My boy is the sweetest souled child I've ever known. I'm not just saying that because he's mine. He may move through the world at lightening speed, but oh man, his heart is so tender. And so easily breakable.
It's interesting, and also frustrating, that most often when I speak about my Boy-o's special needs, people try to dismiss my concerns and observations. Disabilities that are generally less visible are also, unfortunately, less believable. My Boy-o lives with sensory issues and anxiety (the latter of which I will quite likely never forgive myself for sharing). Coping with change, transition, noise, crowds, bright lights, scratchy clothes, hangnails, etc. etc. etc. etc. is difficult, to varying levels of intensity (funnily, or not so funnily, depending on where the tiredness and anxiety levels are at). Sometimes these things are far less of an issue in his life and sometimes more. But this world is can be a place of real struggle for him. And watching him struggle is, in a word, excruciating. Maybe never more so than this week.
I knew he was having a harder time than usual lately. The signs were all there. Escalating (read unstoppable) high energy, hair-trigger emotions, increased sensitivity to external stuff. But I didn't know how overwhelmed he was feeling until there was a pretty serious incident at school. Followed by a discussion in which he confided to feeling really, really distraught. I won't and/or can't share what that conversation entailed beyond that because that wouldn't be fair to him. What I can talk about is the impact this conversation had on me. I heard words coming out of my child's mouth that I would grieve a grown person saying. I dealt with them well, I think, in the moment. But afterwards, after he was safely tucked in bed, reassured again and again of his importance in the world and all of the incredible gifts he has to offer, I could not stop crying. It lasted far into the next day - though like a the fantastic mama-trooper I can be - I made use of my best and most concerted acting efforts to ensure none of this was apparent during a pre-school breakfast out followed by school drop-off. But that's as long as I made it.
I can't stop questioning myself. How long has this been going on? How long has he been feeling this way? How have I missed this? Am I so preoccupied with the frenzy of school and life that I could have seen this coming? Where have *I* been for him? Now of course, I know these questions are useless. They do neither of us any good. What I need to focus on now is where to go next. What supports need to be put in place to make some change and better support him? What do I need to change to better support him and nurture him and help him understand all of the wonderful things that he brings to this world, to me, to his friends and classmates? (His brightness, enthusiasm, fearlessness, determination, ability to articulate ideas far beyond his years, creativity, joie de vivre, and unending depths of empathy immediately come to mind, though there are many, many more). How do I work with all of the teachers he comes into contact with to create new ways of discouraging the challenging behaviours without the attendant messaging about being a 'bad kid.' How do I role-model my own anxieties (many of which stem from acute feelings of always doing or saying the wrong thing)? Because rightly or wrongly, those are the messages he's getting from the world around him. Because he is experiencing feelings that no child, no six year old, should ever have to experience.
I have my work cut out for me. The world around us, and our schools in particular, are ill-equipt to deal with the needs of so many children. I think too here, of the cuts to public education recently announced by the Redford government. The slashing of jobs. The freezing of wages. The reality of impending increases in class sizes and educator burn-out and attendant decrease of already limited resources. These things will make finding resources for many, many children next to impossible. I rage at the short-sightedness of this approach. (I find this rage at least slightly more productive than the sorrow at my child's feelings).
I don't know the way forward. But what I do know is that I am determined to do anything I possibly can do to make some changes for him. Whatever it takes. To help him makes changes, and to work with his educators to try and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for him to do that. To make sure he is always aware of the gifts he brings to the world.
Because that is no more than every child deserves.