J, my 11-year old with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders) has recently started school after being homeschooled for 2 1/2 years, and while it’s probably our best option out there it is not perfect. He’d be the first to tell you that. I’d be a close second.
We are now in week 4. Weeks 1 + 2 were blissful, week 3 was rough, and now, finishing up the first month it looks like rough is here to stay.
He got up at 4 this morning, then 5, then 7. “You are a f*cking bitch!” he yelled me at 4 a.m. when told to get back in bed.
At 5, “You don’t care about me, you asshole!” He pulled a framed picture off the stairway wall and hurled it at my husband, who was explaining he had to wait until 6 to come downstairs.
At 7: “I hate that fucking school. It is so fucking boring! Get me the fucking salt!” He threw the kitchen chair to the floor.
His dad and I kept our cool. Sad to say, we’re kind of used to it (as much as a person can get used to it) and we’ve learned that feeding the anger only grows it, like oxygen to a fire. Despite all of it, by 7:30 he was in the car, dressed, shoes on, fed, lunchbox packed.
Typically, I go for a walk after carpool drop-off. I usually have on workout clothes, have brushed my teeth and hair, and am wide awake. This morning, not so much. “You look like it’s been a hard morning,” one of the carpool moms said. “It was rough in my house, too.”
“Yeah,” I said. “J woke up a lot, screaming.”
“My daughter woke up screaming, too!” Carpool mom #2 said. “Poor thing. She had a bad dream.”
“Oh, no,” I said, “No bad dream here. My son woke up screaming about what a fucking bitch I am.”
“Oh, uh…” ((Crickets…)) The carpool moms didn’t know what to say. I don’t know if they don’t believe me or if it’s too much for them to imagine him acting like this. By the time we get to carpool he’s switched into “public” J – happy, friendly, cooperative with other adults. I know that this “public” J comes with great effort and it’s the aftermath of this effort that we’re seeing at home. Keeping it together all day so that other kids like him is very, very hard for him. Home is his safe place. He can relax. But with relaxation and safety and knowing that his dad and I will always be there for him gives him a place to let the anger and stress out. On us.
It’s really hard. I don’t like it. My sleep is suffering. I’m worried about it getting worse. I’m worried about this school, our very best option in a very imperfect set of options, not being a good enough option after all. I’m worried that in 6 months or a year we’ll have to figure this all out again. I’m worried that the first real respite I’ve had in 2 1/2 years is temporary. That I’m going to have to, once again, carve out solutions where no solutions exist. I’m worried that once again I’ll have to put any professional goals and aspirations on hold because his needs trump mine. His needs always trump mine.
But there’s also pride buried down there among the worry. Because 2 1/2 years ago he couldn’t have kept it together for a whole school day. He couldn’t have worked independently on anything, gotten along with anyone – especially other kids – and he had no confidence in himself. He’s different now. He’s much more able. He has acquired the switch that allows him to get along in public. The cost on his family, especially me, is high, but the confidence he’s acquiring is amazing.
So in the end, I’m glad that the carpool moms can’t imagine him acting that way. I’m glad they’re shocked! He is learning to play the game. It’s a good skill to have. Because he’s so good at it It’s probably impossible to imagine him raging at me, throwing books and hurling chairs across the room, saying things to me that they could never, in a million years, imagine their children saying.
I just wish it was hard for me to imagine as well.