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Mommy dilemma: how do I get my son to love school as much as his sister does?

My son is curious, and thoughtful, but we’re struggling to get him engaged in school. How do we turn it around before it’s too late?
My son is curious, and thoughtful, but we’re struggling to get him engaged in school. How do we turn it around before it’s too late?
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Somewhere, my mother is laughing.

She loves me, but I have no doubt that at least a couple of times a day, she erupts into a knee-slapping belly guffaw and says “remember all those times I told you ‘I hope you have a kid just like you when you grow up? Ha! Welcome to my world.’”

My girls are beautiful, and kind. They are wonderful little people. They take after their daddy about ninety percent of the time.

My son is just. Like. Me.

That is not to say he’s not a wonderful little boy. He’s sweet, and caring, and laugh-til-you-can’t-breathe hilarious.

He is also stubborn. And smart (not that my girls aren’t brilliant, but little G is smart in a different way. He has an intuitive talent with words and people that’s almost scary sometimes). My mother used to tell me on at least a weekly basis “you’re like a dog with a freaking bone when you get an idea in your head.”

My son is five, and he has a whole cache of bones somewhere.

His latest one is giving me particular pause because it so mirrors my own childhood, and yet I’m not sure how to get him to let it go.

These are the days when I sorely miss my mom. I want to call her and ask for her help. Not that she ever really figured this one out. I fully expect—so much that I can hear her in my head—that she’d giggle and say “it stinks, having a kid who’s smarter than you, huh?”

My son is bright, and funny. He plays well with others, and behaves beautifully. And he hates school.

It took seven weeks of kindergarten for him to figure out that if he missed mommy, he could go to the clinic and tell the nurse he felt like he was going to throw up and they’d send him home.

I vaguely remember it taking about the same amount of time for me to discover that. I was such a fixture in the nurse’s office at my elementary school that my mother had to instruct the staff “unless she has a high fever or you actually see her vomit, do not call me.”

The root of the problem for me (and I suspect, for my little man) was largely boredom, tinged with homesickness. I knew if they called my mom, she’d call my grandma and my grandma would come get me and put me in her big bed, where I’d spend the afternoon watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. I always finished my work early (and wasn’t terribly engaged in it to begin with), and the teacher got mad at me for talking to other kids, so I wanted to go home. Pretending to be sick got me what I wanted. But it probably also cost me some social and educational experiences that would have been good for me.

My son is a mama’s boy (I say that in the most loving sense of the phrase). He and I have a special bond, and because I’m a writer, I’m home with my kids. So of course, he’d rather be here than there, from the start.

The school my children attend is one of the best public elementary schools—probably in the whole country, since it’s a top-tier school in our district, and we moved here because the schools are among the best in the nation. His teacher is wonderful. Truly. I couldn’t have written a better character to lead my little boy’s first educational experience. She’s warm, and sweet, and has a soft speaking voice that seems like it would be almost hypnotic for children. And she LOVES my son. I adore this woman.

So does my boy. Yet he was crying last night because school starts again tomorrow.

He has tons of friends.

He’s a happy child.

But he says it’s “boring” and he misses me.

The nurse even had the counselor talk to him early in the year. The report: he’s fine. He’s just attached to you, and he’s very smart.

It kills me to send him off to school crying. I hate having to fight with him to get him up. And I love having my kids with me, but possess neither the time nor the patience nor the educational background to homeschool.

My oldest monkey loves learning. Adores school. She went through a brief spot at the end of second grade where she was struggling with boredom, but the next year, the district moved her to a different program and she’s back in her element. On days when I don’t want to get up (don’t we all have them?) and offer to let her play hooky, she looks horrified and says “no! We’re doing <insert cool project thing here> and I can’t miss it!”

I want my son to feel that way, too. But he can’t go to the program she’s in, if it’s the best fit for him, for another two and a half years. And I fear that he’ll have such a deep-seated hatred of school by then that it won’t help.

For me, getting old enough to take books in to read when I was bored was a great band-aid. I still didn’t love school the way monkey number one does, but I tolerated it and stopped asking to go home quite as often. Of course, I didn’t always read just when I was supposed to. There was that time in the sixth grade when the math teacher tossed almost a whole box of paperclips at me one by one, trying to pull my attention from Margaret Mitchell. I looked up when she landed one in the middle of the page I was reading.

That’s fine, I suppose, but I want better for my son. I want him engaged and happy, ideally by my doing, because Heaven knows public school teachers are overworked enough (teacher friends, I bow to you. I could not do your job). I realize that it’s not the teacher’s job to write lessons for each individual child.

So, fellow mommy, today I’m asking for your advice, because I can’t call my mom. Has anyone out there had this issue? How did you fix it?

If you enjoyed this article, please click the "Like" button at the top of the page. You can also subscribe at the bottom of this page, and follow me on twitter @LynDeeWalker. I make no assumptions about having all the answers, but I do have smart friends and a love for sharing and hearing ideas on raising smart, happy kids. For information on my bestselling Headlines in High Heels mystery series, (Front Page Fatality and Buried Leads, Henery Press, 2013) visit me online at

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