Milo was up at 6:15 am this morning. He got dressed in a fresh new t-shirt with Sonic the Hedgehog on it and a pair of the ridiculous fleece pants that he favors. Today’s pair are too short and way too warm for the weather. He topped the outfit off with his Lego crocs. He supervised the packing of his new Mario Brothers lunch box (leftover chicken wings, berries, pretzels, carrots and a homemade cupcake,) and he jumped into the car with his Jamaican flag backpack on his lap and singing an enthusiastic version of “Thrift-shop.”
Milo goes to our neighborhood public school. He has an IEP which stands for Individual Education Plan. It’s a binding legal document designed by a team of experts and aimed to accommodate Milo’s special needs in the classroom so he can partake of a free and fair public education like everyone else in the state. (“ALL means ALL as my friend and Milo’s favorite shopping partner K, likes to say.)
Milo likes the first day of the school year. He likes the easy socializing without homework or academic pressure. He likes the schedule (it comforts him) he likes the new books, recess and unpacking and savoring his lunch.
This year his teacher seems perfect for him — a young man with plenty of experience. Mr. J is approachable but firm, warm, interested in youth culture, happily connected to his own childhood (the classroom is decorated with Mr. J’s personal collection of vintage lunch boxes,) a talented artist and an avid reader of comic books and graphic novels. He is famously NOT a yeller or screamer. And he does not give off a fear of Milo.
Milo’s classmates for the 4th grade are kids who have not been with him before. This is strategic. It’s good for everyone involved to start fresh. So while Milo’s reputation for being explosive precedes him, kids are generally open minded and friendly enough to want to find out for themselves if he’s truly a ll that scary. And who they meet on the first day is the charming Milo, because he is trying to make a good first impression, and because he wants to have friends and he enjoys positive attention.
Over the years, Milo’s biggest problem at school hasn’t been his teacher or the other kids. It’s the parents. In the final week of second grade, Milo had a terrible day. He was anxious and revved up. Toward the end of the day he retreated to his “room,” a closet with a window in the door, a mat on the floor, legos and books. It’s a place where Milo can go to let it out or recover from having let it out. It separates him from his classmates without him leaving the room and his teacher’s sight which would break a handful of rules and regulations. While Milo was in his little room, screaming obscenities and thrashing around, being loud and offensive, his teacher took advantage of the glorious spring weather and headed outside with the kids, leaving Milo and her assistant behind. They were chased back inside by gunshots and mayhem. Milo’s class had been in the area behind the school. Out front, in the carpool line, an enraged father shot the estranged mother of his children. Chaos, police, freaked-out parents running to the school and finding it locked down. And Milo, in his room, unaware of the drama, trapped in the firestorm of his own head.
You better believe the principal got an earful as to the safety of the class of 2nd graders who were OUTSIDE when the shooting happened. It was Milo’s behavior that had driven them there. This was a horrible coincidence, of course, and NO ONE from the school was hurt.) But. . . when Milo behaves like Milo. . . .Usually, the kids are not traumatized or even upset by him but they do report his behavior back to their parents, who panic and blow up the principal’s phone.
In the past, this caused her to undermine the calm of the adults around Milo, antagonize me and create a self fulfilling prophecy of disruption. If Milo knows that you expect him to run amuck, he is more likely to run amuck. If he believes that you can maintain your adult control, and your affection for him regardless of what his illness causes him to do, he is less likely to be overwhelmed by the illness. It’s a nature working in concert with nurture thing.
This year should be different. The Principal finally understands that creating anticipatory hysteria around Milo is a bad idea. She also seems to understand that punishing Milo, or any child, for behavior they can’t control is also a bad behavior. Most importantly she helped choose classmates for Milo whose parents are teachers, mental health professionals and open minded, open hearted, unflappable, calm people. Or, this is just me hoping for a good school year for Milo.
And this is me at the end of a long, rainy, emotionally intense and successful summer. I am wearing my pajamas at noon, running down a huge to-do list of bat mitzvah plans, emails and calls to return, and paying work to consider.
This is the first day of 4th grade. Here’s hoping.