Friday, March 07, 2008

Lesson Of The Week

MJ got a referral on Wednesday. Not a referral to a new doctor or specialist, which is the kind of referral we are used to getting in our house, but the kind of referral that means she has a black mark on her school record. I never got in trouble at school (my rebellion flew under the radar) and I was completely shocked, and pretty upset, when I discovered the big yellow note from the principal that MJ left on the table for me to find- after she was asleep.

I was so taken by surprise that I didn't even go wake her up to make her explain. It said that MJ had kicked a boy at recess, leaving a red lump and bruise, as her defense to some boy/girl teasing. She was expected to write an apology to the boy, and to skip recess for several days.

I sat at the table with the note in hand and cried. It was like the first sign that she is being affected by JJ and his aggression towards her. I wasn't even really upset with her, just worried and saddened that she resorted to physical assault (their words) to deal with a problem. There is no doubt that she may have some issues with personal space and boundaries. She deals with being mauled and attacked on a regular basis. She's used to pushing Jacob off of her and sometimes, shoving him away just so she can make her escape. It's not normal for a nine year old to have to do this everyday. Maybe I thought she was dealing with it better than she is.

So after I processed that, I started feeling defensive. Why should she have to make an apology? It was clear that the boy was being mean, and emotional abuse is just as serious as physical abuse. Harder to heal from and longer lasting, in most cases. I'm currently re-training to answer domestic violence crisis hotline calls, so this issue has been at the front of my mind lately. So, I reasoned, if she has to say sorry, than he should have to as well. I was feeling very justified in this position. My plan was to go into the school in the morning, sit down with the principal, a give her a piece of my mind about how the situation was handled. (It's no secret that I'm impulsive and can be hot headed.) As an afterthought, my plan also included calling Madison into the office, and making sure that she knew this was not OK, no matter what, but that I was on her side.

I slept on it.

So Thursday morning I don't even mention it to MJ. Her dad had found the note and signed it before work, so it was easy to avoid talking about it before she headed out to the bus stop. I arrived at the school, all prepared to be tough, and the principal was not available. (Impulsive people don't make appointments.) So I sat for 20 minutes or so, watching the kids come and go, listening to the receptionist interact with the students, and slowly began to soften. And when the principal came around the corner with a big smile and a "so nice to meet you" I was taken down a few notches.

We sat down in her office, and I asked her what exactly had happened on the playground the day before. She told me the story, about how this classroom seems to be very hormonally charged, and how the boy was inappropriate and not innocent in the situation. At this point I hadn't said much, and all my previous judgements and criticism washed away. First of all, I realized, this woman doesn't need to hear it from me. She followed procedure. There is a "no tolerance" policy, and she adhered to the rules. Policies like this are protecting our kids every day all over the country, and who was I to expect that my child was above it?

Secondly, she was kind. She asked me about how MJ was feeling about it after a day had passed, and I told her MJ and I had not talked about it, yet. I told her all about JJ, and what MJ's home life is like. We talked about how the school could support MJ, and TJ as well. I asked if maybe MJ could talk to the school's counsellor once a week to have an adult to vent to, to have an impartial person listen to her and help her work out whatever she is feeling and dealing with at home. Then MJ came in to the office, and the principal sat with us, without saying a word, while I told MJ that I was disappointed. How I had been worried that she had hurt feelings and couldn't tell me. I said although she is very physical at home , for good reason, she needed to understand she can't hurt people when she is upset. explained that we were going to work on finding a way for her to let out some anger and negative emotions so she doesn't build it up and let it out on another person. Then I hugged her tight, reminded her how much I love her, and sent her back to class. The principal didn't need too say a word. After MJ walked away, she said that I was a good mom. That I handled it like a pro. And that she respected and admired the way I spoke with MJ. That was really nice to hear.

CJ and I talked about it later that night. He said he was proud of her for defending herself, and now he wants to teach her how to punch. He wants her to always stick up for herself, and her brothers, even if it means she gets a little rough. He'd rather have her in trouble for kicking boy than have her a victim to anything. I see his point, and don't totally disagree, but we put off that discussion for another day.

So the referral turned out not to be such a bad thing. I went through a range of emotions, dealt with the problem and came out feeling good. MJ gained an opportunity to have time to work on her own issues with the school counsellor, and hopefully a better way to deal with these types of situations. I learned a little about trusting other adults when it comes to working with my kids, and to not become so defensive so quickly.

I guess we all come away from things with different lessons learned and our own opinions formed.


Inkling said...

I have given referrals to children when I thought their self-defense was justified, because I have to be consistent. I'm glad this turned out well and that you have a good principal.

AmberL said...

I'm sorry this is so long. ;) WOW! Very well written. I was in tears reading this. I've been in these types of situations before and it brings out soo many emotions at once. Before I read that the principal told you what a good mom you are, I was thinking the same thing. I am so blessed to have you as a friend and inspiration! You ARE such a wise person and teach me so much through our different means of communication. And the love you show for your children speaks volumes to me!