Today, my son scared the holy living shit out of me. Not once, but twice. And for very different things.
He leaves for the bus at around 7:15 so that he can meander in the painful slowness of a child to the bus stop at the corner. I walked him down there the first morning and have been watching him every morning since because I can not only see the entire length of the road from the back porch, but I can also see the bus stop and when the bus arrives. Granted, I can’t watch for every second because of the other two children, but I can see him get safely to the corner and will check every couple of minutes until I no longer see any of the children waiting at that stop.
The bus gets there between 7:25 and 7:30, which is exactly the time it is supposed to get there; a much-needed improvement over last year. Although we were at a different school, it was the same bus company. The first day of school revealed them to be 20 minutes earlier than the bus notice stated. You have never seen so many children scrambling from their houses and running to the bus stop.
Anyways, school starts here at 8:10. If students are not in their classrooms at that time, they are marked absent and if a parent has not already called to confirm this, the school will check with the bus company (for those that ride the bus) and then parents will be called.
My phone rang at 8:11. It was the bus company. And they wanted to know if my son was with me.
“No.. I sent him to the bus stop this morning. I saw him walk down there. Did he not get on the bus?!”
“No. The driver said he saw him walking back down the road towards home. He tried to get his attention, but he wouldn’t come back to the bus. He isn’t there?”
“No! Um, ok, I have to go find him now.”
Now? I was panicking.
I thanked him for calling and quickly grabbed my shoes. Braeden had no clue what was going on and was jabbering on about what seemed like some sort of Brother Scavenger Hunt.
Just as I reached for the back door, I heard a noise at the front door. Just a small click, like the noise the door makes with the air pressure caused by opening or closing the screen door. I ran to the front door, thinking maybe Donovan was there and it was locked.
It was not locked.
But when I opened the main door, I saw that the screen door was locked open. I looked down to find Donovan’s tennis shoes, his socks and his backpack scattered on the porch. But no Donovan.
My mind and my heart were now going approximately 100 miles per hour.
I walked off the porch, looking towards the back yard and across the front yard.
Where was he?
Then I heard it: a small noise to my right, like a shuffling. When I turned, I saw him. Hiding behind the garbage can.
“Donovan! What are you doing back there?”
He looked at me, like I had just transported from the mother ship and he had no idea who I was or what I could possibly mean by asking such a question.
My brain was officially shooting flames and doing somersaults at the same time by that point.
“Why did you not get on the bus?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You have to know why you came back home! Why aren’t you at school?”
“I don’t know.” His face was completely blank, with only a hint that maybe he saw my panic and disbelief and was more concerned about me spontaneously combusting than answering the question honestly.
“Get your shoes and your socks and get in the house now. I’m driving you to school.”
Once we were inside, I asked him again, over and over, why he hadn’t gotten on the bus. I told him that I had been petrified that something had happened to him. That others were afraid something had happened to him. That you just don’t do things like that.
What it all boiled down to was that he didn’t want to go to school. He hasn’t wanted to since Day One, and it has gotten progressively worse as time goes on. Yesterday was the first good day he had, according to his teacher (and I noticed the difference as well in his behavior after school during homework). Every morning has been filled with tears because he says he misses me. They can last either an hour or several hours, always to the point of classroom disruption.
I explained to him that I knew it was rough. I don’t have a job now, which I have had his entire life. There was no need for day care or a sitter this summer, so he was home all the time with me. A new school. New teachers. New bus stop. New everything. Combine it with whatever issues he was already having while in a familiar routine and you have the recipe for chaos in this child’s mind.
I honestly think he was expecting that I would not take him to school today. But I did. After getting the baby out of bed and getting the younger boys dressed, I drove him to school and got him signed in at the office. We walked together down to his classroom.
It was there that things fell completely apart.
He was already in tears when we got there, despite all my explanations that I couldn’t keep him home from school even if I wanted to and that he had to be here. There are some things in life that we just don’t get to choose.
His teacher came out to find out what had happened, which I explained briefly and quietly, and then she put her arm around him to lead him into the classroom.
He started sobbing and twisting away from her, eyes wide, trying to shove past her and back out into the hallway in what I could only imagine to be the fashion of a child having a panic attack.
She gave up and let him go, walking into the classroom without him so that I could speak to him alone. Or as alone as it gets with two small children in tow.
“Donovan, you have to go to school. You need to get into that classroom and I will see you when school is over. You cannot stay home.”
“No. I don’t want to.”
“I understand that you don’t want to, but you have to.”
I was losing my cool at that point.
I had a baby who was starving and angry because he didn’t get to eat when he was pulled from bed and put into the car.
I had a toddler who thought he needed to visit with every classroom nearby while I was trying to talk sense into my second grader.
And there was a teacher in there that was expecting that I would know how to manage my child.. and I. Do. Not. At all. Because when he gets to this level of emotional instability, he doesn’t respond to anything.
Except people losing their cool.
I pulled out the low-volume, angry Mom voice. “You are not going to pull this today, Donovan. You will get into that classroom and you will get in there NOW.”
He cringed, tears pouring down his face and started walking into the classroom.
Great. Now I felt like a total asshole.
I grabbed his backpack and pulled him back.
“Donovan. I’m sorry, ok? I can’t keep you home. You need to go to school. It’s just one of those things you have to do. I know it’s hard, but you’re going to have so many new friends here if you just give it a chance.”
“Ok,” he sobbed.
I pulled him in and hugged him.
“Alright, now go give your tardy slip to your teacher and put your backpack away and then sit down and try to relax, ok?”
He turned the corner in the classroom to put his backpack into his locker. I didn’t wait for him to get to his seat to see me walking away. If years of day care taught me anything it was that the lingering parents of children with separation anxiety only help to fuel that fire.
His teacher later informed me via email that he had cried for a total of an hour this morning, but that by lunch he was smiling and talking to people. I hope that means he was in a better mood, but sometimes I know, from personal experience, that it can just mean accepting defeat and carrying on with life.
I want him to be happy, not pretending that he is or simply forgetting for a moment that he isn’t.
Truly happy.. I mean, that’s the whole premise of being allowed to just be a kid, for crying out loud. I wish I could pinpoint where everything started to fall apart for him, because he is not a (generally) happy child.
I made an appointment this afternoon for an evaluation with a child therapist two weeks from now.
Days like today are when you know it’s time.