As a parent of a special needs child, I have become accustomed over the years to bad reports. Bad reports from his teachers, bad reports from his child care providers, bad reports from his counselors, behavior specialists, and my own family. You get the idea. There is nothing more disconcerting than picking up your son after a long day at work, a date, or a meeting and watching the person responsible for him brace themselves for conveying bad news. “Asher tried to run away again today”, “Asher had an argument with his friend and hit him”, “Asher started throwing chairs across the room and all the other students had to leave” Of course these are just some of the worst. He has been working really hard on controlling his emotions and keeping his body safe. And the reports, thankfully, have gotten fewer and farther between. That’s why sometimes I get thrown a left hook. Like last night, I walk into the day care excited to see my son after a long day working despite my cold. He isn’t in the dining room eating with his age group. I look to Mama Winnie, our beloved care provider. “Gracie, he is in the Den with Eli. Eli is going to tell you what happened” She says in her thick, Mexican accent. Mama Winnie and her husband Papa Matt are the most loving care providers. Winnie migrated from Mexico as a teenager and Matt is a first generation Mexican American. I don’t know what I would do without them. They love Asher like he is their own child. Mama Winnie has told me that her father in Mexico was very strict and discipline was harshly delivered. That is why she believes in a much gentler approach.
I go into the Den to find Eli her teenage son sitting with Asher. Eli is an outstanding young man. He has taken to child care very well and helps with the children. He is like a big brother to Asher. Asher looks at Eli and says “I will tell her”. Up until this point I am mildly irritated but not very concerned. It could be anything. Last time Asher lost the privilege to keep his toys there because of a disrespectful comment he made to Eli. Asher began and then fell silent. Eli began and Asher told him again that he would tell me. I stood and waited. In these moments when I know I am going to be delivered bad news about my son’s behavior, I have learned to keep a serious, somber expression on my face. It is my job as his mother (case manager) to have access to and to log all such incidents. It is my job to have the final say on consequences or support consequences that have already been administered. This takes a serious, focused, and hardened face. And, also patience, because these kinds of things usually need to be framed a certain way. For example: “Asher tried to run away today” is never the first thing said. It has to come first with: he was doing well until X, X happened and he reacted X, I told him X but he did X. Then finally we get to the punchline.
Let me skip you straight to there, though. I find everything else boring until I have the main point. “I knee’d one of the twins in the head” “And he might have a concussion,” Eli added. “And after he knee’d him in the head he told him he was going to beat him up.” Okay so now we get to the “oh fuck” moment of the story. Oh fuck this is a bad one. Oh fuck this is like the time he held a kid under water in the pool. Oh fuck is he going to get kicked out of child care? Oh fuck are the kids parents going to sue me. I don’t know how other parents react to this kind of thing. But at least mentally, inside my head where it is just me, that’s where I go instantly. I go to worst case scenarios. But I know that these thoughts need to be kept to myself and I need to be patient just a bit longer to find out what the care provider did to handle the situation and what they feel needs to be done by me. Eddie finishes “So, I told him he can’t bring his tablet or toys to day care for a week”. Ok, initial consequence has been given, check. This is the point where it is my turn to scold the child and express my concern. Check. Have we survived the mishap? Is it appropriate to go? No. Here comes Mama Winnie. She explains her side of the story. How she had just been upset with Eli moments before the incident occurred. What she said to Eddie and her voice is raising as she tells me how she scolded Eli for not keeping the children out the garden while they played. It almost seems like she yelled at him. This gentle loving woman who rarely even raises her voice to her children. Then she explains how Asher had just heard how upset she was with Eli and then apparently the kneeing in the head (as if that wasn’t bad enough) had occurred in the garden as well. And now the woman’s face begins to crunch together just ever so slightly. It is subtle but she has been helping me with my son for years and I know her well. I can see that the poor woman is on the verge of tears. Because it is scary when you have an ADHD, ODD kid and they lose control. Because it is scary when they severely hurt other children. Because even the best professionals and caregivers don’t always know what to do when this happens. She asks for and I agree to give my support in the consequence. And I try again to leave the room, to clear my head. Because this is a big one. I know I will have to do more at home to deal with this and I don’t know what. As I open the door into the dining area I am surrounded by the tiny witnesses and right in front of me is the poor dear boy who got knee’d in the head. He has a huge bump on his forehead, his eyes are red from crying, and he also has a purple bruise on his cheek. I check in with him. I cradle him. I tell him how sorry I am. I ask him what happened. He looks at Eli. “You told her?” he says. “Yeah he told me. Asher kicked you in the head. Was he angry?” This is followed by the chatter of all the little voices eager to relay their part. But I already know he was angry. I know because he said he would beat him up. And I know that he struggles to control his body when he is angry. And I pray that I am right in believing that he really doesn’t want to hurt people. It just happens and he can’t control it when his emotions take over. I ask Mama Winnie about the boy’s parents. I am afraid they will be upset with me. “I will take care of it” she says. And I know that I am blessed. And I am so grateful to have her and Matt on Asher’s side. And I know she puts her neck out for him, because she loves him. “Gracias”, “Adios” I call to restore some normalcy to the evening as I walk out their door. And I am still not alone. I don’t have to figure it out on my own. I call his behavior support specialist and we all talk about it together on speaker phone. She suggests he write an apology letter. And I am so glad I don’t have to figure these things out alone. I am so glad she called back at 5:45 pm on a Friday. And I am so glad I have these services. When the consequence is decided on, the screaming and shouting starts in the back of the car. But I know what to do. I tell him I am not going to respond to him until he has calmed down. He wails on and on about how he is not going to write an apology letter. Right before we get home he calmly explains why he doesn’t want to do the apology letter. I use reflective listening and empathy and then hold the line. And when we get home he writes the apology letter.