Let Halloween begin, flash back from within, in the land of "Mayo" (Mayo Clinic psychiatry), where, ages ago truths were told of Halloween of old. Halloween week was a screech, truly and paradoxically. I felt properly gleefully gloomy and grim. Since no child in the class had a "bug" phobia, I had planned with gruesome bliss.
"For I am cantankerous already,
But I say that with a grin
Since my little spirited sprites
Discover unexpected surprises
From their person within."
My computer savvy kids nervously had maneuvered their way through the gauzy web and had settled on the carpet near my webbed chair. The Witch Has an Itch by Donna Guthrie and illustrated by Katy Keck Arnsteen (Aladdin, 1990) waited for us. The story unfolded the dilemma of Gormelda, a wicked witch and proud of it. She was the meanest magic maker in all the land with a major psychosomatic glitch - evil made her itch. To keep her reputation, she scratched and itched incessantly until it was unbearable. She sought help from the powerful wizard, Womack. He explained that there were different kinds of reputations. She could be the nicest witch in all the land. Her choice. Where does one start? Womack advised that she could start from scratch - with a smile.
The class discussed Halloween stories and cultures from around the world. They computer researched what interested them, such as: The Celt's huge bonfires to scare away demons and wearing ugly apparel to fool the demons into thinking they were one of them and would do them no harm; Roman festival to honor Pomona, goddess of Gardens and Orchards; how Halloween got it's name, the short way of saying All Hallow's Eve, the night before All Saint's Day ((which happens to be the day I was born). I tried to act saintly, but my students quickly pointed out that was a long stretch. Or, as Jas quickly stated, "You're pushing it, Dr. K."
Sensitively, we discussed Halloween relating to religion, spirits, death, and superstitions. The children took the opportunity to tell of concerns of death and things that particularly frightened them. They poured forth suggestions for handling fear and nightmares appropriate for modern times: Leave lights on; changing the channel in your mind like television; shutting down their minds or delete like a computer; telling someone; writing down their fears. For the older kids it reversed the negative caveat of their own fears by sharing their wisdom. The younger students' anxieties seem relieved.
Emily Dickson, I'm not but the empowering poems and stories collected from their research reflected truly heartfelt fears and solutions from within.
The grins of Halloween conquering fear. The yearly positive caveat on Halloween Day;)
The little kids that wouldn't; pugnacious at 8 and 6-years old.
Brother and sister, Frank and Ellen, fetal syndrome patients to the Mayo Clinic psychiatric unit, joyously bounded into my classroom. Both siblings were ADD, attention deficit disorder. Frank was eight who looks small for his age and, literally, came into this world foot first; thus with a congenital left hip dislocation. He had a small face, lopped ears, and a grooved eyelid of the two moveable folds that protect the anterior surface of the eyeball. He had a history of aggressive oppositional defiant behavior (ODD) that was somewhat controlled by medications. Oh, he hated his mother.
Frank had run away in the rain with 6-year old Ellen. Their step-dad found them at a gas station. Earlier on the way home from seeing his psychiatrist, Frank left the van and ran, climbing to the top of a scaffold in a construction site. On the day of his hospital admission, his mother had been called to school, where she had found two men holding Frank down. He was spitting, hitting, kicking and biting school personnel. This was his first serious incident in school. Frank bullied his sister, chased siblings with a stick, threw rocks at his mother, tied up the cat's legs, hit the dog and loved to hear it yelp. He argued with adults incessantly; pugnacious.
Ellen entered with bilateral drooping eyelids, a small face, loped ears and dysmorphic facial features like Frank. They both usually came dressed in dirty clothes and unkempt hair. If they arrived before the nurses removed surface blotches and smudges. Ellen spoke softly with diverted myopic eyes. At age one she had had corrective surgery for ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid from paralysis of the third nerve). Since age three her parents reported increased intensity of her outbursts toward her family several times a day, with temper tantrums lasting up to 15 minutes each.
Medication of Tenex had been discontinued due to night terrors; Prozac discontinued due to aggression (she killed her kitten) and Ritalin and Dexedrine discontinued as they had had no effect. Ellen's mother was not sure of the dose or time usage of these medications.
Ellen had been born with the umbilical cord around her neck while her mother had had a joint in her mouth and a drink in her hand, pollution of minds and spirits. This was her second child and a third on the way. (My passive-aggressive symptoms surfaced there for a moment.) More accurately, the mother smoked marijuana once or twice a week during the first 45 days of pregnancy and at four months of the pregnancy became inebriated on her wedding night.
Ellen had been admitted under the hospital code: Resuscitate.
Her mother had suffocated the biological life out of the child. Ellen was a child who needed a new orientation for reasoning and awareness that for her was caring sharing "village" somewhere. Frank had taken advantage of her moderate mental disability to badger her, but she had a teasing streak that was her redeeming charm. Ellen's "mistake" was that she used it on the wrong person, her step-brother. She became his target. In self-defense she created an imaginary friend, Gumpy.
When she began her schoolwork, I would remind her that Gumpy was at home sleeping, but she may have one of the stuffed animals or baby dolls from the shelf sit beside her. I'd tell her, "I like you, Ellen, and I would appreciate time to sit and play with you if you're not too busy after your work is completed." The scramble would be on for the comfy toy and work.
Frank's biggest transgression was being ugly, or for the intellectual, sensitive, unattractive. He had realized neither condition was acceptable in his society. His own compensation strategy might have read, "If you cannot be beautiful, be bad. Pugnacious. I chose that time to give him the gift of my own ugly duck story. It went something like this.
As a young girl, I loved the water and wanted to swim, no matter what. I, also, had very poor eyesight. Fearing for my safety, the swim instructor tied a strap to my glasses for swimming. The other children laughed at me and called me names: four eyes, frog eyes, or and ugly duck. At first I got angry, then one day I looked in a mirror. I did look like a frog. But I didn't mind the teasing because my goal was - and here I gestured to Frank for the answer." He blurted, "To swim." "Yes, Frank, you are thinking. My goal was to swim fast, so I laughed with the name callers, or I shrugged and said, 'Yup, I do look strange." I learned to let the teasing words simply run off my back as water runs off the back of a duck. Ducks swim in lots of "yucky" water, but they keep enjoying their swim. When you feel angry close your eyes and remember your goals and let yucky words run off your back. With a demonstrable back hand swoosh, over my shoulder, to swipe those words 'off'!
The kids that wouldn't have the same opportunities of their peers would use their pugnacities of courage for their goals to conquer their world. I would use their feisty energy to fight for health care - inclusive of mental health counseling.
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire