When I arrived to school on Friday, the school social worker walked out with C.S. as he came into the cafeteria for pick up – never a good sign. Clearly he had a bad day already and it wasn't long until he was in tears again, had fallen to the floor, hid behind the tables and declared every hurtful thing he could say about himself, "I'm stupid! I don't know why I'm here. I just wish I were dead!" that flooded me with concern and worry and a heartbreaking sense of defeat.
Was it because he was off diet? The new medication has increased C.S.'s appetite immensely. Add a mix of tantalizing foods following Thanksgiving and I soon discovered that he had been snitching like crazy! And he had been suffering the consequences: lack of sleep, GI distress, grumpiness.
Was it because his routine was disrupted? Was this our annual melt down coming a little later than usual? Just when we think we've settled into the school year and feel we have things going smoothly, sometime in November C.S. typically hits a rough week. I think its the disruption of Halloween parties, then Thanksgiving and expectations building at an ever increasing intensity towards Christmas. In the past, we hit the meltdown sometime in November. We got so close to making it through?
Was it because the medication is too little now? The new medication has shown some surprising results in his weight as well. I've already handed-down clothes I just purchased last month!
Was it me? Was it because I somehow relaxed my diligence? Because I was ready to turn some needed attention towards DeDe?
What was it!? What had sent us on the fast track back to that old territory of melt downs, tantrumming and the dreaded death wish that was so reminiscent of last year's frightening bad November. All the sudden, all that progress I was thankful for, that I thought I had made, had seemed to disappear, my son on the floor in a clearly painful puddle of tears.
Whatever it was that had happened, he wasn't telling. Not to his para. Not to his classroom teacher. Not the school social worker. And not me.
Fortunately, we had a meeting with his therapist that afternoon. Unfortunately, I had given the appointment to DeDe. This was going to be the first week we'd skip him. But she took the last 15 minutes to invite both me and C.S. up to her office and I got to witness how she manages him. I think she had every intention that I'd be there as some sort of apprentice. I added very little to the conversation, but I learned a great deal by watching.
She asked him to tell what had happened. Even though he headed straight to his bad behavior, the things he knew I was focussing on with such worry, the things he knew he'd get in trouble for, the things that clearly set him apart from others – she rephrased it, simplified it by responding: "It sounds like you had a really bad day."
Her simple statement, filled with empathy, gently opened the barricade he had been hiding behind all day.
He explained what happened at recess that made him run away from his Para, hide behind the big dumpster and almost bolt off the school grounds before they finally caught him. His new friend, his best friend and he, had had a disagreement about how to play at recess.
It seems a small altercation. But you have to remember how HUGE it is that he has a friend like this in the first place. And how NEW having a friend is to him. She realized it instantly. She did not try to explain that he was making a mountain out of a molehill. She responded in a way I know I will emulate from here to eternity.
"First I want to validate your feelings." She directed this statement to him, but I think it was a bit of instruction intended for me. She defined the word for them and then continued.
"I understand why you felt so bad. I think you just need some help understanding what to do when you feel that way."
C.S. quickly confess, "But I said a bad thing. I told Billy we weren't friends anymore."
Tears were welling up in his eyes.
He interrupted her as she tried to respond, the flood gates had opened, both for sharing and his tears. "And then I said another bad thing. I told him I didn't want to play with him ever again."
"I can tell that makes you very sad."
Their conversation was wonderful to behold. I was so grateful how she had helped him. Finally, I understood, no matter how much this Bad Friday resembled old territory, we were still solidly in the new, making progress, not just him and but me too.
He had made his first friend. Of course there'd come a time when he'd experience their first misunderstanding. It probably seemed like him too that this was just like all the ugly Novembers we had known before. But it wasn't. This was all good too. An opportunity to learn something new. Including our goal for next week. Making up with his friend.
Silver lining: I realized that one Bad Friday cannot erase our progress. We're just trying to gain some new skills. And pretty soon, we'll know how to manage the everyday bad day in a new and appropriate way. Here we both have an opportunity to learn and to practice.