Thursday, September 10, 2009

Binding Binders

The start of a new school year brings new opportunities for organization. Backpacks and lunch boxes get labeled. Homework baskets are emptied of last year's leftovers and await new assignments. A bin overflowing with fresh socks and fancy new sneakers by the back door ready for duty. Times are good!

At the start of each school year I get a new binder for the boys' important school papers, progress reports, report cards, communication from the teachers, etc. This is not where I keep school work they bring home. That's stashed elsewhere. The binders are just for the really important papers.

So I'm hole punching papers and putting them into Zach's new first grade binder and then I do the same for Jake. Jake doesn't have a second grade binder, he just has a school binder. Jake's papers haven't filled the binder I started for him in preschool so I continue to add to it. Zach gets a new binder every year. This bit of organization leads me to pull out all the past binders and make sure I've got them labeled correctly. This leads me to pull out a big stack of papers that should be in a binder but I was overwhelmed with the pile and just stuck it under my desk. Now I've got binders and piles and stacks everywhere and I'm wondering why I just didn't slap a label on the new binder, put the papers in it and leave well enough alone.

I stack all the binders and papers related to Zach on the counter next to Jake's binder and it hits me. Hard. My beautiful first grader has accumulated a towering stack of papers and my beautiful second grader has a thin binder with room to spare. Jake's binder contains evidence of a typically developing child, doing well in school, reaching each academic milestone with ease. Not much to see here. Zach's stack contains evidence of a child who was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at age 3. His stack contains evaluations, tests, diagnoses, prognoses, educational goals to meet, educational goals met, classroom accommodations, behavior interventions, areas of concern, special challenges and I could keep going.

I am feeling bound by these binders. One small boy, so much information. He has come so far, according to the stack of papers, and he has so far to go, according to the same stack of papers. I glance back at Jake's binder. What if Zach's binder were the same as Jake's? What would it be like to have two boys who scamper through school days and check off the years with relative ease? What if, I wonder. But what if I didn't have these two amazing boys? No lunches to pack, no homework to do, no missing sneakers to find. No papers to file, no feelings to feel.

I place Zach's giant tower of evidence under the desk except for this year's binder. I put that one next to Jake's. We'll just take it one school year at a time, one semester at a time, one 9 weeks at a time, one week at a time, one day at a time, one morning at a time. There are some sad facts in our past and there are some scary unknowns in our future and I can't do anything to change that today.

There is no paperwork in either boy's binder that tells the truth. Sure the papers say quite a bit about reality but the truth is that I have two incredible children filled with love and curiosity and compassion and spunk. There are big plans for those little lives and I know that to be true even if I don't have a report to back it up.

I won't be bound by the binders.


  1. OK I feel really good bc I had a binder last year and I put the teacher and home room moms contact info in there! Love this story. If you decide to throw that big pile of papers off a bridge one day, be sure and let me be there

  2. do you keep all the kids papers? I usually throw them away at the end of every week but my fifth grader said she gets her feelings hurt when she sees her math papers in the trash!

  3. Your story reminds me of my feelings when my sons were young. I have learned that doctors sometimes know what they are talking about, and sometimes they don't. That your son can sometimes give every bit of his effort, and still not make progress. That having sucess cannot be predicted and doesn't have a time schedule. God loves that boy no matter what other people think about him.

    Anyway, just want to say, hang in there mom. My two are 20 and 16 and I am amazed!