Do Not Ignore the Soft Signs (of a future school drop-out)

Sadly, kids can’t use all the words they need to help us best parent them into adulthood, but they will often give you some clues. Please do not ignore the soft signs.

The hardest, but most important, thing to me.

This week I got a call from Mr. Ornery’s homeroom teacher. He got in trouble midweek at lunch for acting out and causing a scene – the classic “attention-getting” behaviors, she said. He came home with a “behavioral slip” (which he tried to get the sitter to sign-off on so he didn’t have to show it to Mom!).

But the key thing is that as the teacher talked with him, he mentioned that his goal is to act out until he gets expelled. Who says that at third grade?  A kid who is not connected is who.

Here’s what I know now. He spends forty-five minutes with his homeroom teacher (Mrs. L) and has her for a science/social studies period. He is then in a different class for math (Mrs. R), another class for English (Mrs. K), another class for the “enrichment” time slot (Mrs. H), in other classes for specials (art, music, library, gym – 4 different teachers). On top of that, he is pulled out for “reading support” (Mrs. C) and for “speech therapy” (Mrs. T) and sees Mr. M twice a week for orchestra. Mrs. M watches him for recess/lunch (my boys seem to prefer to act out for her) and Mrs. B is the school counselor who “touches base” occasionally. When I sit with him and ask him to tell me who all his teachers are, he can’t name them all. I just listed thirteen that I can figure out and there likely are more!

This boy is eight and he is walking all over the school to different classrooms, just like a middle-school and high-school kid. And do you know what he’s doing in the hallway? He’s dragging his feet and getting to class late. He’s “hanging” out behind a door and skipping his English period completely. He’s essentially “skipping” school while within the school – at the age of eight.

So who is this kid connected to, I asked. Who at the school has the power to speak into his life when he starts to act up? Who is consistent enough to keep him grounded? To make him feel worthy? To make him feel empowered to do his best? To help him develop confidence? To help him develop a love of learning?

I asked this of his teacher. I asked this of the assistant principal the next day. We set up a meeting to review his schedule. You see, this school is apparently so focused on academics that they are frequently doing assessments and altering the students’ schedules to place them in “just the right” classes to target “just the right” academic level. They seem so pleased with this concept. So I ask, “It seems that you are targeting academics beautifully. But have you stopped to consider what this is doing to the kids social-emotionally? Have you considered how fundamental and foundational the first three years of school are? Have you thought about how important consistency is? Have you considered paying attention to the soft signs of a student who is lost in the shuffle?”

Do not ignore the soft signs. Do not ignore an eight-year-old considering ways to get himself expelled. Do not ignore a third-grader suggesting that he’d like to skip school and hang at the skatepark like the teens do. Do not let a little kid continue on a path toward truancy and drop-out because you love your academic assessments and beautiful matching of precise academic levels. Do not ignore the importance of childhood. Do not ignore the cries of my little boy.

Because I will not allow this bright child to lose his light and his potential.

He and his brothers hold my heart.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t mess with Mama Bear

That should be the mantra for all parent interactions. Say, for example, that you are a school representative about to deliver bad news about a child’s behavior. You might just have this line running through your mind. Kind of like – the customer is always right. Don’t mess with Mama Bear.mama bear2

Apparently the meeting with the principal 10 days ago was to let me know that Super Tall Guy needed to “transition” out of the environment in which he no longer “fit.” From the principal’s perspective, they had done all they could in adjusting his environment but it wasn’t helping and things were getting worse. Super Tall Guy was more disruptive and more disrespectful and beginning to require “in school suspensions” sitting in the principal’s office.

I could see this was the end of our grace period, but I am also absolutely convinced that an 8-year-old boy does not need to be expelled from school. That while trying to figure out what’s going on inside the head, we need to support and keep alive a desire to learn and succeed. We can’t let very young children develop a sense of failure. We need a smooth transition to the next arrangement. In that vein, I offered to take him out of school at lunch time since it was clear that he was consistently falling apart in the afternoons.

It was certainly an emotionally charged meeting – Mama Bear was in high protective mode, while also trying to acknowledge and understand their point of view. Disruptive children do not fit into the beautiful “orchestra” of small private schools.

As often happens, though, emotions cloud discussions and we never wrapped up the details. However, when I arrived to pick up Super Tall Guy the next day – Friday – I was distressed to find that he had been sitting in the office of the Head of School all afternoon – having a “nice time looking up insects on the iPad….as we were expecting you to pick him up at lunch.” “Oh,” I replied. “I didn’t know that was starting today. For I had no details. For example, do you know what time his lunch is? Do you know when I was mama bearexpected to be here?” Don’t mess with Mama Bear – because she’s holding herself together pretty darn well right now given that Baby Bear is staring at us! Because, you see – you just made Baby Bear miss out on the combined second grade class holiday party?!?!?

The calm before the storm was a bit eerie. Why wasn’t Super Tall Guy more upset about missing his party?  It took 24 hours for the waves to swell and the gale-force winds to build ….when he realized his behavior at Grandma’s had just led to missing “movie night” of the next Star Wars film. And then it all unleashed. The anger. The pain. The disappointment. The fear. The frustration. The teeth on my arm. The kicking feet. The refusal to try any calming tactics suggested by the therapist. The storm, it seems, just has to settle itself out…and then the tears flow about how unfair the world is. How sad it is to miss a party that you had been looking forward to.

His pain pierced Mama Bear’s heart.

My sister, bless her, kicked into active drive, spending hours on the internet looking for a new school district and a place to live. I, however, spent a couple days with my heart wrapped up. Distraught by the realization that my eldest must have some “problem” clearly severe enough to disrupt schooling and result in the whole family moving. Saddened by the way he has struggled for months. Disappointed in myself for not recognizing all this sooner. Frustrated by the crumbling of our current status quo. Overwhelmed by the thought of moving and packing and transitioning boys to a new school – much less trying to decide “which” new school.

And yet hopeful – that we might find a school that will honor my son. One that will meet his needs and build on his strengths. A place that will not try to “break the strong willed boy” but will seek to understand his struggles and help instill healthy coping strategies and skills. A place where he is not judged as “bad” but will rejoice in the small steps of progress.

For Mama Bears have pretty high expectations. Don’t mess with them.

 

My eldest is exhausting

He loves to bounce basketballs in the house ….near the chandelier….why hasn’t that thing broken yet?

He doesn’t quite grasp why I gasp every time his foot makes contact with the soccer ball and it goes flying…guess he’s never seen a glass door shatter….

He wants to wrestle.
He likes to trip his brothers.
He thinks football is an indoor sport.
He wants me to pick him up and throw him on the couch….and I can barely even lift his 82 pounds on the back of my light frame.
He doesn’t accept my praise unless I body-slam myself into him…a simple high-five won’t do it.
He has trouble controlling his anger and escalates battles with me until my head ignites and rockets off past the moon and orbits Saturn. Literally.Matt disney

And yet….. he is a quiet, sensitive soul.
He’s easily upset when thinking that others are teasing him.
He’s shy around new people.
He doesn’t want to go to Sunday School class because he “doesn’t know” anyone and prefers to torture me by goofing off (semi-quietly) in the back of the church space.
He cannot express his feelings very well. I can’t tell if he is feeling bullied or if he is the bully in the situations.
He’s sad that he has to sit alone at a table at lunch and hasn’t been eating his lunch during school. And that makes me sad.
He occasionally has trouble with his bowels and sometimes does soil his pants – but it’s not right that the second-grader on the bus sings out “You are a poopy-pants!”

I sat in a parking lot the other day and let huge tears splash onto my lap after a call from the principal of his school. There had been some words exchanged. Super Tall Guy wasn’t happy and struck out at the other kid (a kindergartener….) hitting him in the eye, but not hard. Super Tall’s response, “it was an accident. I didn’t hit him hard. He was bothering me.” That’s your story, eh? There’s so much pent up in there. I know there is.

The thing is…
I don’t know how to help him release it.
My heart aches for his inner pain.
My soul grieves a child in turmoil.
My brain just wants the “easy fix” – snap out of it; quit acting that way; grow up – all the things we want to say….all the things that won’t help a single bit.

We talk about the “hitting situation”….and get nowhere. I suddenly write in his Spelling book: calm, cool, collected.

Calm – focus for a minute
Cool – blow out that heat bubbling inside you
Collected – wrap your arms around yourself and collect yourself

Got it? Remember the C’s.

I don’t know. It’s a work in progress. I don’t know if this “new method” will work, but I have to keep trying. We’ve been working…and working…together for years now. I’ve read 7 or 8 parenting books and tried countless “techniques” and “words of wisdom.” We’ve done time out. We’ve done reward charts. We’ve done grounding and missed special events. Super Tall Guy doesn’t seem phased by all those attempts. I grasp for straws. I grasp for anything that will tame the beast within.

Because I know that I love the beast, the tiger, the lion, the lamb, the teddy bear….the little boy trapped within a huge body, struggling to “be good.” This week, we celebrated the adoption of my dear sweet, exhausting Super Tall Guy, and I love him more and more every single day.

‘Twas the night before First Grade

Seems like a pretty big first-grader!

Seems like a pretty big first-grader!

‘Twas the night before first grade

And all through the house

The boys were all tucked in

Quiet as a mouse

            (which is baloney, because I had

            a pet mouse and they are never

            ever quiet!)

The eldest is heading

To school the next day

The summer is over

Much to my dismay.

            (I still have a list of things to do

            this summer – ride bikes in

            Ohiopyle, visit Presque Isle….)

I’m standing here staring

At an empty box for his lunch,

Wondering what to put in it

To satisfy his munch.

            (Sadly chicken nuggets aren’t going

            to cut it at this school – poor boy

            is going to be starving!)

We visited the school

He left in a panic –

I’m hoping he sits still

Because usually he’s quite manic,

            (and never sits still unless there’s

            a television on….or he’s asleep!)

He picked out a t-shirt

With a shark in plain view;

My “boring” alternatives

Clearly just wouldn’t do,

            (though I did win out on the

            “Totally Jawsome” and other

            monstrous -looking shirt choices)

I warned him there’d be pictures

And probably some tears

My first-born little boy

Is getting on in his years.

            (I don’t know – I cried at Kindergarten

            drop-off….we’ll see how I do in the

            morning. You might want to check out my

            red puffy eyes a little later.)

“Conditioning our children”

“Green and green” is my mantra to Micah now as I drop him off at kindergarten.  They are using the “stoplight” system – green is good, yellow is your warning, red is trouble.  At the end of the day, the teacher puts a “face” (smiling green, flat-lined yellow, frowning red) on a sheet of paper that comes home in the folder.  I pick up Micah and look at the sheet every day and we talk about the day.

Last week was rough….On the previous Friday, Micah was yellow for school and his after-school teacher wanted to “talk to me” (so far, I’ve never been excited to have a teacher want to talk to me….maybe they need to start making up some good stuff, because I’m starting to get Pavlovian conditioned to not want to walk into the after school building to pick up Micah!).

Anyway, on Friday he was yellow and yellow.  I said “aw, that’s too bad, Micah.  I did plan to take you for a surprise treat at Rita’s if you were green and green.” He sobbed…literally from the bottom of his heart sobbed all the way to the daycare center to pick up the brothers.  He wasn’t upset about the treat – he was upset that I didn’t tell him about the “reward” ahead of time.  He thought it wasn’t fair to “surprise” him like that.  I thought as I drove along – all those years of training, 7 years of grad school in psychology learning that “variable-ratio schedule of positive reinforcement in operant conditioning” is best (ie, “Variable-ratio schedules occur when a response is reinforced after an unpredictable number of responses. This schedule creates a high steady rate of responding.” http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/schedules.htm) – all for naught.  My son is tearfully telling me that psychology doesn’t work for him!

So now we’re back to “green and green, Micah, green and green….and I’ll take you to Rita’s.” Monday – yellow and yellow.  I spend a long time talking to the afterschool teacher about Micah being a “boy boy” and that after 5 hours of academics in kindergarten, the only thing he wants to do in afterschool is play (worksheets and more worksheets and sitting at a table with his head down along with the rest of the class is not really what he wants to be doing).  Yes, I agree that he needs to listen to his teachers, but I’d like to know that his teachers are also striving to match a 5 or 6-year-old’s developmental stage.

Tuesday – yellow and yellow.

Wednesday – red….hmmm, apparently Micah has decided to become the class clown with “potty words.”  Yes, Mr. M., I do inform Micah that those words are inappropriate (I think at the same time about Micah and Ryan sitting at the dining room table every night cracking each other up with pee and poop stories….).  You know, Mr. M., I do think he’s doing it for (ahem) positive reinforcement, I mean, there wouldn’t happen to be a group of boys sitting around him cracking up, would there?  Right.  (Psychology at work.)

Thursday – yellow and green…progress.

Friday – green and green!  Wahoo – Rita’s!!  We stop.  We get an ice cream cone for

This machine is outside our local fire station!

him, a guava ice for me.  We’re so happy.  He eats half and throws it away – it’s too cold for ice cream he informs me as we walk through the farmer’s market across the street.  Kettle corn – now that’s what we need.

So, are you going to get Pepsi or Coke out of this machine?  How do we match our expectations for our kids with the reality of how they function?

Smitten by a Kindergartener

“My baby girl fills a place I didn’t even know was empty. I am positively smitten.”  (K.H.)  I love this line that I “borrowed” (with credit) from a friend in her Facebook stream.

I also love vicariously reliving the “smitten” stage of the first-born child.  There is something so wonderful and special about those magic moments.  Those moments when time stands still and you realize that you have sat on the couch for two hours listening to the uneven yet peaceful breath of your baby and your mind has been still and content.  Those moments when you stare into your baby’s face and realize you never knew love could be so powerful and so peaceful and so strong.  Those moments when you realize your life has changed forever and you’re so thankful for that.

I watched my friend cuddle her 2-year-old son on the subway during our recent trip to New York City.  Her arms wrapped around him.  Her face bent forwards to snuggle against his cheek.  She spoke softly, whispering. Smitten. Blissful.

I was on the other side of the train – restraining a one-year-old with one arm, “spotting” the three-year-old as he bounced around looking out the window into the darkness and jumping back to look at all the people on the train, and verbally reminding the 6-year-old to “hold on,” “sit down,” and “be quiet.”  There was no quiet within my brain.  And yet, I was still okay with it all the chaos and the madness of my three.  (Alright, actually….I was thinking “yes…just you wait until baby #2 is born and then all of that lovey-dovey-attentiveness will change.  Just you wait.”  Not in an evil-haha kind of way, but in a reality-is-coming kind of way 🙂 .)

You see, I have a great friend who has 4 little boys about the same ages as my three guys (poor dear – she’s amazing!).  And we are good for each other because we are honest with each other.  And we agree that we absolutely love our boys.  No questions about it.  But we don’t always feel that love.  Sometimes, I’m just going through the motions of care-taking. Sometimes I’m just changing another diaper, wiping another snotty nose, putting on another pair of shoes that I just put on and that he just took off again.

And sometimes, I am “not happy with your behavior” and the love feels far away.  Present, but currently unavailable.  But then I sneak into the boys’ bedroom before I go to sleep each night, and lean over to kiss each one (a blown kiss to the little guy whose crib mattress is too far away), and whisper I love you.

Yet, it is in some of the “big moments” of parenting when I am overwhelmingly reminded that I am still, 6 years later, smitten with my boys.  This week Micah started kindergarten.  I stood along the wall of the church’s gymnasium and watched as he made new friends with the boys sitting beside him as they waited to go to their classroom.  I signed “I love you” whenever I caught his eye, and I gave him a kiss as he walked away from me.  The tears flowed by the time I reached the anonymity of my car.  My boy.  Kindergarten.  The start of the journey of school.  And as I drove to work through the fog of my eyes, the chorus of a song played over and over in my brain – “well done, well done…” (Moriah Peters).  It just seemed to sum up my love for him, all the work that we’ve done together over the past six years, all of that – well done – you got him to kindergarten!

I did much better the next two days of dropping him off, until I opened his backpack Friday evening and found a card that Micah made at school.

A Handful of Love

(by D. Conway)

It was my first week of school,

And now that it’s done,

I can’t wait to tell you

About all the fun.

We read a book called The Kissing Hand

About Chester, a sweet raccoon.

He went to school up in a tree,

Beneath the shining moon.

Chester was scared and a little shy,

Until his mom kissed his hand.

It sent the love right up his arm,

Towards his heart for it to land.

Just like Chester, I was brave

Because of love from you.

I made this gift so I can show

How much I love you, too!