It has been a tough run. In my last blog post, The Calm Between Storms, at the end of August, I spoke of the storms, the chaos, the anxiety and other HUGE feelings that happen once school starts. These past two months have proven to be everything and more than I anticipated.
My kids are some of the sweetest, kindest, and brightest people around. I might be a bit biased, but I love their curiosity and their creativity. All of them. They are always full of questions and have the best ideas for activities and adventures.
However, as soon as they get into a setting other than home (school, specifically), I start to see some of the sparkle fade. School is full of a lot of different kinds of people and unpredictable days. There are many expectations for behavior, classwork production, and peer relationships. Each of the kids have lived through trauma and loss and the school environment triggers all kinds of old feelings. Change is NOT their friend.
So every fall, we circle the wagons and I try to make our
Most of my time in the fall, however, is spent with school advocacy. A LOT of school advocacy. This fall, I had to have several meetings and phone calls with follow-up emails (put EVERYTHING in writing) to make sure that the 5-year-old twins were allowed to be in the same classroom. The school folks were DETERMINED to separate them in the interest of letting them “develop as individuals.” I had to pull out all the stops and experts to help them understand trauma-informed education… that with so much trauma and loss in their young lives, starting a new school with a lot of new people and a new setting and not having each other for support was inappropriate. In the end, the girls, themselves, were able to turn the tide when they were actually separated and started refusing to go to school by the end of the first week. They couldn’t name why, but they were very emotional with a lot of melt-downs and screaming and clinging. I knew why… they had been forced to try to handle all this change without the one consistent in their lives – their twin. The school put them back together the second week and all behaviors stopped. They are thriving! They love school and they love kindergarten and their teacher is quite skilled at directing them into separate activities and groups and work tables, which they enjoy — as long as they are sure that sister is nearby.
My 6th grader is an enigma and I have had to have A LOT (2-3 times/week) of contact with the teachers. He had significant neglect when he was very young and has attachment issues. It is very hard for him to understand connections and consequences and having entered a middle school with close to a thousand students is very, very hard for him. He is constantly overloaded and reactive to being touched. He is also very young developmentally, though quite skilled verbally and he doesn’t get the nuances of interpersonal relationships. On top of it, puberty has hit. Gah! We recently did a therapy called Safe and Sound Protocol and it has done a lot to modify behaviors at home, but Henry is SO triggered at school that I am struggling to find strategies for him to feel safe in that environment. The teachers are trying to use behavioral strategies and I am trying to advocate mightily for a much different program. His behaviors are related to brain trauma and not a lack of understanding about appropriate responses. He enters flee/freeze/fight very quickly and is functioning at a basic survival level. It is a huge learning curve for this teaching team. We have had several meetings, at least 2 or 3 phone calls each week and then I take the time to follow up on each with an email (put EVERYTHING in writing)
My 8th grader also has a team of teachers who are not understanding his anxiety. He was very severely physically abused as a youngster and, while he has been growing and healing all along, his body is geared towards very high alert and severe anxiety whenever there is a hint of “trouble.” Trouble always meant sometimes life-threatening abuse. It doesn’t even have to be real trouble, but perceived problems. Because of Gavin’s sensitive alert system, even being corrected during class triggers an anxiety response. It shuts him down, so it looks like he’s “pouting,” but really, he’s freezing up to protect himself. But then, if he is pushed, it turns into a fight response… not physically, but he becomes very angry and he can’t see or hear anything except his own survival response. His teachers are calling it “attitude” and, while one teacher is finally starting to respond differently with him based on my communications, the others are still not understanding trauma-informed education approaches. And, of course, I look like an over-protective parent enabling his attitudes. There have been many phone calls, several meetings and, of course, I then have to take to the time to follow up everything with emails (put EVERYTHING in writing).
My 9th grader is my son who is on the autism spectrum. He grew so much in 7th and 8th grade thanks to a fabulous team at school, but now he is in an entirely new school with a new team who does not know him yet and a lot of different schedules and opportunities. The team has been quite responsive and I am feeling good about his next 4 years, but this first month and a half
With great joy, I can share that my 2nd grader and my 10th grader have both had wonderful starts to the school year. Hooray!
The Juggling Life – Fun and Games
On top of all this advocacy at 3 different schools, we continue to live our regular life with 7 kids and all of their extra, fun, known and safe activities. There are dance classes and swim lessons and walks and bike rides and games and bedtime routines. All of our “normal” life is meant to be consistent, safe, familiar and full of love.
I will continue to focus on advocacy all year long, but our mornings are starting to ease up a bit (consistency!) and our evenings are full of a bit more sparkle again. I LOVE it when my kids laugh with each other. Such a glorious sound!
For now, I know what I need to do at all the schools for and with my children, so I’m finally able to look at everything else on my plate…. like my writing. I have missed it a lot! I have written at least 20 articles in my head to share with everyone, but none of it has seen the light of day (yet). It seems each day as a parent, a trauma mama, an advocate, and a comfort zone has it’s own story, it’s own learnings, and it’s own sweetness that I want to share with everyone in my world.
I would not change this journey, this place I am supposed to be, for anything in the world!