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Location: Oregon, United States

Monday, September 11, 2006

So, How are the Kids (and Adults) Adjusting to School?

After the first week of school, things are looking fairly bright overall. Here's a play-by-play:

Stephen was pretty sure he was going to hate school, suffer greatly, and most likely die in the process. He was an absolute nervous wreck the week before school and acted up accordingly. Just edgy all the way around, so the slightest difficulty was A BIG, HUGE DEAL!!! After the first day, he came home all smiles. He likes his teacher, and he loves the "tally" system that she uses to encourage good behavior. By the end of the day, he had acquired the most tallies in the room for bringing a paper from home and being in the quietest group. This was a beautiful way for him to start the year. He continued to smile all week and has made a few new friends. He is also learning to just disregard the kids that tease and say mean things. This is a big step for him - up until recently, he has felt that he needed to personally punish these kids or make sure that they get punished. Hmm, can you say 'vigilante'?

We have set his room up with a desk so he can do his homework without the distractions of his brothers/the dog/the dad getting in the way. He was doing math homework one evening and getting really frustrated with it because his brain was shutting down. We talked it over and I asked him what would help - did he want something squishy to mess with? chewing gum? what? Suddenly, his face brightened up and he turned on some music. Then, with a smile beaming on his face, he stayed on task and completed the rest of the work in no time! Good job!

Thomas never said a word about how he felt about starting school. I think he was quietly looking forward to it, but didn't dare say so because he was in the minority here. After the first day, though, it was a completely different story. The bus was a half hour late picking them up both on the way to school and on the way home. He had worn jeans and it was hot out by the end of the day with no air conditioning in the building and he thought he was going to die from heat exhaustion and a pounding headache. To top it off, in an attempt to do damage control (?), part of the orientation consisted of openly discussing the two ghosts that reportedly haunt the building - one is a troubled, bullied kid that committed suicide by hanging himself in the building two years after it was built and the other is a disgruntled janitor from way back. I guess they thought it would be better to get the stories out in the open rather that hear them from the 8th graders.

For Thomas, at this particular moment in his life, it was the worst thing they could have done. It brought up every grief and loss issue that has been just below the surface for him for the last 6 months and he absolutely fell apart. We problem-solved most of the issues the first night - wear zip-offs, bring water, etc., but he didn't tell me how awful he felt inside until two days later. So the next morning when he was supposed to be leaving for the bus, he completely fell apart again. This was the same day the electrician was here to move the outlets up in the kitchen, so I've got that drama going on and I'm completely stressing about the house, Thomas hears that the "whole house could burst into flames at any given minute", he's freaking about going to school, misses the bus, and refuses to go at all. I tell him to get in the car and we'll talk about it there because I'm not in the mood to discuss it in front of the electrician. He gets in the car, we talk about it, but he's still not telling me what's really going on. He just says he can't go to this school, it's horrible, no, he's not being abused by anyone but he just can't do it, and so on. None of the reasons justify him getting to stay home so I bring him to the school. He refuses to get out of the car and says he is more than willing to break the law and be truant. By this time, it's almost comical, but I'm running out of ideas (don't tell him that) and I'm thinking something REALLY BAD must have happened for him to snap like this. But he needs to go to school and get over it, so I say, "Fine, then, stay in the car. I'm going to go in and get the principal." "No! No! Don't get him! I'll come inside!" he says. Then he tells me he will hate me for life, etc. etc. and I tell him I love him and I'm glad he's doing the right thing and he goes to school. Drama!

That afternoon, he came home and hugged me and apologized and said he was very, very sorry. Then he talked about what was really going on inside and we had a chance to really deal with the losses he's experienced since we've moved here. In the end, it was beautiful - we made a list of the things he's lost and another of the things he's gained and a third of the things he's anxious about at this school. Then we crumpled each list and burned them in the fire pit, saying a prayer for each one and symbolically giving it all up to God. He was a new person afterward, and said he felt so light and free!

William is in the High School this year. He was not looking forward to school at all, either, but did not seem as anxious as previous years. He just did what I call 'low-level griping', which he seems to think is some sort of prerequisite behavior prior to things that he might not like. But it's almost an act and I kind of get a kick out of it because I can see him smirking just under the surface. Then I say, "I see you smirking, and I'm thinking you're not that worried about this," and he tries to cover up his face or change his expression but he can never do it and then we both crack up.

He also came back from his first day mostly smiles. He said he had a couple rough spots where he thought about Sundae (why does school bring up Sundae?) but people helped him through it and they were really nice. He likes most of his teachers except the gym teacher seemed a little abrupt and one fellow was WAY too PERKY! He has since warmed up to these two as well. A few things have come up such as no para in one class where he thought he should have one, so he has brought up his concerns with his case manager and they are working to iron it out. This is amazing! Up to this point, I have been doing the majority of the advocating for him while talking through the process with him and encouraging him to advocate for himself whenever he can. He's done this a few times, but this year he just took it upon himself and has done a great job of letting his needs be known. In addition, he has come home and done his homework at the kitchen table with very little assistance or urging from Paul or me. AND he's excited about doing some creative writing in his English class. Good show!

Paul and I are really glad the kids are going to bed earlier and then staying there. It is nice and quiet for a while before we need to crash, and we've needed that to have time to talk or just chill this week, especially while we process the news about Paul's mom.

I've been applying for jobs for the last few weeks and have several resumes out. I haven't heard a thing from anyone except, "Thank you for your recent inquiry, we'll pass your resume on to the supervisor in charge of hiring." I'm beginning to feel a little ill. What is it? Is there a glaring, stupid error on my resume? Is my letter of introduction totally missing the mark? Or worse, what if the theory base I use is not what they are after out here? That would be bad. But then I talk myself down from a panic attack and remind myself that, back in December I met with this fellow and felt there would definitely be meaningful work that I could get excited about. And that I haven't come this far just to be forgotten. So I think it's just a matter of applying, praying for the right job, and waiting it out. Ugh. I hate waiting.

Sasha is fitting in nicely. She is a silly dog that loves to play whenever there is a human available. He favorite game is to take her ball and push it out of reach, either under the dishwasher door, or behind the garbage cans or under the deck. Then she growls at it or barks until the human helps her get it out. This was really cute and funny for a while, but then she started doing it at midnight so I took her ball and put it in the drawer of my bedside stand and told her to leave it until morning. Once the ball is no longer in sight, she quits - I don't know if she just forgets about it or if she gives up, but it works! (Whew!) She also loves to give kisses and has the biggest, wettest tongue on a dog her size I've ever seen. (Gaack!) At least she doesn't drool. She likes to lay down next to you and get petted with her head on your stomach. This is like relaxing with a warm and furry bowling ball on your belly. Everyone should try it.

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