This week I made a preschool teacher cry.
I wasn't mean to her. She is a super nice lady. I simply told her that my little M-man was not coming back to his preschool of the last seven months.
She didn't ask why. She didn't have to.
Earlier this week I packed up the contents of his cubby, which housed extra pants, Thomas the Train and Toy Story underwear, a sweatshirt and last summer's shorts and T-shirts, now a size too small. I grabbed his stuffed "lamby", long forgotten by him. And I grabbed the portable CD player I bought for him in an effort to help him nap at school.
And that is why we're where we are at today.
From the beginning of M-man's time at this school, the administrator and his "attachment" teacher complained of M-man's refusal to nap, his stubborn tantrums and basically, his inability/refusal to step in line.
Within a month of being at this school, these people announced he needed occupational therapy. Puzzled, we took him to our pediatrician, who disagreed and said preschools are supposed to be skilled at dealing with, you know, preschoolers.
Then the school brought in a social worker and pestered us to sign a release form so she could observe M-man. We were like, really? But we gave in. Guess what the social worker's conclusion was? M-man needs occupational therapy. Yeah, shoulda seen that coming.
So we went back to the pediatrician who was like, really?, but agreed to give us a referral to a place he had worked with in the past.
We've had him in OT for a few months now. He's learned to hold a fork much better and to increase his core strength so he doesn't feel tired -- he no longer lays down in the middle of the day and announces he's tired. The OT is also working with him on sensory processing issues, which have something to do with helping him function and transition in a busy, stimulating environment.
But that was not enough.
In November the school asked us if a "consultant" could observe him and give his teachers strategies to deal with him. He was definitely a handful at home at this point, now at 3 1/2 years old. I'm an ex-journalist and have a deep, abiding distrust of consultants. They are never good news for the little guy.
But after much badgering, we wearily said OK, alright, already. Just make sure she talks to the OT, so everyone is on the same page.
Radio silence followed. In late November, I got an email from the "attachment" teacher, who listed all of the "strategies" they were going to try for naptime, including heavier "sensory" blankets, a timer to reward him for begin quiet, etc.
I'll pause here for a moment. What is up with the nap thing, you wonder? M-man rarely naps anymore. I really don't care that he doesn't nap anymore. Frankly, he goes to bed more easily at night if he hasn't napped. Sure, sometimes he's a bear at the end of the day, but who isn't? But this school was OBSESSED with naptime. Obsessed.
And it was very, very evident that the attachment teacher was becomign a problem. Based on our last parent-teacher conference, this became clear when she spent half of the time talking about how stressed out she was, rather than discussing M-man's progress. She gave us the printout of four "personality" types for kids, asked us to pick one that described our son. Bewildered, we did, and then she disagreed when we didn't pick the one she wanted us to pick. Seriously. It was the worst-managed parent-teacher conference I've ever been to, and I've been a mom for a long time.
Why we didn't run for the hills at this point, I don't know. M-man loved his school. The two other teachers in his room were loving and warm to him. I know they had rough days with him. M-man is a talkative, whip-smart kid who is stubborn and inquisitive. And kind of pissed-off sometimes. But he is a love who adores books and puzzles and wants to play until he drops. And they seemed to really care about him.
In the November email from the attachment teacher, the one with all the strategies, she also said that she and the school administrator would try these strategies and we would all convene in January to discuss progress.
That would change radically two weeks and six days later.
Around end of November, early December ,M-man was on a tear, a stinker at home and at school. At this point I had tried timeouts and even spanking (swats on the butt, not the 1970s wallops we oldsters grew up with). Not much was working until the OT suggested the three-minute timeout -- count to three, and then tell the kid it's time for time out. Put the kid in a quiet spot where they can't hurt themselves and let them scream and flail it out. Remind them that you will start the timer (which you're holding in your hand) when they have a "quiet body."
It was rocky at first and I was skeptical. But you know, it worked. Basically, the idea is to bore the kid so much that they are willing to behave to not have to do something so boring.
Back to December. The holiday is in full swing at our house and at school. I called the administrator's office one day to talk about M-man and some things we were trying at home. I knew she had just resigned but she was supposedly going to be hanging around somewhat during the transition to a new administrator. I learned instead that she was gone-gone.
I learned that a board member whom I'd never met was in charge for now. I asked that she get in touch with me.
A week later, six days before Christmas, she called. She was very cheerful and said she'd like to meet my husband and I and talk "new strategies" for M-man. We said sure, we'll be there this afternoon.
We were ushered into a room with her and the consultant, who we'd never met or heard from in the time since we'd signed a consent form. Our OT had unsuccessfully tried to talk with her about what was going on in the classroom. No actual employees of the preschool were in the room.
The consultant, a large, bulbous woman, told us several times that she had more than 40 years of experience in special education, child development, blah blah blah, and had put her own daughter through therapy. She used the word "crisis" over and over. We told her, sure, we'll take him to the kid psychologist at the OT's center. We were concerned enough to see if he needed more, though not entirely convinced.
The consultant did all the talking. The board member sat there, wrapping herself tightly in a shawl after complaining she was really cold. Then the consultant handed us a contract to sign.
We had to agree to a "full diagnostic" evaluation for M-man that included speech, health, social, etc. We had to agree to mandatory family counseling. And we had to get all of this done in about three weeks time and over the holidays or we'd be kicked out as of January 9. Did I mention that this was six days before Christmas? If we didn't sign, they said they'd kick us out anyway.
There was no way we could promise to meet the terms of that agreement. We didn't even know how soon we could see someone and how long such an evaluation would take.
We were done with these yahoos. We elevated the matter to the chief yahoo, the board president.
Chief yahoo has never met us, or M-man. But he doesn't need to, apparently, because he is obviously very smart. He told us his teachers are stressed and he needs to show them a piece of paper. This preschool is not equipped to deal with M-man's problems. (which again, are not napping, tantrums and stubbornness -- very radical for preschool). Too bad he didn't meet my kid -- he probably would like him.
This issue dragged out over Christmas and New Year's. We did our best to not let the drama ruin our family holiday, but I would be lying if I said our hearts weren't heavy during this period. How could a school be so heartless? Why had they put a target on my little boy's back?
Well, we did get that pyschologist's appointment. Since we had not signed the piece of paper, the school was going to kick us out anyway. But we kept the appointment.
The psychologist's first question was, "why do you want your kid to go to that school?" He was pretty incredulous. Full diagnostic evaluations aren't done on kids until early grade school because kids' frontal lobes are too undeveloped, he told us. The diagnostic would not give any indication of issues or issues to come. Mandatory counseling? Didn't even make sense. Why would the consultant demand that, he asked. (We concluded spanking=troubled family in the eyes of the school.)
He was good. He had obviously studied our kid's case file and talked with the OT. He made a few modest suggestions and declared M-man to be a pretty normal three-year-old. He said "I don't want to waste your money."
And that was that.
OK, that's not true. In the course of all this, we puzzled over why this attachment teacher was so stressed out. She often sits in the bunny cage (the class has a bunny) at the end of the school day, stroking the bunny, as the kids run wild. You have to be pretty frazzled to sit inside a bunny cage. We are not the only parents that noticed.
So, naturally, we googled her. And oh boy, were we surprised to find weird nude photos of her, including one with her in combat boots (that was it) posed with another woman wearing nothing but thigh-high stockings, online. She has a tough look on her face, not very preschool teacher-like.
So we told the chief yahoo about this and asked that she no longer be M-man's attachment teacher or that she be alone with him, ever. Chief Yahoo to this date has declined to respond to any of this, even though we've reminded him again that he has a preschool teacher at his preschool (which is affiliated with the Evangelical Church) who is nude online. He has, apparently, done some CYA -- the raunchiest photo is now password protected, the other photos harder to get to now.
Obviously, M-man was done at this school. There is no way he can understand why he can't go back to the school he really liked. It breaks my heart. I know he's going to miss it and be confused.
The teacher who cried is obviously not the naked bunny cage woman. I felt so sad when I picture her face crumpling as I delivered the news.
Fortunately, M-man will not remember any of this. His dad and I will never forget it.