Day 2: In Search of an Oikia
Monday having been so good, we were not altogether taken off guard when, on driving up to the new school Tuesday morning, Charlie did not want to get out of the car, Charlie walked in balking all the way and then crying and lots of "no's" and a secretary appeared and asked if she should get the behaviorist (yes we said), Charlie grabbed at Jim and then he ran and threw his shoes over a railing and we could still hear Sounds of Intense Unhappiness. We talked to Charlie's teacher about how he'd woken up early and sat for quite awhile in the car wanting to get going and the principal nodded and we drove into Jersey City.
For all that we know that Charlie has the lag about responding to new things, big changes, anything upsetting his order of things, it still hurts, to know that Charlie's hurting. There's a sort of symbiotic thread that's always connected the three of us and that makes us (Jim especially) just know, feel, sense in the air that something is going on with Charlie.
So it was kind of quiet in the white car as Jim and I drove. On both of our minds was, if this placement does not work out for Charlie, then what? Homeschooling? Some great unknown?
Jim hurried off to catch the PATH train to New York and I went to my archaeology class. I'd had a lovely talk with a student Monday about his new school. She was in my class and asked about Charlie; I gave Le Sigh a couple of times and described the fireworky start to Charlie's second morning. Some other students started talking about special education classrooms at their former public schools (one high school, a student noted, has the special ed classes in the basement—and "The Basement" is how those classes are referred to). More students came in and I handed back papers and started talking about the day's subject, material culture and economics from an archaeological perspective and, me being me, with a little etymology.
Economics is from two ancient Greek words, oikia—meaning "home"—and nomos—meaning "custom, law." More specifically, I noted that oikia means "home" and not only in the sense of a building or a physical structure. It also refers to the your household, to the community of people who make up your domestic situation. It's "home" in the sense of the people who make up a home, no matter where it is—a house, an apartment, a wherever.
And I don't know, maybe that's what our real search for Charlie is all about. Not "the perfect, most appropriate" school. Not just the right town that will welcome and claim him as one of its own. But yes to a place that accepts him as Charlie, as Charlie with strengths and abilities that constantly seem in danger of being overwhelmed by his challenges. And yes to a place where Charlie is known, a place that knows Charlie.
It's way way too early to see how the big autism center fits into this search. Most of Charlie's school situations have begun with as much promise and hope as on Charlie's first day Monday and too many times, we've just had to pull Charlie from a placement, having sensed that it was just time, if not too late, to go. After the difficulties of Charlie's previous year, the year in which he entered adolescence and grew some 7 inches, Jim and I have had to reaccess what our goals are for Charlie's learning.
The school was quiet at 2.40pm when I arrived to pick up Charlie.
The secretary told me that the nurse wanted to speak to me. I didn't ask why. At Charlie's old school, talking to the nurse meant that something really bad had happened and/or that I needed to pick up Charlie now. I had had to fill out a pile of health and medical forms and suspected that the nurse had some questions about these, and that was indeed why she wanted to speak to me: A question about a vaccination record (Charlie is up to date on these, so it might just be a clerical error). Needing to get some health forms completed and, in the event the students swim, a doctor's ok so that he can do so, as we've indicated concerns about Charlie's neurological health. I also noted that the nursing professors at my college had asked about having students visit and the nurse seemed quite interested and open to that.
Charlie appeared, with his teacher and the behaviorist, who took me aside: After being so upset in the morning, he'd gone into his classroom and been fine. There was one flare-up around 11.30am when the behaviorist was showing him how to move the cursor on the computer; she noted that she'd put her arm in front of him and Charlie got extremely agitated, tried to throw things, grabbed. That storm passed in five minutes and he went back to his desk. The behaviorist speculated that maybe she had "invaded his personal space" and I nodded maybe—certainly Charlie (keeping that adolescent need for independence in mind) doesn't like it when I hover. (He tells me to go away when he's in the bathroom—-I do my "mom business" quickly and get out, he needs his privacy, don't we all.)
Charlie's class had Adapted Physical Education today and he liked that a lot. He requested lots of walks about the building (it really is big) and smiled happily to see the swimming pool (it's the same pool that he and I used to swim in and regarding which I wrote this letter to the YMCA director). The school has a cafeteria and Charlie eats lunch there now; he used to eat in his classroom at the public middle school. His teacher told me that they can always take him through the breakfast and lunch line and see if he wants anything, even just a small something.
So I spent the time when Jim and Charlie took their usual bike ride trying to figure out the Point-of-Service system, calling Charlie's pediatrician and his neurologist to get the medical forms filled out, scheduling a physical.
Spent the time dealing with the mundaner aspects of life, and reading over the Incident Report, which included a Nurse's Report. The nurse certainly didn't shrug off Charlie getting upset at 11.30am, but she noted that it was just one thing in a whole day and that's ok. Charlie's teacher and the behaviorist had the same lowkey attitude—it happened, he got over it—and noted how many skills he has. And smiled while calling out bye, see you tomorrow.
Charlie's certainly learned the word "cafeteria." He wasn't interested in his dinner but smiled big when I told him he could go to the cafeteria tomorrow for lunch and even breakfast. (Let's hope my credit card number gets inputed quickly into this Point-of-Service system.) And then—it was 6.50pm—he told me "bedtime," and was sleeping soundly by 7.45pm.
No wonder: It was a full day. And a good one, two in a row, in our oikia and I hope in yours, too.