Well, today we had a meeting at school about Zander and I thought I'd talk a little bit about that. Warning - this is not a cheery, feel good post - sorry - feel free to skip if you are part of the 'blogs should all be happy' crowd.
Zander has had a bit of a tough time ever since, basically, he was born. But, last year, (in the US) we felt like we had him on the right track. We knew coming here would be difficult for him and actually almost didn't come because of it.
In the beginning, (after like the first month of serious adjustment that was tough for all of us) he seemed to be doing rather well. He plays with his friends, he likes school etc... He is difficult here and there, but mostly stuff we can handle. Also, he seems to love the travel and adventure part of this France thing – he is the most curious about everything we see and the most excited by it all. Since the new year, he seems to have been having a harder time. For Zander, this means he is tired more often, doesn't show an interest in things he usually likes, and gets angry and hurtful quickly. It is very frustrating for us all.
Well, since the end of the last petites vacances, things have been getting worse. He is angry, destructive and just plain hurts his sister whenever he gets the chance (but most especially in the mornings before school). He throws fits every morning to avoid going and seems sad and scared to go each day. He said he was being hurt at certain times by the bigger kids so we rearranged the way we were doing pick up and drop off to protect him – but it hasn’t seemed to help him feel more secure. When I try to ask him about specific things at school it is hard to get him to communicate. He says he doesn't play on the playground, he has no friends, the bigger kids hurt him and (worst of all) that he just plain doesn't want to be here any longer. Recent things he's said to me include: "Mom, I don't like France". "I don't want to speak French." "It's too hard." "I want to go home." "I want to go back to Jenks." "They don't help me enough here." "I have no friends." "I'm scared to go to school." "I refuse to learn French." "I just don't want to go" "I give up" and "Mom, I tried it here in France and I just like it better at home. I'm sorry - I just can't help it!" He just seems sad and that breaks my heart.
So, I have been really trying to use all my professionally recommended parenting and temperament tricks to both help him feel better and to keep him from exploding. I have to do this all the time, of course, to some degree, but the amount I am doing now is so draining, both emotionally and physically - and is only marginally successful. (Probably because I don't do it right - often I end up crying, lecturing or yelling -none of which helps the situation) I also can't help but resent the terrible amounts of energy and time it uses - taking away from the other kids and from the happiness of our family. (Quick example - yesterday morning we had no school - Callie and he and I had been snuggling for about 30 minutes when Griffin wanted to join us. As soon as Griffin got in the bed and tried to get some covers, Zander started yelling at him and kicking him. When he wouldn't stop, I plucked Griffin out of bed and went to snuggle Mr G. in another room - this resulted in Zander getting VERY angry and leaping on my back - then a series of unfortunate events ensued - mostly centering around Zander being a big jerk - ending up with Andre' missing his bus and the rest of us missing 1 hour of our 2 hours of swim time that morning.) Once he gets down in a hole, he just gets stuck - for a long time. It is a downward spiral because, Callie, needing more attention, will do whatever she can to deliberately antagonize Zander (of course, it doesn't take much with him these days) and he, unfortunately, responds with his fists. Then I have a problem on my hands. I can't expect her to behave as an adult would - but, man, I wish she would stop making things worse. Does she like it when he whacks her? It makes me feel awful that I can't protect my kids from this abuse. If I'm fast enough, I put myself in the way, but I don't like being hit either. He is getting stronger and can really hurt sometimes. Another problem is how he gives me a terrible time with homework - he just simply doesn't want to do it so it becomes a big nightmare.
Well, we decided to try to go to his school for help. We (unbeknownst to Zander) met this morning with Cecile (his tutor), Madame Pakiry, his teacher, the principal, his RASED teacher and a school psychologist to discuss this as well as how he is doing with his school work. Well, everyone who is with him at school is simply shocked at all of this. So, that is good news. All agree he is doing very well in school. They say he is very, very intelligent. He is working hard. He is making great progress in all his school work. Yes, he has a language barrier that is holding him back, but he is speaking more often in French, he doesn't need them to translate for him almost ever and he is behaving great (sometimes he will do something like, whisper or play with his pencil in class - but just normal 7 year old stuff). They say he will definitely be ready to move on to the next class next year - the only barrier for him is the language and he is working through that. They also say he is simply lying when he says he doesn't play with other kids. He runs around the playground. He smiles all the time. He plays with his friends - and he has lots of them. They have never witnessed anyone hurting him. All the kids in his class like him and he enjoys being with them. Mme Pakiry claims that he says things like "I like France" and "I like to be here" in class at times when asked. It is true that I noticed some girls making kissy faces at him the other day. When I asked him about it he said "They kiss me all the time" and I said "Do you kiss them back?" His response "No - I think if I kiss them back they might kiss me even more and I hate it!" I guess sometimes I hear stories that imply that he isn't alone - but it seems like he doesn't enjoy the attention - maybe he isn't getting anything out of it? Cecile, his tutor, is surprised at this description of him as well - she says he is very difficult to work with and she almost never sees him smile. She has to really work hard to get him to do what she wants. About the only thing that he likes is reading books, according to her. So, why the disconnect? The way the psychologist described it was that he has two compartments—one at school (where he’s not at ease) and one at home (where he feels safe).
They weren't sure if they could do anything differently but had ideas for home. First they gave us information on some other resources for psychologists and group activities that can help. Also they said to forget about homework for now - Mme Pakiry and his RASED teacher are happy just to work with him. Also, they suggest laying off pushing French in general at home - let him just get stuff at school - it's enough. Especially if it makes him angry. They also suggested, rather astutely, that perhaps part of the problem is that he thinks that that I am unhappy. (I can’t imagine why) Of course, in my typical 'heart on sleeve' fashion I cried about 3 times during today’s meeting. This makes it harder for him to adjust. Maybe, on some level, he thinks if he can convince me he is sad enough, then we will go home. Too bad he doesn’t realize that a large part of the reason I am unhappy is that he is having such a hard time.
On the way home from lunch pick up today, Griffin wants to go one way and Zander another. They would not agree or compromise in any way. This led to me, literally, having to stop and sit down on some stairs for about 20 minutes, while they played happily around me, but refused to bend on which way to walk. Of course, I could have forced the issue by scooping Griffin up or something - but I don't think it is fair that Zander always wins so I decided to wait it out. In a way, the conflict ended successfully because no one got punched and no one ended up falling into despair. Zander finally worked it out with Griffin and agreed (miracle) to go his 'ramp' way (as opposed to the stairs) and we all went home in harmony. But it took 35 minutes instead of 10. Then, once we were home, Zander started hitting Callie (who was teasing him). Andre' didn't come home for lunch today so I ended up forbidding Callie to be in the same room with him unless I came with her. Good thing our house has lots of rooms. Griffin was having some sort of crisis as well - he was crying over not taking the bus, over the walk, over the lack of strawberry jam, over how we didn't have small enough apples - it was insane - I ended up resorting to force with him so we wouldn't be too late for our return to school. Grr! Andre’ says this is how all kids are – and I know I fought with my siblings all the time – especially with Jennie. I guess it is just part of life - and I have to learn to not get bogged down on the little things so much.
This morning things went pretty well. I think knowing he is doing well in school helps and also I am trying to not get too invested in all this. It’s hard when I don’t have much else to focus on while I’m here. One idea that Andre’ has is to leave Zander at school for lunch. This will help me have more time to spend with Callie (which she needs) and lessen the amount of transitions Zander has to go through on a daily basis. Since transition is so difficult for him, this might be a good thing. And, apparently, he is happier at school than at home, so why not keep him there longer? I’m not sure if it will be possible, for several reasons. The first is that they only have a limited amount of room in the lunch program – and priority goes to families where both parents work out of the home. Besides that, I’m a bit worried since I’ve floated this idea in the past and he’s been dead set against it and also since, in France, they expect you to eat whatever is put in front of you – not one of Zander’s strengths. But it would definitely make life easier – so I think we’ll try it, if possible.