Warning: Lots and lots of words ahead. I’m talking like 2,000 plus. I’m summarizing a year in The Beast’s life. It’s not pretty. Nor funny. Nor well-proofed. I got sick of reading it after the 7th time.
About a year ago I pulled The Beast out of his preschool. Unbelievably, it had nothing to do with the fact that his teachers sent home papers asking for students to bring “a apple” to school. I figured that whatever intelligence he lost in preschool he’d regain quickly once he got into kindergarten.
It was the day after Halloween of 2012. The Beast had been in the three-year-old class for about two months. He had been having some issues with behavior but they were mostly minor. However, The Beast’s teacher was the mother of only girls and she had absolutely no idea how to handle him, so I was having lots of talks every day when I picked him up from school.
“He threw mulch on the playground.” Of course, he did. How are you surprised by this?
“He stood up on the table and jumped off.” He jumps off of our six-foot fence at home. The two-foot toddler table that he’s jumping off of here doesn’t really concern me.
“He ran out of the classroom and ran into another class.” He escaped my house, got onto his bike, and started riding down the road to visit a friend before he was chased and brought back home. This is why we have high deadbolts and alarms on all of our doors and windows.
As one would expect, the day after Halloween was a rough day at the school. A hundred two- to five-year-olds hopped up on sugar and food dye isn’t really going to make for an easy day. (If you’re like the 100 Days of Real Food lady and you hand out glow sticks on Halloween, more power to you. I hope you get egged.)
The day after Halloween I dropped him off at school at 9:00 and drove to Target. At 9:27 I received a call from the director’s assistant who informed me that The Beast had started a mini-coup in the classroom and had incited the other students to rise up against the Establishment. Since the teacher had no idea how to handle the situation, she sent The Beast to the front office to have a timeout. As he sat in the front office with the director and her assistant, they began to chat. He, being a small but observant genius, took note of the fact that they were not paying attention to him.
So he fled. He ran out of the office, down the hall and into a classroom. The assistant and the director ran after him. Once they figured out which classroom he was in, he started a game that he still loves to play. I call it Ring Around the Rosie…in Hell. He places himself on one side of a piece of furniture. And the minute you come at him one way, he runs the other way or underneath the furniture. He’s very small and very quick and if you’re playing this one-on-one with him, you will lose every time. When we play this game at home, say when I’m trying to get him ready for bed, it often escalates to the point that I’m tearing around the house like a rabid squirrel, screaming a blood-curdling scream in the hopes of shocking The Beast into submission.
He never submits, so at some point I have to enlist the help of The Good One or Virginia Slims Man or the mail lady (really, anyone that’s available) and one of us has to dive over the couch or ottoman or scramble under the kitchen table while the other one blocks his path of escape. Honestly, it’s the most infuriating thing ever and it’s usually followed by me slamming a door or throwing a small piece of furniture.
Since The Beast was outnumbered by the teachers, the director and her assistant, they were able to catch him within a few minutes. But the fact that The Beast found so much glee in their struggle made the director incredibly angry, so she told the assistant to call me.
When I spoke with the assistant on the phone I was initially very apologetic. But as I left Target and got into my car, I became more angry than sorry. Yes, I know my child is difficult. I know he’s “spirited,” as one friend put it. I know he’s exasperating. But you called me to pick him up because he made you get off your ass and chase him? He didn’t hit or scream or do anything malicious. He ran. I told you he runs. You know he runs. You’ve seen him run. Why did this surprise you?
So I drove to the school, fuming with rage, walked in the front door and grabbed The Beast by the hand. When the assistant asked if I wanted to talk to his teacher, I snapped, “No!” and left. I got home and immediately sent an email to the director letting her know that The Beast wouldn’t be returning to school. That night when Virginia Slims Man got home, The Beast said, “Mommy took me out of school today. She came in the door and she said, ‘GRRR!’ like a bear.” I guess my rage was not well-hidden.
In retrospect, I might have over-reacted slightly. I know the director, assistants and teachers can’t be expected to baby sit my son. And I know that if he starts a mutiny that cannot be contained, then it disrupts the entire classroom and possibly the school. But on that day I was just too furious to think rationally. I was mad at them. I was mad at The Beast. I was mad at myself for letting him eat his weight in peanut butter cups the night before.
Later that evening The Beast’s teacher called me and said that she had no idea that the director was going to call me and that she was sorry. I told her that I wasn’t sending The Beast back and she yammered on about how “The Beast is with you for a reason and you’re a good mom,” blah blah blah. What I heard was, “Thank God you’re not bringing him back into my class where he’ll likely tie me up and annihilate us all.”
So I visited some other preschools, explaining to the directors of each school all of The Beast’s issues. Finally, I settled on the local Montessori school. I thought that maybe the structure and more advanced activities would help The Beast to thrive. The director said that she had seen the Montessori method work miracles with difficult kids. She assured me that the only time they call parents is if there is an issue that they absolutely cannot handle within the confines of the classroom. So we sold a few internal organs and started paying a small fortune for The Beast to attend the Montessori school.
He struggled for the first few weeks, but then he started to get into a groove. But after his favorite teacher moved to New York, he started pushing boundaries and the phone calls started up again.
“The Beast is running in the classroom. The Beast is interrupting his friends’ work and we can’t get him to stop. The Beast won’t stay in his seat during lunch. The Beast lost recess today because he ran from us and hid under a table.”
I started having to go up to the school two to three times a week to talk to The Beast. I started having nearly monthly meetings with the director where we tried to come up with ideas on how to help The Beast. There were a few days in there where I’d get a note saying, “The Beast had a really great day today.” And that would make me hopeful, but within days the phone calls would start up again.
“The Beast climbed over the 8-foot chain link fence surrounding the playground and ran when the teachers tried to catch him. You’ll need to come and pick him up.”
“The Beast ran out of the classroom and made it out the front door of the school before we could catch him. You’ll need to come and pick him up.”
“The Beast was using scissors today and tried to cut a friends’ hair.”
“We recently planted beans in small pots and The Beast decided to sprinkle the soil throughout the classroom and didn’t want to clean up the mess.”
“The Beast bit a friend on the playground.” (She took his ball. I’d bite her too.)
“The Beast went into the bathroom and stuffed the toilet full of toilet paper.”
“The Beast ran through the classroom naked.”
Throughout all of this, my meetings with the director continued. I read The Strong-Willed Child. My discipline became as consistent and regular as seeing Kardashian selfies on the internet. There was some improvement at home, but he still struggled at school.
I tried every discipline technique that I had ever read about, heard about, saw on a show, or just plain invented out of thin air to help him improve his school behavior. Nothing worked. If he had a bad day at school, I took away TV shows. Or treats. Or bedtime stories. Or outside play. Or all of the above. I took away special events like pool parties and trips to the ice cream store.
Every day when I’d pick him up from school, he’d look at me with fear and say, “Did I have a good day today?”
Every night when I’d lie with him in bed he’d say, “Mommy, I don’t want to go back to school. It’s so hard to be good. I try to be good but my body won’t let me.”
And then I ran into an acquaintance at Target. She asked me how The Beast was doing and where he was going to school, and when I told her she said, “Forgive me for overstepping, but I have several friends with boys who put their kids in that school and they regretted it. If you have a really well-behaved child, he’ll probably do fine. But if your child has any behavior issues or if he’s just loud and moves a lot like most boys do, he might start to feel bad about himself because he doesn’t fit into the mold of what they want their students to look like. Don’t let any school make your child feel bad about himself.”
At that moment I realized that I could no longer punish away his childhood. My new philosophy was if it’s a school behavior issue, the school needs to handle it. I’m only disciplining him for things he does at home. I’m not one of those parents who thinks their child can do no wrong. This entire blog was started on the premise that my child can be a havoc-wreaker. But I just couldn’t continue to punish him every single day for his behavior at school. I felt that if he continued to have daily behavior issues, then maybe it wasn’t the right school for him.
We decided that if this new approach didn’t work, then we’d withdraw him from the school.
About a week after we made this decision, he did something at the school and I got a phone call. As I walked into the school to pick him up, I ran into the director. I had intended to ask to be let out of our contract, but when she saw me she said, “I don’t think we can keep doing this. We love The Beast, but he’s struggling so much. Maybe this isn’t the best environment for him. Maybe he just needs more freedom.”
So now The Beast is home with me full-time. I’m drinking a little bit more. Getting high occasionally. (Kidding, Dad. But as soon as medical marijuana is legal in Texas, I’m putting on my going-out pants and getting in line for a prescription.)
I did talk to a friend who recommended that I take The Beast in for an occupational therapy evaluation so that whatever it is I’m dealing with can be dealt with sooner rather than later. We visited my pediatrician for the referral and he initially said he wanted to wait until The Beast was five because he might outgrow a lot of these behaviors. But after witnessing The Beast breakdancing on the office floor, having The Beast take his stethoscope and use it to whip the wall, and then experiencing the joy of having The Beast climb up his back while he was trying to explain why The Beast didn’t yet need an occupational therapy consult, he decided to go ahead and give us that referral.
The Beast had his evaluation about two weeks ago and he’s going to start occupational therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder. I believe a commenter on this blog told me a long time ago to look into SPD, but, as you can see by the fact that it’s taken me a year to tell you all that I pulled him out of his first school, I have the tendency to procrastinate.
There’s no guarantee that The Beast doesn’t also have ADHD or any other disorder, but we’re going to start here and see where it takes us.
My prayer is that he learns to control his body.
That he learns to focus.
That he learns to listen.
That I learn how to help him.
That he succeeds when he starts school.
And when he grows up, that he doesn’t make a profession out of mutiny.