already excited for the fall. The little one had her step-up ceremony to commemorate finishing preschool this year. I have always scoffed at this new generation of parents who insist on celebrating every single milestone — yes, even high school graduation, with those giant bedsheet signs sprawled over a tree branch in the front yard. “Congratulations on totally accomplishing something you were pretty much obligated to do anyway!!!”, they seem to proclaim. “Like a BOSS!” But oh well. I can just go with it, and yeah, it was really nice to see my five-year-old cross the stage and receive her “diploma”.

I had been focusing so much on my soon-to-be Kindergartener that I almost forgot about my soon-to-be second grader’s testing for gifted and talented services. In the rush this morning, I found a sealed envelope in my older daughter’s backpack. In it, I found the form letter explaining that my child is not eligible for services.

And maybe it’s because she was “one point away from the cut-off” for gifted and talented last year, or because I received a form letter using “he” to refer to my daughter, or because I was already cranky from a night of poor sleep due to fighting off a head cold — but first I was pissed, then I was sad, then I felt guilty. I wanted to cry, then I wanted to kick myself, then I was annoyed at myself for being so petty when there are children who are struggling to learn and here I am with above average kids as measured by reading and math assessments.

So I dropped the kids off, sent my husband a wall of text, and then prepared for another work-at-home day, not really knowing what to do or how I should feel about the whole situation.

This somehow makes me feel worse, but I took a moment to look at my kid this morning, and realized that she is a really happy kid who loves school. “I haven’t told her yet”, I had texted my husband. But in that moment, it hit me: tell her what, exactly? That her mother is sad that she didn’t qualify as “gifted” even though her reading ability is a whole year above grade level? That I feel like I could have done more to give her that extra edge, and we might consider a private tutor this summer although I was looking forward to giving her a break from academics? That I’m already creating justifications in my mind for why she’s benefitting from the rigorous curriculum used in her magnet program, meaning that technically everyone at her school is getting extra services compared with her local district, probably?

I am pretty familiar with the types of cognitive and academic testing used to determine kids’ eligibility for special education programs, since I currently work as a lawyer for the parents of such kids.  But I am embarrassingly clueless about how children with “potential exceptional characteristics” (as described in my child’s form rejection letter) are assessed for G/T eligibility. I’m guessing the same types of standardized test instruments are used to test the child’s intelligence and academic achievement. We’ll find out, because I intend to file a FERPA request to get my hands on my kid’s test scores. And I suppose it’s also now time to find out what our school or district has in place in terms of policies and procedures for eligibility and programming determinations. I always qualified for G/T, from Kindergarten all the way up to high school. I had thought my husband had as well, but writing this now, it occurs to me that I’m really not sure. My mind goes back to the nature versus nurture discussion, and the lurch in my gut when I am reminded of the role my own parenting might play here:  Are we not doing enough?

It is very easy to roll one’s eyes and scoff at the hyper-anxious parent who frets about such matters. But like my little one’s preschool graduation, this is the way of modern parenting. We can try to reject it, but the culture has already taken shape, and it does us no good to simply pretend it does not exist. All we can do is try to stay mindful of our kids’ individual needs while navigating the world we have collectively created for them.

image via dreamstime

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