January 16, 2014 by Angel Pricer
This time last month I was preparing to travel to New Hampshire to bring Connor home for his first visit home since starting at The Hunter School on November 1, 2013. I designed meal plans to incorporate some of his favorite foods, like steak, sausage and Doritos, gathered materials for some Mommy & Connor invention time and made the room he and his brother share as welcoming as possible.
The day before my mother-in-law and I were set to leave, I received a call from school with a message that drove a wedge into our plans and broke new ground for deeper communication to emerge between myself, my husband and the rest of the family. Everyone experiences additional stressors during the holidays, and some bear it with more ease than others. Connor was experiencing the holiday energy in a way that brought out some of the worst behavior they had seen since he started at the school not two months prior.
The guidance counselor assured me he wasn’t alone, for her office was hopping with kids all week. Because our son was so new to the program, there was talk of changing from the extended holiday break at home to a brief visit with just his Nana and me, and we only had a few short hours to make our decision.
I’ve traditionally held the not-so-treasured role of Disseminator of School and Therapeutic Information. While my husband insists that I excel in this area, there are some messages that I prefer he receive straight from the source. This was definitely one such message. And, while it required one of those dreaded emotionally draining conversations after a long day at the office, he invested the time and energy into a fruitful conversation with a school representative and, as a team, we came up with a plan we all felt comfortable implementing. YAY US!!
Nana and I hit the road at 7:00 a.m., and I could scarcely contain the joyful anticipation of holding those two wind-reddened cheeks in my hands, looking into the mirror of my own soulful eyes and finally getting to talk to my sweet boy face to face. It was the longest trip up to the school yet.
When we arrived, Connor was in no hurry to leave school, insisting we spend time in his classroom playing a game with his friends. He served us popcorn and insisted on playing in the snow with one of his friends before we could leave. For a kid who has always hated school and couldn’t wait to get out, this was a very good sign! I spent time with his teacher and enjoyed hearing about how well he is responding to her approach in the classroom. He must have said goodbye and wished everyone a Merry Christmas at least three times before we finally headed out.
Once home, we all noticed his budding ability to take responsibility for how things were affecting him. Loud conversations, too many people, and too much commotion have always had an effect on him (and me!), but he was quick to identify and communicate his needs before it caused a behavioral problem. It was so good to have him back at home, though it didn’t take long for me to remember why The Hunter School is where he needs to be right now.
The need for many loving hands and hearts became more obvious as Christmas crept closer. Keeping Connor occupied and content requires a high degree of pre-planning and a lot of adult attention even in a one-on-one setting. You can imagine what it’s like trying to get some space from a little brother whose been counting down the days for his return and seeking the attention of an elusive big sister with many social obligations.
My batteries were quickly draining and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to recharge over the holidays. While the progress he’s made was clear, so too was the age-old predicament our family has experienced in terms of lack of time and support.
The day before Christmas, my daughter Morgan said “I hate to say this, but when Connor is home everyone seems angrier.” And she’s right. I could see the scale tipping from love to anger as it became increasingly difficult to maintain the self-care necessary to facilitate a calm, loving state of being. From a purely energetic perspective, observing these dynamics as they see-saw back and forth is quite enlightening. Living in the raw human emotion moments of it within the holiday and family context is a whole different story.
After the presents were opened on Christmas morning, Connor and I retreated to a separate room, where he built his second Lego kit in less than 12 hours and I Zentangled with the new book, tiles and awesome Micron pens my husband, Santa-Garth, delivered. We quietly enjoyed our activities with moments of discussion here and there that revealed an extremely self-aware realization from Connor.
He said he is always angry and that about 50% of the time he is in charge and the other 50% his anger is in charge. He’s not really interested in letting go of his anger because it protects him, and no, he doesn’t want to imagine what life might look like without it. These are cherished moments, for if nothing else, they offer the awareness of what most needs to be brought into balance. Osho says, “Consciousness is freedom; awareness is the key.” And together we just uncovered a golden one.
I shared this key with my husband, who coined the term “Anger Armor,” inviting our son to acknowledge when it was present and giving him the opportunity to remove it. While I can’t be sure if it’s the discovery of this key alone that has made such a difference, I’m certain it is a contributing factor to the ease with which he made the transition back to school.
We left a day earlier than planned to stay a step ahead of the big snow storm, and though he was disappointed, Connor handled it well. I relished our time alone in the car, listening to The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan, on CD and talking about gods, magic and mystery. Once we arrived, I helped him get settled into his new, larger bedroom and left him at the dining room table, where he enjoyed a snack with his friends.
Met with a flood of my own tears by the time the road transitioned from gravel to pavement, I fully experienced the conflicting emotions of relief that he was back in an environment that is better equipped to offer the support he needs and anguish that it would be at least two months before I could hold him again.
It’s getting easier though, and he’s making remarkable progress. There have only been a few minor issues since his return and he’s managed to stay on green, “the best level,” almost every day.
Academically, he is moving through resistance to writing and building his confidence by appreciating a job well done. At home, he’s been enjoying nightly reading time, creating bead animals with a kit that one of the staff members shared that he loved as a kid, and building strong bonds with his peers.
He even went snowboarding for the first time this past Monday. He got a brush burn on his chin and accidentally ate a mouthful of snow that tasted like tar, but he made it the whole way down the mountain and LOVED it!
He liked the instructor too, and said that when he would make a mistake the instructor said “that’s OK, just try again.” His voice was so calm, infused with the confidence that can only accompany one who has fallen and gotten back up again. He’s really doing it!
There’s a heart-felt momentum building at The Hunter School, and I am grateful for the opportunity it has brought to our family both in terms of supporting our son and seeding the possibility to create a similar environment closer to home. If you like the sound of this school, I invite you to view their recent newsletter HERE, where you’ll learn about the seeds of sustainability and a true Christmas Miracle for one of the newest students at the school. Many hands…many hearts…working together. We’re Really Doing it!