Alex, Dan and Luis. Those three names and the boys that go with them are forever etched in my memory. They were second graders in my classroom when I was a first year teacher. Alex came from a chaotic household. Mom was trying her best, but there were many mountains for them to climb and school, with its rules and structure and challenging work, was not a place that Alex wanted to be and he let me know, daily, with fits of rage that got so physical I often came home with bruised shins from kicks landed just so.
Luis was also in my second grade class but the age, height and weight of a fourth grader. He had arrived at the home of his father and step mother from the streets of El Salvador mere weeks before the start of school. He had physical disabilities as a result of the of surviving either scarlet fever or polio, no one was ever quite clear with me which it was. Regardless, he limped and held his arm up and close to his body, making him a topic of conversation as he gleefully chased the other second graders around the playground hoping to join in their game while they ran away, unsure if they wanted him to. Luis also spoke only three words of English: please, yes and no. The no usually came in repeated succession when he was lying, prone and starfished, on the floor of the classroom and it was clear the “no” was a plea for all the madness in his little world to stop.
Then there was Dan. Blond-haired, blue-eyed Dan from the suburban family with two parents and a little sister. He was smart, funny and everyone in class loved him. He was my star student, the one I could count on to just keep working through the chaos of that second grade room. Dan was fantastic and for one solid year his anxiety levels were so high that he chewed through the collars of shirts at school and in the safety and calm of his home broke down for his mother enough times that she came seeking help too.
I sat across the table at Child Study team meetings with the parents of Luis, Alex and Dan multiple times throughout second grade, looking for answers to the problems we all faced trying to safely and effectively educate them in a low-stress environment. Each kid presented differently. And each kid, no matter their profile and what we thought could, should or might be the presenting issue, surprised us with evaluation results, encouraged us with progress, or left us feeling useless in our inability to make their life better. I loved those kids with a ferocity I had never known. I wanted the best for them and was willing to do whatever I needed to make their days better.
Those Child Study Team meetings crushed me because they just proved my inadequacy in doing so. It was so hard for me to see kids unhappy, especially at school. When home is chaotic, you hope school is a place where one can find some security and maybe even a place to thrive. When home is great, school should be an extension, a place where a kid can learn who they are outside of their family. When school isn’t either of those things, the people involved feel pretty rotten about it. Of that I am sure.
Recently, I have gotten to experience the other side of the Child Study Team Table. When issues for one of our own seemed to get bigger than The Husband and I, we called in the cavalry. I wanted input from people trained specifically to tease out the driving issues behind general, yet pretty severe trouble at school. I went in on the parent side hoping for help and from all my years in schools, I thought I knew what to expect. I still left with the same sense of powerlessness and inadequacy that I used to get sitting on the professional’s side.
It isn’t because the people there didn’t do their jobs. They did, and then some. It was very clear to me as a parent that this team of teachers and doctors and therapists is on our side and will do everything in their power to help in any way they can. Their efforts weren’t the problem, their capabilities are. See, no one, no matter how many letters come after their name, can solve this issue quickly. No one can give us answers we want, and right now, so desperately need. I love this kid with a ferocity I have never known. I want the best and just want to do everything in my power to make the days better. But no matter who we get involved, it won’t happen fast.
It will all take time, and teams and more support from more people. We will work it out. We will get through it, but it won’t be neat and it won’t be easy. There will be more tears, more anxiety, more starfish tantrums on the floor and hopefully no bruised shins.
But Luis, and Dan and Alex, heck and I, all got through second grade all those years ago. So this time, I know my family will too.
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