Then I opened his backpack to find a note stapled shut, my last name written on it in careful schoolteacher script. My son's very first Handwritten Note Home from the Teacher. Uh oh. What had he done?
I pulled out the staple and opened it up. It read:
I just wanted to let you know Isaac had a bit of a sad day at school today. After some comforting and a drink of water he seemed to be OK. Have a great weekend!
Well, that was a kind note.
And vexatiously cryptic.
Had he been overcome by a sudden bout of homesickness? That seemed unlikely. He'd never been seriously homesick during preschool. In fact he'd been rather upset when his preschool term ended that he would not get to see his friends on a thrice-weekly basis anymore, and then thrilled to discover that his best friend from preschool would in fact be in his class in the summer program.
Had he experienced a sensory-disorder-related meltdown? Had he been suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling of fingerpaint and unable to wash his hands? Had there been a loud sound, like a floor buffer or a vacuum, echoing in the hallway? He's gotten so much better lately at coping with such things. I hoped it wasn't that.
Had another child teased him? Hit him? Taken a toy from him? Had he somehow bothered or hurt another child? I didn't think it could be that last one. I figured he must not have broken any rules in the midst of whatever event had triggered the note, or the teacher would have outlined a specific infraction.
So I asked him. I said, "Your teacher sent me a note today saying that you were sad. Could you tell me what happened?"
"But I wasn't on red!" he protested. "I wasn't even on yellow! I was green."
"Do you mean there is a chart at school where kids who get in trouble get a yellow card or a red card?"
"Yes," he said. "If you get a red card you get a note home."
"I don't think you were in trouble," I said. "I think your teacher just sent this note home because she wanted to be nice and let me know you'd had a hard day."
"Oh," he sighed in relief.
"So what happened to make you sad today?"
"I'm too tired to tell you."
"Oh," I said. "Let me get you some more water. Maybe you can tell me later."
In a few minutes I asked him again, "What happened today to make you sad? Do you feel like talking about it?"
"It happened at the writing center," he said. "I cried and they gave me water."
Oh, so that's it, I thought. Isaac's motor skills delay, a product of his sensory disorder, makes writing hard for him. He can read at the third grade level, and yet he struggles to write his own name. This was starting to make sense to me.
"Why did you cry? Did the teacher ask you to write something that was hard for you to write?"
"No," he scoffed, as though that were a ridiculous question. "It was free writing time. I could write whatever I wanted to." He doesn't like to admit he has trouble writing. Was he holding out on me?
"So what happened, then?" I said. "Did another kid take your crayon?"
"We were using pencils." He folded his arms and looked away.
"Did you punch through your paper by accident?"
"Did you get frustrated trying to write what you wanted to?"
"No. I don't remember," he said. "I'm too tired to remember what happened."
"Was there an earthquake at the school that caused you to drop your paper?"
That disarmed him. He relaxed his defensive pose and started giggling. "We haven't even had an earthquake drill yet, Mommy. Only fire drills. And I know all about those."
"So, what happened. Did a kid say something mean to you?"
He paused. Then he said, "She wouldn't take it."
"Who wouldn't take what?"
"The girl. I made a card for her. It was a thank you card, but she wouldn't take it. She thought it was a Valentine. She said it wasn't Valentine's Day." He turned his face toward mine and his wide, chocolate-brown eyes brimmed with tears. "I made it for her, and she didn't want it."
"Ohhhhhhh." I said. "So, you like this girl? And you wanted to do something nice for her? And then she said no?"
"Yes," he said, despondent. His lip quivered. He was trying not to cry.
"Oh, sweetheart," I said, throwing my arms around him. "I think that would have made me cry, too."
I don't think I'm ready for this.