Sunday snow.  6-9 inches.   Why does it always look like more in my driveway?  Who measures and where do they do it?  I used the new-to-me snow blower twice for this snow.  It works well.  Much too loud.  It is almost three times as large as my old snow blower.  When we got the old one-the last gift that my mother gave me which is somewhat ironic-I chose a blower that I knew I could handle by myself.  David had already gotten his heart condition diagnosis and I was going to be responsible for snow removal in perpetuity.  I could lift the small blower and put it in the trunk of my car when it needed a tune up.  True it couldn’t handle any really deep snow but that was a trade off—going out to blow snow every few hours during heavy snows.

The new-to-me blower takes on more snow and cuts a wider swath than the old one but it is too heavy and too big for me.  Two months ago when I was shopping for something new, the very personable sales guy worked hard convincing me that this was the size that I should buy.  He was probably right in terms of efficiency of operation and cost effectiveness but I can’t move it around easily and after using it twice I have painful shoulders.  Today, I have really painful shoulders.  I guess I will either toughen up or, and much more likely, look for something smaller at the end of the winter.

Julia had a non-sticker day on Friday at school.  Stickers are put on our very pretty fairy house calendar right now for all day school good behavior.  In the past, I’ve used stickers to encourage behavior for a prize, and for a long time such behavior modification worked well.  (There is a much longer story about how Julia did not respond to charts and stickers for prizes for years until she fell in love with “Littlest Pet Shop” animals.)  Right now there is nothing that Julia particularly wants and I am not sure what I am targeting could be modified with prizes.

The targeted behavior:  In social skills class (called study hall at middle school which bothers me some), Julia got very angry when the boy next to her said “chuckie.”  Julia began yelling at that boy and also the one sitting across from her.  She did not want them near her and told them so.  She also told them that she would die on the floor and them make them look at her and feel bad.  This yelling out in a scolding manner has been happening all year.  The threat of making them feel bad is new.  Sometimes it seems to abate but it appears to be part of her operating behavior.  We need to do something about it if for no other reason than the behavior is incredibly anti-social and I can’t help but believe that it will distance Julia from the kids in her class.

After school, we went to Marilyn, our attachment/trauma therapist.  We usually have a wait for her and usually do homework, but that day, I went through the day’s schedule and asked Julia to talk about each class.  The class she yelled in was fifth “hour” (they have 45 minute periods so it was not her fifth hour in school.) and just before lunch.  In Math (3rd “hour” of the day), she got angry at her teacher for asking her to stop working before she was ready and Julia tried to grab the paper out of her teachers hands roughly and slapped the paper.  She was fine in orchestra, after math, but spoke out more than was comfortable for others during class.  The yelling behavior started close to the beginning of study hall and Julia was not able to stop when she was asked.  Her teacher tried to re-direct her to her journal which works sometimes, but that didn’t worked.  The only thing that worked was to ask Julia to leave the room to calm down.  A while later, Julia returned to the room calm.

How can we encourage her to process her anger in a different way?  Feel anger, name it and then let it go?  Can she respond to it in a more productive and appropriate way?  I brain stormed with Marilyn about strategies.

General observation: When we sit for a full 15 minutes before I drive her to school, it is more likely than not to be a sticker day.  It is not a one to one correlation and perhaps on non-sitting days, we are just beginning her day with more stress because we don’t have time to sit.  Sitting means that the morning rituals are finished and we don’t need to rush out.

Marilyn and I talked about giving Julia scripts and practicing.  Her teacher suggested social stories.  None of this goes to the root of the challenge but I don’t really know what the root is.  That is, besides my gut feeling that middle school is still too stressful for Julia.

And then, that night I had one of those a-ha moments.  During the first quarter, Julia was asked to come into her home room and write in a journal.  She brought the journal home at the end of last week and as I was thumbing through it I noticed that Julia wrote a lot about bullying.  Some of it was about the anti-bullying rules at schools, some was about how she was bullied and some was about other kids being bullied.  As I read, I dismissed many of her claims because the behavior she described is not bullying, but when I looked at it again that night, I wondered if Julia was not merely mistaken about behavior.  Perhaps  she was recording her perception of behavior she observed.  What if she was viewing kids knocking into each other in the hallways as kids beating up on each other?  What if she was seeing this behavior as a threat, as unsafe for her?

After going through her day at Marilyn’s, I asked Julia to draw a picture her herself and the boy she yelled at.  She drew herself as bigger than the boy.  She had an angry face, very stiff arms and legs, and a pushing action.  The boy was smaller and looking pretty scared.  When she explained the picture, she smiled about being able to push the boy.  Is this more about power and control than I imagined?  How much does she need power and control?  I know that I reach for both too much of the time.  Is she doing the same thing?

I mentioned this to her teacher and we will be talking more about it.

One more observation: Having Julia draw that picture of the behavior that she described was something we do often with Marilyn.  But we have done much more in the past, when Julia was really not able to explain herself in words.  I have been trying to discuss everything and perhaps this still doesn’t work well for Julia.  Perhaps we need to get to the roots of things using pictures.

Amazing how lessons come over and over.  Amazing how long it can take me to learn.

And it is snowing again.