My Little Einstein entered with two other Attention-deficit/hyperactive disordered (ADHD) patients, all seven-years-olds, but Eddie with the added mentally gifted and Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) by his name, and Kat (SI) an adoptee from Austria. Eddie took only three-seconds to capture my attention with his scientific declaration, "I have a camouflage shirt on. I know all about camouflages."
Einstein's General Relativity formula (G = 8pi GT) popped into my imagination. Stretched to space and time (G) tells matter' to move (T) or teacher wake-up Eddie's on the move. He launched into a spiel of white rabbits in snow, daddy-long-legged spiders until I nonchalantly interjected with, "Of course, crocodiles with their toothy, crooked smiles camouflaged by hiding in the water. We all need to hide, but people hide differently than animals." Little Einstein's crooked smile said, "She knows." I returned the smile with the same look and said that I would enjoy talking more about camouflage when he had time. Gleefully, he dove back into his schoolwork. Eddie's going to be easy; I thought to myself.
These short encounters of exchanging "that look" told my children that I was listening and hearing. For Eddie it meant a profusion of scientific declarative knowledge. Trust developed, and he soon blurted out his hidden feelings during the shuffle of our daily classroom routines. I was rewarded and amused when we hunched over his math, and he quietly asked, if adults-mothers hide by acting strangely. "Certainly, for sure," I replied in true jargon while regrouping his double-digit subtraction problems. Without eye contact, I proceeded. We hide some things personal when it isn't the time or place to discuss a situation; but, here in the hospital you may speak freely with your nurse or doctor. They keep your secret to try to see what you are thinking so they may guide you.
Eddie's nurse left a copy of the following on my desk. Upon returning to his home, out-of-state, Eddie's mother emailed. Eddie said, "Mom, I guess it is up to me. I am happy to be me." My heart burst with joy as I pictured Eddie's chubby, rosy face moving in his space without camouflage, the ultimate affirmation. Eddie needed space & time (G) to tell himself to move toward what matters (T) - Time to share, time to heal, and time to care; in 'general relative-ity' that's all that matters.
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!
Unorganized families live in brokenness.
A healthy society reserves anger for "special occasions". Today taking offense has become reflex. It is ignorant arrogance. If someone corrects their mistaken belief, then its is a mistake. If not corrected it's a lie. Blissful ignorance of the multiple loud voices of deceit.
The loud voices of Trevor's family out-shouted Trevor's pleas. Trevor, 12 years old, entered the hospital, suicidal. His father abandoned him. He declared he hates his mother, who thinks Trevor is avoiding school and wants to spend all his time in his room watching television or playing games. Tension and irritability surface when we discuss homework and group compliance. Anger quickly gets the better of Trevor.
Trevor attempted suicide using his shoelaces. He has been in a foster home for seven weeks. At his new school he refused to budge from his seat, listen, or follow instructions. He became verbally aggressive. His foster father was called to de-escalate the situation, but Trevor refused to go home with his foster-father.
When the police came, Trevor became more aggressive trying to shove the police. At that point he was brought to ER under restraints and given a summons for disorderly conduct. His report showed he had been beaten by his biological mother with a board that had nails protruding ever so slightly so that Trevor could sense the pain, suffering and struggle of his African-American ancestors.
Trying to correct a mistaken belief failed for Trevor. Many children live the "Goldilocks" principle, too much too little for balancing their lives to their benefit. Trevor lived life with love that never cohered. Arrogant anger prevailed. Love that doesn't cohere makes it difficult to live a constructive life - never just right.
Many children would say, "World, you have forgotten us. We are an economic risk. We are embarrassing to handle. We make you uneasy. America does not lack education, or skill, but you have suppressed an underlying callous attitude toward us. Blissful ignorance. One day we will flood society. Will we, then, rain on your parade?
I had made progress with my new behavior dyscontrol (BD) admissions: Ty, Lilla, and Greg all age 12. They along with my regulars, Ted, Ashley, Ronald, Shane, Stanley and Roy became rascal-like creating a song for our educational assistant, Shawna, who was, sadly, leaving to return to college. Using a variation of "A Big Fat Walleye" by Bret Hesta. The original goes something like this:
Early in the morning I load up the canoe.
Only one thing is gonna break these blues.
I want a Big Fat Wal-leye (Oooo-ooo).
I want a Big Fat Wal-leye (Oooo-ooo) and so on.
No professional days, on the calendar, so we impishly planned a celebration involving her weakness. While she was upstairs on trumped up errands we used mischievous Stanley's story. He had told of the day in science class that Shawna had jumped straight off the floor when a centipede escaped from our soil terrarium. He mimed the pertinent visual story about how she appeared to levitate in the air. His embellished story went something like this.
"She jumped and hung in the air with her feet off the floor. Her feet pointed straight ahead. She had great hang time in the air. None of us had seen anything like that before. We all rolled on the floor in laughter."
Shawna's fear, weaknesses in all of us revved up the creative juices, also, in all of us...especially when it''s not about us. And under pressure of Shawna's imminent return, an impish behavior likened to their diagnosis-es flowed, only, flowing in a healthy direction.
Following is the tasty, picturesque, harmonious, impromptu serenade the group composed. Each used any instrument of choice. Stanley carried the tune on the recorder with the rest of the students on back up with wood blocks, castanets, small drum, bongos, and rasp.
Shawna's Song: A Big Fat Worm
Shawna ate a big fat worm.
Shawna ate a big fat worm,
She ate a striped one a
And she's dying for another
Naaah, yeah, we did not end Shawna's honors or embarrassing ceremony there. We demanded that she eat and share her candy gummy worms that were placed in a clear plastic apple, and that she should be very professional about it:)
Having built "fear" immunity through song and laughter, the students left the classroom with worms hanging out of their mouths. We had enjoyed our rascality.
The stigmatized crainiofacial anomalies students, happily (?), gradually began to internalized that they had to accept being less attractive to society, but that they could and would find friends. Especially, while building our Gingerbread houses for the holidays. (These diverse kids from multiple cultures had no preconceived architectural designs for ginger, correction, graham cracker houses.) We talked about how, if they asked for help, they could build their own future. Math lessons for kindergarten through fifth grade involved calculating the number of crackers all the way to perimeters, areas and windows. The calculations for how many ounces of frosting were needed to keep their adobes, pyramids, cabins, et cectra entertained us the most. Clean up had everyone volunteering. Licking up the cemented errors on the construction site. Friendships formed as they share building techniques.
I summarized that they had practiced, if only for the moment, how to share our precious gifts of attention, tolerance and being better at, but not better than, others. You do not have to look good to feel good. To keep the good feelings, the instructions for Winter Break included contemplating and remembering the feelings each time that they looked at their Gingerbread house. They, too, could 'let sugar plums dance in their heads.' Some "Candy Thoughts" to dance in their heads, that I continued using, came from Mrs. H. Her bagged candy creative message:
My joyful response in my heart, when my nine year old son saw the newspaper notice for The Frozen Goose Run, a triple event including a run, cross country snow shoe , and cross country ski. I was on the phone speaking to the avid cross country nurse setting up a team. I volunteered to do both, but my recently taught snow shoer interrupted my conversation with, "I can do that!" in his 'glad to be me' spirit. I cautiously responded to the young nurse, "We'll do it. Just to be clear, my son is nine years old.
The day of the race; windchill -42, snow and high winds blowing across Willow Creek Golf course. I expected the race to be called off. Not. My son was the youngest participant (The entry form, 12-year-old and up, but 19 was the closest to him in competition). Many people pulled out and never finished. After my start off run, he was second in the relay with the starting gate on the other side of the club house. I couldn't see him. Conditions had worsened on my run. I took off on the course searching. Snow shoers were loosing their way due to low visibility. When, to my emotional relief, I spied him, and tried to convince him that he could quit. He refused saying that I can, because I do it all the time, Mom. (How much time for a nine year old?) We had prepared - but, but, but -42 degrees Fahrenheit. We all finished, and the race personnel wished that they had had a reward for him. The spirit of the day was enough! Glad and happy.
He has 'done' ever since! (Navy, Special Forces right out of high school.)
My children in the psych unit see two faces of themselves. The past and the future like Janus, the Greek God. At first first many see themselves as angry undeserving beings. Their souls lost. But I resolved that they would gradually see the "glad to be me" spirit in their sad faces, not orphan souls. I'm labeling. In medicine labels are well intended, even needed, building blocks to reach diagnoses. Granted, if overused they may become stumbling blocks consuming time labeling that could be spent on the cure. I resolved to temper the labeling habit.
My perseverance was warmly recognized in the cold month of Minnesota winter. Two nurses and one teacher stopped by my classroom to say, "You are a miracle worker." Ariel's transformation from an out-of-control 12-year-old autistic-like baby into a functional autistic-like young girl amazed and surprised many. I had been too immersed in the challenge to notice that others recognized my efforts. My spirit had been replenished. Ariel's glad spirit because she understood, "You can because you/we do! Warm all over.
I'm thankful to be me.
Boo, trick or treat!?!
We don't want the truth. We just want to believe. TD exemplifies my scary thoughts.
I hadn't wanted the truth when I asked the class to tell me something that "I don't know about you". Wallop! "My dad murdered a guy." TD just wanted to trick me, right? A twelve year old over exaggerates, right? Wrong. It's likely that his behavior was learned - innate?
Needlessly to say, this student needed help. TD had been admitted upstairs as an inpatient in lock-in to have questionable bruises investigated. His father had with-held medication and TD , apparently disassociated and presented a performance of his father's crimes.
TD was amazing to observe. His voice, actions and eyes changed expression when he became his father. He perfectly mimed his father's behaviors and actions right down to his cigarette use. I suspected his father, also, used marijuana for TD rolled, folded, and held his small piece of notebook paper differently. TD, additionally, mimed his father while he was "spaced out". Talk about spooky behavior. I struggled. I struggled with my conscience concerning society's neglect. As pledged when TD came to my class.
The good news was that he appeared to sense that I wanted to teach him. He sometimes lived on the street, but he brought in his homework, simply, to see a happy face on his hospital chart and to see himself equal or better at something for the first time in his life. His homework packet arrived somehow, some way - it was a mystery.
He noticed that I shortened his "grumpy" time to three minutes and gradually denied him permission to storm out of the room when he was "fed up" or confused. Learning was new to him. He had lived with knowledge deprivation. Most people in TD's life had been relieved when he left and justified ignoring him with "He doesn't hurt anyone that way". Easier, yes. Easier did not make it better. Nor was it fair to him or to his village.
You know that you are married to a teacher when, before leaving the house she says, "Now everyone go to the bathroom." I promised that I wouldn't name my source, but many of you have lived with and/or know these experiences.
Your children have been in school, now for about a month, and certainly, have discussed their teacher. "I don't like my teacher; she gives too much homework." But have you enjoyed these reminders of your school days. These may encourage all you new teachers to laugh at yourself.
Now back to my sources quotes.
You know that you're married to a teacher when:
Thank a teacher's husband or significant others for their service. Your child is learning and gaining wisdom. Happy School year.
Kaye is a teacher and author of multiple works including Valerie Valentine Visits Vincent Vampire