Mayday, mayday, mayday: Child lost the parent lottery. By age two Victor was expected to die. When he was two weeks old his biological mother died a cocaine addict, but not before passing on to Victor the Aids virus. He took a large number of preventive antibiotics and medications that had controlled the HIV infection. Victor, age eight, had a compromised immune system, other health impaired (OHI), and behavior disorder. Victor's struggle brought a calm sigh reflecting on the progress we've made since the Ryan White days, and his pitiful example of when HIV fears ruled our lives. Confidentiality rule that school personnel have any right to know a student or another employee has HIV. Unless that person or his or her family chooses to tell, no one is notifies. All situations approach with the idea that any student or staff could have a disease carried by body fluids; thus, the use of gloves and thorough hand washing.
I had been told on Victor's entry of his immune deficiency without the word disorder, so I asked about his open sores. Within three hours of entry to my classroom he was exposed to another student's cold. I felt uneasy when Victor asked to use the bathroom because he felt sick. I stood near the slightly closed bathroom door. He was not vomiting. Victor and I both noticed the staff rushed in wearing gloves.
Victor was suspicious of the "germs in your body" mantra that swirled about his in conversations. He had been over indulged by his late fifties adopted parents. He had a predilection for lying. Victor always wanted his due with no remorse for is inappropriate aggression. He prefers not to deal with emotions or the feeling of other people.
Victor's anxiety showed during music class one Friday. We were huddled in an informal semi-circle with a guitarist. On this Friday, the guitarist signaled with his hand, "Halt! Please, stay back, I have germs." Victor whipped his head around to me. We made conspiratorial eye contact. I nodded and said, "Mr. M. is being careful for you Victor. He has a cold. You are learning about the germs in your body and how to handle them." A smile crept across his face as I held his gaze. I like to think, a smile of affirmation of support. We had sprung ahead---past "poop" in chairs; smearing feces would abate. Lying cessation could wait. Small steps gained trust.
We hid the truth to give Victor a reasonable life, but forgot that Victor sensed the pity heaped on him. He did not know that he was adopted. He was guarded about these parents in their late fifties. I had suggested that it was time to tell him that he was adopted. Our pity may be akin to abuse. Weren't we lying to him? Honesty from his support group would create a caring circle of compassion and empathy. Charity, but how given? Victor was overwhelmed by the demands.
Each parent is in the partnership; bring their history with them. Sharing and giving help the "struggles" without damaging trust and faith in each other. Calmly and seriously explain your explanation of cause and effect. Like the 6 blind men each touching a different part of the elephant explain where 'you are coming from', your history included. When your mayday, mayday mayday tension arises, Step back parents (caregivers) and say, "Look what we have done, partner." Congratulate each other. Be specific. "We can get through, partner!" ( You have just won the lottery of life.)
Spring brings the busy bees. The busy bee in my bonnet and heart is Mikey. Mikey, a nine year old comes to the forefront of my memory. In our safe environment Mikey's conduct improved. In the hospital he was safe from the marital problems and altercations between his father, himself, and his twin brothers. When he urinated on the floor his mother rubbed his nose in it.
Academically, he was average to superior; with social and motor skills lower. His mother did his writing and picture-cutting home assignments sent for practicing his motor skills. He returned disgruntled commenting on her domination. The battle of the brains. So, we sent homework slightly below level; she viewed the material non-challenging and non-reflective of her self-image; therefore she stopped completing Mikey's homework assignments. But, that level allowed Mikey to realize his own ability and gradually work on his own - very self-satisfying and rewarding.
However, his good nature turned to anger whenever redirected in the classroom. It was as though he were reliving his mother's interference.
When complimented on improving his self-esteem, he gave me a quirky smile, reminding me that I "wanted his brain" while he busied himself with family behaviors.
Mikey will be remembered as the young student who thought Dr. K acted and looked like Ms. Frizzle, an animated character from the Magic School Bus: In a Beehive (Scholastic, 1998) series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan. Each day we read sections of the beehive stories. They understood the metaphor of how a bee's responsibilities related to their lessons in life. Bee cooperation through communication; when searching for honey they waggled straight up to indicate the pollen was toward the sun, waggled to the left, it is left of the sun, waggle right and look to the right of the sun.
Mikey , also, instigated some of our most profound discussions. For example, Ms. Frizzle explained that when a honeybee stings, the stinger gets stuck in the victim's skin. "Yeah, Jack, like trying to help," Mikey said peevishly referring to Jack's barbed, stinging words. My hands had gone up in a halt pose, as I often did, holding them close to their chest of the two persons in a confrontation of barbs.
We reviewed and reenacted the proper conversation etiquette. These circumstances proved sweet opportunities to help the victim's growth. In this case, Jack had been allowed to reply first to, "Why might Mikey think that about you, even though he, too, needs to learn new ways to communicate?" Jack clamped his folded arms across his chest and went into his typical withdrawal posture slumping into his chair.
The class had been asked to kindly help Jack by offering other examples about people (without naming names) who had used barbs to hurt or just to be grouchy towards them. As you have guessed, words flew in all directions and vulgarities were ignored to stay focused, not on the barbed remarks, but for better communication.
Suddenly, Jack had buzzed around the table. He waggled around to our hilarity and finally exclaimed he was communicating like bees. I had stifled the laughter because he was serious, spontaneous gesture showing his peer group acceptance of their corrections. We had concluded that we all, at one time or another, felt the sting of words or that we have used cruel words because of our moods. The days would begin from, then on, with the bee-dance language to communicate our mood. Naturally, Jack had been asked to lead us in his improvisational bee-dance. The children had gleefully jumped to the occasion showing their sunny smiles.
Ms Frizzle made a honey of a hive of children learning the lessons in life. Here is the dance:
Work in a group
Get out there and keep "bee-sy". Spring has sprung. How sweet it is with hope in the air. Spring to it!
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire