Saturday, October 30, 2010

ups, downs, and loving these kids

I drove home Friday afternoon planning to write a blog post on the ups and downs of a day with PJ because Friday itself captured all PJ in all of his greatness- the best when he is a sweet, loving boy, and the not so great when he is, well, not sweet and loving. Friday itself was a roller coaster.
As Friday night wore on I found myself thinking of PJ. Saturday morning as I worked on my paper for my neuroscience class I found myself thinking of PJ. And even at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I found myself thinking about PJ.
I truly love that kid.
It seems to be my nature to love all kids I work with, and I rarely meet a kid I don't enjoy teaching. There are kids I don't love as much as others, but for the most part I enjoy all of them, even the most difficult ones. Yet there's something more about PJ. Maybe it's the pain and confusion I see in his mother's eyes behind her laughter and great sense of humor. Maybe it's how sad he gets after he's had a meltdown. Maybe it's hearing himself say he's mad at himself and watching him punish himself by taking away all his favorite things. I love that kid so much it hurts. Because there is a wonderful little boy in there. There is a sweet, loving boy who wants friends, takes care of others, loves those around him, eats up books, puts together puzzles in a matter of minutes, and loves panda bears. And if I really think about it, I think the sweet little boy is truly frightened of what happens when things go wrong. I think his anger scares himself, which is why he becomes so sad after a fit.
Is there anything worse than watching a sad, scared, angry little boy and not being able to help them? Not being able to take away whatever is going on inside him that gives him so much pain?

Friday was truly a roller coaster. On Thursday, out of desperation, I kept him the special ed office room all day and just pulled out other children to work in small groups. We're a full inclusion school so normally I work with children in their general ed environment. However I knew PJ wasn't going to be successful in our gen ed classroom today and I didn't want to miss out on my time with my other children. Plus, I also wanted to set some limits for PJ. He might not be in the classroom, but I wanted to state expectations and have PJ meet them in the smaller environment.
On Thursday this went swimmingly. PJ responded very well to limits, moved with the other children when I explained the schedule, and even participated in activities with the small group. Perfect! I thought. We'll just repeat this on Friday.
If there is one thing I've learned about PJ it's that what works one day does not always work the next. I should have known better.
The morning was great. He participated in small groups, and in one group sat at the table and sorted letters into the /b/ and /r/ sounds. He worked hard, followed all the limits I set, and got along well with the other kids.
And then.
He wanted to use my plastic bowling pins. And like the other things he's wanted I set a limit. It was writing time. We were going to write first, then we could bowl. This turned out to be one limit to far. PJ burst. I had no idea small, plastic bowling pins could be so loud but I suppose in a small space with cinder block walls and a tiled floor sound just echos. My ears still hurt. Finally I exited the other children (only to have the bowling pins hurled across the room) and I sat and waited for the fit to end.

PJ recovered (after spending some time with one of our amazing assistant principals). In the afternoon he returned and joined the class to watch The Great Pumpkin. (There is something fabulous about watching kindergartners watch a classic cartoon for the first time. The animation quality doesn't bother them, they still adore the quirky kids). PJ loved the movie but was becoming upset that the other children were laughing and talking. Yet instead of getting upset he asked us for the "no talking" sign we sometimes use as non-verbal cues to the students. He sat, watching the movie, and holding his sign, occasionally using it to signal to other children that they needed to be quiet. We died with love. It seems that only a few weeks ago he would have thrown something at us or hidden in a closet.
As the movie ended we allowed him to pass out the treat bags he'd brought for the class. It was wonderful to watch him hand each child a bag, explaining matter of factly that it was for Halloween and he wanted to give them something. The exchanges between him and the other children were wonderful and everyone truly enjoyed our mini Halloween celebration.
And then.
PJ had one last bag to hand out. But it was a special bag, it was for Mrs. Partner-in-crime. She stood across the rug from PJ with the rest of the kindergarten students in between them. Right as PJ started to cross the rug to get to her she dismissed the class to line up for recess.  Suddenly PJ was met with resistance. He stood, frozen, panic-stricken for a brief moment and then let out a grunt. He ducked down into a football stance and shouldered his way through the crowd, practically knocking down some of our sweetest little boys.
*sigh* And for a moment there it had been such a beautiful afternoon.

The more we get to know PJ the more we know he's struggling with things we can't understand. He certainly makes everyday a little more challenging, but he also adds something special to our class. It's easy to forget what he adds, and then suddenly I'll find myself watching him do something like lean over another friend, coaching her on how to write a z. Slowly, he'll guide her hand, then say "you try". He'll softly correct her when she starts to draw the line backwards, then as she fixes her mistake he rewards her. I can hear myself in his voice as he murmurs that she did a great job. She beams and so does he and suddenly I love him even more.

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