Monday, September 17, 2012

Love Monster Goes to School: Part Three- Called to the Principal's Office

I cried during my drives to work. I hated to leave Love Monster (and Smirker, don't even get me started with Day Care). And when I drove home I couldn’t wait to to pick her up, but I dreaded it at the same time. I listened to David Sedaris’ When You are Engulfed in Flames and I can’t tell you how much that helped me. Between David being in his underwear in a French waiting room and accidentally spitting a lozenge on a woman crotch, I made it through and laughed through the tears. I imagined how David Sedaris would write about the Love Monster saga. I think he would love the part where Love Monster tried to figure out how the bathroom works. This sends me into a spin.
I shout aloud in my empty car, “My god you sent a kid with ADHD to the bathroom on the fourth fucking day of kindergarten the way you would a normal kid, what the hell else did you expect to happen?? You’re lucky she didn’t dismantle the fucking pipes and build a water slide!”
Then I laughed to myself. I have most certainly cracked. While laughing I saw my smiling ID card for work looking up at me from the cup holder.
“What are you smiling at?? You leave your kid everyday at school and then even longer in the after school program, because you have to work?? Oh and she’s struggling hard core. What kind of mom are you?” 
I liken this to David Sedaris talking to a human skeleton, his Christmas gift to Hugh one year, who kept telling David he was going to die.
“You are a career woman now,” My corporate self kept telling me (She does look dazzling in the new Banana Republic work duds).
That night after another not stellar report from school. I let myself have a full on melt down. This transition was much harder then I ever had anticipated. I sat on the couch stared into space and in full on crazy mode said over and over, “I am a good mom. I am a good mom. I am a good mom.”
Did I make her like this? What should I have done different?
I started writing down all the things I want my girls to learn:
Respect me and adult. I will respect you too. You deserve that.
The Rules are there to keep you safe.
Sometimes school will be hard, but always look for the fun and in the end it will be great.
If you are not sure about something ask. Questions make you smarter.
You are a great leader, but to be one you need to be a good follower too.
Respect your teacher. They give you gifts everyday. They tell you what they know. It makes you a better person.
Being a good friend is being a good listener, playing nice, sharing and having fun!

I go back to my mantra:
“I am a good mom. I am a.... fuck it. I’m a mom. Deal with it.” 
Who was I telling to deal? I don’t know. 

It my my fault the next day started badly. Right before we left the house for school both the girls needed water. (Smirker has started pre-k by the way so I get double the crying now, but luckily she behaves once I leave). So I get the waters putting my schedule off by a few minutes, which I needed to chill about, but it can totally make or break my traffic situation. Then Smirker needed me to hold her and then she spilled her water all over me and I lost it and threw her water on the floor. Both girls start crying. Damn. 
“I’m sorry!” I say now filled with guilt. 
I drop Smirker off at preschool leaving her wailing on the floor. (Seriously this shit better get better, because that feels like full on abandonment every damn day). Meanwhile my worry has begun with Love Monster. I feel resistance in her and my loss of temper had definitely aggravated her already fragile state.
My worry was well founded. It was the worse drop off day to date. She cried so hard I thought she might throw up. She screamed, “Don’t go!” over and over and ran after me if I tried to leave.
And I don’t blame her. All she’s felt is negativity.
I leave her screaming for me. My heart is heavy and I called her dad. He listened and had my back. It’s nice that even though we are no longer together, he and I are a united front when it comes to the girls.
I drive with David Sedaris, my wonderful distractor, but it’s not working as much as before. I’m pissed about traffic. I talked to my boyfriend on the phone.
“And it’s going to take me two hours to get to work now that I’m late!” I yelled. He listened generously. “I’m gonna go. I’m just going to... drive.” My voice sounded hollow. It was all I could think of to say... drive.
And God, parted the cars ahead of me and gave me a smooth drive as if to say, “I can at least give her this.”
I focused on the truck ahead of me and a long piece of binding plastic was dragging the road behind it. I imagined my tires stepping on it like someone might step on the back of someone’s shoes and tripping it and my life turning into a cartoon.

But it’s not is it?


I never got in trouble at school when I was a kid. Never. And one week into Kindergarten a school meeting is called. The teacher told me in the middle of one of Love Monster’s tantrums when I was leaving her at school. 
I heard,” We need to meet with the principal, school psychologist and teachers.” I also heard (very tenderly), “maybe she shouldn’t be in this class.”
Great. I feel like I’m in trouble. My heart sank. And I also feel like she’s being passed over.
I’m nervous. Although I’m also aware things are getting better. The mystery of the lost evaluation was solved. The good old “slipped through the cracks” excuse. Oh I love administrative fuck ups! Ahh well. Honestly I know it happens. But it really sucks when it happens to your kid. But the teachers were aware of it at this point and started working with Love Monster more closely and gave her a sticker every day she has a good day. An occupational therapist began seeing her in school and was giving her techniques that seemed to really work. One being a weighed vest that she wears in class. It literally slows her down and gives her a feeling of comfort, kind of like being held. I was wary of this at first, but then I saw it in action. And it works. And she loves it!
Before the meeting I prepare like only a crazy, anal person like myself can. I write everything I want to say down. I write how I’m frustrated she was left to flounder. How I want everyone to see what a great kid she is. How I want her to learn and love her like I do. How positive reinforcement goes a long way with her, giving her a job is very helpful, she loves a written down plan and she needs some nurturing right now and maybe don’t let her go to the bathroom without an adult right now. Yes she has issues and that needs to be acknowledged and I am NOT using that as an excuse. I just want her set up for success and not failure.
And from the moment the meeting starts, I relax. It is very clear they are 100% on our side, on Love Monster’s side. They apologize for the evaluation debacle and for an hour we talk about how to help Love Monster. They assure me she does belong in this class and we talk about all the great things about her and they listen with smiles on their faces. I realize. They love her and her success is important to them. They validate the fact that she does have special needs and they should have been tended to immediately to avoid problems that happened. I feel so lucky to have these teachers. She belongs here. And we have a plan. Just like Love Monster likes.
When I picked her up that day it wasn’t smooth. She had made a girl cry because the girl had the same hair do as her and Love Monster wanted to be different. Ugh. It’s going to take time. But we’ll get there. I hope.


Then they both have good days!!! I’m so freaking excited that we immediately go out to pizza and ice cream. I call their dad. We are so happy and relieved. I smile and look at my little girl. My little Love Monster. 
My smile fades. 
Truth time.
I have a dash of doubt. I know I shouldn’t. But I do. I am so protective of her. I’m scared.  I’m scared of so many things for her. Now it’s learning how to be a student, how to be safe on the play ground, making friends and having a good self esteem. Later the things I’m scared of for her... I have a deep, dark secret fear when it comes to Love Monster that is too much for me write down. I can’t write it down for all to see. Maybe I’m afraid it will become real. I hope the fear dissipates. It’s terrifying. But I do have hope. 
Even though just the other after getting in trouble she told me, “ But mom I stepped on that boy’s head SOFTLY.”
For now, I know I’m leaving her in very capable, no, extraordinary hands with her teachers. And for now Love Monster walking into the classroom, smiling and telling me how excited she is for mystery reader time is good enough for me.

This is the perfect picture of Love Monster. In motion and loving life.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Love Monster Goes to School: Part Two- Struggling

There is nothing worse then seeing your child struggle. Nothing. And for the next week and a half that’s all I saw. The first day was a cake walk compared to days that followed.   Drops offs were torture. She cried in agony. She trusted no one. She was combative during the school day. She was not listening. She was... Love Monster Plus. I know she’s a handful, but under stress her hyper, non-focused, control-less self comes out like The Hulk. It’s like the ADHD takes her moment of weakness to control of every cell in her body and the sweet girl I know is no where to be found. 
This was so different from the back to school event the day before school started where she walked right up to a fifth grader and asked what her name was and if liked tick-tac-toe and hide and seek. My confident, fun girl was gone.

And then my worries got even worse. I picked her up the fourth day of Kinder (She stays at the after school program until I get off work) and I see her sitting alone on one side of the room. She is in trouble.
The teacher in there looked exasperated (I feel ya girl). “Love Monster, your mom is here.” The teacher said.
Love Monster ran up to me and hugged me hard. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“She was hitting and pinching. She also went to the wrong bathroom and played for a while. We had to go looking for her,” The teacher said.
“By herself?” I asked
“No she was with another girl. The girl just didn’t know what to do. She just stayed there with her.”
“Mama, I just wanted to see how it all worked,” Love Monster said starting to cry.
“It was real safety issue,” the teacher said. “She gets a strike. Three strikes and she can’t come to after school anymore.”
“You know she has an IEP-” I started (meaning her evaluation).
“That’s not an excuse,” she told me cutting me off.
Whoa. Mama bear is coming out.
I get it. I taught for years. I've seen parents use special needs as an excuse, at least I’d perceived it that way, before. But that was NOT what I was saying. Don’t they need to know her issues so they can help her have a good day? She’s five. This is her first time in school. She has ADHD. She needs help doing this!
It became clear to me by the way she was being handled that they had no idea she had an evaluation. They had no idea she had special needs. I was afraid my biggest fear was coming true. That they just thought she was bad kid.

I saw more examples of this in the days that followed. To get her to go to school was a struggle. She thought it was such a negative place. I had to give some sort of incentive. Love Monster is proud of things she makes so I told her, “How about you show this book you wrote with me to your teachers?”
“Yes!” She said bringing a little light back to her eyes.
But again everyone was adjusting to the first days of school and I don’t think they were that were that aware of the extent of help she might need. So when she ran into the class and showed them the book, they just told her, “You have to wait until share time.” I sigh disappointed. All she needed was one positive comment to get the day started. I don’t fault them at all. The teachers in that class are AMAZING, but I was frustrated. We were not on the same page. And Love Monster was paying the price. I knew a rocky start to school could be detrimental and completely derail her.

Love Monster’s eyes were full of tears and insecurity. “I’m gonna have a bad day again.” She said as I hugged her goodbye.
“No you’re going to do great,” I tried to say convincingly.
And she looked at me and I could tell, she felt unsafe, unloved and unworthy in this place.
And I had to go to work and try to endure the next 8 hours.
They don’t understand me, her eyes told me.
They will. God I hope they will.

**To be clear, she was completely safe and loved in this school. That is just how perceived that she felt.

TOMORROW: Called to the Principals Office

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Love Monster Goes to School: Part One- First Day

Love Monster was starting Kindergarten. Big milestone I know, but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. She loved preschool (even though she had some tough days) and she has never had separation anxiety. 
“This will be easy,” I said out loud to her one day. 
“Easy Peasy lemon squeeze-y,” she responded.

Yeah. Right.

The week before school started her excitement made me giddy. She nearly exploded with excitement when she saw the lunch box I got her.

She requested it months earlier with no prompt from me. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud. She packed her lunch days before complete with a book inside.
“Just in case,” she said. You do never know. And she put an apple into her backpack for the teacher. Nice move! 
My girl was wise. My girl was prepared. My girl was stoked!
The much anticipated first day of school arrived. She wore a new dress, put on the purple backpack (as big as she is) and off we go. Her dad, sister and I drive over together. I peek back to the backseat and I see Love Monster’s excitement still there on the surface, but there’s something else. She was nervous.
We get to school and it was flooded with people. Love Monster looked around anxiously, but still smiling. We take the obligatory photo of her in front of the school and walk to her class.
“Mama, make sure you find out where the bathrooms are. I’m going to need to know.”
“Of course babe,” I told her.
The classroom was crowded. She is in a K/1 split class which also means there are about 60 kids in her class which sounds crazy I know, but after hearing how the class works we thought it would be the best place for Love Monster. There are three teachers and two assistants in there. The kids are constantly moving and work in small groups. Not to mention there were rumors families moved to my town just for the teachers in this K/1 class.
Her classroom was a dream. Four stations. Cool art hanging on all the walls. A fireplace in the corner (Not sure if they use it, but when do you see that?!?), a huge and beautiful bay window with a window seat all around cluttered with parents reading with their kids. There was colorful artwork on the windows and a big sign read: WELCOME! 
I love it. She is going to love this place, I thought.
And then I see her face. Her eyes are flitting everywhere. And her excitement is being taken over by something I did not want to see today. She was getting overwhelmed.
Love Monster has ADHD. She hasn’t ever been formally diagnosed, but enough professionals have told me that she “presents symptoms.” And honestly, it’s fairly obvious. Especially now.
Love Monster was in overdrive. She ran around ducking between parents and kids to look at EVERYTHING. She sees a science table with rocks and picks one up and another kid said, “Don’t touch that. You aren’t supposed to.”
I saw her mind racing and she was unsure.
At that moment the teachers rounded all the kids up.
“Kinders on the carpet! First graders on the bench!”
“Mama, I need the potty,” Love Monster said.
Oh no, not now, I think.
And here is where I made a mistake. 
“Come on, let’s find it. Hurry up!” I told her. “We don’t want to miss the beginning!”
We find the potty and its tiny. It seemed even tinier then the ones in her preschool. Love Monster is not a small kid. She’s tall for her age.
“Mama it’s so small!”
“Just go babe,” I said hearing the teacher addressing the kids and legion of parents in the other room.
I hurried her which I shouldn’t have. And I knew better. She took on my anxiousness. She ran out of the bathroom and joined the kids on the carpet.
The kids were on display for the 50 or so parents before them. The teachers explained how a typical day would go. I wasn’t listening. My eyes were on Love Monster. Her face was blank. I knew what this would prelude. Then it happened. Her face crumbled and she ran over to me. She climbed into my lap like a two year old might. So scared.
Now some of you might be saying: Oh my God. You are being very dramatic. This is the first day of school. She will be fine. This is not unusual.
Well you’re right. This is not unusual. At least on the surface. And I do think that she will be fine. But in the moment it does not feel that way in the least. And though it’s not unusual for kids to cry and not want to go to school, Love Monster has issues beyond what the “normal” kid has. So my fears went up exponentially. I know what happens when she gets this stressed and it is not good for anyone.
Love Monster was crying desperately in my arms. Her dad and sister looked on, helplessly. The rest of the class recited the pledge.
The teacher began to do attendance and I had an idea.
“Love Monster, how about you give the apple to your teacher when she calls your name?”
She perked up a bit. Then smiled. “Okay!”
She ran to her backpack and brought the apple to the teacher when they called her name. (It had a rotten side, but it’s the thought that counts right?) Love Monster sat back on the carpet. The teacher mouthed to me, “Brilliant!” 
“We’re out of the woods,” I said to her dad.
That was when Love Monster started crying again.
I sat with her on the carpet and comforted her. One of the teachers explained that they write in their journal every day.
I like school. That’s what the board said.
Love Monster was shaking. “But I can’t do that!” She said to me. “I don’t even have a journal. And I don’t know how to write.” 
I nearly cried. She was afraid to fail. And it all makes sense. The unknown is a very bad thing for her. We write a plan on a white board every day so she knows what’s coming. Its a technique a therapist told us about once and it works well. She needs a plan. She needs familiarity. Here she is, in a new place, doing new things with new people. This is terrifying for her. And I get it. I am like this too. I realize she can’t see the plan here. The plan she had grown accustomed to had been throw out the window and now in this foreign room with a roomful of about 100 strangers was expected to just go with the flow.
“You will be fine. Babe, you will be fine. You will learn,” I pleaded knowing my words meant nothing to her in that moment. I had lead her to the lion’s den as far as she was concerned. She trusted nothing in here.
“I won’t be fine! I don’t want to learn!” she said.
But the teachers are great. They take her from my helpless arms and let her erase the white board. She does like a job. She stopped crying for a moment. 
It was time for the parents to leave. Love Monster ran back over to us sensing it. We sat her down with a book.
“We’ll be back after school,” her dad said.
“Have a great day,” I said.
She looked at me with nervous eyes. “Don’t go.”
“You have your Star Wars lunch box. Everyone is going to love that,” I said.
“Shhhhhh! Mom! Don’t tell them,” she said giving me hope.
And we left. I was terrified. I so wanted her to have a good day. 
I was distracted at work.
Finally I got a text from a friend of mine whose daughter and son go to Love Monster’s school

FRIEND: I just saw your daughter and one of the teachers just told me a great story about her.

 Oh no they already have a Love Monster story?  I think.

ME: Was she smiling?
FRIEND: Oh yes.

I sigh a big sigh of relief.
By the time we picked her up, it seemed like days had gone by. She was happy to see us. She survived her first day. My beautiful, anxious, tough girl.
She had a thorough school evaluation so she could be set up to have the best school year possible. We took all the correct steps. Everything will be fine. Right?

TOMORROW: Struggling