Work with me, please.

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Hubby and I had a good meeting last Wednesday with Mae’s four teachers and the school’s talented and gifted Coordinator and guidance counselor. I requested the meeting to get a better idea of how Mae has been adjusting. I’m still trying to determine what intervention(s) to pursue next and what’s available through the school system now that we’re public.

The meeting went well. As it turns out, the teachers have been pleasantly surprised that Mae is not the kid I described in my introductory email to them. I was expecting a much tougher transition than we’ve had. I’m happy that I was wrong. They counted among them 3-4 meltdowns, and two of those were on the same day and may have been one extended meltdown. The teachers have observed some of the same behaviors we’ve been working on — not picking up on social cues, difficulty working in a group, frustration and withdrawal when others don’t accept her ideas, trouble making friends. They offered some supports that they think may be helpful with social, transition, and organizational skills.

I wasn’t aware that she had such trouble with organizational skills at school (though her neuropsychological evaluation report said that she would). For example, even though she began the school year with a well-stocked pouch for pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and the pouch stays in the backpack that she carries from class to class, she’s caught the devil keeping up with the items. And, I check the pouch regularly to restock as needed. Students are actually graded on work habits, and can lose 20-25% of a daily work habit grade for forgetting to take crayons to math. One of my friends asked if the emphasis on organization creates too much pressure at this age. Right now, I think the teachers are being reasonable. The school’s stated goal is to make them “college and work ready,” even though it’s an elementary school (2nd through 5th graders). Working in human resources, I see how a lack of organizational skills can hamper career success. Once I receive the first grade report, I’ll know if I should change my attitude.

I brought up during the conversation that Mae has become more anxious about her relationship with one student in particular, Gigi, which may eventually lead to problems in class. Mae’s homeroom teacher offered to monitor them when she has recess duty and she said that she would suggest to Mae that they try peer mediation. She did just that later in the afternoon after our meeting. The guidance counselor agreed that peer mediation may be appropriate.

Mae has been talking about Gigi more and it seems that they are becoming less and less friends. Mae has said that she’s afraid not to do things that Gigi tells her because Gigi may gossip about her to other students who have been friendly and then those friends will stop liking her. There is one girl in particular that Mae admires and enjoys being with, and she’s afraid of loosing that budding friendship. I swear, this is the first time in her eight years that Mae has shown any inkling of being unwilling to stand up for herself.

I started reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to Mae last week, mostly because of the second agreement, ‘don’t take anything personally.’ I thought the concepts would help her understand the importance of protecting herself emotionally and build up the confidence to do so. On Wednesday night, we read agreement one, ‘be impeccable with your word.’ This requires using words for good, not evil.

When I picked Mae up from aftercare on Thursday, she asked me, with urgency, “What’s the second agreement?” I told her we’d read it later and asked why she needed to know.

Mae: “I told [Gigi] to be impeccable with her word.”
Me:  “Did you tell her what it means?”
Mae: “No, I told her to figure it out. We were about to switch classes.”

And, just like that, she was ready to give the kid the second agreement and she hadn’t even explained the first.

Ironically, I met Gigi and her dad that same day. Hubby was right about her — she reminds me too of my child!

I’d asked Mae to introduce me to Gigi, and I was glad the opportunity came.  I’d like to get to know this child who is the first person — big or small — I know of that Mae has been unable to stand up to and defend herself against. Mae had her own agenda; she walked over to Gigi.

Mae: “My mom wants to talk to you about being mean to me.”
Gigi: “I’m not mean to you.”
Mae: “Uh huh. You called my baby brother annoying and stupid.”
Gigi: “No, I didn’t.”

Gigi followed Mae back to me anyway, and I asked about her day. She seems friendly and outgoing. We walked down to where her dad was waiting for her. I introduced myself as Mae’s mom and told him that the girls ride the bus together to aftercare and sometimes do their homework together. He was friendly too. I asked him if he was aware of any of the “friendship drama” between Mae and Gigi. He looked confused and said no. I thought to myself, ‘I guess that’s Mom’s domain.’ Mae said to the dad, “She’s been mean to me. She said she’ll be my friend Monday through Thursday, but not Friday, and that’s just wrong. Wrong.” Without taking a breath, Mae then went off on a tangent about having swim lessons on Fridays and not liking having to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Gigi’s dad went with that line of conversation and asked questions about swim lessons. I would have liked to talk to him some more about the girls. However, since he made no attempt to explore what Mae and I meant about “drama” and “mean,” I decided that I would postpone that conversation until I have an opportunity to meet Gigi’s mom. Hopefully, she’s a reasonable person and open to having a candid talk about her kid. We chatted for several more minutes about swim and I don’t remember what else.

When it was time to go, Gigi began hugging on Mae and refusing to let her go. Gigi said she wanted to come home with us. She held Mae’s hand as we walked out of the building, and walked with us in the direction of our car instead of with her dad in the opposite direction. Finally, when I teased that she would have to help clean and cook if she came to our us, she gave Mae a last tight squeeze around the neck and kissed her on the cheek three times before she went off with her dad. It reminded me of the same clingy type behavior Mae had towards her friend K at her old school, towards whom Mae was often bossy and possessive. I wonder if Gigi displays that same sort of possessiveness and becomes “mean” if Mae tries to play with someone else or wants to play or do something different from what Gigi wants.

I think Mae and Gigi do have the potential to be friends. They need guidance on how, and with help from teachers and parents, maybe they can figure out ways to get along. Or, they may decide not to be friends at all and leave each other alone or just be homework partners in after care. It’s my mediation training, I’m sure, but I’m optimistic and hopeful.

On another friend-related note, Jay’s old pal that pushed him around last year didn’t return this year. Yay! It’s such a relief. He’s such a nice kid and was just unable to assert himself with that little dude. His kindergarten teacher has described him as “quiet and unassertive.” He’ll have reading and computer technology with the first grade class, and I am concerned that he may be too uncomfortable with the older kids to participate in class. I think he’s the only kindergartener reading at his level and so there is no kindergarten reading group in which he can be placed (and still be challenged). I’m sooo hoping that he will test into Mae’s school for second grade. This year, he’s playing soccer for the first time, and loving it. As he develops interest in doing more things outside of home and independent of his sister, I hope more assertiveness and leadership will come.

Jay has brought home his Good Day stick practically every day (a couple days, he forgot to take it back to school). Mae said to him last week, with wonder, not envy, “You’re such a good kid, better than I was in kindergarten.” She even told him that he’s cuter. When he began bringing home the stick, I thought she would make some comparison and feel bad about having taken so long (relatively) to earn the opportunity to bring home her Good Day stick in kindergarten. Instead, she’s been happy for him and encouraging. She still likes to help him with his reading and anything else where she sees a need. That’s a relief too. It reminds me that she’s a good kid too, in a different way from her brother.

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