My husband and I have five kids. The oldest three are my step kids, and I did not inherit them until Derek was ten and the twins were six. Since then, we’ve had two kids of our own. Derek is now twenty-four and in the Army and the twins are 20. Our two additions, Parker and Anika, are ten and eight.

The older kids presented us with many differences over the course of their education: Derek was severely ADHD, and when on meds did very well in school, but had many frustrations along the way with finding the right teachers and balance. Kira always did well in school, and was also very athletic. She was named a UCA all-star cheerleader several years in a row, but challenged us with attitude and a demand for independence. Kyle, her twin brother, has Down syndrome. His IQ is around 40 and he is mentally about four years old. He also has a speech impediment and speaks at about the level of an 18-month old. We truly thought we’d seen the gamut of what kids could present in the form of challenges in finding the right fit in school.

We were wrong.

Parker didn’t wait until school age to start exhibiting his differences. We knew we were in trouble when he started reciting lyrics to rock songs (his drumming is a whole different story) at less than a year old and knew the entire alphabet and could count to twenty by the time he was eighteen months old. Even with all of the struggles we’d had with Kyle (yearly IEP meetings, fighting to obtain the necessary services for his disabilities, struggling through the daily challenges) we were not prepared for what we have had to face and will continue to face with Parker.

He went to a Montessori preschool when he was three years old, and by the time he was four, they suggested we enroll him in kindergarten. When I called the principal and let her know I wanted to enroll him even though he didn’t meet the age restriction, I think she thought I was crazy. I wasn’t, but we had to have Parker tested by a psychologist (who recommended he be placed in first grade) and he had to prove to the principal he could read (which he could) and then the school board still had to approve it.

Parker is now in sixth grade. It’s the first time he’s been at a point where the program is flexible enough to meet his needs. When he was in third grade, he was too advanced for the gifted program’s third grade math, language, and spelling, so he split his time between third and fourth grade programs. Because we’ve moved cross-country three times, we’ve had to convince yet another school and another principal that Parker is unique. He has challenges that require a different approach.

I know he’s not the only one, so if you’re a parent out there struggling with a system that claims to leave no child behind (as long as they are struggling learners) but forgets about our gifted learners, here’s my advice (and mantra) that gets me through the aggravations:

I know my son better than anyone. I know him better than the principal, better than the teacher, better than the friend who “just can’t believe we’re pushing him so hard.” I know that we’re letting our child set the pace and that it is his insatiable desire to learn more that drives his education.

If you’re struggling right now with a school or with your child, remember that. Remember that you know your babies better than anyone, whether they are ten months or ten years old.

I am grateful for Parker. He has reminded me (once again) that motherhood is never dull and never the same, no matter how many kids you have.