Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Courage of My Convictions

I was looking forward to posting tonight. I envisioned myself writing this enthusiastic update on how well our meeting went, that Finn had a better day today, and that I felt everything was on the upswing. I won't be writing an update like that.

I used to be a very negative person. Or maybe a worried person is a better description. For a long time, my sisters called me Hana--short for Chanukah--because they said I spent more time worrying than a Jewish grandmother (truly, not meant to offend anyone from the Jewish faith). And I have to say, it was true. I might even have been known to kvetch, as well.

I still spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things which may or may not happen. But you can't go around worrying like that in front of your kids, so I try to be positive, give people the benefit of the doubt, and think that the best possible outcome might be the very first thing that happens.

I don't feel like that right now. Kvetch. Kvetch. Kvetch.

I woke up this morning feeling positive. I was looking forward to our meeting with Finn's teacher, the OT and the principal. Things started out well. We went through Finn's medical history, his social development (or lack thereof), his education to date (one year of preschool) and his experiences with sensory processing issues to date. Finn's OT went through a lengthy report she had prepared which walked the teacher through what SPD is and strategies for best helping Finn.

All through the meeting the teacher was nodding, agreeing, listening, discussing examples with the OT, etc. I was feeling really good.

And then at the end of the meeting, we stood up, shook hands all around, and he said, "But if you wouldn't come to lunch it would really help his separation issues." WHAT? I wondered if I'd heard him correctly. You mean we just spent 90 minutes going through all of this, helping you understand why this kid is behaving this way and you still don't see how me coming to lunch with him for the time being will help everyone in this room?

Perhaps I was the only one who took this comment that way though.


Eamonn and I walked outside with the OT went to meet Finn for lunch and observe the lunchroom. Eamonn's first words were something to the effect of, "Well, apparently the teacher didn't quite get what we were talking about in there."

And when I met with the OT after lunch, she made the same comment.

I am not crazy. I am not crazy. I am not crazy. It helps to remind myself of that sometimes.

When I was wrapping up my comments to the teacher and principal, I think I ended with something like, "Bottom line, a good portion of this kid's life has been pretty crappy. I want him to stop having a crappy life right now and if that means I need to come to lunch, then I'm coming to lunch." Was I not succint enough? I thought using the word crappy in a kindergarten setting was pretty succint, but perhaps not.

Tonight I had a lengthy conversation with another of the kindergarten teachers. We met at Bible study last year and I adore her. She is everything a kindergarten teacher should be. She has experience and compassion. Not to say that Finn's teacher won't have these attributes one day--I still want to give him the benefit of the doubt--but Finn needs these things right now. Right. Frickin'. Now. And while Eamonn and I were discussing the fact that we want to support Finn's teacher and understand that he is new and needs to the opportunity to learn, at what point do you really make a stink and say, "It is not serving my child well to be the learning lab for this newbie."

Today the OT told Finn's teacher that while it might work fine for most kids to just be walked to the cafeteria and turned loose, that won't work for Finn. He needs to be escorted to a seat (preferably the same one each time) and helped to get settled. The teacher said that would be hard to do logistically with all of these kids (the school is bulging at the seams so there are 22 or 23 kids in each of the 5 kindergarten classes). He dismissed it out of hand.

I think the real answer here is that it COULD be done if the teacher WANTED to do it. Because Mrs. I Think She Walks On Water Kindergarten Teacher has stepped up and said she will be the one to go to Finn in the cafeteria and help him get settled. I have just elevated her to Angel status so from this sentence forward, she will be Mrs. Angel. When I spoke with her tonight on the phone, she said she heard someone crying in the bathroom today before lunch, and when she went in to see who it was, it was, of course, Finn, who was upset about the coming lunchtime. Angst.

So many of the specials staff and reading teachers have come up to me and said what a dear Finn is and have offered to be there for him while he works through all of this. For that, I am so grateful.

Tomorrow we have a plan in place with Mrs. Angel Kindergarten Teacher and the librarian, who is always on lunch duty (poor soul). Mrs. Angel will get Finn settled and then Mrs. Librarian will take over, letting Finn know she's there. We'll see how it goes.

And I have to admit there's a little bribery going on here. We have said that each day he can get through the day without crying, he will receive a special surprise. "Books?" he asked me, without much enthusiasm. Dang it. How did he know? So for Monday and Tuesday, that hasn't seemed to have worked. There was a crying scene at drop off this morning. But today he came home and said he really wanted to try again tomorrow. . .if he could try to earn some Pokemon cards. Pokemon. Trains. A litter of puppies. Gold boullion. Whatever, kid. I'm ready to pull out all the stops.

My goal is to NOT go to the school tomorrow so we can get a feel for where he's at with all of this. If it does not work, because I am at my core, Hana, the Jewish Grandmother (even though I'm actually Presbyterian), and I have to think about what MIGHT or MIGHT NOT happen, I'm implementing an emergency relief plan and everyone else's opinion be dammed. Mrs. Angel talked to me about this tonight--that ultimately, we are the parents and we have to do what we think is right and not worry about what anyone else thinks. Because I do have this underlying annoyance when I think people are judging me. Anyway, I have to stop that.

What I think will work for Finn is falling back on methods that got us through 3 1/2 years of chemo, which is stepping Finn through the process, laying it out in a pictorial pattern (like on a calendar), and moving gradually. Baby steps. Really, really tiny ones.

Week One: Me having lunch at school all five days.
Week Two: Me having lunch at school four days. Finn picks the days.
Week Three: Me having lunch at school three days. Finn picks the days.
Week Four: Me having lunch at school two days. Finn picks the days.
Week Five: Lunch at school one day a week. I intend to keep eating lunch at school one day a week for eternity--the day I work in the classrooms. I did this with Declan and it was a nice treat and gave him something to look forward to.

I fully anticipate getting resistance. I fully anticipate being labeled an hysterical parent. I am prepared. I have the courage of my convictions.

Plus Eamonn said he'd beat anyone up who gave me grief. And so did Amber in Mansfield, Ohio. So I feel like I'm covered.


Kim said...

Oh Natalie! I have never posted on your blog before, but I have followed your story/life with Finn for a couple of years, so please excuse me if I seem a bit forward, because I feel like we are friends only without you having the benefit of knowing that!

I just wanted to say that I have just read your last 3 posts and my heart is breaking for you and for Finn and my gut reaction, right this minute...you do what you feel is right for Finn. This is Kindergarten for gracious sake--it isn't like he is acting like this in high school. Being the mother of 4, my youngest being 12, I can tell you that looking at kindergartners, they are still babies!!!! Schools and society want kids to grow up so stinking fast and it isn't necessary. The expectations are so high and not every kid is going to be that round peg to fit in the round hole in the education setting.

Then you top it all off with Finn's history and spd and it is no wonder he is having a hard time. That lunchroom sounds like total chaos and the opposite of what my kids' elementary school lunchroom was like. There you walked in in a line, you sat with whoever you were in line next to, and if the noise level rose above a certain level...(not loud at all), they had a stop light that would turn red and everyone had to stop talking. No noise allowed. It was like a police state in there! I do have to say that they were pretty militant about the whole hurry up and eat thing and basically turned lunch into another subject/class period, but they needed to keep control.

My other gut reaction to your predicament is to remove Finn from that classroom. I don't like the sound of that teacher and you are so wise to question, how long do you let Finn be the training ground for a new teacher. From the way you described him, he doesn't seem to be very caring and the way he treated you in the lunchroom was totally unprofessional.
I hope you can get the OT and principal on board more fully, and I hope your plan of weaning your lunch time visits works.

My thoughts and prayers are with you as you continue to be Finn's best and greatest advocate.

Kim in Seattle

Anonymous said...

Mr. S. seems to be a bit hard-headed. It is clear that he needs to learn a lot, but hopefully not on your son's (or other kids') back. I always thought - naive, I know - that people who work in the educational field, and especially those who work with small children, have a heart for children, also for children who are 'different', by trying to understand their problems and helping them live a normal and happy life. As you know, we also have experienced that in many cases this is only wishful thinking.
YOU and only YOU know what is best for your boy. Stay strong and do what you think you must do.

Jenny said...

I wss hoping for a better outcome, but cannot say that I am not surprised.
You know, you as a parent have some rights here. I realize you don't want to cause waves, and you have a plan, but Plan B could mean moving Finn to Mrs. Angel's room. YOU HAVE RIGHTS. When our daughter was in first grade, she had the biggest bitch in the school. Literally. Anyhow, since I taught across the hall from this, I didn't think I could cause waves either. Well, after throwing up every morning I finally took her to the doctor to check out that there wasn't anything physical. The doctor's exact words were "You forget about yourself, get this child out of that room."
I know you are thinking about his new teacher, but you have no investment in that person, your investement is in Finn's future. If this plan doesn't work, MOVE THAT KID.
And I will drive down from MN also and take part in the smack down.

Leeann said...

Am I missing something?

Why can't Finn just be moved to Mrs. Angel's classroom? She sounds like she has the experience and wisdom to know that kids come in all different shapes, sizes and types.

And while you are at it, perhaps you could let Mr. Teacher know that he is no longer in Education 101. All of us teachers learned the theories and how things should work. What Mr Teacher hasn't realized is that LIFE IS NOT LIKE WHAT THE TEXTBOOK SAYS IT IS.

Also, as a teacher, I learned that I was not able to empathize with parents until I had kids of my own. Trey's first grade teacher said the exact same thing last night at his Back To School night.

Move him. If the school doesn't like it, they can suck monkey nuts.


Anonymous said...

I will follow Jenny from Minnesota and will stand in line behind Eamonn and Amber (I'll be the one with a baseball bat in hand!)

SuperSuz said...

Oh my! I think I would have had a big Mama-bear smack down right there in the school. Like everyone else I was so hoping for a better outcome from the meeting...sigh.

Other than hurting Finn's teacher's feelings is there a reason Finn cannot be moved to Mrs. Angel's class? It sounds like she has a greater understanding of the issues and a greater sense of compassion. Finn's life has been hard! He deserves a break! AND, the teacher has now labeled YOU as a problem and that will carry over to his interactions with Finn. I've seen it happen so many times - even in private schools.

Bless you and Eamonn and Finn. We are with you and we will stand with you in this battle.

Anonymous said...

I would either have Finn moved or take him out completely and homeschool for a year or two. Life is too short for him to be any more traumatized than he already has been. So many things in his short life have been out of his control and out of your control - this isn't one of them. So he's having trouble adjusting 0 big deal - it happens to kids who haven't been through what Finn has - he deserves more from this school. If you aren't getting the results you expect from this teacher ask for a new one. You are Finn's only advocate, if you don't stand up for him, no one else will. I don't mean to sound harsh, I know you are trying, it's just that I sent my Kindergartner to school every day crying, begging not to go and it's something neither of us has ever gotten over and she just started 8th grade and yes, she remembers every horrible day with the teacher from hell. I haven't made the same mistake with my 3rd grader. Children do not mature at the same rate, especially those who have had traumatic events and how do you get much more traumatic than cancer. It just breaks my heart the thought of him dreading going to school every day - I remember like it was yesterday how horrible it was for me with my oldest. Good luck and sending lots of good thoughts to Finn.


1dreamr said...

I'm sorry to hear things didn't go well. I understand that you want to give the rookie teacher a chance, but you really are Finn's strongest advocate in this situation.

The thing to remember is that this little boy only has one chance at "starting kindergarten." This experience could shape the way he feels about school going forward. This year builds such a strong foundation for the next 12.

If you can push to have Finn moved to Mrs. Angel's class sooner than later, I think you'll be glad you did. She sounds like just what Finn needs - especially in the caring, compassionate, and understanding deparments.

A move to her class may not resolve all of this overnight, but it certainly will put you on the right path a lot sooner. Why waste even another minute of Finn's impressionable early school years working with a teacher-in-training (and one who truly doesn't sound terribly interested in the one thing that should be his top priority - his students)?

This whole thing breaks my heart -- honestly, it sounds to me like maybe this young man chose the wrong vocation. At a minimum, it doesn't sound like he belongs with kindergarteners.

Just my two (or three or four) cents.

Good luck... and many hugs. Never question what's in your heart. Remember, mother DOES know best.

in a world surrounded by men said...

I'll kick some you-know-what too if needed.

You're an awesome mom. Forget those who feel differently. Ask them if their child had to literally fight for his life for the last several years and see where that leaves them!