I was so anxious about starting our last year at elementary school. Dylan said he felt like an outcast last year, and he had two kids go all toddler on him—one by biting, that’s right, at 9 years old, and one by scratching. Worse than that, he felt out of the loop. Fourth grade was the second year he was in the same class of kids that had been together in third as well. The kids treated each other like brother and sister, the looping-up teacher said. Not necessarily a bad thing for an only child, but still. Some silly game they had begun in third carried over to fourth and Dylan refused to join in, or wasn’t asked to. Last year the first week of school I knew something was wrong, and it continued most of the year. “I’m not a part of the popular group. Why does there have to be one popular kid? Not fair.” That was last year’s refrain. He somehow reconciled himself to life on life’s terms and the teacher eventually got the bullies under control.
He got into the advanced class this year, and got the class award for reading. So by the end of the year he was pleased with himself, which is what counts I tell him. So this year I was glad to see he was assigned to the new male teacher’s fifth grade class, with a lot of different kids. He still didn’t make it into his best buddy’s class, but he had two friends in the class and only one old bully. So at the open house, two days before class was to start, I was surprised to see the obnoxious kid who bit his leg last year was in his class. The principal had told me that would not happen.
We decided Dylan could handle the little twerp by avoidance, and the teacher would be briefed on the kid’s thick record. We liked the new teacher. I mentioned the issue to the principal at open house (there I go, interfering again). Then, at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of school, a cover-my-legal-arse call from the principal: Dylan can move to x or x class if he wants to, to avoid the biter. Ugh. Seriously, you’re throwing this choice at us the day school begins, after we’ve already made peace with it? We made a quick pros vs. cons list over breakfast. Dylan was overwhelmed. I tell him there’s no right or wrong choice, that he’ll be fine either way. He decides to stick his head in the other classes, one of which he best buddy is in, to see how they look. Then he decided to stay where he was assigned, obnoxious biter be damned. I’m surprised he chose not to move to his best buddy’s class, but glad, too. And after the first day, I could see he was happy. No hugely popular kid everyone fawns over. A good teacher. Another smart kid to challenge him.
The night before he was given the choice, he had said to me, “You don’t get it. The first day is huge. It’s your first impression. It can make or break you.” I guess he made it, and his choice made him. I’m proud that he chose a good teacher over his best friend, chose to stay in a class with a kid who had bit him, chose not to run away. That’s a lot of choices to put on a 9-year-old the first day of school after the year he had last year. I’m so happy that he rose to the occasion. I think it bodes well for him—he’s no victim who needs a lifeline—he stands tall in the face of a twerp, without a best buddy to have his back. He stands tall knowing he’s smart and capable and strong and likeable, not needing the praise of over-popularity donned in Under Armour clothing from head to sock (although there might be something to that to stop the bite). I’d have to say he knows the value of a good education over a good friend, and a good education may be worth a good fight. I hope all kids are impressed with themselves and not worried about impressing others. Now don’t get me started on what next year in middle school will bring. Today is enough.
Update: For his birthday at the end of September, guess who moves to another school? The biter. Glad we didn’t switch classes just because of him. Major life lesson under our belt.