Several of you looked right past the story of how I nearly didn’t recognize my parents’ dog when they so-sneakily showed up last Sunday to surprise me, and went right for the more important issue, which was: How did Monkey do with meeting some of the kids he’ll be attending Hippie School with? (I would like to buy some proper syntax for that sentence, but I’m too lazy to fix it, so just pretend it wasn’t the most awkward and rambly one you’ve ever read.) Last Sunday we had just two of his classmates here (along with a younger sibling and the younger sibling’s friend), and despite three being a not-so-magic number when it comes to play dates, the boys did great. A good time was had by all, and aside from a couple of minor skirmishes (only one involving my own kid, even), all was calm and delightful.
Monkey couldn’t wait to start school. Every day he’s been asking IS IT MONDAY YET?? and every day I have assured him that school will be here before he knows it. So when we got an email on Thursday letting us know that there would be a school-wide pool party today, I thought this would be a good way to say “Here’s everyone, and also now it’s nearly Monday,” and I put it on my calendar.
But then yesterday Monkey voluntarily went to bed early, which is never a good sign.
This morning he seemed better, but then something minor happened with Chickadee and he ricocheted into full-scale meltdown mode just like that. He stormed upstairs “to calm down,” wherein we understand “calm down” to mean “create an insulting and incendiary poster for placement on the door to his room which indicates that he is of superior intelligence and the rest of us can kiss his ass.”
So we decided to skip the pool party. Clearly, it was going to be too stressful.
But about an hour (and a “oops I never took my meds this morning, I’ll do that now”) later, he was folding himself into my lap with an apology and asking if I could forgive him, and I said of course I could, and I asked him if he was okay.
“I am feeling kind of nervous about school starting,” he admitted. “It seems like I’m always changing schools and starting over.” I hugged him and allowed as to how it sure seems like that, huh? And I reminded him that THIS school is going to be REALLY GREAT, and for the first time it’s a school we picked specifically because of how awesome we think it will be for him, and starting over with new kids is no fun, but we really think it will all be worth it. He nodded and seemed cheered and then I asked if he wanted to try to go to the pool party for a little bit.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Whatever you think is best.” He uses that phrase on me all the time, my Monkey does—it’s his standard little professor-speak for “I have stopped trying to assert that I know everything and am graciously allowing you to take the helm.” I hate it in a way I can’t even begin to explain, but it’s tied to feeling like my assumptions of “best” are often incorrect and like I am constantly letting him down. (Thank goodness I’m not bringing any of my own baggage to bear on this already complicated relationship, huh?) Anyway, I told him I’d think about it and talk to Otto, and he left to go amuse himself for a bit.
We decided to try to attend for a short while; Monkey seemed fine and we didn’t want to blow it off.
So we got ready and drove across town and got slightly lost, and then we arrived at a small pool complex where there were other Hippie School kids and parents, and Monkey made a beeline for the table of food, because cheese curls do not require you to remember your manners or pretend to be interested in strangers. Eventually he allowed the teacher to introduce him to some other kids, and finally I all but drop-kicked him into the pool, insisting that if nothing else, the water would get the neon-orange cheese dust off of him.
Otto and I met and chatted with some other parents. Monkey floated around the pool on a lounger, mostly, but as I checked back in his direction every few minutes, I saw he’d at least started interacting with a couple of other boys while he was doing so. The boys we’d had to our house were not in attendance.
Just when I had unwound enough to sit down at a picnic table and join a conversation, I saw three boys come up on Monkey’s floating lounger and push it towards the edge of the pool together. And the world spun into slow motion, because I realized almost immediately what was happening, and what would happen next, and I wasn’t close enough to get there to stop it.
As I stood up, the boys began to tilt the float. The goal was to knock Monkey off—they were all playing some sort of game, I’m not sure what, but this wasn’t malice, just horseplay—but they’d pressed the far side of the float to the pool’s edge, which meant there was nowhere to dump Monkey that wasn’t going to result in some part of his body hitting the concrete pool lip.
As I hopped the picnic bench, Monkey’s head hit the side, and his body slipped into the water. The boys pushing the float—conscious only that victory was nearly theirs—jumped up on the underside of the float, which now had Monkey pinned against the pool wall.
As I began to run towards them, Monkey shoved his arms back up to the surface, between the float and the wall, and invective streamed forth from his mouth. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but I could tell it was nothing I wanted to hear.
As I bellowed “MONKEY!” and every neck in the area swiveled first in my direction and then his, my son began punching at the other boys. Two of them immediately swam back, away from him, while the third caught his fists.
By the time I reached him and plucked him out of the pool on a surge of Mama Bear adrenaline that made it feel like scooping up a wayward leaf, he was screaming obscenities, accusing the other boys of trying to drown him, and insisting that he was never going to the Hippie School in a million years, not unless he was allowed to kill that kid with his bare hands.
So that was it. I dragged him to a nearby chair to park him and give him some time and space to wind down. My cheeks burned hot and I tried to speak to him calmly (tried is the operative word, as every obscenity or accusation of people being “retarded” elicited such horror and embarrassment I’m sure I was snapping at him more than I was soothing him), and once I was no longer afraid he would run off I managed to glance around, thankful for the bit of cover provided by my sunglasses. I expected to see everyone gawking, looks of shock mixed with pity and a dash of “don’t get near that kid, freak-out might be contagious” tossed in there for good measure.
I’m pretty familiar with those looks by now. They don’t get any easier to bear, by the way. But I know them well.
Instead I saw… a few glances of concern. Kids who’d turned back to whatever they’d been doing before. A couple of understanding, encouraging looks in my direction. The main teacher walking over, asking Monkey if it was okay if she sat down, too. The parents of the other boys involved speaking quietly with them about what had happened.
Monkey railed for quite a while. He wanted to go home, he wanted to punch those jerks in the face, he was NEVER going to Hippie School no matter what anyone said. And I continued to be sad and mortified and tired and frustrated, but I couldn’t get over the complete absence of judgment. Clearly Monkey was not the first kid to lose his crap in this group and he won’t be the last. And that was… okay.
He recovered enough to apologize to the kid he hit, and to accept an apology from him as well. We packed up and began the drive home, having been assured by the teacher that this was a very stressful situation for him and she totally gets it, no worries, he is going to be fine.
I tried to breathe deeply and clear my head as Otto steered us towards home. A small and pitiful snuffling came from the backseat.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” I peered back to see him scrubbing at his eyes with his towel, trying so hard not to cry that my chest began to ache just watching him.
“I don’t have any friends,” he squeaked, still trying to get ahold of himself. “I miss Lemur. I hate changing schools. I don’t know anyone now.”
“Oh, baby,” I said, exchanging a look with Otto. “You know some of the new kids. And you’ll meet the rest. And you and Lemur are still friends! I’ll call his mom and see when you can play, okay?”
“After what I did today? I don’t think I really deserve a play date.” He buried his face in the towel. And I briefly considered, and then decided against, explaining that yes, he doesn’t deserve a play date after that behavior, but no, he doesn’t lose the play date when really he acts that way because he’s a giant ball of stress and anxiety and seeing his one true buddy is basically therapy for him.
“Today was hard,” was all I said. “Starting a new school is exciting, but it’s also scary. Making new friends is scary for everyone. It’s not just you. It’s hard for me, too.”
“Me, too,” chimed in Otto. Monkey seemed to consider this, as if he was trying to figure out if we were just pretending.
“Can I tell you something, though?” He nodded. “We are choosing this school because we think this is where you have the best chance of being happy and learning a ton. And you have to admit that even when you were really super mad back there, everyone was still very nice about it. I think this is a safe place with a lot of love and understanding. I know it’s hard to start new, but you’ll get to know everyone and get used to it.” He nodded, again. I took a deep breath. “It’s what I think is best, okay? Trust me on this one. It’s going to be okay.”
“Okay,” he said.
Today, I’ll take okay. Hopefully we have enough okay for the first day of school on Monday, too. And however much we need after that.