Monday, April 09, 2012

Mistake No 541

Since the first week of July 2011, our life has been fraught with mistake after mistake (with a whole lot of Life thrown in, too) made by me while D hung in for the ride. There isn't much that teaches you about the mistakes you make more than watching a preteen attempt to adjust to your decisions and rebelling in an internalized cooperation of emotion. Unfortunately for us, I realized it much too late and the following is very personal and perhaps even self-shaming. After all, I don't think I would be a very good Mom if I didn't take at least half, if not most, of the responsibility for my sons actions culminating in his getting suspended and subsequently transferred to another school just 2.5 months before the school year ends.

My son is gifted and highly intuitive. I believe he is freakin' brilliant, loves anything to do with strategy and enjoys any excuse to speak with an accent, particularly when it annoys his cousin. He has recently expressed an interest in drama and I think he's got the imagination for it as well as the skill. What this also means is that my son is just as susceptible to internalizing problems he is having in life. Gifted kids are not exempt from anxiety and/or depression, they are not exempt from eating disorders, and they are not exempt from wishing they aren't as smart as they are. What I am realizing is that creative kids have a harder time fitting in with their classmates because they don't quite belong in any stereotypical box, something society constantly teaches us is a must and middle schoolers are no exception.

How would you, a 12 year old pre-pubescent boy, respond to being jerked from Richmond to Norfolk then back to Richmond in just 6 weeks, only 2 days before school started? By your own mother, who is your ultimate protector, who is supposed to be looking out for your best interests and with whom you cannot argue nor think she will listen to what you have to say anyway?

That's where all of this started and D kept telling me he was fine. At that moment I did not realize he was coping with stress the same way I do: put on a pretty face and wade through the muck anyway because it'll get better/easier, right? It's got to. Oh how wrong we both were.

School seemed to start off easy enough. He was excited to see his friends again and to be going to school in a familiar environment. He seemed to be enjoying himself despite the typical middle school clashes with friends and teachers. I was proud of him for doing a better job of keeping up with schoolwork than he did the year before...until I got his report card for the semester wherein I learned he failed English for the entire semester, a subject I majored in for my undergraduate degree and a subject D could do in his sleep. (Note: I have changed my address with the school several times and yet the report cards still continue to be mailed to an old address I had 3 years ago.)

This was definitely a red flag because D has never ever failed at English since he was able to talk. He loves writing stories and reading as well as illustrating the stories he writes with imaginative pictures, sometimes taking up large amounts of space on several sheets of paper taped together. I should have sat down and talked to him, found out what was bothering him.

Except what did I do? Super Ground him. No tv. No video games. No dvds. Nothing. Just hanging out with me and reading or playing Lego's.

Which in turn really really pissed. him. off. But did I see that? Nope.

There was the incident where he got to participate in Saturday detention WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM, I CAN'T REMEMBER! This should have been a wake-up call...but it wasn't.

Often kids will act out at school because it is their safe place and apparently life at school for D during readjustment was rough yet I didn't hear anything about it until the one final (and fatal) blow to his chances at remaining in the IB Program: he went to his Spanish class unprepared so his teacher allowed him to share materials with his neighbor. D, unfortunately, inherited (or quite possibly learned) his chattiness from me so proceeded to chat with his neighbor while they completed the work. When asked to quiet down because they were disturbing the class and should instead be working, my son stood up and loudly told his Spanish teacher something like he was angry with her and he was tired of her yelling at him all the time and asking him to be quiet.

Digression: how frustrating it must be to have adults telling you what to do all the time with almost no control over the outcome. This is when choices and compromise are better tools to use with tweens and teens rather than absolutes, something I strongly urge school administrative staff to remember in these situations. Tweens and teens lack the necessary maturity and ability to rationalize in order to deal with things on the level we as grown adults deem acceptable and/or reasonable. We cannot require they act like little adults because, quite simply, they are unable to think past the right now hence their appearance of self-centeredness. For a more scientific explanation: our hypothalamus, located in our forehead and which controls our ability to reason and weigh consequences, does not reach full maturity until approximately age 25 thus enforcing any teenager is unable to understand the immediate risks of their behaviors. /digression

D swears he can't remember what happened next yet his Spanish teacher remembers quite well: she asked D to leave the class, he refused. She put her hand on the doorknob to open the door and walk D out of class. D then pushed her hand away from the doorknob with such force as to move her arm backward. At that point D left the room, security* was called and D was placed in the office of the director for the program.

I didn't hear about the incident until the principal called me the day after it happened to let me know they were investigating the incident and would keep me informed of the situation and its consequences. I immediately contacted D's former therapist to see if he could begin seeing her again. The next day, as D and I walked to the bus stop, I apologized to D for not listening to what he had been trying to tell me indirectly, that he didn't come with a manual, I made a mistake and I was sorry for putting him through so many of my bad decisions. He seemed relieved.

On 1 March, a Thursday, D was suspended for 10 days pending a panel hearing. How I found out he was suspended were the text messages he sent to me on the bus while on his way home: he threatened to kill himself with the pistol at his dad's house where he was supposed to go that weekend. D is only on the bus for approximately 30 minutes and we talked about this decision to kill himself the entire time. I met him at the bus stop and I hugged him hard while he sobbed. I told him he made a mistake, a big one, and that we'll get through this together like we've gotten through so many others. A couple hours later, after trying to talk to his dad about the threat and only being told it wasn't his fault, I decided to violate the custody order and keep D home safe with me. Again he seemed relieved and for the rest of the day he proceeded to take apart a few of his Nerf guns and/or retrofit others with the parts.

On day 14 of D's suspension the panel hearing was held at which time the person leading the hearing asked D if he had ever thought of seeking out another teacher or social worker or guidance counselor when he got mad. After 20 minutes the meeting ended and we were told to look for their decision in our mailbox. On day 16 we received a letter informing us that D would be transferred effectively immediately to another school.

We spent the whole weekend talking about this change; D spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening by my side including sleeping with me that night because he was so anxious. He didn't voice his thoughts, most likely because he was unable to, but I'm sure he was worried about what the school was like, would the kids like him, was he going to fit in, what were classes going to be like and so on. I could see the tapes running in his head so well he didn't need to tell me anything.

Longer story shorter, after 2 full weeks at his new school, it has become evident that perhaps this is what D needs in his life: moderately difficult work in a less stressful environment. His new school has a program called Community in Schools as well as experience with kids with behavioral problems. While I don't believe D has a problem with behavior overall, I do believe he has greater difficulty regulating his emotions because he is so bright and intuitive. (Then there's the fact so many adults still haven't yet learned to regulate their emotions and when one of those is your own father, how is any teenageer supposed to learn not to practice what he consistently emotes?

While it sucks that we had to learn the hard way and suffer through Mistake No 541, D and I confirmed that with love and constant communication we'll get through Mistake No 542, 543 and so many more as there is so much more life left to live.)

*For the record, for a long time I have been critical of how school staff handles any child who has gotten angry, afraid, frustrated, overly anxious, etc. Think of a time you have become so angry you were seeing red and then someone got in your face, grabbed your arm, told you to calm down right this instant then forcibly removed you from the area. Be honest, what would have been your reaction? Richmond Public Schools stopped employing therefore utilizing One-on-Ones because of budget cuts. Immediate intervention is very important because those trained individuals can help a child learn their triggers and in turn help those children learn ways of coping with those triggers.