On a recent Monday morning I sat in the Principal’s office with Milo’s teacher, his Special Ed teacher, the school counselor, two Assistant Principals, the District’s Behavior Expert, the District’s Special Ed Director and the Principal. The meeting opened with one of the Assistant Principals offering a detailed description of the previous Wednesday’s “event.”
The Assistant Principal smiled as she told of Milo losing his patience over the requirements of common core math (a regular occurrence,) leaving his room appropriately, coming down to his “quiet room” which is wrongfully situated across from the Principal’s office for reasons the Principal calls “safety issues” — that Milo’s yelling and screaming frightens the other children; tossing some things around his quiet room which caused the Principal alarm over the possible shattering of the room’s window, so she entered Milo’s quiet room, spoke to him, and proceeded to worry aloud over the window. Milo fled the quiet room, down the hall, hitting his Special Ed teacher, shaking off other adults, all of whom had loud walkie talkies and panicked looks on their faces. He came to rest under a stairwell where he found the metal legs of a broken table that had been tossed there. He threw these at the Principal, causing her to call the Police as Milo was “brandishing a weapon.”
There was some back and forth about details of this account and then I said, “I have Milo’s narrative, which may not be totally reliable, but is certainly as important as any of yours.”
“Yes, please tell us what Milo told you.”
“I can tell you how it FELT to be Milo.”
Milo was mad about math, he expressed this to his teacher, then left for his quiet room. The Principal was standing outside of his quiet room’s door and wouldn’t leave. He asked her to leave, she said she would but she came back. So he threw things, but she wouldn’t go away. So he left the quiet room to get away from her. He does not remember hitting Miss P, he only remembers “being chased” into the stairwell by grown ups with walkie talkies. He threw things at the Principal to make her go away. She wouldn’t ever go away. He was scared and sad and stayed in the building only because I asked him to not ever leave the building without permission. All he wanted was for me to come get him, which I eventually did.
The “event” transpired on a Wednesday. The Principal suspended Milo for Thursday and Friday. Friday was field day, one of the few days of the year Milo looks forward to.
I cancelled my plans for Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday (which mostly consisted of work and work related meetings.) I told Milo that he was taking Thursday off to rest because I planned to spend Thursday arguing against the two day suspension. I planned to have him back in school by Friday, for field day, so he could participate with his peers and feel like he belonged, and not like a freak who gets chased into a corner and brings the police and terrifies the adults whose job it is to be in charge and keep him safe.
In my frustration and to my great shame, I got ahold of the capable, compassionate District Director of Special Ed and screamed my lungs out at her. I’m so sorry for that. She’s a professional, and took it in stride (I hope) but I was a quivering mess. I raged about how months ago we had a 4 hour meeting during which my ONLY, ONLY request was that the principal stay away from Milo, how making him miss field day was punishment for her mistake, how he wasn’t using the broken table legs as weapons but as a way to defend himself against the Principal, how the Police were unnecessary and escalating, how this business of a “safety issue” was bullshit, how the entire event was yet another example of people not understanding that Milo is far more afraid of them than they should be of him, that his motivation is PAIN, NOT EVIL. The District Director was gloriously patient with me but not at all soothing. I came so unmoored as to threaten to get a lawyer and actual restraining order against the Principal. Later that afternoon the Superintendent called me. He was reasonable and soothing. He even had a sense of humor. He was a great listener. By then I was calm and appreciative. Our conversation was productive — he had been a special ed teacher for years — but he wouldn’t reverse the suspension.
“Milo, you’re not going to school tomorrow.”
“But it’s field day, I wanna go to school.”
“I’m sorry Buddy, but you can’t go to school.”
“Because The Principal says you can’t.”
“That’s not fair.”
First he crawled into a corner, then came the tears and self loathing. “It’s all one big fail. I’m a failure. A FAILURE.”
At Monday’s meeting I tried to explain to the Principal the degree to which I have to undermine her authority when she undermines Milo’s well bring. I tried to explain the level of anxiety he had all weekend and how hard it was for him to re-enter the building on Monday after being, essentially, barred from it for close to 5 days. I also had to stop the Behavior Expert from lecturing me on what a scary monster my son is.
For years my attitude in IEP meetings has been to be approachable, warm, friendly, cooperative and to get out in front of the definition of Milo, to own it. I’m the first to call him crazy, violent, difficult and scary. I call him that and then I set the limits on what those terms mean. I’m the one who bears his weight and no one else can tell me how heavy he is. But this year brought an end to me being easy. In the meeting months ago I put my foot down about the Principal, and at Monday’s meeting I just took the gloves completely off.
A psychiatrist I know tells an interesting story: Years ago when he worked shifts on a psych ward, over the course of 48 hours, the patients would remain the same but the nurses would change. When Nurse X was on, everyone made it through the night with minimal intervention, and when Nurse Y was on, everyone wound up in restraints. His point was simple — the patients were equally crazy or difficult, but the perception of them as such directly effected their behavior and their well being.
During his suspension Milo drew a comic strip. He does this often and is encouraged to write and draw as a form of expression. This comic strip featured a character named MiloMan who saved a bunch of children from a marauding invader who looked suspiciously like his Principal. She was the villain, and he was the hero. The children were grateful and the world was saved.
It’s not that simple. It’s not just a matter of how you approach Milo, because he is crazy and violent and difficult. He has paranoid delusions and can be impossible to reason with. But he is also a 10 year old boy, who, by his own description is “crying inside all of the time.” Why add to his pain? When he’s battling his demons, why not just get the fuck out of the way? So a window shatters, so what? Imagine the rest of his life (and mine!) spent putting back together the scattered pieces of his self esteem.