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Lights200Hero

Me and My Drum

Elrena Evans

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  • A Mom

    Elrena's article hits close to home. May our Christian educational communities be given the humility to know that traditional instruction does not serve all the little souls in their care. There are children who need teachers to dare new strategies. To be willing to learn themselves. These children deserve to be valued and respected. They are not challenges, they are gifts from God! This poem is for any parent who's child has also suffered countless rejections: "Perhaps you know my son. You may have met him at a playground, in a classroom, on a soccer team. He’s the one you notice first – not for his obvious beauty or his brilliant smile (which he does have) but for his energy, his activity, his loud voice, his actions, his outbursts. He’s the child you stare at in disbelief and say “Wonder who his parents are?” He’s the child you roll your eyes at and think “Someone needs some discipline!” He’s the child you tell the teacher, the coach, the group leader that you don’t want your perfect child sitting near. He’s the child you wish weren’t in your child’s group or even in your class. Yes, perhaps you know my child. But then, perhaps you don’t. You turn your head before you ever see the tears and pain in his eyes as you drag your child away from him saying “Don’t play with that boy.” You haven’t sat with him for hours as he raged against you, the world, his school, his life. Then cuddled with you for hours afterwards as confused about his behavior as you are. You haven’t seen him walk in from school with shoulders down and head drooped saying “I didn’t get invited. Again.” with adult resignation. You haven’t watched him secretly as he gently clasped a butterfly to his cheek to feel its wings flutter so softly. You haven’t heard him whisper prayers to God to help him be a “good boy and stop being bad.” Yes – I’m sure you’ve met my child along the way, but I don’t think you know him."

  • Amy

    Elrena, I have been reading this article every day since the day you posted it. I’ve been holding it close to my heart...revisiting lines in my head...all day as the Christmas season came and went at my son’s former school. You see, it’s the school where I also work. I watched Thanksgiving prayer service without my son. I attended each Advent mass without my son. I got the emails reminding me that I’d signed up to bring treats for the Christmas party he wasn’t at. Everyone told me...think of what’s best for Frankie. As if I wasn’t... Your article meant so much to me. You gave validity to the grief of losing MY dream...that we would go through this special time together and in this beautiful Godly way. You reminded me, too, that we can STILL do this together in a beautiful Godly way. Thank you. Thank you.

  • Heidi

    Thank you for your willingness to share this part of your life with your readers. Beautifully written.

  • Susan

    This breaks my heart. Ah, we Christians. See how we love one another.

  • Rev. Larry Hansen

    My heart hurt as I read this narrative. I have younger friends who do special education work in the public schools. Some of those schools have very good programs, but others are little more than babysitting services. But you have identified one of the challenges of parochial and other religiously-based schools. In many cases, they simply don't have the resources, human or otherwise, to serve children with the kinds of challenges you described. I wish that it were different, but I've heard versions of your story in a number of other situations. I'm just thankful for you and your son and your family that you have found a good place where he can grow.

  • Steve

    You son is so much like our youngest son only in a somewhat different way. Our son was very gifted. At age 2 1/2 he was given an IQ test by a friend and professor at a national college. We were informed that he tested somewhere in the area of 140. At age 5 he was in preschool and started a rebellion because he thought the toilet paper was too hard. This was only a sign of things to come. Later he was diagnosed with ADHD. Medication helped, but being the smartest kid on the block didn't make life easy, especially when you don't know what to do with it. He was kicked out of Catholic School in the 7th grade - I won't go into details about the reason, but only to say it was the final straw in a list of actions deemed unacceptable. It has been hard to watch him waste his abilities so many times. I can say, now in his 30's, he is finally starting to realize life is not just about himself, and maybe, just maybe life will get less rocky for him. Prayer is a wonderful thing for times like this.

  • Ellen

    Stunning. Thank you so much for sharing your experience - you are not alone. This is so familiar that it hurts to read it - a real, deep-down ache - but it is so good that you have shared it.

  • Christie Purifoy

    What an exquisite, beautiful, heart-breaking piece. The writing is gorgeous, the story profound. Thank you.

  • Marie L.

    Watching the pain swirl around, like a snow globe.....what a poignant image. Thank you for naming the feelings of so many parents who feel (or have felt) the pain of a child who was left out, or worse yet, told they would not accomplish something. It’s even worse when it comes from the family if faith.

Come, they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn King to see, pa rum pum pum pum …

The year before my son received his diagnosis, he told me “The Little Drummer Boy” was his favorite Christmas song. He was five, and in kindergarten.

“Why do you like it?” I asked, never caring for the carol myself. Who plays a drum for a newborn baby?

“Because it has a drum,” he said.


It was a hard Christmas. My son was careening through life, seemingly incapable of controlling himself in any way, and neither my husband nor I knew how to help him. Psychologists handed us bouquets of labels and recommendations, but nothing we tried seemed to make a difference.

In November he was asked to leave his school – the Christian school both his older siblings attended, and where his younger sister was slated to start the following year. The same school where I myself attended high school and graduated, and which my family, who adopted me as an older child, had been part of in one form or another since 1965.

He was asked to leave because he couldn’t control himself, or his words or his feet or his fists. He calls out in class, they said. He scribbles on his papers. He hits. He runs away.

So go, they told us. Pack up your crayons and your markers and your painting smock, all the school supplies my husband so patiently inscribed with his name at the beginning of the year, and go home. Clean out your little desk and go. You’re not welcome in our school anymore.

I am defrocked of my role as the kindergarten homeroom mom.

Also they tell us we still have to pay tuition.


“Am I going back to school today?”

My son asks this question every morning, and I don’t know how to respond. The answer is “No,” of course, and I can tell him that today, but I don’t know how to help him understand that the answer will still be “No,” tomorrow – tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

“But somebody in my class has a birthday this week,” he says. “We’re going to have cupcakes!”

They’re going to have cupcakes, I think to myself. You’re not. How do you tell your son he’s not welcome at his own school?

December trudges on and my son bounces around the house, banging on his drum, pa-rum-pa-pa-pum. If he had been there, in Bethlehem, on the night Jesus was born, he absolutely would have brought a drum to play for the baby. He would have banged on it with all his heart, an earnest little misfit bringing the best gift he could think of in honor of the infant king.

To distract him from his constant question – “Am I going back to school today?” – we put on Christmas music and get out all the Christmas decorations. But the procession of handmade crèches and wreaths and angels and handprint Christmas trees, which my older two children made when they were in kindergarten, nearly unravels me. My son will never have these things, will never hang them on the tree and reminisce with his brother and sister about the Christmas when he was five. Every tiny star seems to shout out all that was taken from him.

“Why has this racked me?” I ask a friend. “He got kicked out of kindergarten. It isn’t the end of the world.” I don’t understand the depth of my reaction. I’ve taken my share of hard knocks in my life; I’ve lived through actual traumas. And I’m a fighter, I’m a survivor, if you knock me down I get up swinging. Why is this comparatively small thing having such an effect on me?

“Because this isn’t happening to you,” she says. “It’s happening to your child.”

I buy the supplies to make my own Christmas crafts with him at home, planning to copy the ones we have from school, and realize I cannot do it. The felt and poster paints and glittery gold stars sit in a bag in the closet, and eventually I put my older children’s decorations away.

“When am I going back to school? When is the Christmas program?” He has temporarily exchanged his drum for a circle of jingle bells, which he brought home to practice for the Christmas program, before he was sent home to not come back. The kindergarten is learning “Jingle Bells” in Spanish, and my son sings enthusiastically, shaking his bells:

“Cascabeles, cascabeles, tra la la la la
Que alegría todo el día, que felicidad, Ay!”

And then he pauses. “Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum,” he adds.

“When is the Christmas program?” He asks again, and I offer to play his favorite game, Connect Four, in lieu of an answer. Over the days and weeks leading up to Christmas, we play a lot of Connect Four. He can beat me even when I'm trying to win.


“But we were supposed to say our verse together,” my eight-year-old son insists, when I tell him that his brother will not be going back for Christmas chapel. He is unwilling to accept the finality of what occurred, that his brother, his buddy, his very best friend, will not be there at Christmas chapel to recite the Christmas story with the kindergarten, first, and second grades. My eight-year-old, now in second grade, has been waiting for this moment since he himself was in kindergarten, when he first figured out this would be the year he’d recite his verse with his brother.

“I’ve been waiting, Mommy,” he tells me. “I’ve been waiting for three years. And he knows the verse! He knows the whole thing!”

This is true. Interspersed with pa-rum-pa-pum-pums, my five-year-old can recite the entire passage.

“Couldn’t they let him come back just for one day? Just for chapel?” He pleads, tears sparkling on his cheeks in the lights of the Christmas tree. “I just want to say our verse together.”

And I have to tell him, no. I don’t think they will let him do even that.

As this reality slowly sinks in for my children, all the things my son will miss unfold like a litany of mourning. Christmas chapel. The kindergarten Christmas play. The field trip to the planetarium. Dressing up on Dr. Seuss day. Singing for the Mother’s Day brunch. Because the school is such a large part of our life, its traditions have become our traditions.

We cry. And my son careens around the room, pa-rum-pa-pa-pum, banging on his drum.


“He can’t even make a gingerbread house,” I tell a friend. The making of gingerbread houses is a highlight of the kindergarten year, and I’d signed up to volunteer, just like I’d done with my older son and my daughter before him. “We had a tradition,” I say, as I delete the entry from my calendar, then delete all the special kindergarten days in one tear-fueled marathon.

“I think you need a new tradition,” she says.

There is wisdom there. I call my brother and ask if he would like to bring his kids down to make gingerbread houses with our family, and the day is a jubilee of laughter, children, and candy. I watch my son, jumping up and down with excitement as he surveys the mountains of candy spread out on the table, then quieting as he meticulously places the candy pieces on his house.

When the kids are finished and we’ve arranged all the houses into a little village, my sister-in-law looks at my brother and me, and says: “I think the two of you need to make a gingerbread house – because you never got to do anything like this growing up.”

I feel a little foolish, but sit down to spread icing on gingerbread walls. I stick on a piece of candy or two, then warm to the project. When we are finished, my brother and I add our gingerbread houses to the village, ten of them altogether. It almost looks like a classroom.

There, I say. We just made a tradition.


“Are you still coming to see me say my verse?” My eight-year-old asks. Of course I am, I tell him. My husband will take the day off of work to stay home with our five-year-old, and I will go, alone, to Christmas chapel. I will go because I know this is going to be one of the hardest things my eight-year-old has ever had to do.

I stand in the back of the packed gymnasium so he can see me, and I watch his eyes scanning anxiously until he finds me. I wave and he looks relieved. He says his verse, without his brother, his voice carrying out over the heads of the assembly. As the verse concludes I beam at him and wave again as the children sit back down. We did it.

But when the kindergartners process back on to the stage for their Christmas song, I start to come apart. I lean against the wall in the back of the gym, sobs shaking my body, crying for the little boy who isn’t there, who will never be there again.


One day before Christmas I click on the school’s website and there, on the front page, is my son – my son who was asked to leave. He is beaming at me, his blond hair tousled in the wind; the perfect picture of a happy schoolchild. The gap between that picture and our reality widens like a tectonic fault line.

Next I see him in the school newsletter. Then the alumni magazine. Different pictures, all highlighting his blonde hair and his beautiful smile. The administration doesn’t want my son sitting in their classrooms, but they seem to have no problem using his likeness to sell their school.

On campus one day, I see a new set of framed pictures hanging on the wall in the hallway, each espousing a different value of the school. And there is my son, front and center, in the photo marked “Community.”

“Our values in action,” the text proclaims. “Friends in play, friends in learning – our youngest students live and learn the basics of community each and every school day.”

Except for those who don’t fit in, I think, as I stare at my son’s smiling face. Except for those who are different. Except for those who are told to leave. The school has thousands of pictures in their database, couldn't they have picked another one? Maybe a shot taken after they eliminated my son from their community?

I think about asking the school to take the picture down, remove my son from their website and magazines and mailings, to remove him from their advertising just as surely as they removed him from the school. But I don’t. Because I don’t really want them to delete him, remove his picture, quietly pull the frame off the wall and spackle over the hole that remains. What I want is to deface the picture, scrawl all over it with a sharpie, write on it in indelible ink what happened. I don’t want him to slip away quietly into the night. I want them to bear witness to this pain, to know how much this has cost me.


Christmas bleeds into New Year’s, into Valentine’s Day, into spring. My older son brings home party treats from school, flying through the door, clutching brown paper bags. “I didn’t eat anything,” he calls out to his brother. “I saved it all for you!”

For his sixth birthday, my son tells me he wants a frog cake. I start looking up “frog cakes” online. As I click, I ask him, why frogs?

“My kindergarten teacher loves frogs,” he says. “I am going to give my birthday cake to her. Maybe if we make it a frog cake, she will love me again and she will take me back.”

He says this so matter-of-factly, his blue-gray eyes somber.

I close the computer. “Here’s a life lesson,” I say to my son. “When a woman tells you to go away and not come back until you’ve changed for her, don’t ever go back. You run like the wind and go find somebody who will love you for who you are. Okay?”

“Okay, Mommy,” he says.

We do not bake a frog cake.


Easter chapel is looming on the horizon, the last chapel my boys would have had to say their verse together. I can feel my older son’s anxiety, but I wait for him to bring it up. One day he appears at my side as I am folding laundry.

“Is he going to come back, Mommy? Are we going to be able to say our verse together?”

I sink into the rocking chair, where I rocked all my babies when they were small. He knows from my face the answer is no. He collapses into my lap and cries. “Why Mommy? Why?” He sobs, repeating over and over again, “I just want to say our verse together. I waited three years.”

I call his second-grade teacher and tell her we may be skipping Easter chapel altogether this year. But my son decides to go. Deep down, I think he might be a fighter, too.

At the conclusion of the Easter verse I start to clap, harder than all the other parents. And in an instant I am transported back to Easter chapel the year before, when my older son’s first grade teacher, who always led the children in their verse, had just been asked to leave the school over pedagogical differences. A dedicated group of school parents had been devastated to see this teacher, one of the school’s best and brightest, be told to go. At the conclusion of that Easter chapel verse, parents started standing up all over the gymnasium, clapping, showing their solidarity for this teacher who was asked to leave.

I had been standing in the back that year, swaying the baby to sleep in my wrap sling. I wanted to stand to show my support, but I was already standing. Instead, I clapped so loud an elderly grandmother turned around to look at me, shushing me, pointing to my sleeping baby as if I didn’t know the baby was there. I clapped all the harder. Because my baby could go back to sleep, but this wonderful teacher would never be allowed to return.

Past and present slip in and around each other in my mind, and I am still clapping. I am clapping for my son who is standing in the front of the gymnasium, and I clapping for my son who isn’t. I am clapping for the teacher who was told to leave, and for all the children who aren’t here, for everyone who has been kicked out, shut down, sent away from communities where children aren’t welcome who would play a drum for a newborn king.

I clap until my hands are sore, beating against each other as if they’re keeping time on a drum – a drum that I, too, want to play now, in solidarity. With all the little drummer boys everywhere.


It’s been four years now since my son was kicked out of kindergarten.

After much prayer and discussion, we withdrew our eldest daughter from the school as well. Our younger children never attended. Our older son chose to stay and finish elementary school, because despite everything that happened, that school is where he felt safest.

My younger son has found a home at our local public school, where he receives the special education services and supports he needs, and where, more importantly, he is genuinely cared for and loved. We are learning how to help him adapt to his world, and learning when the world, or at least his school, needs to learn how to adapt to him.

I have reached a point where I feel like I can take this story and hold it in my hand, like a snow globe. I can shake the globe and watch the pain swirling around like snowflakes, blinding me again, before it settles … but it always settles.

We continue the tradition of gingerbread houses. We get out all the Christmas decorations. My son will never say a verse in school, but he reads the Christmas story to us every night in Advent, his clear voice ringing out over the cold world, shining brightly like a star.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is still his favorite Christmas song.

BoyLookingAtLightsListing
Contributed By Elrena Evans

Elrena Evans is editor for Evangelicals for Social Action. She is the author of a short story collection, This Crowded Night, and co-author of the essay collection Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life.

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