* Change is in the air

Here's some good news: Friday I met the Kind Gentleman who is conducting Rio's Functional Behavior Assessment for the school district. I liked him right away because he"gets" Rio. Thank goodness! I'm tired of people demonizing my son. This guy would belly laugh while sharing amusing anecdotes about how Rio outsmarted his teacher in creative ways. It was interesting to listen to his observations in the classroom and how he interacts with his teacher, something I haven't had the opportunity to witness very much. It sounds like Rio's teacher, well-intentioned though she may be, has never really succeeded in winning his respect. Her authority just doesn't mean much to him. Rio is a take-charge kinda boy, so if you give him an inch he'll take a mile. And he's gotten some real mileage out of this, to be sure. Hey, I tried to warn her.

So I have renewed confidence in the process and this transition in general. But it's a bittersweet feeling, too, because it makes me angry to realize that the school could (should) have requested this assessment long ago, so they could have given him more hope of success at that school. Which only cements my suspicions that they've just been trying to get rid of him from the very beginning. Rather than doing whatever was within their means to help him succeed, they set about building a damning case against him until they got what they wanted: Rio is somebody's else's problem now.

So this week is when we break the news to Hercules that he won't be attending school with his familiar classmates any longer. When the principal told me the news, she and the counselor explained that they don't want Rio to feel rejected or punished and they want to break it to him as gently as possible so that he understands that this was done for his best interest and that his new school will be a better place for him. While I agree with their sentiment, I don't think I can sit there and listen to their bullshit with a smiling face while they tell him so many lies. Because the truth is that he is being rejected and punished, and they can tell him whatever they please, but he's not stupid.

The problem is, which I explained to the Kind Gentlemen in a teary confessional, that when they first started threatening to kick him out, I used that as leverage against Rio out of pure desperation. I told him that if he likes it at his school, he needs to cooperate with his teachers or they won't let him stay there. Now I desperately wish I had never uttered those words, but as the Kind Gentleman pointed out, what's done is done. There's no going back.

So I think I will let the school counselor break it to him on her own. I had initially agreed to be there, but I'm not so sure that's a good idea anymore. I'm too emotional about all this and I'm bound to cry. I don't really think that would do Rio any good. And I also feel like the onus should be on the school to sugarcoat this situation which they have orchestrated all along. If he cries and falls apart, let them see his anguish. I think they should reap what they have sown. For my part, I will tell him the truth: That school was not right for him, and they never gave him enough help or enough chances to succeed. His new school wants to help him in every way and he will get whatever he needs to do well. It will be a great improvement and I'm very grateful that he'll be leaving his old school.

That's the my truth and I'm sticking to it.

Oh! I almost forgot, Hercules earned a trip to McDonald's on Friday! He had a stellar week, which I think is a great sort of Fuck You to his teacher and principal right before he leaves. As for me, I'll try to talk him into another venue for his next treat. Going through the McDonalds' drive thru makes me feel like a priest in a porn store. It's sacreligious!

I must really love that boy, that's all I can say.

* Fashion Crisis

Nobody warned me that 6-year old boys are prone to fashion crises, but that was the prelude to our day this morning. Hercules has recently decided that all of his shirts must either be black or have buttons. Ideally, they would meet both criteria, but he owns only one such shirt and his teacher has forbidden him to wear it to school anymore because the top button is halfway down his chest and it makes him look like a used car salesman. Well, that wasn't exactly her rationale, but I can read between the lines.

Today, unfortunately, all of his black and/or button-down shirts had already been worn. He tried to wear the same cammie t-shirt he had worn yesterday and to bed, but I shot down that option in the interest of hygiene. What do little boys care about hygiene? Hercules scoffs at hygiene!

He emerged from his room approximately 18 times with a diverse array of unacceptable wardrobe variations: dirty clothes, old black jeans with the knees blown out, no shirt at all, pajamas, or some combination of the above. Every time I sent him back into his room to try again he would moan in despair. O the injustice! Woe is Hercules!

Finally I had to choose a shirt for him, since he did manage to select a clean pair of jeans. He objected heartily to my choice, of course, and spent the rest of the morning muttering about how stupid he looked and how uncool that shirt was (which he has been wearing for months and has never objected to it before). I ignored his protests and prodded him to complete his morning preparations so we could make it out the door on time. Once we were in the car, I tried thanking him, telling him I knew he wasn't happy with his outfit but that I appreciated his cooperation (trying hard not to sound sarcastic but sincere). Alas, Hercules was not pacified and this just sent him on a diatribe about my oppressive fashion tyranny. So much for our reconciliation.

Nevertheless, by the time we arrived at school we were speaking civilly to each other and he seemed in good spirits when I left him at school. If he has a reasonably good day today I'll be taking him to the dreaded Burger King for dinner tonight. He's had a great week at school (for Rio) and I think he deserves a reward. I'm no longer such a stickler for perfection, I can overlook a couple of sad faces on his chart because we have seen a marked improvement over the previous weeks and I want to acknowledge that. He hasn't had to be sent to the focus room or the principal's office, he's earned the privilege of computer time and all recesses this week, and I haven't received a single phone call from the principal. Hey, that's something to celebrate!

I'm wondering if this recent success isn't related to the attitude of his teacher and principal. I suspect that perhaps they have relaxed their expectations now that they have gotten what they wanted: Hercules will be gone soon, out of their hair. They succeeding in building a massive case against him, now they just have to tolerate him for one more week. On his behavior chart his teacher makes little comments like:

"Rio couldn't sit still today, but he was cooperative"

"Rio was pretty wild today, but he responded well to redirection."

Personally, I could care less if Hercules sits still at school. I don't worry about him sitting still, I just don't want him to clobber, kick, or scream at anyone. That's something to worry about. A wild, wiggling Hercules is just fine with me.

I'll be so happy when we're both done with that school.

* An overtired Hercules

Fatigue is hard on little Hercules. Witness our interaction last night:

After dinner he finished a movie he started earlier, and then he needed something to do. It's still too early for bedtime, so I suggest that he pick out a book to read to me.

"What about my snack?" he asks hopefully.

"I'll get you one after you read to me. You can't read with food in your mouth."

His whole body droops and he wails in protest. I shrug. "OK then, I'll just finish folding laundry until you're ready for bed. It won't be long."

He tries getting online, but I cut him off. He's been home with Pa all day and he's had plenty of computer time. He continues to fuss and groan and beg for a snack. I continue folding clothes.

"I'm not getting a book, you know!"

"If you say so, Rio."

"I don't want to read a book! Why can't you read a book to ME?"

"OK, sure, after you read to me, I will."

"OOOOOH! FINE! I'll get a BOOK!"

He scuffles along, dragging his feet for effect. But by the time he returns he is waving a book at me excitedly.

"I found Word Bird!"

"Adventures with short 'a'! Perfect!"

We sit on the couch together and I circle my arms around him so I can pat him and squeeze him for encouragement. He sails through the book with ease, and only once do I offer him a hint. I'm very pleased. I praise him lots and then tell him to pick out a book for me to read to him while I get his snack. I fill a cup with his favorite: cheez-its (well, store brand, but he's not picky) and I hide a mini chocolate bar in the bottom for a surprise.

He brings me "Yes, No, Little Hippo" and he munches away happily while I read it to him. He is, of course, thrilled to discover the chocolate, too. When the story is over I direct him to the bathroom to brush his teeth and go potty. He wants a drink of water of first.

Unfortunately, drinking before bedtime is a big no-no. Rio still wears pull-ups to bed at night, and even with that precaution he fills them to overflowing so that at least once or twice or week I'll have to change a wet bed. Consequently, drinks before bedtime are strongly discouraged. However, Rio did just finish a snack of salty crackers so I was feeling a wee bit sympathetic, but still reluctant, so I offered this suggestion:

"You know, brushing your teeth will make your mouth feel a whole lot better. How about you try that first and then if you're still thirsty you can have a little drink."

Well that didn't go over like I hoped. In fact, he burst into tears and commenced to wailing with new ferocity. I took him into the kitchen and tried to gently persuade him to quiet down so we could talk about it and reach an agreement. I tried, I really did, to get through to him between his wails and moans that hey, I don't really care if you have that drink before you brush your teeth. But having a dry bed is something we really need to work on and if I give you a drink it's going to be a very small one. Unfortunately I was getting nowhere so finally I just hollered over him:

"I'll give you a drink of water already if you'll just BE QUIET AND LISTEN TO ME!"

That worked. So I repeated my previous line of reasoning, then filled a cup with just a few mouthfuls of water and handed it to him. He promptly threw it on the floor. More wailing.

Deep breaths. In. Out. Slooooowly.

I hand him a towel and instruct him every so nicely to wipe the floor. His wails rise in pitch and volume. I say, OK, just go to bed then.

"NO!" More bawling.

"Then you need to clean up your mess."

He protests loudly but he does it, grudgingly half-ass but better than nothing. Then I ask him if he still wants a drink. He does, but he wants a lot more. I tell him he can take what I give him or nothing at all. He accepts it with a scowl. Then he storms off toward the bathroom. I ask him to please pick up the towel he used and put it in the dirty clothes.

"OOOOOH! Why can't YOU do it?"

"I didn't make that mess, you did that."

"STUPID! You're just STUPID!"

Oh man, I don't like that word. Stupid and shut up are two (well, three) words that I don't tolerate in my house. I go for a swift and severe punishment: I smack him on the mouth. Not hard, but he wails all the same. Then I turn around and leave him alone in the bathroom. Standing in the kitchen, I am overcome with regret. That was too much of a reaction to bad behavior, better to just ignore it. But hey, I'm on a learning curve here. Cut me some slack, it's been a rough night. And what would your mother do if you called her stupid? I thought so.

I am defensive though and it's because I know I could have handled it better. Lesson learned. Move on. Rio is done in the bathroom and now I follow him into his bedroom. He's still scowling but he'll be down for the night soon. That's the light at the end of this tunnel.

Not so fast, says Hercules. In his room he goes into a tirade about how STUPID he is for committing some past offense. Strange, this. He's crumpling before my eyes and I just want to comfort him. I try but he rejects me. Instead he announces that he is NOT READY TO SLEEP despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I ignore his protests.

"This shirt is dirty, let me help you out of it."


"How about your pirate shirt? You want to wear that tonight?"


"Let me go get it out of the clean clothes. I'll be right back."


When I return he is on his bed, sitting cross-legged. I help him into his shirt while he continues his objections, but the volume is diminishing.

"I'm not going to sleep unless you go to sleep with me!"

"I'm not ready for bed yet, Rio, I still have chores to do. Come here, I'll give you some love before bed."

I tried to embrace him but he fought me and started yelling at me with renewed vehemence, so I pulled away. I got up and went to the door and turned out the light. He screamed, "NO, DON'T LEAVE ME!"

"Well, Rio, I don't want to leave you. I want to love you and snuggle with you. But you wanted to fight with me and scream at me. If you want me to stay then you can't fight and scream, OK?"


So I climbed into bed beside him and he snuggled up to me. I held him and stroked his hair and told him how sweet and clever he is, and how whenever I think of him my heart gets a little tickle that always makes me smile. As I soothed him with my words he wrapped both his arms around my neck and clutched me tightly. Soon he was snoring in my ear, but it took a little longer for his arms to relax their grip. Before I pried myself loose, I laid there with him for a few minutes, soaking up the tranquility. And I silently pleaded with God to bless him. Just bless him. And thank you, God. Thank you for this.

* Stupid doctors

I'm extremely disgusted with psychiatric professionals right now. Rio's psych eval was a complete waste of time as far as I can tell. Here's how it went.

First, I showed up with a stack of documentation, as recommended by Rio's counselor (who, incidentally, is no longer employed at this clinic and he has been reassigned to someone new). His school gave me a bunch of copies of their incident reports from the entire school year, and I wrote a 3-page letter detailing his family history, school history, and whatever else seemed significant. Then, when I arrived the receptionist had me fill out another questionnaire regarding his behavioral and medical history. So by the time we got into the MD's office I was prepared to hand over a plethora of information. I spent a significant amount of time writing that letter and compiling that information because I wanted him to have as much information as possible to work with before he assigned some dreaded label to my son.

He never even looked at it. Not one word.

The thing that really irked me about that "evaluation" is that he spent the first 45 minutes or so just talking to me, about Rio, in front of Rio, while Rio amused himself in the corner. This was a tiny office, so Rio was privy to our entire conversation. I have never felt comfortable discussing the intricacies of my son's behavior right in front of him. I don't think he needs to listen while I analyze his every issue for the benefit of a professional. Therefore, my answers were stunted and incomplete. I kept trying to refer him to my letter or to the paperwork in my lap but he continually brushed me off, saying "No, no, you've told me enough."

No, dipshit, I have NOT told you enough! I CAN'T tell you enough because Rio is right here listening to our every word and this is totally fucked up WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU DON'T YOU GET IT????

I'm sorry to say that I did not respond in that manner. Now, I wish I had actually been more assertive. But I was really nervous and totally at a loss and not really sure what to do while Rio was right there. And all along I figured I could at least hand over my paperwork when we were done and he would look them over later. But no, he refused to accept them even when our meeting was over. No, he had heard and seen enough. He had it all figured out. Probably ADHD or Oppositional Defiant disorder. Oh, and did he mention that all he really does is prescribe medication?

Useless bastard. I'm already shopping for a new psychologist. They can't all be bad.

* Request for Divine Providence

Hercules goes for his psych evaluation today. So please, everyone send us your prayers, good vibes, positive thoughts, astral affection or whatever form of good wishes you favor. He's gonna need it.

I would also like to thank everyone of you who has offered me support, encouragement, and words of wisdom. You know who you are, and I am thankful for every one of you.

Now, I would really like to be able to put all this drama behind me and get back to my original plan for this blog: amusing anecdotes of Rio's antics. Stay tuned!

* F Bombs

Things have been going fairly well lately with little Hercules, but (there's always a but) the tranquility is inevitably terminated by a phone call from the principal.

The good news is that Hercules was not suspended! The bad news is that he dropped an F bomb in class, and then told the principal that his mom lets him say that word at home. Fortunately she knew better than to believe that. But she suggested that I discuss this problem with him at home.

After having tried several discipline techniques without success, including washing his mouth out with soap, I've deduced that the best tactic is to ignore him when he says bad words, since I'm pretty sure that he does it just to elicit a reaction. Now he knows that the F word will get a big reaction at school, so let's hope this doesn't become a habit. At least he didn't get sent home for it, because I'm pretty sure that was the result he was hoping for in this case. I certainly don't want to reinforce that behavior.

However, his teacher will not and probably can not simply ignore such utterances from a Kindergartener. And really, this whole idea of mine is completely experimental. Hell, everything I do with Rio is experimental because none of the things that work with most kids ever seem to work on Rio. He's not like other children. He may not like spankings but they certainly don't keep him from repeating the same unwanted behavior again and again. Same with time outs. That's why I've had to rethink the entire punishment-reward system. It seems logical enough, but with Rio logic has nothing to do with it.

Btw, I was one of those parents who swore, during my pregnancy, that I would NEVER EVER spank my child, let alone raise my voice at him. How very enlightened of me! And very naive. I'm sure some parents would be properly shocked and horrified that I would admit to spanking my kid. But then you've never raised a Hercules. It's not for the faint of heart. And I'm one of those happy hippie blissaninny types who never got mad at anyone for anything, ever. I was (and still am, normally) very diplomatic and even-tempered. People would describe me as mellow, laid back, easy going. Then came Hercules. Go ahead, judge me. I'll kick your ass. Just don't let Hercules see me do it, I don't want to set a bad example.

But back to the point: How do you keep a 6 year old from cussing and swearing like a trucker when he's mad? Some people would probably reprimand me for exposing my child to such language. But give me a break, it's a big, potty-mouth world out there and no matter how hard I try to purify my speech (and I really do try, but I'm also human) he's gonna hear it from one of my childless friends. You know, those people who aren't accustomed to altering their lifestyle and every utterance to better demonstrate model behavior to impressionable youngsters. And of course my Rio is a veritable parrot when it comes to learning new words. It's really cool when you hear him say something like, "Those infermal combustion engines sure do make a lot of smelly pollution!" But it's a little different when he counters his teacher's request to put his shirt back on with "I DON'T HAVE TO WEAR MY FUCKING SHIRT!"

God bless Mrs. K. She's got her hands full with that one.

I'm open to suggestions on this one, folks. Anyone got a good cure for a foul mouth in a small child?

Oh, I almost forgot, my comments are broken. Stupid blogger, they haven't answered my plea for help yet. Hold that thought . . .

UPDATE: Comments are back! That also means that all the old ones have been jettisoned into cyber oblivion. But why be attached? Let's just hope this new blogger system is better than the last. And if it's still more aggravation than it's worth, well, it will give me an incentive to move this blog somewhere else. I'm thinking about trying Wordpress. As if I have time for that! Ha!

* The Wisdom of Social Institutions

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

There. That' s my obligatory holiday greeting. Now, let's get down to business, I'm already behind on this blogging thing.

Last week was a real test for my emotional stability, but I managed to resist the urge to curl up into a fetal position under my bed and weep uncontrollably. I know, on Wednesday I said I was relieved, and I was. But then on Thursday I was called in to Rio’s school to deliver him from yet another meltdown, this time before school even started.

The problem with this incident is that when I arrived, Rio calmed down pretty easily (I asked the principal to leave me alone with him this time, having learned my lesson), but he was insisting that he wanted to go home. I was doing my best to assure him that I couldn’t take him home, I had to work, he had to stay in school, without causing another eruption. Then, of course, the principal let herself back in and instantly Rio’s agitation visibly increased. And of course she insisted that Rio should not be allowed to stay at school. She felt that would send him the wrong message, since he had been kicking and hitting her a few minutes before and that clearly could not be tolerated.

Yes, but is it really a good idea to give him exactly what he wants after an episode like that? Do we want to send him the message that whenever he gets stressed out at school, all he has to do is explode and Mama will come and take him home where he feels safe and nurtured? It seemed like a terrible idea to me, but there was no talking her out of it. Now, the onus was on me to make sure that skipping school was not a pleasant consequence.

I think I achieved that fairly well, considering I was also trying not to increase Rio’s anxiety or diminish his self-esteem. I took him to work with me until lunch, and he played nicely and quietly for quite a while. At home he was grounded in his room, and he was allowed out only to write some letters of apology to the people he had hurt during his meltdown. He also took a nap that day – 2 hours long, and when he woke up he had dinner and afterward he was asking if he could go back to bed.

This fatigue issue is something I’m going to raise with the psychiatrist on Thursday, because I think it’s significant. Wait, I haven’t mentioned the psychiatrist yet! Sorry, we’ll see him on Thursday for an evaluation. I’m nervous already, and trying very hard not to be so that Rio won’t pick up on it. But I don’t have a lot of confidence in the results of a test that will be conducted in the course of an hour or two. How can they claim to figure out all of his issues in such a short time? It makes me suspicious. And then Rio won’t even see that doctor again, but in another 3 months he’ll see a different doctor who will try to gauge his progress. Meanwhile he’ll continue seeing his counselor on a weekly basis.

I just hope these people know what they’re doing. I hope I’m doing the right thing, giving them access to him.

Because in spite of his aggression and his explosive meltdowns, he’s such an enchanting little guy. Last week he told me that he wants to be like Martin Luther King when he grows up, because Dr. King knew that nothing is better than love. That’s enough to make my heart grow three sizes!

It’s also enough to get me through the worst of times. That Hercules, he’s something special. And when he says he wants to grow up to be like the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, I have no doubt that he will do great things. He’s a paradigm dismantler, that boy is. And his principal doesn’t appreciate it one bit when he messes with her comfy paradigm.

Someday, I wonder if we’ll look back on our current education system with the same horror that we look back on slavery. After all, slavery was once a very acceptable social institution.

The times they are a-changin’ and none too soon.

* Heave ho!

Well, it happened. The one thing I’ve been dreading and avoiding for months. Rio’s school is giving him the boot.

Oddly, I feel a great sense of relief. At least I don’t have to worry about it happening, now that’s it’s a done deal.

He hasn’t been expelled or anything, but he is being sent to a different school. It’s the school that he would have gone to for our district, except that I applied for him to transfer into his current one due to its Expressive Arts program, hoping he would show some interest and be more motivated to cooperate and participate. That didn’t quite work out how I planned.

I set up a meeting with his teacher for yesterday after work, but when I walked in I saw her with the principal and school counselor, and I knew something was up. Apparently the principal had just finished drafting a long letter for me when I called to arrange the meeting. Her mind was already made up. For the first 10 minutes or so I listened stone-faced, trying to contain my anger and despair. Words like “emotionally disturbed” and “special ed” threatened to crumple me, but I managed to maintain my composure. It was better when the principal stopped talking and the teacher and counselor offered their input. That principal just has very poor tact and it was not a good time for her to flex her superiority. However, certain things began to sink in and gradually I lowered my defenses. My chin was quivering and my eyes were leaking tears the whole time, but at least I didn’t bawl. I didn’t do much talking though, either.

Here’s the deal: Rio will stay at their school until the end of this trimester, and then on March 7th he’ll be sent to his district school. According to the principal, that school is much larger and better staffed to serve children with “special needs” like Rio. Between now and then, they will give him something called a Functional Behavior Assessment. This will provide some feedback to his new school so they know what they’re dealing with. In addition, I’ve agreed to arrange for Rio to see a psychiatrist. This was the part I was most resistant to, but they said something that I never actually considered before, and it makes more and more sense. Children with anxiety and/or depression are often misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD because the symptoms are nearly identical. I’ve never bought into the whole ADD craze, but I think it is worth considering that some basic emotional issues may be at work here. And as difficult as it is to think of my Rio suffering from anxiety and depression, it’s not all that far-fetched. After all, he’s been through a lot of big changes in his very short little life, and stability is something he’s never really had. That alone can make even the most mild-mannered, well-adjusted kid a little anxious. And let’s face it, Rio experiences the full range of emotions with an intensity like I’ve never seen in anyone else.

All this has given me a lot to think about, and I’ve revised my entire outlook on Rio’s needs and that is the reason for my sense of relief and even liberation. I don’t have to prove anything to Rio’s school anymore. Before, I felt obligated to demonstrate a certain level of intolerance for Rio’s behavior, to reinforce their demands on him, which seemed reasonable enough. However, what resulted was a pattern of negative reinforcement that undermined Rio’s confidence. At school he was in trouble most of the time, and then we he came home he would be in more trouble for getting in so much trouble at school. It seems so obvious to me now that this would only wreck his self-esteem, but I couldn’t see that then. Partly because I was suffering from my own anxiety, fearing that Rio would be labeled, suspended, and/or expelled, I was desperate for him to change his behavior. Recently, he’s taken to putting himself down, calling himself a stupid idiot every time he makes even a trivial mistake. It’s like putting a knife through my heart to hear him talk like that, and I tell him so. Of course I assure him that that’s completely false and just the opposite is true. Rio is brilliant, even his teacher and the principal readily acknowledge that. But poor Hercules, he’s now convinced that he can’t do anything right and he’s just about given up trying.

So I have completely revamped my strategy. Before, I would pick up Rio from school and check his behavior chart first thing. If he had no sad faces, he would be allowed to have 30 minutes of computer time. If there were sad faces, we would discuss what happened and more often than not I would lecture him about respect and courtesy and good choices. As an incentive, if he went all week without sad faces, he earned a special treat on Friday, such as a bus ride or dinner at Burger King (*shudder*). I think he had just one week where he earned a Friday treat. We also implemented a consequence for being sent to the principal’s office – grounded to his room for the rest of the evening, and straight to bed after dinner.

From now on, I will no longer discuss his behavior chart with him. When he gets in trouble at school, he is disciplined at school and that is sufficient. Now, I’m taking a very Zen approach: be in the moment. Do not dwell on past offenses; just provide gentle reminders when he acts inappropriately and then let it go, no more long lectures. And, most importantly, shower him with praise every single chance I get (from what I understand, this is also akin to the Nurtured Heart Approach). From now on, we will follow the same routine (more or less) after school every day, regardless of how Rio’s day at school went. We will come home and do an activity together, whether it’s reading or writing or playing cards (a math exercise), or if the weather’s nice we’ll ride bikes or take the dog for a walk. After dinner we will read stories and go to bed, and he generally wants to anyway because he’s so exhausted after school. Finally, I’ve found an excellent Tae Kwon Do program for him that focuses on life skills, and I think it will be perfect for Hercules. He was in a similar class at the YMCA in Tampa, and he loved it.

I am convinced that what Rio really needs is a taste of success, and I’m going to make sure that he finds it. And I really believe that in time, it will make a huge difference. I also think that he may benefit from some real psychiatric counseling, and that our combined efforts will pay off. I have renewed hope for little Hercules, and it feels good.

Isn’t it strange how sometimes the thing we fear the most is the very thing that sets us free? I really believe that this school was just not the right place for Hercules, so the Universe conspired to place him somewhere else. Now, I just have to pray that Rio’s new teacher will have the wisdom and compassion to give him what he needs so he can succeed at school as well.

For me, this has also been a lesson in releasing guilt. Guilt is a destructive thought pattern and one that plagues most, if not all, mothers to some degree. The first feeling in my gut upon hearing that Rio may suffer from anxiety or depression was guilt, that ugly monster. I felt as though I had inflicted this turmoil on Rio due to my transience. But that’s not the Truth. The truth is that I have made the best of a difficult situation. As a single mother I had to struggle to finish college and earn a living and I had to make some tough compromises in order to do what I thought was best for our future. And it’s pointless, anyways, to mull over past choices and wonder “what if?” It’s time to deal with the present moment and do the right thing. And I know what it is I need to do, and I believe I am capable of doing it, and that is far more empowering than beating myself up over guilt.

Be gone, Guilt, you ugly beast. Heave ho!

* *Lightbulb!*

Boy, what a week. It was a tough one for me and Hercules, but we learned some valuable lessons and I think things will improve again. He’s been backsliding at school ever since Christmas break – getting sent to the principal’s office almost daily. Here’s how it worked out:

Tuesday was the worst, when he had a total meltdown at school and they had to call me in to subdue him and ultimately remove him completely. Again, it was an ugly scene but once it was over Rio was transformed into a pleasant, remorseful, cooperative little boy, accepting his punishment with quiet resignation.

The next two days were only slightly better. No more meltdowns, but he was still being sent to the office and/or the Buddy Room (timeout in another classroom) twice a day. His teacher was clearly at a loss. His primary offense on these occasions was an absolute refusal to do his assigned work or to participate in the group activity.

As I was looking over his chart after Day 2 of this behavior, something clicked. There was a pattern! His refusals occurred during the Reading and/or Listening blocks. In addition, Rio gave me another clue – he had informed me that during rest time they were no longer allowed to simply rest on their mats, it was now mandatory for them to read a book during this time. He complained of missing his rest and of feeling too tired to do his work. And lately he had been asking to go to bed around 6 PM, something that was unheard of from Hercules prior to Kindergarten. I’ve mentioned his sleep issues before, so this was significant.

So I pieced this information together and came up with two theories. First, Rio was clearly stressed out by the change in his routine, besides missing that important time to rest and recharge. Second, Rio was stressed out about reading with his teacher and his peers. I had a few clues to help me figure this out, but the clincher was the pattern of recurring defiance during Reading blocks at school. In addition, I have observed him reading to me at home, and I know how devastated he becomes over simple mistakes, mistakes that every child learning to read will make, but for Rio they cause undue angst and frustration. He’s improving all the time, and as he does his confidence increases, but he still struggles when he comes to a word he doesn’t know. He doesn’t like to take the time to sound things out, he would much rather just guess. He looks at the pictures and he repeats the words that come before that one and fills in the blank with a logical guess. And he’s a good guesser, too, which is unfortunate when he’s supposed to be learning to read.

Which is actually pretty damn clever, when you think about it.

But that’s just the trouble with my little Hercules. He’s so clever that he’s accustomed to picking things up very quickly, so when he can’t do something perfectly and immediately, he decides he’s a stupid failure and he crumples.

Sound familiar? It was just the same when he was learning to ride a bike.

I keep referencing that occasion because it really helped me to understand how Rio learns and how learning can be a very frustrating process to him, not because he isn’t capable but because he’s impatient. It also has a lot to do with his perfectionist streak, which I recognize because he got it from me.

My point is that Rio’s lack of confidence at this stage of his learning to read translates into embarrassment in the classroom. I’m sure he sees other children who can already read better and faster than he can, and he sees them getting praise, and when his turn comes and he can’t figure out a word and his teacher corrects him, he feels stupid.

It gives me a heart ache to imagine him there, with all his fears and shame, and all he knows how to say is,


And to his teacher he’s just being defiant and combative and he gets ushered out of the class and off to the principal’s office (where, incidentally, he is quite willing to read to her, alone) because he absolutely refuses to cooperate.

Dear, dear Hercules!

So, to make a long story longer, on Friday morning I sat down and wrote Rio’s teacher a 2-page letter detailing all of my theories. And lo and behold, that was the best day of the whole week! I wasn’t able to speak to his teacher that day, but Rio told me that she let him lie down at rest time instead of reading, and he was clearly grateful for that. I’ve asked to meet with her and the principal this week so we can discuss some strategies to address this issue, and I feel confident now that there is a solution.

In spite of the trials of the past week, in the end it has given me a much-needed boost of confidence and hope. I tend to feel helpless to influence Rio’s behavior at school because I can’t be there. But by paying attention to his signals and looking for patterns in his behavior report, I can find reasons for his behavior, and by sharing that with his teacher I can make a difference.

And really, that’s my job. I can’t ever control Rio’s behavior, at home or elsewhere. Control is an illusion. All I can do is try to understand him, and help others do the same. He is often misunderstood, even by me, because in spite of his brilliant little mind he is emotionally immature and often overwhelmed by his own intensity. Being misunderstood only compounds his frustration, so the poor kid feels like the whole world is against him sometimes.

This is why I feel so protective of Hercules. He’s just a square peg in a world of round holes, and his corners are getting bruised. My job is to widen those round holes to accommodate him. Because his corners are what makes him special, and I don’t want to take them away.

* Meet Bongo!

Hercules with Bongo
Originally uploaded by Renee May.
I would like to introduce you to the newest addition to our family - little Bongo!

Darling, isn't he? I'm smitten:)

I'd much rather tell you all about our new dog than talk about Rio's most recent episode at school. Because Rio adores this little dog, and because he's been so good at home, it's unpleasant to imagine him being dragged from his classroom kicking and screaming. And he's always so remorseful afterward, and so cooperative, it just doesn't seem possible. When you look at this photo of Rio and his beloved pet, you wouldn't think he could be such a hellcat. But I know, and so does his teacher, and so does his principal.

What do you do with a boy like Hercules?? I'm running out of ideas.


I'm tired tonight. I need to sleep off this nagging feeling of doom.

Meanwhile, you can click on the photo and you'll be able to see more of our little dog Bongo.