Caring for Jack In the Deep Grey Sea (Part Two)

The Library

“He is sleeping? It’s almost lunch time! You shouldn’t let him sleep through lunch!” The principal’s shocked face seems to linger in our doorway longer than she does. She is the Cheshire Cat of scorn. She has already raced off down the hall somewhere, to poke her head and frown into other doorways. I try to not let this bother me. Her surprise is no surprise to us. Yesterday she told us to let him sleep. Today she demands we wake him. I’ve grown accustomed to these whims, even while they frustrate me. Meanwhile, another student, Lily, has had not fewer than four tantrums this morning — one at recess, where she also punched another first grader right in the nose and told him she was going to murder his whole family. “Okay,” I reply to the image of the principal’s face in my mind, “I’ll wake him.”

“Jack. Jaaaack. Hey Jack, its gonna be corn dogs again at lunch. You want a corn dog?” Jack woke enough to wet his pants. “Jack, honey, you have had an accident, come on, lets get up and find some dry clothes.” “Mmmmmmph!!!!!” This is a thing that Jack has mastered. A grumbling, mumble-yell. How is it possible to make such a loud sound with one’s mouth closed? If he had a sense of humor about it, and he does have a wicked, hilarious sense of humor, I’d suggest he enter the mumble-yell into the upcoming talent show. But that’s not a thing Jack would find funny. At least not right now.

And I would know. Due to all our hours together, I have developed a fine-tuned sense for Jack’s moods and preferences. I am still wrong with enough frequency for everything to stay interesting, though. For example, right now. I could try many ways to wake him, but my intuition says that Jack isn’t going to get mad at me if I help him get more comfy now that he is wet. If I am wrong, he might wake up and start swinging at things, refuse to cooperate, and launch into hours of tantruming. He might roll over and stay asleep. Or, he might realize my suggestion makes sense, and he might be excited to get some new pants. He might pop awake sweet as can be, as if he had never hit, screamed at, or destroyed anything in his life.

“C’mon sweetie,” I try to help him sit up, “Lets ask Miss Melisa for some dry pants.” He opens his eyes like a brand new puppy, and smiles when he sees me. I was right, the wet pants were the thing to focus on. He takes my hand and allows me to help him up. We walk to Miss Melisa’s office, down the hall, where there are free clothes for any kid who needs them. Wordlessly, Jack picks some blue sweatpants and some underwear, and trudges off to the little boy’s room with a plastic bag for the wet things. He has a lot of accidents.

After he comes back, I inform him, “It’s almost lunch time. Right now your class is in the library. Do you want to get a book, too?” “Yeah!” he says, but there is a twinkle in his eye. I don’t have time to deal with that though, because my cell phone is blowing up with texts.

“Lily is flipping out again. Please come down to the lunch room”

“Wait, no go to the teacher’s lounge”

“Sorry, she isn’t in there. Girls bathroom. Screaming.”

I deposit Jack in the library and quickly walk to the girls’ room, my face telling any parent, kid, or visitor who passes me that “all is well, I just, whoops, forgot something, and am in a hurry. Hi!” No need to worry anyone for this routine business.

When I get to the girl’s bathroom, my co-worker, Jen, is looking a little haggard, and I see that all the bathroom stall doors are locked. Lily is a tiny, quick-witted thing. I look under one of the doors, and I see that she has wedged herself behind the kid-sized toilet. She is screaming every swear word you can imagine, and then some. Jen says, “I need a minute,” and goes to the hallway to keep kindergarteners and first graders from entering the now R-rated echochamber, while we figure out what do to next.

Waiting seems like the best option. I don’t want to try to grab her or pull her out of the stall. Our training, and attitude, is to keep kids safe, and if they are having a meltdown but are not going to get hurt, or hurt anyone else, the best thing to do is just wait it out. On the surface waiting does not appear to use any of our energy, but it can be draining for us to stand still and maintain calm body language in these intense moments. Hence, Jen needed to step out and take a different task. She’d already been dealing with Lily for at least a half hour. We change roles like this a lot on the more challenging days. If exasperation comes through in your voice, the kids hear it, and this might prolong their distress.

Lily’s choice of scream location is pretty germy, but safe. I stand there quietly, wondering how many kindergarteners just learned to say the “F” word, and I am thankful when it only takes five minutes before Lily’s voice stops. “Hey Lily, you want to make a necklace?” I hear the stall door unlock, and a tiny girl with straight auburn hair and big brown eyes peers out at me, looking ready to fight. “Its okay sweetie, we aren’t mad. Let’s go to our room and do something else.” Because of her diagnosis, I know this is the best way to help Lily though this. We’ll talk about rules and consequences and apologies and goals in a little while, when she is calm and secure. I ask her to wash her hands. She does, and then skips out of the bathroom like a little sprite, toward our room. “Thanks. I’ll take her,” says Jen. “K. I’ll check on Jack,” I reply, as I head toward the library.

Jack’s class is lined up at the library door, their new books in their arms, ready to head off to their classroom and grab their coats for lunch and recess. No sign of Jack, though. At this point in the school year, we have had so many countless incidents, his teacher and I don’t even use words any more. I look at her. Her eyes say, “I don’t flippin’ know… but he is somewhere.” My eyes reply, “Oh for goodness sakes. He has been awake for 20 minutes!” And I start searching. She leads her kids to her classroom.

The library isn’t very big, but he knows how to hide. I walk around saying “Jack , c’mon, its lunch time. Let’s get your coat.” No Jack. I head out one of the library doors that the kids aren’t supposed to use, a.k.a. Jack’s favorite kind of door. I roam the halls, and when I pass the special ed room I say into it, “He ran somewhere.” I don’t need to say who, I don’t need to linger, and she doesn’t need any other discussion. Grace gets up and into action, calmly abandoning her little reading group for a moment. “Sorry guys, I will be right back.” I text Jen, “he’s missing again.”

This is a drill we do almost daily. Soon there are five adults looking around for Jack. We mostly don’t want him to take off outside. But we also want to prevent damage. The last time he ran, he threw a clay pot at a wall, and it smashed into a zillion pieces, right next to a kid’s head. We are all getting nutty from this routine, because there is no routine. We’re constantly interrupted with Jack emergencies. But our job is to do our best to integrate him into the school day. To keep giving him chances. To find a structure that works. We have tried so many sticker charts, so many rewards and consequences, so many brain breaks and workouts and therapeutic exercises, I tell you. The school even has a climbing wall. We have even tried that.

All of us wake up in the middle of the night, thinking of Jack. We’re frustrated that the school can’t figure out what to do with him, that the system can’t help him. That we can’t help him. That when we try to tell the district we need more resources, they politely imply that we are not being resourceful enough. My mind is wearing down, and it’s only Tuesday. I really wish I had just let him sleep. Then I see him. He is back in the library, and he is looking at me with that twinkle. He starts running in circles through the shelves.

“Jack. This isn’t funny, come on.”

But it’s too late. He runs toward a shelf of books and sticks his arm in. Then he pulls down books. And more books. They pile onto the floor. He keeps running. It’s pointless for me to chase him. He’s too fast, and too violent right now anyway. My shins know better. He peels all the books down from the twenty-foot-long shelf, like undoing a zipper. I watch the stories , biographies, craft instructionals, nature lessons and jokes slide and tumble onto each other. When he finally stops, there are at least two hundred books on the floor. As we both stand there, processing it all, some part of me, probably my own inner Jack, is smiling. I cant help but admire him a little for being so punk rock about things. “Did you say its corn dogs today?” asks, Jack. “Yeah,” I reply, and turn to follow him as he darts off toward the lunch room.

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