all’s well . . .

All’s well . . . although I can’t be sure it will  end well.  For now, all’s well.  Small gratitudes are gratitudes all the same.

It has been a week since I heard from “downtown” — the school’s district’s office that is running the music experience in July.  I wrote an email to the woman I spoke to last week:

Dear B,

We spoke on the 13th about finding support for my daughter, J, so that she can participate in the summer music experience.  I wanted to check in with you to find out how that is coming along.  If you have difficulty finding an aide for her, I should be able to come up with a short list of people who would be interested in doing it.

Thanks for your help,

S

The response came quickly, about a half hour later:

Hi S.

Thank you for checking in on this.  I am working with our Human Resources Department to secure an SEA; they’ll use the list of applicants for summer school.  I sent an email this morning checking on the status and will let you know as soon as I can when we’ve secured an SEA for Julia.

Thanks very much, b

Later, I wrote back with the name of the person who has been her strings aide all year.  We — myself and the SEA — would love to have her spend the music experience with Julia but I don’t really expect that the PTB will take my suggestion.  Still, it is worth a try.  I am just so relieved that I didn’t have to put on battle gear.  I will send our communication notebook and ask whoever the SEA is to let me know how the class goes.  I would not be surprised if there are still some lumps along the road but the big barrier to Julia’s attendance has been removed.

Relief floods in.

Just before I picked Julia up from school, I talked to her principal.  He had called as I was headed to school and I was thankful that he initiated the calling.  On Friday, I sent him an email about the bullying and he responded during the weekend that he would explore the issues.

He talked to all the kids who were involved in some way.  Julia and her supporters told the same story, as did the fourth graders who were bully followers.  The perpetrator did not deny any of the behavior and did not come up with a good reason for it.  He is not a powerful or popular kid and Julia is not his only target.  It sounded like some of his targets are bigger than he is and the principal pointed out to this boy that it was really not in his best interest to push around bigger and stronger kids.  (One of my concerns is that Julia, for all her training to “walk away” or “report to an adult” may one day find the end of her rope and deck the bully.  She is fully capable of doing that.  We cannot forget that she used to fight for food and win.) The boy was told he did something wrong and that his parents were called.  At that point, the boy broke down and cried although I expect it was from the anticipation of parental correction and not from the realization of his wrongdoing.  The hope is that if his behavior changes the younger boys following him will back off.  I know that I wrote that I wanted to punch him out, I really don’t want to bring him down in any way.  Rather, I want  to get him to stop doing what he is doing.  He was also told that if news of continued bullying trickled down to the principal again, that being removed from the bus and suspension were apt descriptions of consequences.

I hope that this solves our bus bully problems for the semester.  I am however, stymied as to the reason this boy does what he does.  I know, I know the reasons in text-book phycology language but to see it played out is bewildering to me.  I was either raised right or raised much too timid but the urge to exert power over those with vulnerabilities never existed in me.  However, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I did attack one neighborhood boy when I was in fourth or fifth grade.

Tommy Sopko lived three doors down from our family and he was one of a bunch of brothers.  He was in my class at St. Thomas the Apostle elementary school and had terrorized me since my arrival there in third grade.  I don’t know if I had been told or it was instinctual but I knew that my stutter made me a prime target for what we called ‘teasing’ of any kind.  I got out of Tommy’s way, said nothing, never reported it, cried a few times at home and was told or ignore the ‘teasing.’  Tommy was a bully, to be sure.

One very rainy morning, I was walking to school with my brother who was 2 years behind me in school, when Tommy fell in behind us and started his socially acceptable banter, except this time he started making fun of my brother — over what, I don’t remember.  My brother, for any of his little brother faults, had no obvious target pinned on his back.  I distinctly remember being in a irritable mood — rain, sharing an umbrella, heavy book bag and who know what little brother complaints.  Tommy was on our heels, under the back of our umbrella, taunting, teasing, bullying, first me and then my brother.  At that moment, I had enough and I had a weapon.  I turned on him and started hitting him with the umbrella.  I remember his stunned face!  And then his running from us.  I do also remember the powerful feelings coursing through me.

One of his parents came over to our house that evening, complaining about my behavior.  I suspect that I must have left some mark with my umbrella.  I can’t imagine that he would have told his parents of being beat up by a girl otherwise.  I was asked why I beat up Tommy on the way to school and I think I stuttered out my reasons.  I have no idea what was said, but I did not apologize (timid but stubborn), I was not punished after they left and was not told to keep my umbrella to myself.

What I felt then was a self-righteous victory over an oppressor, but it was a feeling of power.  I wonder how it compares with our bully’s feeling.  Could telling Julia that she is stupid feel as good as beating up Tommy Sopko with an umbrella?

ah-ha

Yesterday, Julia rode the school bus home after a splendid day at a field trip — civil war reenactment camp.  I chaperoned and got to spend the day with kids and teachers and parents.  All rather blissful even including the canon firings which are extremely tough on Julia, but she watched the “soldiers” load the cannon with arms around me, one ear pressed to my chest and my hands firmly over her other ear.  The sound was still painful for her but she recovered . . . well, like a resilient kid, which is a description that could be called a miracle.

Then, on the school bus home there was more bullying.  It was not an isolated event.  Julia’s has gotten good at ignoring it and her allies — especially two boys from her class — are good at standing up for her; however, the behavior seems to be escalating.  The perpetrators laughed at Julia, called her names (stupid, I think) and said that she is never going to graduate. (An aside here — Some of the remembered damage done to Julia in China was being called ugly and stupid which she was told were the reasons that she was not sent to school with her bunk mate.)

At the bus stop, Julia got off with the two boys who are classmates.  The boys pointed the perpetrators out to me.  The kids they pointed out laughed and gave us all the finger.  I don’t know these bad kids (yes, to me at this instant these are evil, bad kids with NO redeeming qualities) although they do not seem to fear that I might report them.  When my sitter reported this same thing to me last Friday, I didn’t want to pursue it.  It is so close to the end of school and Julia doesn’t ride the bus home much.  I was going to let it slide.  Perhaps it would get better, perhaps it would go away if we all just ignored it, but perhaps it is time to ask for some consequences.

Julia  tells me that it isn’t so bad in the morning but in the afternoon (and she is only taking the bus home once or twice a week) they are really mean.  Julia would rather have me drive her to and from school.  Listening to one of Julia’s friends talk about the bad kids, I could see that he felt helpless to do anything to help Julia.

I struggle to be compassionate.  I want to punch out those kids!

And then today, I spent the day at the first of a two-day seminar given by members of PACE Place (http://www.paceplace.org).  They talked about what I’ve been talking about with out attachment therapist for years.  The relationship between attachment and autism.  Of course, I see the relationship because Julia was so deprived of relationship in China and to work on her neurological differences labeled as autism, we all had to address her lack of attachment, but these people talked about the inability to form age appropriate, healthy attachments in ALL people on the spectrum.  It is very exciting.  I think I sat nodding my head the entire day!

This team was also able to use workshop games with the group of 60 IDS employees (therapist, psychologists and other helping professionals) and parents as effectively as some of the best theater workshops I’ve been part of.  The day was one ah-ha moment after another — lots of learning physically through metaphor and reflection. I was only going to go to one day because I didn’t want to leave Julia with a sitter for two days, but what I am learning is worth the missed weekend for both of us and thank goodness, her sitter is free tomorrow.

Finally, close to the end of the day, I had my huge ah-ha moment.  I can’t connect the dots as to how I got there, but something was said that set off a chain of thoughts and I realized that Julia is learning to play her cello at the same rate as her peers (more or less) because somehow she started at the beginning of learning music at the same time as her peers.  This is the first time that she is starting from zero with the kids around her.  (Oy, I’m not being articulate here.  Damn.)  All the other things we taught her — English, numbers, reading, writing, APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR — her peers were getting lessons in all those things years and years before her.  No one gave her any of the basics — no one counted her toes, cheered her first steps, or ran to her crib when she cried.  No one read books to her, looked at her when they gave her a bottle or taught her the tools of sharing.  Or gave her enough to eat, for that matter.  Julia has been playing a game of catch up since I met her when she was five and a half.

But most of the kids in her class were not handed a violin or cello any sooner than she was.   She still needs to run to catch up with attention and focus even learning music, and she has not paid attention to music like most of her peers, but somehow she is not the same five and a half years behind in music that she was with almost everything else except for her art.

And so, what does this mean?  I am having trouble bringing the lines together in my head.  I don’t mean to overstate what I see.  She and I, and her aide in strings class and her cello teacher, work very, very hard to make cello possible.  But the fact remains that she is learning more like her typically developing peers than ever before.

I have struggled with the question of Julia’s ‘prognosis.’  Julia has not been considered high functioning but she is not just lower functioning.  No one has felt comfortable labeling her because her development has been so interestingly inconsistent and her gains so surprising. I am not the only one who has noticed the spark in her soul.  I still don’t know how to make up for, catch her up for those years with me that she missed, but through her cello we are experiencing her starting from a beginning and learning and staying abreast of the running herd.

Ah-ha.