On Friday, L. had a substitute teacher in his class, and he came home with the entire Periodic Table of Elements transcribed onto a couple pieces of notebook paper.
"Wow!" I exclaimed, my heart leaping in excitement over this evidence of real learning. "Did you learn about this already in third grade?"
But no. As it turned out, L. had taken it upon himself to copy out the table while the substitute was, no doubt, going on and on about the importance of some worksheet or other. In fact, last week L. not only copied out the Periodic Table of Elements, but also designed (in the moments when Ms. M. left the room) a new method of transporting people from one place to the other, and drafted several versions of the latest comic he's been working on. It was a stellar and productive week for L., really.
All of this made me reflect upon how your expectations as parents constantly change and shift, the more your kids grow and develop. Long before L. was even ready to start preschool, Scott and I had a pretty detailed image in our heads about what school would be like for him. We saw him taking it all by storm, soaking up knowledge, and amazing teachers. (Really, what parent doesn't imagine all these things?) Now, he does amaze teachers, but he certainly has never embraced school at all, or soaked up any sort of measurable knowledge from it--really and truly. And none of this is the fault of his wonderful teachers--and we've been lucky to have a string of truly fabulous ones. It's just that L. is L., and he will always get his knowledge in very self-directed ways, knowledge about just what he's interested in, and acquired just when he wants to get it. On paper he will never really show what he is able to do, and he will constantly be judged by the numbers on quarterly assessment tests--tests that will never truly reveal the type of knowledge and learning he is capable of doing.
Parenting constantly takes you by surprise. As a parent, you are constantly juggling expectations: your own, other people's, your child's, the world's at large. You constantly shift and reformulate pictures of the past, present, and future, treading over and over again old roads and wondering along the way: did we do the right thing? Did we do enough? What didn't we see? What didn't we do? You are given a road map of sorts when your child is born--the paths marked pretty consistently by childcare experts and books like What to Expect the First Year (and the second and the third). But then, when you part ways with the well-beaten path, you have to re-invent the maps, find new guides, and pull from resources you didn't know you had.
I'm thinking about all this because T. has her speech therapy evaluation today (wish us luck!) and as I've been googling speech therapy and speech therapy evaluations, I've been feeling that same sense of having stepped off the beaten track that we experienced when she was born, and when we learned about her metopic cranio. And that same feeling we experienced when the psychologist called us about L. and told us he had Asperger's. That same feeling we parents all experience when things take a little twist and turn. No matter how sharp the turn is, or how slightly you stumble (needing speech therapy for articulation problems is not uncommon), you always do feel that brief sense of having lost your way--just briefly--as you scramble for another road map, or for those guideposts in the dark.