Lei is out of school even though school isn’t out yet.
On Monday I took her to a very fancy doctor who took an extensive history of Lei’s hives, repeated colds and stomach problems, examined her, and then told me to toughen up and force her to go to school even when she says she feels sick.
As we got into the car, I decided that instead of ruminating on the sting of yet another parenting lecture from a teacher, doctor, nurse or other uninvested stranger, I would just talk to Lei, trying to share my feelings with as much love as possible.
“Lei, when yet a doctor or teacher tells me I should just be tougher with you, that you’re just manipulating me to avoid going to school, it feels pretty humiliating. And I wonder why you feel like you need to do that. Do you know why you work so hard to avoid going to school?”
Lei began to talk to me about school. She said the girls make excuses so that they don’t have to talk with her, play with her or sit with her at lunch. The boys tease her or play little tricks on her when the teacher isn’t looking. She said it’s gotten worse since the end of May.
“Whenever I tell Ms. P,” Lei said, referring to her classroom teacher, “she says, ‘well, Lei, you were doing this first,'” pointing out something Lei could have done better.
All this year, whenever Lei has had trouble with another student, her teacher has insisted, basically, that Lei started it but doesn’t have enough self-awareness to realize that her actions have an adverse effect on the situation.
I’ve noticed this about Lei – what with living with her and raising her for 11 years – so in the fall I enthusiastically supported the idea of her getting help in this area. But I haven’t noticed any improvement. All I hear is that Lei is to blame.
If you were a general education classroom teacher and one of your students had a social emotional delay that caused them to have frequent conflicts with other students and be unable to form lasting friendships, what would you do?
Would you wait for the parent to come talk to you about something else, then spring your concerns on the parent without any plan to address the problem? Would you lecture the child – who you can see has perfectionist tendencies – about how the stakes are only getting higher? Would you deal with other students repeatedly mistreating and shunning that child by briefly talking to them, but not taking any other disciplinary steps? Would you continually blame the child with special needs instead of teaching your whole class the importance of inclusion and empathy towards those who are different?
Those are the things Lei’s classroom teacher has done.
As I listened to Lei on Monday, I tried to keep my emotions in check. I knew that if I reacted the way I wanted to while driving the car, I’d be a danger to myself and others. Instead I took some deep breaths and fell back on a basic active listening technique.
“Let me see if I understand you correctly. You’re saying that whenever there is a substitute the kids treat you worse, and none of them face any consequences once the teacher gets back?”
“It sounds like you’re telling me that you feel invisible because the girls don’t talk to you or include you in anything they do.”
“What I hear you saying is that you’re so lonely at school that you would rather stay home and escape into a fantasy world where you have a lot of friends who love you.”
Yeah, that’s what she was saying.
So we came home and I decided I’m not sending her back.
Today I took both kids to an acupuncturist that a good friend recommended. I was hoping to get some immune support for both of them, and help for Lei’s many stomach issues.
After one visit, this acupuncturist is well on her way to being my favorite health care provider of all time. A former midwife, the petite African-American woman with chic natural hair and a special-needs child of her own greeted us with so much kindness and patience for D bouncing around the small consultation room. Her name is Khadijah.
She immediately asked Lei what was going on with school, and listened gravely as Lei told her everything. Khadijah turned to me.
“In Chinese medicine sadness is seen as connecting to the lungs,” she explained. “You know how you can feel so sad it takes your breath away or you gasp for air? Lei has become so depressed because of her school situation that her lungs have become weak. And that makes her vulnerable to respiratory infections.”
“Now, the lungs inspire, take in air, and they transfer chi to the large intestine,” she said. “Air brings energy into the lungs, and that energy, the way we see the body in Chinese medicine, leaves through the large intestine. But when the person is so sad for so long, the lungs become weak and the large intestine becomes weak as well, causing cramping and constipation.”
Which pretty much tied up Lei’s symptoms in a neat little bow.
The acupuncturist said to me, “I know what it’s like. I took all three of my kids out of school once because they were being racially harassed. Sometimes you have given the school all the chances you can stand to fix things. And then you have to stand by your kids.”
She gets it. She gets my hesitation to have Lei see a therapist who may or may not help, but will take up even more of the limited time in which Lei gets to try to enjoy life and be a kid. She sees that Lei needs support on both physical and emotional levels, and if today’s short treatment was any indication, she can also provide that.
After the treatment that combined moxibustion and accupressure, Lei was visibly relaxed and happier. At one point Khadijah held the moxa over a point on Lei’s upper back, and afterward, Lei turned to her, saying, “That felt like when you are with your family and friends and your heart feels warmed!”
As we left the treatment room, Lei told me, “I felt so awful this morning, so tired and depressed. But now I feel great! I feel happy!”
I’ll take Lei back next week for another treatment, and probably continue on a weekly basis for a while. I feel like this is going to really help her, and if I’ve learned anything in my 11 years as a mom, whatever helps my kids helps me.
As for school … we’ll see what happens. I’ve been interviewing for a job out of state, so I don’t even know if it’s worth trying to fix things at Lei’s school. Her dad and I have agreed to wait and see for a little while.
For today, I’m grateful we have found a path to help Lei recover from the last three years of being bullied, teased and ostracized by classmates. I know that she doesn’t always realize how her actions look to her peers. I see that just as she is brilliant in some areas, she’s far behind in others. But she’s not going to improve if she’s constantly under attack. Is healthy development even possible in a place where she feels rejected and unsafe?
I seriously doubt it, and at least for this year, I’ve given the school all the chances I can stand. Now it’s time to stand by my kid.