Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

wounded, jaded, loved, and hated*

Today’s post is the continuation of Brayden’s story, started here. The year that Brayden started in my room he came to me for half-days, beginning in March. By April, we knew that he was not emotionally equipped to handle a transition to first grade, and the unanimous decision was that he would re-enroll in kindergarten, and would be in my class full-time the following year. My feelings about children repeating kindergarten are very complicated, but then… Brayden was (and probably still is) a complicated kid.

I wrote this post in mid-October of the year I had Brayden full time. His first 6 weeks of school had been rocky, but promising. And then… and then.

Oh, Internet, I swear I never wanted this to be a place where I just pour out all my woes, but…

Brayden? My laundry-list child, who started transitioning into my classroom in March of last year? Who hugs me with a ferocity that makes me cry, and who melts down in loud, noisy tears, on a regular basis, over the smallest of slights? Who spends an inordinate portion of his life on timeout, who has to push every single adult in his world to the very brink before he trusts that they (we) will set the limits he so desperately needs? Who, when he is done melting down, curls up in my lap and buries his face in my neck, and whispers: “I love you, Miss. Night”?

Yes, Brayden. Brayden, who I love with a protectiveness that frightens me.

Brayden.

Brayden, whose mom, just 3 weeks ago, accepted a corporate transfer to another city. A city 3 hours away from here. A transfer that is effective January 1st.

The last 3 weeks, since Brayden learned of this upcoming move, have been horrific  The words have been said, and can’t be unsaid. He knows. He has gone from being a child in need, a child at risk, to being a child in crisis. Make that A Child In Crisis. Every day, every single day, there has been a meltdown to the point of him being carried, wailing and thrashing, from the classroom. Every interaction, every single interaction, with him, begins with “no! I will not do what you say!” He is oppositional and defiant and aggressive and angry and out of control and scared.

So very, very, terribly, scared.

I have bruises on my shins from his heels furiously flying as I carry him to the office. Tracy (my boss) has not completed a single meeting without a Brayden-related interruption, in 2 weeks. (And the one morning she was gone for an off-campus workshop was too difficult and exhausting and painful — for me, Brayden, my aide — to even begin to describe.) Every time I hear a loudspeaker announcement calling Tracy to the office at a time when my class is not with me, my heart sinks. It is Brayden. It is always Brayden. On Friday, in what would prove to be the final straw, our yoga teacher (who is also an early intervention specialist, thank the sweet baby Jesus) got punched in the mouth while trying to restrain a struggling Brayden. His mom was called, he went home, and he will not return to our classroom until we have found a full-time aide, just for him.

 Every single scrap of time and energy I have had for the last 3 weeks have been consumed by him, and when I am not with him, I am recovering from being with him. It is not okay, or healthy, not for me and not for the other 19 children in my class. For them, I feel I have been a mediocre teacher. I have also, I suspect, been a mediocre and inaccessible leader to my team of colleagues. I have definitely been a completely absent blogger, and have become, quite possibly, the world’s most boring conversationalist, to everyone except my own mother (who might, quite possibly, love Brayden as much as it is possible to love someone you have never actually met.) When I am at my most exhausted, I resent the intrusion of this one small boy into my head and heart and world, and I wish for my life and time and energy and classroom back. At my darkest moments, January starts to seem like a beacon of hope and harmony…

 But the rest of the time… My heart breaks, both for Brayden and for myself. I am scared of what will happen to him at his new school. Will his new teacher love him? Will she know that he CAN’T stop wiggling during circle, and that the safest thing for all concerned to to strategically seat him where he has enough room to roll around without kicking anyone? Will she allow him to push his own physical limits, even when it seems too dangerous, because PUSHING is what he most needs to do? Will she let him crawl into her lap and bury his face in her neck? Will she hold his hand even when inside she is shaking in frustration? Will she help him name his feelings, learn to control her own breathing, tell him she loves him even in his most unlovable moments? Will she praise his successes, however tiny they may seem? Will she set limits and stick to them, even when he has been laying on the floor, howling, for 30 minutes? Will his new school have an administrator like Tracy, who has turned her office into a safe haven for kids who need a place to get it together? Who will walk out of any meeting to carry a sobbing Brayden down the hallway so his classmates can eat lunch in peace? Will the other kids see the humour and enthusiasm and affection that hide beneath his nervous tics and pushy body language? Will he find a friend? Please, God, let him find a friend…

Brayden is taking next week off — it is only a 3-day week anyway — and staying home from school to allow all of us a break and some time to strategize, not to mention to find the angel-in-disguise that we will need to be his aide for the next 2 months. Just contemplating 3 days without him makes my whole body relax. I know I need it, and I know the other children deserve to get to know their teacher again.

But the thing is… I will miss him.

And if I know right now that I will miss him like crazycakes for just 3 days… what am I going to do in January?

*God’s Will, Martina McBride. Of course.

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Searchin’, wonderin’, thinkin’, lost and lookin’ all my life*

Today, a re-post, of one of my favourites, from my first, now-defunct, personal blog. There is more to Brayden’s story, and I will post the follow-ups, too. Brayden changed me, forever and always. I miss him with an ache that is physical at times: I can close my eyes and remember what it felt like when he threw himself into my arms and hid his face in my neck. He is,  in many ways “the one that got away” from me as a teacher. 

 

Anyway, the story starts like this:

I accepted a special needs child into my classroom 2 weeks ago. We’ll call him Brayden. He is what I sometimes call a “laundry list” kid: fully equipped (by age five) with a list of challenges that would incapacitate many adults: turbulent home life? check. Abandonment issues? check. Overachieving sibling? check.  Fine motor delays? check. Attentional difficulties? check. Sensory integration issues? check. Possible language processing disorder? check. Social struggles? check. Food sensitivities? check. Sleep issues? check. You see? A laundry list, indeed. It’s not quite enough that he needs a classroom aide or a special school, but more than enough to make his participation in a private school with an “enriched” program VERY VERY difficult for both him and his teachers.

Brayden has been in our school for 2 years, and is classroom assignment this year was to the kindergarten class next door to mine. I have written very little about my next-door colleague here, but she is a good teacher. She cares about her students. She is fair, consistent, conscientious about meeting standards. Her classroom is structured, busy, with a clear routine. Her expectations are clear and applied with an even hand.  The other notable factor is that the children in her classroom this year happen to be a particularly loud, energetic, chaotic group. For a little boy who flinches at a touch, turns his head at the slightest whisper, soothes himself by chewing the buttons off his shirt, this is perhaps not the ideal environment, not the ideal group of classmates. (To be clear: in no way am I trying to suggest that I, my classroom, or my students ARE ideal… we are, however, different.)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, there was a substitute teacher next door, who ended up calling the office in a tearful panic when Brayden was refusing to cooperate with her in any way, and had finally thrown himself on the floor in a Big Noisy Fuss. To help the sub make it through the day, my boss asked if I would take Brayden for the afternoon. He came. He played. He spent the afternoon with new friends who hadn’t labelled him Bad Brayden. From that experience grew an idea — to have Brayden spend afternoons with me, giving him a fresh start in a new (calmer, quieter, more flexible) environment, with new (calmer, quieter, gentler) friends. I was willing. my aide, was willing. Mrs Voisine (the teacher next door) was willing. Brayden’s mom, grateful-to-the-point-of-tears, was willing.

So, now, Brayden comes in the afternoons. And, at the end of the month, when one of my other students is moving to Europe and I have a spare chair, Brayden may start coming in the mornings, too. He arrives so promptly after lunch recess that Mrs. Voisine sometimes has to call to make sure he is with me and not still out on the playground. His rest-time pillow goes down right next to my desk and he sings to himself while looking at a picture book. He is the only child who rests in the same place each day, and although he has noticed that fact, he is okay with it. Bit by bit, he is moving in: he has hook and a cubby and a workbasket. He has insisted that he needs an attendance card, and a line partner. Although our afternoons are mostly centre-based play, music, gym, snack and stories, he sometimes looks around at an art project or craft from the morning’s work, and asks if he can do one, too. The answer is always yes.

It is not perfect. He is not perfect, I am not perfect, my other students are not perfect. There are hiccups and speed-bumps as he learns our routines, explores boundaries, tests the limits of my flexibility and the other students’ patience. Even before Brayden started joining us, we were working very hard on being good, kind, respectful, classmates and resolving conflicts calmly. He gives us all lots of opportunity to practice these things. Afternoons, which were previously the more relaxing half of my day, are now the times when I feel like I am teaching the hardest: managing the environment, modelling how to use materials appropriately, mediating conflicts in a way that I want students to emulate, constantly monitoring my tone of voice and body language. Admittedly these are things that I should ALWAYS be doing, but Brayden needs me to do them deliberately and conciously ALL. THE. TIME. He is so desperately needy, so touchy, so sensitive: to a word, a touch, a perceived injustice, a prickly tag in the neck of his shirt.

He is the kind of child that exhausts me, the kind of child who challenges, pushes, intrigues me.

I already love him with a fury that is almost frightening. He is already changing me, already teaching me things I need to learn.

He is already making me the teacher I want to be.

*God’s Will, by Martina McBride. It will always be Brayden’s song, to me.

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What they hear coming over the fields*

 

That little guy over there? Yeah, that’s my dog, Skip. Yes, like the movie, although that’s not where I got his name from. His name, chosen by my first class at That School, came from the Skippyjon Jones books, a particular favourite in our classroom that year.

I know lots of people don’t like chihuahuas. I didn’t either, until my friend Lauren got one for her daughter, and I fell in love with that teeny-weeny-black-and-white ray of sunshine named Lola. When I finished grad school, my mom said that her gift to me was a dog, of my choice, when I was ready. A year later, I picked a 10-week-old, 1 pound Skip up from his breeder. (For the record, his breeder is GREAT, raising beautiful healthy dogs with great care and knowledge.)

I never wanted (and I try really hard not) to be one of those crazy chihuahua women. Skip doesn’t travel in a purse, he walks on a leash. I don’t dress him up in outfits, but he does have sweaters for our Canadian winters. No rhinestone collars — he has a cool, sturdy, comfortable, harness for walks and adventures. He loves to be outside, lounging in the sun or charging up a trail. He can hike for hours through forests and up hills and across creeks (he even started swimming this summer), although he gets a little nervous in really tall grass. Who can blame him? I’d be scared, too, in grass that was 3 times as tall as me. He retrieves like a… well, like a retriever, and will drop his toys at your feet and whine until you throw them. He is cautious, but NEVER aggressive with new people. He only barks  if he thinks there is an intruder in whatever area he has deemed to be our home. He loves blueberries and will paw at me for a bite of an apple.

I’m not going to turn this post into a narrative of my dog’s health issues, but the relevant facts are that, when he was a year old, Skip started having seizures, and the effectiveness of the usual anti-seizure drugs has been moderate-to-poor for him. After 3 years of working with my regular vet to control his episodes, she referred me to  a specialized dog neurologist. (As in a neurologist FOR dogs, not a neurologist who IS a dog, because I’m sure you needed that cleared up.) I was happy to pay for the consultation, but I knew in advance that the diagnostic tools he would likely recommend were beyond my means. My financial resources for dealing with this are not bottomless.  We saw the neurologist last week. As I expected, he strongly recommended an MRI, and possibly a spinal tap.  This came to a couple of thousand dollars worth of tests, with no guarantee that they would show anything meaningful. I don’t have a couple of extra thousand dollars laying around. The doctor’s words were gentle and simple: “Go home. Decide what you CAN afford to get a diagnosis, and what you can afford for ongoing treatment. Call me tomorrow. We will work something out. I feel like I can help your dog. This is not about the money.”

His words, when shared with my mom, prompted her to offer further generosity: a gift of however much money was necessary to bridge the gap between my funds and what the vet could offer. It’s really hard, as a 30-something professional, to accept money from your mom.

I cried at the vet’s office (they must be used to that, right?), and at my mom’s offer. I cried again when I accepted this gift from both of them. I’m crying more as I write this, at the end of a long day spent waiting to hear that Skip had gotten through both tests and the associated anesthesia.  I cried on the phone when the vet said that all follow-up appointments will be free of charge. I am so…  Grateful isn’t a big enough word for this one. I am (and have always been) grateful for the little, still-slightly-stoned, dog currently dozing in my lap. But this gift (which, more than likely, will bring a diagnosis which will lead to fewer seizures AND fewer drugs for my little partner in crime)… I don’t have the words.

So, over here, where I posted about how hard it is to accept generosity, THIS is what I was talking about. This has been a tough one, to let 2 people — one a virtual stranger, and one who loves me most in the world — give me something that, strictly speaking, is not a necessity.

So, I’m breathing deep, saying lots of thank-yous, and trying to remember that generosity is easy to GIVE – when I am generous, I MEAN it, I WANT to do it, I WANT the other person to accept. I have to trust that this is equally true, for my mom and this amazing guardian angel of a vet.

Because Skip and I have lots more adventures waiting for us.

*Dogs and Thunder, by Sarah Harmer
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Before you hit the highway, you better stop for gas*

How I make it feel more like vacation even when I can’t leave town.

  • I go stay in different house. Seriously. I enthusiastically volunteer to stay in the homes of friends and family when they go away. Right now, I am in a colleague’s very large duplex in an old inner-city neighbourhood. I have stayed on acreages, in townhouses, apartments, log homes, cottages, modest family bungalows, 100 year old historic homes. A change of scenery, exploring a new neighbourhood, discovering a new coffee shop (or, in my present situation: re-visiting an old favourite coffee shop because this house is just blocks from my very first teeny-weeny apartment) these things have a vacation vibe even within the boundaries of my own city.
  • I have figured out the things that “feel like vacation” to me, so that i can do them at home (or in someone else’s home, if I so choose.)
    • Letting soaking-wet hair dry in the sun.
    • Sunscreen that smells like coconut.
    • Reading for as long as I want, without checking the time.
    • Lemonade in mason jars.
    • Coming in after being in the sun, to a shower and lotion and soft dry cotton clothes.
    •  Sitting outside in my pyjamas to eat breakfast.
    • Bare feet in green grass.
    • Steak, hot off the grill, on a plate next to a big baked potato with butter and sour cream and salt & pepper.

I’ve done all of these things, in the last few days. I have felt time stretch out, the way it only does when I have gotten rid of any sense of obligation. It feels oh-so-good. I’m starting to be able to think about the beginning of a new school year without panicking. I’m sort of looking forward to setting my my new office (yup, the promotion comes with an office. It’s a glorified closet, really, with no windows, but still: an office. All mine.), freshening up the classroom. I’m thinking, in an idle way, about things to cook and bake to stock my freezer and help me survive the first crazy 6 weeks of kindergarten. 

My “noise fast” is supposed to end tomorrow, but I’m not so sure about that…. But that would probably make a great post, for tomorrow.

*My friend Carrie Underwood. Shut up, she is totally my friend.

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    These are the years that we have spent, and this is what they represent *

    So it turns out that blogging, like many other important daily habits, is best done in the morning, because if you (*I*) wait until night time, you (*I*) probably don’t have the energy and focus to really do it right or well. And you (*I*) end up just blurting something out so that you (*I*) can go to bed feeling like you (*I*) blogged today.

    On a somewhat-related note, I have now exercised in a focused and deliberate way for 15 straight days, and hot damn do I ever feel good about that. I’m using the Jerry Seinfeld technique, where I put a big mark on the calendar for every day that I DO the thing I am supposed to be doing (in this case, exercising) and the motivation is supposed to come from fear of breaking the streak. It works like a son of a gun. I don’t have any lofty weightloss goals or anything, but I know that I am spectacularly BAD at making exercise a priority, and that probably needs to change.

    Other marbles rolling around in my head:

    • I’m currently house and dogsitting for a friend, a chore that I pretty much love doing for anyone, anywhere (seriously – if you are taking a trip and would like Skip and I to stay in your place, let me know. We are the dream team of house-carers.). Living in someone else’s space always makes me thing about what I would do if I lived in the space. If I lived in this space, I would have less air-conditioning and more ceiling fans. I would also have more places where one can lounge and still have a secure surface on which to place a beverage. There is a distinct lack of coffee tables around here.
    • I have been thinking a lot lately about how much harder it is to accept generosity than it is to offer it, and why that is. There is a specific context for this in my own life right now, but I think this is a broader phenomenon, right?
    • Every time I think about the upcoming school year, I have a brief moment where I forget that my students from last year will not be back with me, and then I remember, and I get this little biting ache for a few minutes. I’ve never had this before, this extreme reluctance to let them go, this thrumming worry about how they will do in first grade. I’m not sure what it’s about, or what to do with it.
    • Hanging out with someone else’s dog makes me realize how much I love my own pup. This dog is rather barky – every time I open the back door, she springs out of it, yapping full volume to let the neighbours know she’s there. My own sweet, quiet, Skip gives me a look of utter confusion every time this happens, then slowly wanders out to find a comfy place in the sun.He really is such a good boy, this funny little dog of mine.

    Ok, there. I blogged. It is not a great post, maybe not even a good one. But it is a post. And that is something.

    And now: to bed.

    *Why, by Annie Lennox

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