Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Wear a 7.5

UPDATED
I originally wrote this post to give our point of view a voice. I felt the adults in this situation were ignoring the fact that Alex has been a victim and made several assumptions without ever asking for our perspective, making judgments based on lies and the words of children vs. seeking the truth. Through this post my message was heard and it ruffled some feathers so much so that the school asked me to take it down as they feared it portrayed the school community unfavorably. I agree. It did. But sometimes the truth isn’t pretty.

I took it down in an effort to move forward in a positive direction. Unfortunately some of these adults had no intention of changing their ways and continue their path of denial. It has become clear to me there is no point in moving forward and it is time to go our separate ways.

I have rewritten this post slightly as one of the families has come to us and worked through an enormous misunderstanding. We are all parents and of course are looking out for our children’s needs and emotions run high. We have come to an understanding and they have been extremely supportive. Their son is, well to put it simply, awesome and I wish I could clone him. It takes a lot of guts as a 12 year old to see the “cool” kids mistreat someone and stick up for him. We can all learn from this child. I hope one day he becomes a leader. He’d have my vote for President.

Original Post – revised to reflect only 3 families

I am tired. I have been on an emotional rollercoaster for a week and I am more than ready to get off.  I really hadn’t planned on writing anything about this but maybe if I had spoken up years ago we could have avoided this situation altogether. It dawned on me today that I can’t blame someone’s ignorance no matter how much pain their actions cause. Instead, I feel the better approach is to teach them, or at least provide the opportunity for growth. They may or may not read this, but at least it is out there and if I can help one other family avoid this mess, posting my story will be worth it.

So here goes…

If you have been following my blog or are part of my life, you probably know my brother died over seven years ago. As painful as his loss was, I have always felt it was not in vain. Without this tragic event, I would have never recognized the struggles my son goes through and certainly wouldn’t have gone through the vigilant efforts to get him the help he needs.

Alex is one of the sweetest kids I have ever met. Small children LOVE him. He just has a natural way about him that they can’t get enough of. I often thought I should contact Disney and see if this attraction translates on screen.

I wish I could say the same for children his own age. He has always struggled to fit in. One on one he does ok, or if the kids give him a chance, but for whatever reason he is typically the target of teasing. He is overflowing with kindness and compassion, yet deficient in things kids seem to find important like athletic abilities and self-confidence. He was picked on and made fun of, literally on a daily basis since Kindergarten. The last 2 years, things seem to have eased up or he is just used to taking it. I am not really sure.

I do understand where a lot of the teasing originated. Alex struggled in class. He had a hard time with change and frustrated easily. He often cried and through fits when he didn’t know how else to control himself. The kids picked up on this weakness and it became a vicious cycle of him getting frustrated, having a melt-down, getting teased because of the melt-down, only to loose it because of the teasing or getting in trouble for his inability to control himself.

If that weren’t enough, academics don’t come easy for him like they do for some children. I have heard parents complain of trying to help their kids with homework and I have to laugh at their sorrows. They have no idea what it is like. My husband and I spent hours even in Kindergarten, yes hours with him each night. Sometimes 3-4 hours. For working parents, there aren’t that many hours in the evening. But we did it and it has paid off.

We quickly identified that this was not typical behavior and immediately set to work with the teachers, the principal and we tried a few therapists until we found a program through Children’s Hospital that really seemed to work. We also had him tested for everything we could think of to see if there were additional resources, answers, treatments, anything we could get our hands on to help him. I read books on every metal disorder and dug into whatever information I could find pertaining to children.

The brain is extremely complicated. Everyone wants to label a problem thinking the next step is simply applying the solution. What I have learned is:
·      labels are broad
·      every case is unique, there is no one size fits all answer
·      if they do know of a medicine that has shown some success for others, there is no guarantees it will work for your child
·      it can take years to find the right dosage or combination of medicines only to have a child’s natural development throw it off a short time later.

We began taking Alex to see his therapist every other week and partnered with his teachers in often daily communication as to what was happening in the classroom and how to handle various situations. It was exhausting and emotionally draining work. We couldn’t have done it without the support of our school. This added extra work to the teacher’s already full plate and they were (and are) amazing.

I wish I could say we found the same compassion in the other students’ and their families. Some of the boys were relentless in their teasing. We could have made an issue of it (and in hind-sight we probably should have) but instead we chose to let the school handle this issue when they caught it and try to help Alex ignore it through his therapy.

For years I didn’t understand why he was such a target. Then one incident erupted and one of these boys mentioned that he was upset Alex never got in trouble for his actions. This was an ah ha moment for me. These boys were intentionally trying to get a rise out of Alex, knowing he would act out with the goal of getting him in trouble. I assume this boy’s parents talked to him as we did to Alex and things got better. For the next 2 years Alex matured, the teasing seemed to lessen and I rarely heard from the teachers.

I thought we had entered a new chapter and was really excited about the future. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Little did we know this resentment towards Alex continued to fester in a few of these boys. They shared the opinion that Alex never got in trouble. One student went so far as to write down the actions he felt Alex should have been punished for but wasn’t. For two years this pressure cooker burned until recently when the lid blew off.

The boys complained to their parents who complained to the principal. Here is where I buckle up for the ride. Of the three families involved, one I considered friends. Rather than come to Pete and I and ask questions or express their concerns, they had a meeting to vent their frustrations and their “concerns for Alex” to the school leadership. In doing so, they attacked Pete and I as parents saying we were babying him, spread rumors about his condition that were simply untrue, and said we didn’t follow his therapist’s recommendations for treatment.

To say we were baffled, shocked, and devastated would be an understatement. It still blows my mind. I will never understand what good they thought would come of such a meeting, nor will I ever be able to look at these people the same. Yet I must be pleasant for the sake of my children. Our boys will still be in the same class and Alex hangs out with one of them. Our school is small and it takes a lot of parent volunteers so I will be working with them on a regular basis.

We have spoken at length with the principal about how to move forward. I do feel great about where we are headed in terms of helping Alex continue to grow and control his emotions. I believe we may even have something to appease the boys’ complaints.

As for fair, life will never be fair for Alex. These boys are athletic, socially accepted, and don’t have to struggle to make good grades. They haven’t spent the last seven years of their lives being teased everyday at school. Honestly, I don’t think any of them would last a day in Alex’s shoes and I know none of these parents could fit in mine.

4 comments:

Greg said...

Hey Sarah,

Obviously you know we're here if there's anything we can do. I hope people respond to your story. What happened with Alex upsets me on so many levels. I was picked on in school too. Not to the extent Alex has endured, but I know what it's like. And I have always worried about my kids having to endure something similar.

I sincerely hope that the parents who took this action come to realize the error of their ways. I would think that parents who send their kids to a Catholic school would know better. That they would take this as an opportunity to teach about Christian values rather than pile up on a kid. Hopefully they can learn something from this experience.

The important thing is that Alex will be all right. The school year will be over soon. We'll have a fun summer (KI passes for everyone!) And then there's a fresh start in the fall.

In the meanwhile, we've got your back.

Anonymous said...

Sarah,
I would say it gets easier, but being honest...Buckle up. I have found that everything I have been through with Jesse makes me really have an empathy for other families. I used to live with this "holier than thou" attitude of if my sister's kids can make straight As, why doesn't she demand that of them??? I understand now what a difficult job being a parent can be and am in a similar situation.
I always thought that your brother's death was not in vain. It was an eye opening moment and I believe one that has affected the way I look at our family dynamics. I understand completely how it is to be so protective of those that you love and to know that there really is no way to stop their suffering. As a parent our job is to help them grow through these experiences to make them stronger. Alex is a very bright, strong young man and I know how disheartening it is to see others that do not see and encourage it. That being said, I can guarentee that those athletic, socially accepted and smart boys have demons in their own closets. I feel the pain every day of having such a sweet, loving young boy that (while he does not feel the need to torment other) deals daily with the stresses of his own issues. I know that what you are going through now is difficult and trying, but if you try empathy in what the others are going through, it may make what you are dealing with easier. Here is you need me.

Anonymous said...

I have a few issues with how the school handled this. You did the correct thing from the start by informing the teachers and principal of Alex's problem. However, I do no think that gives them the right to discuss the issues with others without you being present. Your parenting skills are under fire but is anyone questioning the fact that these other parents are raising bullies and instead of being accountable for the actions of their own children, they are shifting blame to the victim? What actions has the school taken against the bullies? No matter what the motive, there should be zero tolerance for the actions of the bullies.

Sarah said...

Thank you all for your kind words and support. You have no idea how much it means to us.

As for the school, I do believe they are doing all they can. It is impossible to watch the children every minute of the day and it only takes a second to say something hurtful.

I believe I know my children very well and have always taken pride in their skills and acknowledged their downsides. After all, they got them from Pete and I and we are all human. I truly believe some parents have no idea what their children do in their peer groups and don't believe they are capable of the things they do.

As for a zero tolerance policy, the downside to a small private school is that it needs tuition and kids. They feel the financial pain of every student they lose. I didn't want to push because if these kids get in trouble for teasing it often leads to more teasing and frustration that they get in trouble and he doesn't. You can see how it is a slippery slope but despite it all, I am confident at this time, it is the best place for him to be.