I wanted my son to love school as I did. I wanted him to have great experiences. To make friends and to learn all kinds of new things. When the school year started out, that seemed to be the path we were on. But as the year progressed, things took an odd turn. He stared to become less excited for school. Less interested in the activities. In making friends. In seeing his teachers. In leaving the house.
Thinking back to the beginning of the year, when Lightening McQueen was the object of our obsession, I remember him saying "Jacob and Hank say these are stupid cars". I remember my ire at these little boys for calling something my son loved so dearly "stupid". I remember my husband reassuring me that it was probably a comment taken out of context and that it might have been unrelated to the beloved Mater and McQueen but, in fact, other cars entirely. So, I brushed it under the rug and tried not to obsess about it too greatly.
Over the year, things changed. The kids in his class changed - some left and new ones came. The dynamics changed. My son's love of Lightening McQueen dissipated and morphed in to a love of all things superhero. I also noticed a change in behavior. Along with the third birthday came more limit testing, more button pushing, more aggression. I was told at school on a few occasions that he had hit another kid. My initial reaction was "normal 3 year old boy" and "it's a stage" and "he'll grow out of it" like so many other stages. But in the last few weeks, getting him to go to school has been harder and harder. It has become obvious that he is having conflicts with these two other little boys. It is unclear whether he is the instigator of these conflicts or if they are, but there is definitely something happening. My little buddy who was so secure and self-reliant has become clingy. He has started asking us to stay with him when he goes to bed at night. He has started waking in the night and calling for us. He cries when we take him to school and says "I hate school" and "I hate the other kids. They are not my friends". My heart broke for him.
I blamed the superheros. Wrong or right, I saw them as the most recent variable in our lives and the possible source for all of this aggression. All of these discussions of "bad guys" and fighting. I blamed my husband for not being stricter with him. For not setting limits and sticking to them. For making me the bad guy who has to explain that we don't hit people. I blamed his school for not telling me that he was struggling. That he was having a problem. That maybe one or two of the other boys in school were bullying him or that he might be bullying them. But most of all, I blamed myself. For not being more attentive. For spending so much time with his sister and not seeing that he was having a rough time. For maybe sending him to school before he was really ready and not keeping him safe at home where no one can call what he likes "stupid".
And now school is over. School is out for the summer and while I can breathe a little easier knowing that I won't have to fight him on a regular basis about going, I still have a pit in my stomach because I don't really know what the problem is. And therein lies my dilemma - if I don't know the problem, how can I fix it? How can I make it so he likes school again? How can I change his perception of school from being something negative that we HAVE to do to being something positive that he really enjoys?
I have talked to his teachers who seem surprised that he isn't having a good time in class. I have talked with other parents who assure me that it's "not a big deal" and "all kids have issues like this sometimes" and "it will pass". And maybe they are right, maybe it will. Maybe it's just part of development and growing as a person and learning who you are. I've gone so far as to make an appointment with his teacher for next year to talk over the summer so I can get her impressions and give her a heads up as to what we have been working on at home (it helps that she's a friend and someone I already kind of know). I've scheduled more play dates and signed up for other activities so I can see him interacting with other kids first hand. But, after all of this - I still don't know if any of it will make a difference. I guess I'm not really a fan of school when I no longer know the right answer.