* 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!

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