Call to action or just a terrible awful week? Um, maybe 12 days. And maybe both. Processing and working to avoid leaning to despair or Poly Anna optimism.
So the terrible part. Starting with last week — Julia unraveling in orchestra because there was no cello for her to play. Tests without preparation to assess what was being learned when I could see the answer was ‘not very much.’ Projects coming home to finish without adequate instruction for me. Sometimes not coming home at all. Julia constantly rearranging the all important binder and losing its contents all over the school. Julia picking and scratching at her head and growing bald spots — clear anxiety. My own trip to the ER last Friday which postponed the teacher and staff meeting that had been scheduled for that day.
Then this week. Julia hitting one of her teachers clearly in frustration and clearly knowing it was wrong but still doing it. Telling a substitute aide that she wanted to kill him. Still not sure what he did to provoke that and the other threats she was handing out. Was it just one more new person complete with unknowable expectations? Note here, that she only used words, she did not attempt any physical venting of her rage which really is a good thing. Not that the aide thought about words vs. physical. Insisting on playing what she wanted to play in orchestra and announcing that the very easy lines of music that her teacher wanted her to play was too hard for her.
Me, rushing from one fire to the next, not putting them out, but dampening one area only to feel flames licking the back of my jeans. Fires, fires, every day, seemingly like everywhere and the inevitable feeling of failing. Utterly. Feeling like Julia and I are falling more behind in the race to transition to this middle school experience. The race is not against or compared to anyone. It is a month into school and the list of what is not working daily grows. Remembering how well elementary school worked but also recalling the challenges of getting a very few teachers and aides, some of whom knew Julia for years, on the same page whenever some part of school life disintegrated. How will this ever work with more teachers and support people than I will ever be able to remember and who have much more limited exposure to Julia?
Was this time to retreat to Venice?
I have this plan if middle school doesn’t work out and from what I hear, middle school does not work out for many kids. Not completely a crazy plan. Perhaps zany but perhaps live-out-loud sanity. Take a year away from all that we know and live very far away. Venice. Madrid. HaNoi. Cochabamba. Or all of the above. Home school what we need to, find tutors for art and music and language. And find the soul purging learning that only travel and being in foreign places bring to me.
This morning, that feels like running away. Not that running away needs to be thought of as negative. Sometimes it is a very appropriate solution that I ignore but this morning, needing to put my running shoes away. I think.
Last night the tipping point came some time during the parent meeting at Wright. Our middle school has almost no parent association. Almost, because there are at least two or three parents and a few staff members who steadfastly hold on to the idea of healthy parental involvement.
I was supposed to go to a parenting session for kids on the spectrum at IDS and had childcare arranged for the evening, but the announcement of the school parent meeting came on Monday in notebook mail. I felt drawn to it even though I had really intended swearing off major involvement in school for middle school — 6 years of heavy involvement in elementary seemed to pay my dues for ever. But that is not true. Listening last night to the principal and then the parent liaison and then the few parents who were at the meeting moved me close to tears. How could I not join the work? How could I expect that Julia work as hard as she possibly can in this new community and not walk that walk myself. I cannot walk into that school each day to pick Julia up and not see all the other kids banging lockers, running in the hall and teasing teachers on their way out. I can’t see them and not fall in love with them. I cannot be there and not want to make their experience, their community, their learning the best that it can be. I can’t do much. I have so many limitations, but I can do something.
And so, last night, we came home rather late after the parent meeting. Julia took a shower while I cobbled together spaghetti (thank goodness for the autumn impulse to freeze tomato sauce) and a salad. We ate, watched the beginning of Star Wars IV and then did a page of math homework. She went upstairs to brush teeth and I washed dishes, and then we both went to bed. We talked about what needed to change before bed and during breakfast. Julia put on her fingerless gloves from last year to help to remind her not to pick and scratch. When we got to school, I did not let her off to run in herself like everyone else does. I walked her in. We stopped at the Orchestra room to give back an extra cello book and to tell her teacher she would listen today. We passed her reading teacher and Julia asked to give her a hug. The principal breezed down the hall and Julia greeted her by name. I walked her to her locker, spoke briefly to her special ed teacher and gave Julia a kiss for the day. Then, I came home to offer my services to the parent liaison via email and took a few deep breaths.
Sitting here, reflecting on this time, I marvel over and over again about how much I need to learn to be of any use to Julia. I am grateful for all of the mindful lessons that others have tried to teach me, and those that I will soon try to teach. The essence of those teachings, at least for me, is that mindfulness is about coming back to the beginning and starting again with the beginners mind and heart. As difficult as that is to do on the cushion, it is far more difficult for me to do in life, and where I am privileged to practice it in life, over and over and over almost always has something to do with raising Julia. Begin again.