Smart Alec/Weird Alec -Smartest Boy in the Orphanage,Weirdest Kid in School
Today Alec graduated from 5th grade. This is a huge accomplishment. In 2011, Alec was adopted at the age of 5 from a baby orphanage in the Ukraine . When the orphanage doctor reviewed the paperwork with us she continued to use the word INVALID in referring to him. I hate labels. “Invalid” is a common label given to abandoned kids or kids with health conditions in Ukraine. When we went to adopt him we could see how beautiful and smart he was. We will never forget the sounds of the orphanage. There were constant cries coming out of the rooms of the wings where we were not permitted to go. This was mixed with the sounds of workers disciplining kids, children playing on the playground or workers preparing for lunch or dinner. The entire world existed outside of the orphanage gates. Women and men rushed to catch buses to and from work. Cars honked. People hung laundry on the railings outside of their apartments. Kids rushed to their schools. Alec looked out into the world behind the orphanage gates hoping he would make it out to freedom one day.
Alec spent 5 whole years without a family. After we adopted him he had to adjust to figuring out what it would be like to live in a family of 6 other siblings in America. Everything here was foreign to him. He only spoke Russian. He only ate the same 4 foods (cereal, tea, potatoes, soup) prior to living with us. But with so much against him, SMART Alec mastered speaking English in 6 months. He learned how to play with his brothers and sisters. He learned how to read. He learned how to hug and say ‘I LOVE YOU.’ He learned about numbers and how to play video games. He tasted new foods and rode in airplanes, trains, mini-vans for the first time. He finally owned a backpack with toys that belonged to him. He began to be able to choose what he wanted for breakfast. He started to express his very strong opinion. Through it all, smart Alec was happy.
He headed into an American kindergarten for ½ a year at the age of 5 and another additional year after that at our request. All of this happened even with never having visited an actual classroom and barely reading a book. He learned how to hold the first pencil he owned and write his name. He learned how to read English, write it and speak it all in one year. He learned how to make friends and share. He learned what a family was. He figured out how to catch a school bus and get off at the appropriate stop and run home after school. He learned how to shampoo, brush his teeth and figure out math and how to make change for a dollar. He learned how to navigate electronics and the computer. Alec was smart.
Our concerns with sending him to school was that the institution of learning in America inside of buildings and inside of inflexible rules would fail to see the genius and miracle that Alec was. We were also concerned that the rigid environment would remind Alec too much of the stagnancy and belittling that he experienced when imprisoned inside of his orphanage. Still Alec took to the school experience in a positive way and made friends and adjusted. But…
Alec is different. He was the smartest kid in the orphanage for sure. But Alec is the weirdest kid in the school according to what we have been told. His siblings have told us that many of the kids inside of the school consider ‘smart Alec’ to be ‘weird Alec.’ Of course the teachers smile and call him ‘different,’ they even use the word ‘special’ as a way to refer to him in a more positive way. But I think we know that ‘weird’ ‘special’ and ‘different’ means that the large majority of the students and teachers in school have not been taught how to adjust their vision to celebrate with wonder what miraculous and true success looks like in some children. They adjust to Alec out of context. They have no frame of reference to appreciate Alec’s form of ‘smart.’
Alec rocks and sometimes needs a bouncy ball as a chair. Alec can be loud and finds many things funny. Alec’s eyes wander when you talk to him. Alec has no verbal filter (he still is just barely an ESL graduate) and says things that are inappropriate and very true because he doesn’t know that there are several different meanings for the same word. And he hasn’t learned to lie when he hates what someone is wearing or when an awful recipe is concocted in the cafeteria.
In third grade, Alec had straight B’s all year. We were amazed at Alec’s progress and yet were told by his Florida teacher only about a month before the end of 3rd grade that he had missed a state reading test by one point. That single percentage point was grounds for retention. RETENTION to a child that had progressed past his ‘invalid’ status, escaped his childhood concentration camp and navigated successfully and beautifully past a million different obstacles is the equivalent of being labeled as ‘failure.’ There was no wiggle room in reconsidering or making an exception for Alec. We were given no consideration for his background or psychological and emotional well-being. We were told that THIS is how they do things in Florida. We worked hard to get Alec matriculated to 4th grade and were successful. But the Florida school system clearly didn’t understand Alec’s type of ‘smart.’
Today we celebrate Alec’s 5th grade graduation. We see him as a brilliant miracle. He has graduated from elementary school into a new milestone toward middle school. It is bitter sweet for me. We are so proud of him but also fully aware that ‘weird, smart, special and different’ Alec needs to be educated in a ‘different and special’ way. I still have yet to meet a teacher who GETS who he is or applauds him more than they writhe in frustration over him. He has had amazing teachers. BUT he has also repeatedly been left in the hall as punishment or isolated due to the difficulty that teachers have of trying to ‘manage’ the many different types of kids they are teaching. It is sad and brings back those ‘orphanage’ memories of being thrust into illogical punishment.
We worked hard to erased Alec’s ‘invalid’ status. Alec is exceptional. It is such a shame that what should be marveled at in awe is mostly overlooked and avoided like the plague. It takes a lot of energy and intentional vision to see a miracle sometime. And it takes a ‘special’ kind of teacher to see Alec’s kind of ‘smart.’
I honestly have deep respect and gratitude for the teachers who have taught Alec. But as his adopted mother, I believe I may be one of only a handful of people that can truly teach Alec within the context of his miracle. Alec is brilliant, determined, an energetic leader, a positive force, dynamic, a visionary, an inventor, artist and a loving son, brother and friend. Alec is not the kind of smart that can be recognized by following a graph or analyzing the penciled in circles of a standardized test. Alec is not a standardized kid and for the record he isn’t ‘weird’ or ‘invalid.’
My son was the smartest kid in the orphanage and he is probably the best representation of a true miracle in his school. Still some identify his kind of miracle as ‘weird.’ It is just too bad that lessons on recognizing great examples of ‘weird’ are not taught in common core. Alec may be called the ‘weirdest’ kid in the school but we know that most geniuses like Einstein were called weird too. So I guess we will from this point on receive the label as a compliment because after all the world is often changed for the better by the misunderstood and ‘weird’ misfits. Smart Alec and Weird Alec will change the world…just watch.
Deanna Falchook writes about Pro-Life, Adoption and Christian Topics. She is highly focused on fairy tales and their impact on politics, faith and culture. She is the author of a book called TO BE A MOTHER and the soon to be released book called THE CINDERELLA MINDSET. Deanna’s work has been featured in THE FEDERALIST, Charisma, Breitbart, 700Club, EWTN, Faithwire to name a few. Deanna is the mom of 7 children (5 internationally adopted) and lives near Disneyworld in Orlando. You can contact Deanna on FACEBOOK or twitter @deannafalchook.