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February 2010
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The makings of a better day

Yesterday was a bad day for Gleek. It was an epically bad day. It was a day which resulted in a calm down time in the principal’s office, a visit to the time out room, a phone call home, and her teacher walking out to the car to speak with me for a few minutes when I came to pick Gleek up from school. She was not naughty, but she reacted to each small problem with an overflow of emotion that the staff at the school worked hard to help her manage. Since she has been generally doing well in school, we’re all pretty certain that yesterday was a random rogue wave in her sea of emotion, rather than the front edge of a hurricane. But we’ve got folks on the watch towers just in case.

One of the hardest parts about emotional break downs in public, is going back out into public where the people who witnessed your break down can see you again. Since hiding in our house forever is not a good option, I knew that Gleek needed to go back to school today. I also knew that I needed to do everything in my power to make today go well. The only thing harder than going back after a break down is going back after two break downs.

The first thing I did was to let Gleek sleep in late while I got the other kids off to school. Then it was Howard, Gleek, and I in a quiet house. There was space for me to focus just on her and for her to feel calm. I also cooked a breakfast that was heavy on complex carbs and proteins. Endurance food. I sat with her while she ate. In part this was to ensure that she did in fact eat, but it also provided us a chance to talk. I could listen to her random thoughts and use them to form a picture of how her life has been at school lately. The answer is “not easy.” She struggles with teasing, jealousy, and frustrations. There are also things that she enjoys. I carefully stored all the information so I can sort through it later when I am deciding what long term changes may need to be made.

It became apparent to me that Gleek needed to take something with her to school. She needed a symbol, a tactile reminder of how she plans to make today different than yesterday. It could not be a toy, since the presence of a toy was part of yesterday’s upsets. We decided to fix her hair into a style rather than her usual wild tangle. Gleek selected a style in which lots of little ponytails divide and rejoin to create and attractive net over the top of her head. It is an extremely controlled hair style. She too wants today to be in calm contrast to the usual wildness.

So I begin gathering hair and dividing it into little ponytails. Gleek sits quietly and makes plans for how she is going to handle the day. She rehearses how she is going to return a carrot shaped eraser to another child. It belongs to him, but she loved it so much that it came home with her. Now she will return it and apologize. I hear her plans and I worry that the other child will not be gracious about the return. She wants to make amends, but I don’t know if he does. So I focus on the net and hope we can catch enough calmness in it to help her today.

There is a story, I can’t remember now if I read it or invented it, about a Native American weaver who whispered stories into the threads of her blankets to guide the dreams of those who slept under them. I don’t exactly whisper to the strands of hair, but each band added carries the hope that today will contain confidence and calm. That Gleek’s teacher will see when she runs fast and wild, it is really herself she is trying to escape. That people will see when Gleek shows anger she is really feeling lost, alone, or hurt. That this beautiful, amazing, strong, little person can believe in her own strength and beauty.

I know this is a lot to ask of a hair style, but it is all I can give her today. She must brave school alone. She must face the peers who saw her out of control yesterday. I can not go with her. The success does not belong to her unless I am absent.

When all is ready, I drive her to school and walk her to class. She seems happy. She is happy much of the time, but this happy seems calm rather than urgent. I think the sleeping, talking, eating, and weaving worked the necessary magic to launch her into a much better day. I stand at the door of her classroom and watch for a moment as she drops the carrot eraser on to a boy’s desk and then goes to speak with her teacher. The teacher’s eyes meet mine for a moment and I give her a fraction of a nod. I can now climb off my watch tower and rest for awhile. Someone else is on duty until school is out.

I really hope Gleek has a better day.

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