Last week I had an epic 3 and 1/2 hour IEP meeting. My husband, a federal judge who isn’t working because of the government shutdown, came with me. Also around the pushed together classroom tables: Milo’s teacher, his Exceptional Education (EC) teacher, the Principal, the Assistant Principal, The IEP coordinator, the school’s occupational therapist, the district’s behavior specialist, the Director of Exceptional Education for the district, a behavioral consultant for the district and the Positive Behavior coordinator for the district. We were one shy of a dozen. All because Milo doesn’t fit the mold of the public school student. Oh hell, Milo doesn’t fit any mold of any kind any where, ever. His school year was a disaster. The eleven of us were there to fix it.
The first hour and a half followed the basic IEP meeting template:
listing Milo’s strengths — he’s funny, he’s social, he’s smart.
checking in on his progress — his perfectionism is squashing his ability to learn. His mood swings and paranoia are causing terrifying, sudden outbursts. He is alienating his peers and tiring his teachers. The administration is at a loss. P.E. is a disaster.
articulating expectations — I am worried he is missing so much instruction that he will fail the 4th grade. I don’t understand what the crisis response plan is, and what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to consequences and or punishment.
The behavior experts who have observed Milo weighed in. There was a decision to start over – re-evaluate him in the classroom and make a new plan with an emphasis on prevention. This was great news. Everyone agreed that preventing Milo’s explosions is the best way to help him stay in class and receive the instruction he needs to pass the 4th grade. Relief.
Then my husband left to pick up Milo and our daughter B. That’s when the gloves came off. One of the representatives from the District asked me about my “other” concerns and I told the truth, that I don’t trust the Principal. She asked me why. So I explained. The room got very quiet. The half height table and child sized chairs seemed to shrink further and the grown ups expand. I shot a quick look at the desk under the window thinking there would be a bottle that said “Drink Me.” My voice rose. My voice fell. I told the truth. She had called CPS. She has been threatening to send Milo to the isolated E-D (emotionally disturbed) classroom in a different school since the end of 2nd grade. She punishes him instead of supports him.
The Principal said that she only wants to work with and for Milo. I told her that she was all light and no heat. That it’s easy to say that you’re on Milo’s side but that she rarely puts the odds in Milo’s favor. Of all the overburdened people in that through–the-looking-glass-meeting, she was the only one to give a speech about how hard her job is.
She and I were equally concerned with the crisis response plan. But not for the same reason. She wanted to know what to do when he got out of control and what her options were. Specifically, when can she send him home. I wanted to know if it could be mandated thats he stay away from Milo, particularly when he is in crisis.
The thing that sets Milo apart from so many other difficult kids is that he can be violent. He can be scary. He’s large and solid and when he’s furious it’s like he has the strength of Hercules. He can resist a 6 foot tall, young, in shape, male inclusion specialist. Everyone in that room who has worked closely with Milo knows this, many have seen it. And yet only the Principal seemed truly afraid of Milo. Not just afraid, but repulsed.
I’ve always been someone who thinks that a male writer CAN create a believable female character. That a woman can coach football without having played it, that anyone is up to any job. I’ve whispered to many radio hosts without ever having hosted a radio show myself. And I swear by my work. BUT, and this is a big but, and I know that some of you will have your rotten tomatoes in hand, so I’m prepared to duck, Milo’s principal doesn’t have kids. And I think that’s the problem. Even though she has spent a career surrounded by kids, when I listen to her talk about kids, there is a sense that they are not fully real, but concepts. She appears to be missing the connection to their embodied self. Not their snot or tears, not the weight of them, or their endless questions or insatiable appetites, but their copious, relentless need. Even while they sleep, while you sleep, they are with you, on top of you, holding your quiet mind and your imagination in check. As a parent, you cannot shake your child. You cannot shake YOUR child, the specifics of your child, their smell, their charm, their idiosyncrasies. Their crazy.
Isn’t the theory of hate that it is predicated on depersonalization. It’s hard not to feel for someone you know, someone who is like you, someone you can relate to, some who isn’t a concept — Jew, Arab — but a person with a name, a fingerprint, a sway to their back, a curve of their ear. Empathy and compassion require details.
Milo is mine. I made him. I am responsible for his fleshiness, his brown eyes, his loquaciousness, his anxiety and his insomnia. It’s my job to carry him as far through this life and I have the strength for the journey. To do that I have to know what makes him uncomfortable, I have to know what he eats, what he weighs, what makes him cry, and panic and scream. What delights and surprises him. No child should be considered a concept — smart, hyper-active, compliant, athletic. But the crazy ones, really, truly need to be individually defined. So they can be individually helped, and educated, and loved.
Milo is real to me.