Recently we let our German landlords schedule an appointment for Rex (6) and me at the local village elementary school. Despite the language barrier (or because of it), our landlords have convinced us that the German school system here is "super" and we need to put Rex into their version of kindergarten.
Out of curiosity, I agreed to give it a look.
You know that unseen heavenly forces must be shoving you right along when all it takes is a short conversation where the only word you understand is "schule" before you find yourself John Hancocking 17 foreign documents and signing away your child's education future.
Your American child. The one who does not speak German.
A few days later my landlord managed to explain that Rex had a doctor's appointment scheduled with the school's physician. The part of the conversation that I did not understand was the bit about kindergarten screening.
Apparently Germans like to make sure that kids attending their schools are far enough advanced to refrain from peeing on the tables. Too bad I couldn't prep Rex for that one.
(For the record, Rex has anxiety. Sometimes it's debilitating, sometimes it's hysterical, and we never know what will trigger it.)
The gal in charge of his processing started out by whisking us into a room to wait for the doctor. She spoke very little English. When the doctor came in and told Rex in choppy, halting English to take off all of his clothes and stand in the middle of the room, well ... you know that movie Jurassic Park? It was kind of like that; I think Rex thought they were going to eat him.
"MAMA! MAMA! MAMAMAMAMAMAMAMAMA!" That seemed to be the only word he could scream. Also, I don't think I've ever hated my name more.
The doctor and the nurse sat and stared at us like we were some kind of American lunatics. Between the language barrier and the phenomenal screaming, I couldn't even stumble through an explanation about his anxiety troubles.
Rex managed to keep his clothing on and the doctor tried to get close enough to listen to his heart (which was obviously beating just fine). Right when the man put the cold stethoscope on his chest Rex let out the most ear splitting wail I have ever heard. "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! What is he DOING to me Mommy?!"
I tried to calm him down, "Rex, it's okay, he's just listening to your heart--"
"HE BROKE IT! HE BROKE MY HEART! OH, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? MAMA MAMA MAMA!!!!"
In actuality, I think the only thing broken was the poor doctor's eardrums.
The moment we were away from the doctor (and thanks to a little successful good behavior bribery) Rex calmed down. I was anxious to get out of there, but alas we were herded into another room. And thus commenced the unexpected testing.
It would have been one thing for them to ask my worried little boy -- in English -- to perform a few simple tricks, but she had to ask him in German. I could feel the sweat trickle down my neck as I watched her bark orders at him. He was trying so hard to understand her and keep it together, my heart broke just watching him.
Oh, how I wanted to run to his rescue. It would have been simple to whisk him into my arms and out to the car, away from the strange words and instructions and harsh looks. I sat on my hands and bit my lip, feeling compelled to let the moment play itself out uninterrupted.
Despite the odds, it worked. I sat and watched my son fumble through the process with unexpected success, and I don't think I've ever been so impressed with one of my children. By the time we left, I could tell he felt pretty proud of himself as well. He had proven to both myself and the German taskmaster that he was both smart and capable; it gave me courage that we're doing the right thing for him.
As parents, sometimes we want nothing more than to save our children from the struggle and heartache life is so determined to inflict on them. I guess, in those rare moments when we get it right, our kids aren't the only ones who grow.
Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog at regardingannie.wordpress.com.