That’s how long Milo made it before I had to bring him home early from school. It usually works the other way — an easy(ish) start and a hard finish. Milo likes to make a good first impression, so he works hard to be polite and compliant through winter break. He starts to unravel between winter and spring break and he comes back from spring break with his claws out.
I’m trying to learn from Milo’s llama camp experience — he had a difficult start to that because he was committed to the idea of coming home. Once he surrendered to being there, he had fun, and was actually an asset to the program, helping out and keeping up morale.
The first day of school went well for Milo. He came home excited to do his homework — fill a small bag with things that represented his personality — and excited to go back the next day. But 4th grade is completely academic. And Milo’s life went from lounging with me to reading, writing, and math. He’s not opposed to any of these things, but he lives in holy terror of being wrong. This made him an anxious wreck starting on Tuesday, Day 2. Milo’s anxiety funnels into rage. And an enraged Milo is the ultimate classroom disturbance.
On Tuesday and Wednesday he spent a lot of time taking breaks from the classroom action. Today he asked to take a walk with his aide. They went to the nearby public park, but when it was time to go back to school Milo wouldn’t return. My husband went to the park and walked Milo back to school.
“Daddy, why do you make me go to school?”
“Because I love you so much and I want you to learn and grow up to be whoever you want to be.”
“So you make me go to school because you love me?”
“Yes, because I love you.”
“Then what do I have to do to make you hate me?”
“There’s nothing you can do to make me hate you.”
“PLEASE HATE ME, PLEASE, PLEASE. HATE. ME.” Milo screamed all the way back to his classroom. But he went in, and he tried.
An hour later the phone rang again. The Principal said that Milo was pounding on the front door screaming to be let out. So I brought him home. And we talked.
“The teacher is mean.”
“How is he mean?”
“Well, the kids are mean.”
“Did they say mean things?”
“It’s hard, okay, it’s hard. I hate it. I hate it when people try to teach me things.”
Indeed. That’s the nut of the problem.
“Milo, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“An artist, or a musician or a video game designer.”
“You know, artists, musicians and video game designers all went to school to learn how to make art and music and video games. They started in kindergarten and went through the 4th grade. And on to middle school and high school. . .They had teachers and classmates. They weren’t born knowing how to play music or make art or video games, they had to learn. They had to be taught.”
“What DID they know when they were born?”
“How to breathe and how to eat, cry, sleep and poop.”
“Yes, and fart. You were an expert farter from the moment you were born.”
“What happens if I don’t go to school?”
“Nothing? I can just play video games all day?’
“No, I mean literally nothing. No screens, no other kids.”
“Can I eat?”
“Yes. You can eat and read and run around outside and play with Legos and draw.”
“But no screens?”
“No screens, like, not during school hours or no screens like, not ever, never?”
“Never ever. Screens are for people who go to school.”
Milo thought about it for a long time. He writhed on the couch. Then he writhed on the floor. Then he agreed to go to school, to allow teachers to teach him things, and to try and believe that people want him to succeed and that mistakes don’t mean that you’ve failed. It’s hard for Milo to fight his opposition to even the possibility of being wrong. His perfectionism, his inherent laziness (those are my genes,) and his tendencies toward paranoia and delusion make school harder than it should be. It makes life — his and mine — harder than it should be.
And I was off to such a good start today — I slept well last night, spent time with my husband this morning and had settled in with my to do list, a mug of chai and hundreds of pages of architectural history for a project I’m being paid to finish. But then the phone rang.
Milo is killing me slowly. I mind that less than the toll he takes on himself. I made it through the summer because I had my eyes on the prize of school. The thought of Milo not being able to stay in school, the thought of spending the next 8 or 10 years with Milo 24/7, twelve months a year, makes me want to strap us both into the car and head over a cliff. I don’t mean this. Except for the split seconds when I do mean it. Then, to not mean it, I lean hard on the past and my faith in Milo. My faith that he’ll surrender to school, and to love. And that he’ll get the fuck out of his own way.
Tomorrow is Day 5.