school daze revisited
19 March 2001
It’s been beautiful here the past few days. Almost hot. Almost summer. Perfectly clear pastel blue skies; all the clouds scuttled away, seeking colder climes. A light breeze ruffling the edges of your skirt and skimming the fine hair on your exposed arms. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were in paradise. The kind of days nothing could possibly go wrong, and all your troubles, all your weighted thoughts, seem ephemeral, imagined, impossible. Life is good, life can’t but be good on a bright sunshiny morning. Even if you did get awakened at five thirty by a wailing child. He had a nightmare, presumably, but can’t summon the words to tell you.

He fell asleep lying on top of me, his head resting on my collarbone. Me, not so much. Have you ever tried falling asleep with a thirty pound almost-three-year-old sprawled across the length of you? I waited until I heard soft snuffly snores, then I eased him down onto the bed and finally drifted off to dreamland with him. Sunny dreams this time, both of us.

We left the house in the bright sunshine, walked to the car, climbed in the car, and headed off -- but not to school. Nope. We drove in the other direction, west instead of east. We drove to Terri & Melissa's old house. Our former playgroup has coalesced into a one room classroom. They hired a teacher, they’ve got seven kids, they meet three times a week to sing and dance and draw and listen to stories. Why not join them?

Well, yes but why? Damian’s enrolled in a school already. Why switch?

Because we have to.

I’ve been obsessing about this since last Monday. Monday, the day I came home practically in tears from a morning watching my son retreat further into his shell, watching as the teacher sat with one child after another and never my child, never the one who needs her attention most.

Watching and remembering the previous school day when I said to her, "Damian’s really shut down today. I think it’s because you haven’t had time to play with him. He opens up and gets comfortable the rest of the morning when you do, but he clings to me and zones everything out when you don’t." Remembering her explicit agreement with my words. Wondering what it takes to get a "yes, that’s so" to turn into an "I pledge to give him a chunk of my time each and every day."

When I told Dan what my day was like, what many of our days were like, he wanted to pull Damian out of there immediately. Even on Damian’s good days there, he gets an ounce of interaction in a sea of making do.

But somehow the thought of stopping scared me. It felt like the firm footing of "this is what we do every day" would turn in an instant to slippery mud beneath my feet and go slip sliding away, leaving us with...what, exactly? I wasn’t ready to make that decision.

I called the principal. She said she’d heard Damian had a bad day. I told her that all he needed was five fucking minutes a day from the teacher but she couldn’t seem to be bothered. Yeah, yeah, I sugar coated it and lathered it with niceness, but that was the gist. She told me she’d talk to Miriam, but then went on to tell me how wild the kids can be and how it’s hard to take your eyes off them for a second lest they bean each other with Legos. True. Sort of. I know there are plenty of times during the day that’s not so. I know, too, that this is other reason we need to leave. It scares the hell out of Damian when the kids run around like a pack of wailing banshees and lash out unexpectedly. I’ve seen him flinch.

Dr. Red asked about preschool the next day. I said "I’m very ambivalent. He’s not getting what he needs there, but he does seem to be stimulated by being around the other kids." She said he could get that from an inclusion class where typical kids mix with kids like him and the teachers know what to do instead of running away from the hard and probably frightening work. (Okay, maybe she didn’t say that last part. Doesn’t make it less true.)

We took Tuesday and Wednesday off -- Damian had a stomach bug. And then he actually enjoyed Thursday. I’d decided to drop the fight to write in the classroom, drop the pretense that he was going to magically adjust to that world without me. I didn’t even bring my computer. I was just there for him. He liked it. I didn’t mind for a single morning. But for a month, two months, five months of mornings? And then to hire an aide (paid for by the state) to be his shadow, to be his one-on-one teacher and absolve the real teachers of all responsibility for him? What are we paying thousands of dollars for, again? So he can be ignored?

That Thursday morning I stuck close beside Damian in the yard as kids from several classes met and mingled and zoomed around like wind-up toys on amphetamines. A teacher said to me, "Don’t hover, he’s doing fine."

"Right now, maybe, but if a kid comes up and takes his shovel or his trike, he’s not equipped to handle it."

"Oh," she said. "Then I guess you better stay close."


Then she said, watching him, "I hear he’s got a very high IQ. I bet he’ll be fine."


Yes. He’s very smart. He’s starting to read. He also picks up the things we’re teaching him faster than he has any right to. Yes, this will help him. But. He. Has. Issues. Don’t you dare think that just because he’s a smart kid it gives you the right to dismiss his very real need for your concentrated attention.

They’re clueless, these teachers. Autism? What’s that? You mean I have to figure it out? Damn. That’s not in the job description.

I knew Thursday. After that it was just a matter of time and logistics.

The problem is that he can’t just enroll in an inclusion-for-special-needs-kids program tomorrow. We have to get a list of possibilities from Dr. Red, make appointments for tours. We have to see how speedy their enrollment is. We may have to wait until he turns three in May and can get the blessing of the school district.

What to do in the meantime?

That’s why I turned left instead of right, west instead of east, toward the tiny wannabe school instead of the one where he’s enrolled officially until August. It was a test of one possible interim solution.

Well, it was supposed to be.

This has gotten long and it’s past my bedtime. This entry is looking like the first of a two parter.

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