Yesterday I had confirmation that the gut feeling I have had about Kenny and his education is true...he IS feeling overwhelmed and my concerns are very valid.
Thursday afternoons are when Josh and Kenny have piano lessons. Kenny LOVES piano, and is doing pretty well at it for a beginner. He is hooked, every time he walks by the piano in our TV room he has to plunk away at it. He is actually beginning to sound as if he is really playing music! I had hoped that music would "take" for a couple of reasons...A) It would help with brain development and B) It would give him a place where he might be able to experience success and C) It would give him a place all of his own to shine with his peers someday.
He has spent several months now in lessons, and was working on the last page of his book this past week. Before his teacher even came he was excitedly saying "I get a new book next week! I am on the last song now!!". I was in the living room reading some email when he was done and it was Josh's turn, and although he said nothing I could tell that he was upset about something. Kenny has en extremely expressive face, and it is easy to see the emotions as they play across it. I asked him to sit down next to me, and the way he snuggled and buried his head in my chest I knew something was wrong for sure. I asked him to look up at me, and realized he was near tears. He explained "I'm sad, I didn't finish my book today.". I said encouragingly "Kenny, that's OK...that's the first time you haven't moved on to another song after a lesson. But the music is getting harder now because you are getting better...and sometimes it may be WEEKS before you move on once you really start working on harder music! That's normal!". That is when he really started to cry and he could hardly talk. When he calmed down for a moment he spoke, "Mommy, I am good at piano, it's the ONLY thing I am good at! I fail at math, I not good at reading or writing...but I was good at piano!".
So, my son who I happen to think is pretty darned brilliant is feeling like a failure in almost every corner of his academic life. And yes, he used the word "fail". I am quickly realizing how many assumptions are made about Kenny because his vocabulary and verbal skills are extraordinary for a child in his circumstances. We talked...of course I offered encouragement and pointed out all the ways in which he has improved, we mentally walked the path back to his first days here when he couldn't speak a lick of English and I had no Russian and I got him chuckling over that. We just got a math review back from his teacher and he had a "D" on it, and he told me "I don't understand a lot of my math, and I need to tell my teacher but I'm not sure what to say." . I think he was trying to tell me that he doesn't know what he doesn't know, if that makes sense. I can very easily see why math is difficult for him, they changed to a new math program this year that is more concept based, more language based with explanations than it is a list of problems to work on a page.
You know what makes this that much harder? Kenny KNOWS he is smart, he KNOWS what he ought to know by now, he KNOWS he is capable, but he too can not make up for lost time, and it is frustrating him to no end. If he was a child who was not so self-aware, it wouldn't be as difficult, but inside Kenny has a drive unlike many kids his age, and he definitely needs to feel more success at school.
He is so amazing, he has the kindest heart of any kid I have ever met. Even last night as we were all sitting on the couch and Joshie was reading to us from his "Dick and Jane"collection, I could see Kenny following along reading with Josh...but there wasn't an ounce of jealousy out of him that his 6 year old brother reads almost as well as he does. All Kenny could do was grin that big old smile of his and tell Josh "WOW Josh, you read so good for Kindergarten! You are awesome!". What generosity of spirit I live with every day.
Kenny finally pulled it together, and told me "I will practice a lot this week and next week I'll get my new book." I think we might just make a BIG deal out of his new book next week and go out for ice cream that night. And I have to find more areas for him to excel in, where he can rest on his success in other areas while we continue to struggle with school issues. This kid has too much going for him and I can't let him feel this way about himself! He is SO NOT A FAILURE...if anyone is a failure, it is me, for not doing more to advocate for his needs and not recognizing what it is that I need to do.
Joshie caught me off guard last night as well (these kids keep me on my toes) when out of the blue he walked up to me determinedly while I was working in the kitchen and said "We really don't need birthday presents, you know." and I turned to him and asked "Why is that? Do you not want birthday presents next year?" and with all the wisdom a 6 year old can muster he replied sincerely "Because we already have lots of love, and that is God's present to us...so we really don't need anything else." then he turned on his heel and walked away, somehow in my eyes looking about ten feet taller than when he walked in.
Thanks God, I needed that...