“Well I uh, I did skip the 4th grade.” – Ross

My daughter is one of the smartest people I know. Her brain has yet to fill up, if anything, it seems inexhaustible, immeasurable, endless — this ability to devour and retain information.

She was reluctant to speak those first several months, it wasn’t until after her first birthday that she decided using her vocal cords was worth her time. She went from “wawa” to “water please” entirely too quickly, and before we knew it, she was speaking in paragraphs. She grasped the concept of language at such a speed, we were left flabbergasted.

At the age of three, my child taught me what sarcasm was. I was raised on sarcasm, and used it like salt in every other sentence, but she threw the word “sarcasm” into conversation in such a way that it took me a second to realize she’d used it properly.

“How do you know what sarcasm is?” Me. Disbelievingly.

“It’s when you say the exact opposite of what you mean.” Her. Like duh mom.

And shit. I didn’t even realize it was that simple. Einstein is known for saying “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” In that moment I realized exactly what he meant.

I recently found this list I’d typed up of her isms and cared enough to save (2008, age 2):
“Oh alright.”
“Mom, not cool.”
“Was it made with love?”
“Ah nuts.”
“I’m boring.”
“That’s quite enough mom.”
“Thank you, your highness.”
“Okay, okay, Mrs. Bossy.”

Her older sister and I thoroughly enjoy her deep, 60 year old smoker voice. She was born with eczema, severe food allergies, and later it appeared as asthma. She has been bathed more times than a person five times her age has, and has gone through more lotions and potions than a middle-aged masseuse. When she was getting to the age where she could bathe herself and lather her own dry skin up, she walked out of the bathroom one evening in just a long t-shirt, right past the teenager and I, with her legs about two feet apart. When questioned, she mumbled in that low, grumbly voice, “I’m walkin’ like this so my thighs don’t stick together,” and we could not hold in our laughter.

She’s highly observant; when asked if it was cold and would she like an extra blanket, she motioned to the quilt that lays eternally folded at the foot of her bed like we all have just for looks, and rumbled “Oh that’s okay, I have my never-over-me-blankie.”

When she turned 4-years-old, my mom convinced me that she needed to be tested for early entrance into Kindergarten, like we’d done for her older sister. I called the school, a different school than what the firstborn started in, and they shut me down instantly and said that the school district does not do that.

I tried calling three times, and got the blow off each time. The last of those calls got me directly in touch with the principal, and there was a little more sympathy, but essentially the message was the same, there was no budging. She would wait until the following year.

The first Kindergarten get-together with parents and teacher, they pulled our little one aside and checked her skills. Asked her to count. She very thoroughly went from 1-200 before the teacher’s helper stopped her. I was told that the expectation is that the children understand what counting is, but that the goal is that by the end of Kindergarten they can count to 100. Check!

And thus set the precedence for every meeting I would have with all teachers and school officials over the next few years. She was tested and put into the school’s only advanced program, Highly Capable, or Hi-Cap, and was given extra field trips and offered special after-school classes. All of her grades were meeting or exceeding grade-level by the first quarter.

By second grade she was reading at a tenth grade level, and blessed be in third grade her teacher sat with me at our first parent-teacher conference and shared her overwhelm at trying to handle an entire room of kids and also keep our daughter’s attention. Her reading level was that of a senior in high school, and when the teacher finally had found a book that would be at her reading level, but something that was also at her interest level, our kid proceeded to finish it within a day and ask for more.

This beloved teacher was the catalyst for beginning a conversation with the principal, school counselor, Hi-Cap teacher, and me. We had several meetings where we discussed the school’s no-skipping policy, and the reasons we each had for considering changing that.

I do not want to push my child too far that she will not be able to keep up, be left behind, struggle, or have hard-ships, but I could clearly see that she was getting bored. Her attitude toward math had done a complete 180°, to the point where she now hated math and thought she was no good at it. All the graded tests and homework coming back with her in the backpack were either 100% or at least a 95%+. I did not want her to get to middle school and completely give up out of boredom or get a sourness toward her education. I wanted her challenged, and filled. Her little, perfect, ginormous, utterly insatiable mind.

The teacher and the Hi-Cap teacher agreed, and brought the meat and potatoes to back it up; test scores, class assignments, stories, and their own opinions on her brain.

The counselor came at it from an entirely emotional standpoint, doing the research on the lasting effects of being stuck and being accelerated, and sat with our child often to get to know her and what all could possibly be effected by this change.

The principal repeated on numerous occasions that the school’s motto is “To meet each student where they’re at” and he knew that they made great efforts to help kids with learning disabilities, but not much ground was covered for children like ours. He went to bat for us, and spoke with the school district and beyond. He reached out to other principals to see what policies and protocols they had, what worked and didn’t work, and asked for many recommendations. He and the counselor found a national test and guideline for grade acceleration and ordered a kit to have on hand.

The teachers gave our daughter some fourth grade tests to see where she was at in regards to what she would be missing if she were to skip that grade, and based off her scores, she’d already met grade-level at many topics she’d never been taught or shown anything about. She had attempted one problem with strategies she was learning in third grade, and made a very vivid drawing and note to the teacher stating how this strategy was not effective or efficient for solving this big of a problem.

The team worked together to discuss all pros and cons, and make sure this was going to be in her best interest. They also came up with a protocol if other parents ask for grade acceleration in the future. By opening this door, and having our daughter as their guinea pig, they know that it was paving a way for other students. They would need to meet or exceed certain test levels, age limits, and emotional expectations, and the school could not waver on what these indicators would be.

The principal hand-picked a fifth grade teacher that would be open to this new adventure, and also made sure to put a backup fourth grade teacher in place. This new teacher was a former Hi-Cap teacher, and has the rare ability to have kids in her class all over the spectrum and meet them where they’re at. I was ecstatic that they had put so much thought into that. We would have a six-week trial period, and as long as there were no red flags, or giant tears on the side of the student (or family), we would continue with the grade skip.

I cannot believe the time, care, and attention that was put into this decision for our little one. The administration at our school is a full-hearted bunch, and I feel tremendously blessed to be on the receiving end of such love.

Our girl has been bitter-sweet about the change. Her biggest concern is losing her friends, which we stand firm that they’ll be right there in the same school, and she’ll be able to make another group of friends in her new grade. She was having a prepubescent moment about it one evening, and we had our favorite TV show on in the background; FRIENDS.

Ross, a professor, had discovered that his dissertation was inducted into the college’s library where he teaches and so he goes in to see it on the shelves and coincidentally meets the one person who had checked it out. She said something to the effect of that he looked too young to be a professor at the school, and he responded with “Well I uh, I did skip the fourth grade,” which we had seen countless times, but in the aftermath of our recent drama, we whipped our heads around and locked eyes; me, busting out in laughter, and her, exploding in tears. She instantly knew I would never forget, and that she had just been baptized with a new, unforgettable nickname. “Not Ross, he’s the dorkiest one!!” she wailed. Sob. Sniff.

I love my daughter, and know that she’s being carried through life on the wings of our love for her, and that this love goes before her to make the crooked places straight. I am unquestionably amazed at her ability to remain who she is no matter what — I remember feeling the need to conform by the age of ten. This one though, she has always stood firm, very firm, in her ways.

Before kindergarten she would stay with my sister during the day while I worked. This is the other reason she is a great reader, not only watching me with my face in a book at all times, but my sister works for the local library and has instilled in her a love of literature; funny, sarcastic, lovely books.

One day my sister was showing her a box with pictures on the side of it, and asking her what they were. She knew “screwdriver” and she was only three years old. My sister exclaimed “You’re a smart cookie!” and my daughter looked up at her aunt all concerned and said “But auntie, I already ate my cookie.”

At a big family party once, she had told me “No” once, and I replied that she could never say that again, so she walked over to the fridge and spelled out “N” and an “O” with the magnets. My family loves to remind me of this one over and over.

And once, when my little sister was staying the night at our house, and we were all hanging out on my big sectional couch, my rambunctious child was jumping on one end of the couch and after several times of asking her to stop, I got a little heated and shouted “We do not jump on couches!” My 40-year-old child in a 4-year-old body slowly sat down, folded her arms, and mumbled “Sometimes we do.” My sister couldn’t contain her glee.

She is not afraid, she does not buy into the lie of authority being anyone outside of herself, she does not live by many of the conforming normalities that most kids have mastered either out of fear or by strict discipline. We discipline her, but she’s never caved like our first child did, never once believed the standard “Because I’m the mom, that’s why,” as anything other than words coming out of my mouth that she has the choice to believe or deny. Me, in my late thirties, wish I had half the self-awareness, half the belief in myself, and even a smidgen of the self-respect this seasoned soul has. I’ve always said, I hope she never loses it, but if it could lie dormant for a little while before she turns 18, that would be great.

What I love about this journey into fifth grade, is that by being unwaveringly herself, she has now opened a door for other children to get what they so desperately need too.

I am in awe of my little trailblazer. I am proud. I am in love with who she is.


P.S. I must say sweetheart, that Ross is a much better nickname than that with which your mother has been dubbed: Jethro (of Beverly Hillbillies), whom also only finished the eighth grade.

P.P.S. Momma did get her G.E.D. thank you very much.

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