Honor roll! My boy made the honor roll. Yep…I’m talking about Ben. That kid continues to amaze me every single day. He has succeeded (for the most part) in his general education classroom now for two and a half years. Of course I’m using grades, incremental improvement on IEP goals and his lack of suspension as my measure of success.
What’s not to love?
He is also continuing to push himself athletically and socially by participating in our youth basketball league. I’m thankful for this. He has now tried his hand at baseball, football and basketball…and isn’t half bad at any of them. He’s already far-surpassed my expectations in that regard. He has come a long way from sitting silently in the dugout last spring, not speaking to a single teammate, not cheering for the others, simply awaiting his turn to do his thing. He was very much an individual on that team. Football came and went and his social skills improved. He may not have been one to wrestle with the other boys in the grass like a pile of over-stimulated puppies…but he DID practice passing before or after practice with one other kid from time to time. HUGE growth! This winter, he chose to join the basketball league. As is typical for me, I hesitantly encourage and praise him for wanting to participate. I get the usual stomach ache not knowing what kind of coach he may get…what kind of parents we may see in the stands…what kind of kids he may be paired with. We were fortunate that he was chosen by a coach we know and like and trust and so far his teammates and the other parents have given no cause for concern for this over-protective momma.
Despite all of these successes, we’ve seen his anxiety grow over the last few months. It’s hard to watch. It’s difficult to manage. And we are doing it on our own. Up to this point we’ve not made any breakthroughs in getting insurance coverage for therapy. Instead we’ve done our best to substitute with a daily activities chart, therapeutic horseback-riding, organized sports, anti-anxiety meds…hell, we even broke down and bought a puppy. Something I never thought I would do.
And yet…he overflows with worry and sadness and a new found fear of loneliness. A few years ago we were told that Ben spends most of his school day alone. Plays by himself on the playground. Prefers not to work in groups in the classroom. Doesn’t socialize during lunch. Heartbreaking things to hear as a mom who wants so badly for her child to fit in and feel loved. But these things didn’t seem to bother him. This year the teachers are telling us that he IS socializing more…that he seems to have gotten comfortable with this group of children enough to open himself to them and engage. The news was so encouraging! He was reaching out and talking and laughing…although still learning there is a time and place. But it never occurred to me that some of the kids weren’t reciprocating. That although he is more social now than ever…he is beginning to feel alone.
Last night after several attempts at redirecting Ben toward his bedtime routine, ending in raised voices, Ben sat facing the TV still and silent. We could see the light from the fireplace reflecting off the tears rolling down his red cheeks. We asked what was wrong and as is usual, we received no answer. After a few minutes he turned and joined his dad in the recliner, silently crying in his hands. This happens often after redirection and consequences particularly if we’ve raised our voices. This kid internalizes it all. He takes it personally. He struggles with inference and assumes that we must hate him if we’re frustrated with him. I immediately begin the damage control, assuring him that we DO in fact love him and our insistence on brushing his teeth IS out of love and concern…that we ask him to leave the puppy alone when he’s tired and snippy because we DON’T want him to get bitten. But last night…he interrupted my efforts:
No. No…it’s not that, mom. I…I just feel. I feel like no one at school really appreciates me.
(This of course led to more tears and silence.)
What do you mean, buddy? I thought you were making friends. I thought you were getting along with the kids in school.
No. No one likes me. The other day I asked Luke to play a game with me at recess and he just looked at me weird and told me that it was a stupid game and he didn’t want to play with me.
That wasn’t very nice was it? Well, buddy, who do you usually play with at recess?
Well…sometimes I play football with John. But usually…I just walk around the playground by myself and wait for recess to be over.
The gentleman could see the emotion flowing from my eyes as I quickly turned and let him take over the conversation. Reassuring him that he is a great boy and lots of kids adore him. To which Ben replied:
No…they don’t. I try to talk to them but they just don’t hear me.
And now…for him…alone equals lonely.
And I’m devastated. Because I can’t be there during the day to take that feeling away. I can’t be there to prove that he’s worth playing with or worth talking to. And I can’t force anyone to be his friend or share a game with him at recess. And it kills me that we’ve encouraged him to engage, to get involved, to open up…and all he feels is disappointment and failure. I know this isn’t his feeling every day. But often enough that I worry they outweigh the good. At one time he was content being alone. I was the one who struggled with that because to me being alone was the same as being lonely. And I hated that for him. It took me a long time to come to terms with what makes Ben comfortable. I’ve been so distracted by his growth and improvement and grades and perceived social interaction that I didn’t see what seems to be hitting him at the core. He’s there live and in action…in the midst of a typical 2nd grader’s world. Surrounded by so many others yet feeling so isolated.
So with Ben, we continue to talk and encourage and work and love. What he gets from us…here…has to get him through what he experiences at school. Because I can’t be there all day every day. While my gut sometimes tells me to pull him out and home school him I DO know the good he’s experiencing does outweigh the bad…and while he feels some hurt…it means he is in fact growing and trying things he wouldn’t have tried two years ago. It’s hard to see that some days. But it’s true.
In the meantime we revel in the fact that he’s getting As and Bs with minimal supplemental support. He has a teacher who cares and is invested in his success. We have a school full of folks who adore him and all of his quirks. I realize what a gift that is.
He really has come a long way. We can’t hide him away from the world and protect him from all the things we fear. We have to show him how to put himself out there and realize that we are his soft place to land at the end of a tiring and frustrating day. When he feels alone in his world at school, he ALWAYS has us.