In Germany we bought a used car to drive back to our country, a somewhat beat up yellow VW station wagon. On the return trip we left Dan’s car with a mutual friend who had worked in our country for many years. We spent only fifteen minutes there, but they were life-changing minutes–a definite God sighting.
“So, what are you doing about education for your boys?” our friend asked.
“We are planning on putting them into the German school,” I replied. “We’ve learned how easy it is to be expelled from our country and since our ‘plan B’ is to move to Germany, if the boys are already in the German system, they could easily fit in here.”
“In that case,” said our friend, “I have some advice for you. Have your older boy repeat the third grade. That way he’ll only have to adjust to the language, not the material. That’s what we did with our children when we moved to Germany and it was very helpful for them.”
I thanked him for his advice while thinking, “Have my boy repeat a grade? No way!” What an insult that would be to our family and to my boy’s intelligence! No one in our family had ever stayed back a grade, only skipped them.
The Lord, however, kept working on me, bringing to mind the fact that in our family we all were slow bloomers, especially emotionally, that staying back would make Josh’s adjustment much easier.
By the time we got back home, the Lord had convinced us to follow our friend’s advice. It was the best move we ever made for Josh. Later we realized one side benefit of having Josh repeat the third grade was that he would have one more year with us as a family.
And later, when Nat was struggling academically, we had him repeat the seventh grade. It put both boys right where they should be both academically and emotionally and made them much more successful in their learning.
After our return, Nat started first grade. Having been in the German Kindergarten for three years, he had no difficulties with the language. However he had other problems. In February his teacher called us to say that Nat was sleeping in class.
“What do you mean, ‘sleeping in class?’ ” I asked.
“He lies down on the floor and goes to sleep,” the teacher replied.
“And what have you done about this?” I asked.
“We don’t know what to do. The headmaster doesn’t know either. We just let him sleep.”
“And how long has this been going on?” I asked.
“Since October,” replied the teacher.
“Hmm, I’ll take care of this,” I assured him.
That evening Nat and I had a little chat. He told me he slept because the classes were boring. I told him that was not an acceptable reason and that he was to pay attention and not sleep.
“If you sleep in class again, Nat,” I said, “You and ‘uncle spoon’ (our code name for the wooden spoon we used for spankings) are going to have a chat.”
The next day the teacher called again to report that Nat hadn’t slept in class. “What did you do to solve that?” He asked.
When I explained about the threat of spanking, the teacher was appalled; spanking is highly frowned upon in European circles. But the lack of wise, biblical, gracious, loving discipline also brought lots of problems into those families.
After starting school, Nat developed a fear. Whenever we went anywhere as a family, he was like a little sheep dog, trying to herd us all together. He didn’t want any separation. As we talked with him about his concern, the reason came out: a number of his classmates’ parents were divorced, so he thought it might come to our family, too.
We assured him that as we were followers of Jesus, we wanted to please Him in every way and we would never divorce; it was not an option for us. We helped him see that the lack of biblical values in these families led to their many problems. It was an effective means of showing the difference between true belief and following your own ideas.
Most of the boys’ classmates were from well-to-do families; some came to school in chauffeured Mercedes; all had the latest designer clothes as well as the latest electronic gizmos. One day the boys came home complaining that we were poor.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Everything we have is used. Our car is old and clunky, even a lot of our clothes are hand-me-downs. Why can’t we have new and nice things like our classmates?” they whined.
“Let’s think about this,” I responded. “Do we lack anything? Do we have a TV, a VCR, a computer, a camera, a car?”
“Do they all function properly? Does our car get us to where we need to go? Does our TV show us movies? Does our computer work?
“And what about our family life; what’s it like compared to your class mates’ families?”
The lights began to come on for the boys. “They have lousy families. And they are unhappy people.”
“Right. So what’s more important, having new things and a poor family life, or having old but working things with a good family life?”
“We like our family better,” they both said. That ended the whining.
Josh and Nat were ostracized at school for other reasons than being poor. First, they were not “pure German,” but were “the Americans,” despite the fact that they had German citizenship. Then when he was in the fourth grade, Josh befriended a new student who was a bit slow. This student was quickly labeled as an outsider and “socially unacceptable;” so because Josh was kind and spent time with him, he was also branded an outsider. That label remained throughout the next six years of Josh’s time there.
In grammar school both Josh and Nat performed poorly academically. They were bright enough, but were lazy, more interested in play and writing comic books than homework. Finally Josh “caught fire” academically in the last grade and went from last in his class to missing first place by a 1/100th of a point. Nat was to follow in his footsteps.