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Why I'm Almost Proud to Tell the Story of My Child Kicking Her Classmate

My daughter, Sydney, got in the van as she does every day after school, but this day was different.

She didn’t start talking a mile a minute, asking me where I’d been and what I’d done. She didn’t loudly share with me who she played with at recess or how awful the boys in her classroom behave. She didn’t ask me what I was making for supper or complain about the school lunch. She didn’t drop her backpack on the floor and flop down into her booster seat in the back. She didn’t wrestle with the seatbelt and complain about how hard it was to get fastened. She didn’t ask me if I’d brought her a snack and whine about how hungry she was.

Syd on fence She instead eased her backpack off her back, sat it down gently and came to the center of the van to stand beside my right shoulder. She wouldn’t look at my face. She began to talk softly in partial thoughts and broken sentences. I could tell she had something to tell me that was overwhelming, something so dreadful she couldn’t bring herself to use the words. I turned around to face her and said, “I cannot understand what is wrong until you tell me. So far, I know that someone is going to email me, but that’s all I’ve got. It would be better if you can tell me yourself before I get the email.”

She began to cry huge tears that ran right down her cheeks and dropped to the floor. I pulled her close and told her that it would be OK. Whatever she’d done could be fixed. She choked out the name of a student in her class and said they’d argued. Sydney had kicked her friend — hard.

I looked down at her feet. She had on cowboy boots. I asked all the questions you would expect. “Is she OK? Did you apologize? Did you have to see the principal? What is your punishment?” All Sydney could manage was, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I am sorry.” I turned off the car. We would be late to pick up her brother, but sometimes the world has to stop spinning for a minute so a little girl’s hurt can be cared for. As Sydney calmed and we talked, I realized she saw this as a two-fold problem. She was genuinely upset that she had been naughty, but also she knew she wouldn’t be able to relax until it was resolved. I’ve seen kids cry many times in the last 26 years of parenting. I know the difference between the tears of a child who’s truly remorseful and a child who’s only sorry they got caught in mischief.

Sydney and I walked back into the school building, her squeezing my right arm as tightly as she could. The hallway seemed so much longer than it usually does as we walked to her classroom. She sniffed and wiped at her face the whole way. We found Sydney’s teacher in the classroom. She’s a compassionate, kind, reasonable woman and easy to talk with. We three were able to put our heads together and decide that it would be appropriate for Sydney to write an apology letter to her classmate. As we left I could see the relief on my little girl’s face. Everything was going to be OK. When we got home she sat and wrote that letter in her best handwriting and asked for me to check it. She didn’t argue or leave it laying on the counter for me to put in her backpack.

Sydney came to me often throughout the evening to tell me how sorry she was for kicking her friend. Each time, I told her everyone makes mistakes and she had done the right thing by apologizing. At one point Sydney told her older sister what she’d done and sobbed again.

You may be wondering why I find this event in the life of my child so significant. Why is this noteworthy at all? Don’t children sometimes fight? Don’t children sometimes make poor choices? Don’t children sometimes become emotional? Children do all of these things — typically developing children as well as children with disabilities.

Sydney in pink hat The thing is… Sydney is supposed to be kicking her classmates daily, but she doesn’t. Sydney is not supposed to be able to show regret or remorse. But she can.

Some of the books I’ve read say children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) sit in the principal’s office more than they sit in the classroom. Some of the parents in support groups say their kids with FAS kick, hit, spit, bite, scream, throw things and hurt others daily without regret. Some of the parents who blog about their children with FAS tell of dangerous, violent behaviors. As hard as Sydney is to deal with each morning before her ADHD medications kick in and as difficult as she is to teach, she’s seldom malicious. She’s bossy and a little moody, as are most fourth grade girls. She’s silly and giggly and wiggly and loud often, but she’s sweet and loving. How did I get so lucky? How did I adopt a kid — whose brain was damaged by alcohol — who can still be gentle and kind the majority of the time? How did I get the kid  — whose brain was damaged by alcohol  — who can still feel remorse when she hurts someone? I’m blessed.

The incident qualified something for me yesterday. I often find myself advocating and arguing that Sydney shouldn’t be held to the same standard as her peers. As unfair as it is to hold Sydney accountable for many of her actions due to her brain damage and limited impulse control, it’s also unfair to give up on her ability to develop some of the characteristics that others tell me she’s not supposed to have. I see some great potential and it’s growing. I must maintain my caution so I don’t ask Sydney to do the impossible, all the while challenging her to be all she can be.

It would seem I’m almost proud when I’m telling the story of my child kicking another child. As sorry as I am that my child caused another child’s pain, I’m proud of my little girl for many other reasons. I’m delighted she has only lost the limited amount of self-control she was allotted and kicked a peer one time. I’m elated she was tenderhearted enough to care that she had done it. I’m pleased she took responsibility and was brave enough to face whatever consequences lay ahead. I’m proud she willingly wrote an apology. I’m grateful she loves me and trusted I would help her with her problem. I’m overjoyed that she is mine.

This post originally appeared on Quirks and Chaos.

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