Parenting a child who is wired a little differently has taught me a lot of things. Truthfully, he has taught me far more than I have taught him. And one of the most important things he has taught me, is that I have to be his champion.
When there is nobody else in his corner, when the world is against him, when injustice and bias and intolerance threaten, when he is being slapped with insulting labels and shoved into ill-fitting boxes...I have to be the one to stand up and demand that my child be given the same treatment and opportunities as every other child.
That's really hard to do sometimes. Nobody wants to be *that* mother. Nobody wants to be the one that is talked about in the staff room. Nobody wants to be the one that makes teachers, administrators and office staff cringe. Nobody relishes cultivating a reputation as a bitch on wheels.
But it's possible to advocate for your child without being the quintissential problem parent. Oh, sometimes you have to rant and rave to get what you need, but most of the time, you can accomplish your goals with the right combination of determination, politesse, and a little good old fashioned flattery.
"Ms. Firstgrade teacher, Diminutive One tells me that you kept him in for recess today as punishment, despite our discussion about it. I understand that he has to face consequences for his bad behavior, and I will support you in any other way you see fit.
But it is especially important for children like him to be allowed to have time to decompress and unleash a little pent-up energy. Not letting him have that is only doing more harm that good. Thanks for your understanding in the matter.
BTW, I LOVED the project you assigned last week. It was a really creative way to learn about___________ and we enjoyed doing it together."
See? What I really wanted to say was:
"Listen here you dried up old prune. I specifically told you not to keep him in for recess. First, it's against the law, second, it makes him do bad things. You know it makes him do bad things. He is hyper active and he NEEDS to get outdoors and run. Seriously, how friggen hard is it to understand that taking recess away from a hyperactive child is completely counteproductive and monumentally stupid?"
This particular teacher and I went around and around about this particular issue, and eventually, I did have to go into full metal bitch mode. But I always go with diplomacy first. Usually, it's pretty effective.
I have my mother to thank for these skills. And I have her to thank for knowing when diplomacy has failed. She was never afraid to do what needed to be done. She didn't care about being *that* Mom. She always demanded the best for us. She demanded that we not be overlooked or treated differently because our clothing was second hand. She demanded that we were afforded dignity and respect, always.
There is one very vivid memory to attest to that determination. I was in 2nd grade, so that must have made me about 7. Just a baby, really.
I was sent to the principal's office for wetting my pants. I sat, wet, reeking, ashamed and miserable. It was winter in Wisconsin, and I was cold. I shivered as I sat there waiting for my mother.
I remember everything about that office; the ceiling tiles stained with amorphous yellow blobs, the hard wooden bench I sat upon that reminded me of a church pew. The smell of hot lunch, decades of cigarettes smoke, and cheap perfume. The swinging saloon style doors that led to the back office. They creaked and shuddered every time someone walked through them.
Nobody looked at me or spoke to me as I sat there.
Finally my mother arrived with my little sister upon her hip. Her hair was in curlers, which were covered by a thin nylon scarf of aqua blue. She wore lipstick, but no other makeup. She was dressed in her stay at home clothes; polyester pants and a shawl collar sweater. She hadn't intended to go anywhere that day, and I knew she hated going out like that.
She was frazzled and looked very, very angry.
She didn't look at me, but she put her hand on top of my head to smoothe my hair. Suddenly I felt a little better.
"May I help you Ma'am?"
The secretary was looking at my mother with disdain over her half moom eyeglasses. Her drawn on brows were raised, and her wrinkled ruby mouth was pursed. Her hair, which was very thin and dyed a most unbecoming and unrealistic shade of brown, was teased high off her head. The sun from the window behind her shown through her teased locks, making them look as if they were aflame.
I hated her for how she looked at my mother.
"Yes, I'm Mrs. Antagonist, b.a's Mother. I need to speak to the principal. Immediately."
"Ma'am, I'm afraid he's occupied at the moment and can't be disturbed. All we needed was for you to bring b.a. dry clothing."
"Yes, well, all *I* need is to speak with the principal. I informed b.a.'a teacher that she had a medical condition and told her that she needs to be allowed to use the restroom when she asks, as soon as she asks. Clearly, that request was not honored. So either you get the principal out here, or I will go talk to the teacher myself, RIGHT. NOW."
"Ehm, just a minute Mrs. Antagonist. I'll see if he's available."
My mother paced while she waited. She jiggled my sister up and down on her hip. She touched her hand to her curlered hair.
Finally the principal appeared. I hated him too. He had made me feel ashamed.
"Yes, Mrs. Antagonist, what can I do for you today?"
"I need to know why my instructions to the teacher, that b.a. be allowed to use the restroom when she asks, were ignored."
"Now, Mrs. Antagonist, there are 25 children in that classroom. If Mrs. Meanspitefulbitch let everybody run to the restroom every time they asked, they would never have time for learning. I'm sure you can understand that. It's time for b.a. to grow up and learn that big girls don't go to the potty every five minutes. She has to learn self control."
My mother turned the most amazing shade of scarlet I had ever seen. But she didn't lose her cool. She did not raise her voice. But when she spoke, there was iron in her tone.
"She has a MEDICAL condition, Mr. BaldyBuffoon. It's called kidney reflux and she is under a doctor's care. It means that when her body tells her that she needs to use the restroom, she is INCAPABLE of NOT using the restroom.
Do you think any child WANTS to wet their pants at school Mr. BaldyBuffoon? Can you imagine anything more humiliating? She can control herself quite well if she is allowed to use the restroom when she has the urge. Which is why I explained that all to Mrs. Meanspitefulbitch. There was NO reason this had to happen and I will NOT stand for my daughter being treated this way!"
At that moment, my baby sister chose to take a very loud, smelly and runny poo upon my mother's person. She must have been so embarassed, but she never even acknowledged the fact that she had feces running down her leg, though the odor which it imparted was difficult to ignore.
"From now on, my daughter WILL be allowed to use the bathroom EVERY TIME she asks to go. And furthermore, she WILL receive an apology from the teacher for how she was treated. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
I don't remember what he said to her. All I remember is how utterly fantastic my mother was at that moment. She was so fierce. And it was all for me.
She motioned to me and I went to her. She put her arm around my shoulders said to Mr. BaldyBuffoon,
"I am taking her home. She's suffered enough humiliation for one day. Please inform Mrs. Meanspitefulbitch that b.a. will not be returning to the classroom today."
And we left.
When we got home, I got cookies and milk and I got to watch The Brady Bunch. My mother was angry the rest of the day, but I knew she wasn't angry with me.
The following year, I did not return to that school. I have no idea how my mother did it, but she got me and my sisters into another elementary school that was outside our district, but still within walking distance.
She wouldn't make me go back there, to Mr. BaldyBufoon's school. I overheard her telling my Dad that he was a gutless moron and the teacher was an incompetent bimbo.
So you see...I had a good role model. My mother always stood up for me, even when I didn't realize that she was fighting for my own good. There were many years when we were adversaries. I thought she was mean and that she didn't understand. She didn't care about me or what I wanted.
The thing was, she did all the things she did because she DID care, and as a parent, I realize that now.
Sometimes being a Mom means being a champion and sometimes it means being the bad guy. But it always means looking out for our children. Trying to keep them safe. Trying to help them make their way in the world without getting lost. And sometimes, when that fails, it means letting them know that you'll always find them. That you'll always be where you can be found.
You have no idea how much that has helped me do the things I've needed to do for my son.
You have no idea how much it has helped me be...fierce.