I had a couple of moments of realization today.
One of them was during fifth period. I co-teach this class with a special ed teacher. He is a genuinely great guy, and I feel lucky to work with him.
He was doing something, getting starting on teaching the lesson. I suddenly had this moment where I felt like straightening up his stuff. It was a kind of disorganized impulse. I just felt like doing something.
I connected at that moment to C picking lint off me, the way she used to suddenly do. I would be talking to her, and suddenly she’d find a thread or a bit of grass on me and kind of swoop in to take it off my clothes.
I had a feeling, a kind of warmth in my heart, and I felt like straightening his stuff, and that’s what C was feeling when she picked lint off my clothes. I hadn’t really been able to understand what she felt in those lint-picking moments, but they had seemed significant to me, and now suddenly I got it. She felt like taking care of me, and it came out of a sense of my being precious to her—as in, this is my important person, and I want to take care of them. Just as we take care of our important possessions in a way that is different than the way we take care of possessions we don’t place any value on.
The second moment I had was at the start of class. The kids were wound up, as they often are on Wednesdays, when we have meetings in the morning and don’t start class until after 9:30. I just had impulse to tell someone what to do. Lots of them needed to be told something. But I realized my impulse to exert more control didn’t come from what they needed me to do. It came from my feeling of discomfort. I was responding to my discomfort by wanting to exert control, and it had nothing to do with what might get them back on track again. Effectiveness wasn’t figuring into that impulse. I just wanted to be safe. I was surprised to notice that. Not surprised that I do it. Just surprised I noticed.
The third moment was about the Wild Boy I have in my second period. I have mentioned him before. He has a diagnosis of emotional disturbance. The information I have on him literally says, “has unusual feelings and behaviors during ordinary experiences.” Well, that does happen. But I think it’s disorganized attachment, and he is in parts. The advice I had about him early on was to talk to him like a “young adult.” Meaning, indicate to him that his Apparently Normal self needs to get control again.
I have not done that. I talk to him seriously and in earnest, but I clearly acknowledge the feelings he is having. I don’t try to indicate to him, either verbally or non-verbally, that he needs to armor himself up more and pretend to be normal. I talk to him about the consequences of his behavior, what happens to me or to others when he acts that way, but I don’t give the message that we need to pretend all is normal or well.
Anyway, today was pretty rough. He had lost his keys and his spinner in the morning, and I know what that feeling of “something is missing” is like for kids like him. It’s like that for me. Losing things fills me with terror. So I get it. I get that that’s hard.
He threw a banana peel out the window, walked around restlessly around my room, threw my cup of water out the window (not the cup, just the water). It was hard. The hardest part is getting the other kids in the class to shut up just at the moment when he’s about to calm down. What they like to do is jump in and say something dysregulationg just when he’s about to dial his emotions down again and start to feel safer. Not every kid. Maybe half. I’ve made a lot of progress with this in the class, and it’s better than it was, but I suppose some of them still feel that this isn’t the right way to handle it. What we need to do is show how angry and upset we are with his behavior. It must be he’s acting like this because he doesn’t realize we’re mad.
I watched a video the other day about parenting trauma kids and there’s this line in it, “Your kid has never gotten upset and dysregulated and slipped up and accidentally given you a backrub, have they? They know what is right and wrong.”
He knows he’s pissing people off.
I suddenly realized, watching this process of trying to help him regulate again while other kids repeatedly pushed him back into dysregulation, and I realized this is actually about that process. He feels vulnerable, and the first thing we think about when we feel vulnerable is that we need to get our guard back up. In my class, he is sliding into some connection. He’s participating in the class in a positive way—not while he’s throwing bananas out the window—but he is. He’s showing himself a little bit, and he’s scared. The fear is what is doing that.
It’s what happened to C last year, before midterm when I used to visit her three times a week. I came, she felt vulnerable, because her connection to me is this precious thing to her, and she began to imagine every kind of attack. The girls will say things, the matron will get angry, I might see something I didn’t like and get angry at her.
Meanwhile, I felt vulnerable too, and some of the time I was paranoid and controlling. I tried to keep it under wraps, but I could feel it as I walked up there. Shit, I’m losing my mind. And in some situations, I began to imagine the girls were sneaking alcohol into the hostel, they were experimenting with drugs. All of these things could have been true, but I was paranoid because I felt so vulnerable. Sometimes I did criticize C for things—a bookmark a friend had given her covered in pro-drug use statements, which may or may not have meant anything to her. I mean, I want her to have some sense and take care of her brain and her body, but that’s not why it went on.
We felt vulnerable, and that’s what we did.
The weirder thing is other kid’s reactions to it, and I wonder if it actually is because people don’t want to confront their own feelings of vulnerability. They don’t want to reach inside themselves and connect to those experiences where they felt vulnerable too, and it seems easier to get you to stop doing things which remind you of those vulnerable times.
None of it was horrible: Mostly telling C to be nicer to me. But it’s possible that’s where it came from.
I get where that came from now, why C was so angry. I feel vulnerable. I feel like I might lose something or I might be showing a part of myself someone will hurt. That’s where the acting out starts in. That’s where banana peels get thrown out the window. You’re gearing up to defend yourself and you just haven’t worked out how or what.