Friday, August 20, 2010

Blog the Eleventh: That "High Maintenance Kid"

Those of you who have worked in any field of child care or education may grimace a bit at this post and think, "Ooh. I've done that."  I know I am, right now.  Even better, as I remember my reactions to that "High Maintenance Kid"... I also remember BEING that kid, which offers bonus guilt points.

Three weeks ago I had what I fear was a small peek into my daughter's near future.  It makes feel sad for her, because as a former high maintenance oddball kid myself, I remember what it feels like to always be on the wrong foot, wrong side, wrong end of things.  I always felt awkward, out of place and different.  Weird.  

Alone.

Of course, in a moment of transparency, as a teacher it's very easy to get caught up in lesson plans, what needs to be done, classroom goals and objectives, and simply the classroom's ebb and flow.  Interruptions are annoying, so not only do I remember very acutely a time when I was probably nothing more than an irritating annoyance to my teachers, I know that I'm guilty of allowing that flash of irritation to slip to the surface myself, guilty of forgetting what that awkward time was like.

Madi's very, very sensitive to noises of ANY kinds.  This is an aspect of her sensory issues; what places her so close to mild Aspberger's on the Autism Spectrum of Disorders.  I don't mean that she just likes a little quiet now and then.  I mean:

1. she's been known to actively hide in another room during large, indoor family gatherings because everyone is "talking too loud"

2. she sleeps in a "surround-sound" of a fan and a humidifier year round, with the air conditioner thrown in during the summer.  When she was younger, the slightest noise on the opposite side of the house in the dead of night would wake her screaming. Even now, when the lights go out in a power outage, she wakes up screaming because suddenly her "sound blanket" is gone.

3. She's still known to get upset and cry when some disciplines others, just because their voice is too loud.

Anyway, three weeks ago Madi attended her first every all-day, all week summer camp.  For the most part, she loved every minute it of. Horses, swimming, games, candy...what's not to love?  However, dropping her off in the morning proved a bit iffy, because before camp started, everyone gathered in the meeting hall and watched a movie on a big screen. A LOUD movie on a big screen.  And Madi's age group sat in the front row next to the huge speakers.

The very first day, I couldn't even get Madi to go into the meeting hall, but the poor kid wanted to watch the movie anyway, so she stood outside the meeting hall and watched it there. Finally, I approached her counselor and asked if the movie couldn't be turned down some.  The counselor happily obliged, Madi released her death clutch of my leg and I headed out.  

The next two days I prompted Madi to ask the counselor on her own (because we've been teaching her to advocate for herself) and this time the counselor offered the very acceptable solution of sitting in back with the other counselors.  We also had to make arrangements for Madi to hang out with a counselor outside at the picnic tables during game time, because the skee balls made too much noise banging in the basement game room and hurt her ears.

This was all fine.

On Thursday when I dropped Madi off,  she dashed into the meeting hall and again asked her counselor if they could turn the movie's volume down.  I saw it, right then: a flash of annoyance in her counselor's face that was brief, probably just a knee jerk reaction after a long week (any former summer camp counselor remembers THOSE), but the look's message was clear:  Geez.  What a hassle.  Why'd I get stuck with the hassle kid?

The hassle kid.

Granted, I don't know if that's what this counselor thought.  But when I got old enough to "get it", to understand that I was a bother to some people...I saw that same look.  A lot.  It became so ingrained in me that my very presence was nothing but a hassle that when I hit my teens, I did my best to remain unnoticed, at least socially.  Don't get me wrong: I was an average high school boy who did high school things and probably looked very, very normal. 

But still.  It sometimes felt like it took all I had just to act "normal".  To not revert to the "dork", "nerd", and some other unmentionable names of my youth.  Felt like I was constantly guarding my speech and my actions because I didn't want to do or say something stupid that would draw attention to myself.

In short: I adapted.  I'm sure Madi will adapt, too, but I was lucky. I had sports.  I was no Division I athlete, (turned out to be a Division III role player on the basketball court) but I performed well enough, I think, to cut me some slack socially.  

Plus, I was a boy, and let's be honest: most boy tormentors are NOT the most devious fellows in the world.  Everything guys do to torment each other is all "in your face", testosterone-fueled muscle flexing and crowing.  I learned to stay quiet, not do or say anything noticeable, tried not to be funny, not get into fights, avoid conflict without chickening out, if possible (let's not examine what's this done to my self-esteem and general insecurity.  We'll save that for another post).

It worked.  I'm a little more afraid for my daughter, though.  I mean...have you seen "Mean Girls"?  I saw only fifteen minutes before we had Madi and it made me afraid of the future I'd be raising a potential daughter in.  Girls are vicious.  Calculating.  Grudge-holding.  In short, FAR MORE TERRIFYING than boys can ever be.

But you know what?  Madi will be fine.  I know this, because she'll have us.  I'm sure at some point we'll all go through the conflict-ridden teen years, and there are times coming I'm sure when our word as parents will conflict with her desires, causing some discomfort and cold shoulders.  

However, no matter what:  Abby and I will always advocate for Madi, step up to plate and swing as hard as we can for her.  Also, we hope to raise Madi with a solid sense of self, teach her through how we treat HER that she is someone good, special, worthy of being treated well.  Tough times will come.  There's no doubt of that.  But it's our hope that we can give her a strong enough foundation and offer a reliable support system in us - if she needs us - to help get her through.

That, and the doctors all say Zack's going to be 6' 8" anyway, so we've been training him to attack Madi's enemies on sight.

Just in case.