As many of you know, Caroline started a new school last fall. In fact, most of you know this story in its entirety, but it deserves to be written down, and Brenna’s post over at Suburban Snapshots got me thinking about it. I’m going to give the back story pretty briefly, largely because it’s worth of its own entry, but also because it will turn any post it dominates into a rant. The short version is that the school Caroline had been attending went from awesome to sincerely dangerous in the space of a summer. The new teacher in what would have been Caroline’s classroom declared that my daughter couldn’t attend without an aide (she doesn’t need one), and generally proved to be a fucking lunatic.
Rather than fight a losing battle with a bunch of idiots, Scott and I pulled her out of school after the first week. Of course, since this school had started late, we were suddenly trying to find our first grader a new school two weeks into the school year in a city where public school is simply not an option, even for my husband who fully supports the public school system. (Tangent: My problem is NOT with public school teachers. Those people are often on the front lines fighting an unwinnable battle. It’s the system that is flawed. It just happens to be worse here than many places.)
Pretty much, this meant that we had exactly one option, Churchill Academy, a school designed for kids with ADHD and high functioning autism. I was terrified. I had heard stories of smart kids getting raced through the curriculum to graduate too soon at the expense of their social skills. I have to pause here and admire the irony that I would ever perceive this as a problem. I was so ready to be done with school by the time I was ten, and I still resent that nobody ever forced my school board to skip me grades. If I hadn’t been able to leave high school for college at sixteen, I’d have probably dropped out. But that’s another story. My story. And this one is Caroline’s.
Scott and I met the principal, Lisa Schroeder, and we were sufficiently impressed. We met Caroline’s classroom teacher, Mrs. Davis, and we were more than impressed. We met a few other parents in the lobby, and we were hooked. But we were scared. It was a Thursday. We left Caroline there for half a day, then picked her up and filled out paperwork that afternoon. We were travelling that weekend, so she started school the following Monday.
Now, Caroline is a pretty flexible kid when nuts come to bolts. Mess with her routine, and there’s going to be chaos, but she’s always ready to make new friends, and she adores her teachers. She was still processing the utter betrayal of the scarybitch from the other school, and was a little reluctant, but overall, she was looking forward to the new experience.
It honestly reminded me of her first day of preschool, and, since it’s relevant, let’s just go there a minute. Caroline went to an awesome preschool when we lived in Lexington. It was called Gan Shalom, and it had everything from the best director to the best kids. It was housed in a Synagogue and followed a basically Jewish curriculum, but there were Montessori elements as well. The environment was so good. On Caroline’s first day of preschool, I got a call from the director. It went like this:
“Hi, this is Ziggy. It looks like Caroline has fallen and cut her lip. It was the only sharp corner in the room! I don’t know how it happened! We’ve only ever had one other child get hurt like this before!”
After a bit of back and forthing, I realized the lip was still bleeding and hurried over to see for myself. It kept bleeding, and we couldn’t tell if she had managed to bite all the way through when she hit the corner, so Scott and I dashed her off to the doctor. The bleeding finally stopped, and the doctor said she hadn’t bitten through. All would be well. I started to take her home, but she, a barely vocal child, demanded to be returned to school. Until I was willing to take her back to her new friends, she wouldn’t turn off the tears.
So. Right at noon on Caroline’s first full day at Churchill, I got a call from the principal. It went like this:
“Hi, this is Lisa Schroeder over here at Churchill. Caroline’s had a fall, and we’re afraid she’s broken her arm.”
“I’m on my way,” I said. But, quite honestly, my soul was still serene. I was figuring this for an injury like the one at Gan Shalom, where a quick trip to the pediatrician’s and (as this was possible bone damage) a couple of X-Rays would set everything to rights. Maybe a splint would be necessary, but I seriously doubted the child had actually broken her arm.
So when I arrived at Churchill simultaneously with the ambulance, I was somewhat taken aback. These people had not struck me as the sort who would call the emergency crews in frivolously. I abandoned my car in Churchill’s entryway and raced inside, still thinking I would be driving Caroline for medical attention myself.
I will never forget the scene in Mrs. Schroeder’s office. Caroline’s teacher was standing in one corner, her skin as pale as my daughter’s. Caroline herself was cradled in Mrs. Schroeder’s lap weeping in a monotonous way that frankly terrified me and chanting, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying,” in between her dry sobs. My head felt seriously light as I walked into the room, and I thought that I might fall down and break something.
Mrs. Schroeder transferred Caroline to my lap and began to talk to the ambulance crew. Peripherally, I heard her saying that Caroline had fallen from the monkey bars at a bad angle, and, although she was keeping her references oblique to maintain some level of calm, and even though most of my energy was consumed with holding Caroline and singing to her, I could clearly understand that the injury was bad. This wasn’t a “think she might have broken” break, this was a “well, it didn’t puncture her skin, but that’s about all I can say good right now” break. I was able to stay calm right then largely because everybody around me was so calm, and all of them were so obviously holding it together for Caroline’s sake.
Although Caroline was calm enough in my arms, she was still crying in that monotone, and there was no question of my being able to put her down. We would be riding out in an ambulance. It took around fifteen minutes to get us out of there, and in the end, Caroline had to be tied to the backboard to keep her from thrashing until she relaxed a little.
While we were working around to this, I was really noticing some things about the school that I would have never realized under good circumstances. This place was geared for injuries. It didn’t dominate, so the first aid kit wasn’t the first thing a new parent noticed, but the supplies were there, and the staff knew how to use them. The stabilizing force on my daughter’s arm? It was a real splint. An honest-to-god medical splint, like what you would find in an ER or urgent care clinic. And it was tight. Her fingers wouldn’t be turning blue, but her periodic physical outbursts weren’t going to knock it loose, either. Which meant the staff had been trained in serious first-aid, not just given some annual CPR courses.
And, just as when she cut her lip at Gan Shalom, everybody there was shaken. Mrs. Schroeder, though a picture of peaceful efficiency, kept coming over to stroke Caroline’s head and apologize. Caroline’s teacher, poor Mrs. Davis, must have said, “I’m sorry” at least a thousand times. They all presented a calm façade, but they were also all emotionally invested in this child who had gotten hurt on the first day of school. And that meant far more to me than the injury having happened in the first place. Kids are going to get hurt. It’s a given. But the reaction of the adults around Caroline at Churchill was what cemented my love of the school.
And at some level, it was Gan Shalom all over again, because Caroline didn’t want to leave the school. Some of her hysteria over the hospital involved the well founded fear that they would poke her with needles. She finally agreed to go to therapy, not really realizing that she had just agreed to go to the hospital, since that’s where her therapists work. But her larger problem was that she had been having fun with new friends and would now miss the rest of that time.
Mrs. Davis held herself together until I climbed into the ambulance after the stretcher. As I turned around to settle myself out of the way of the EMTs, I could see her eyes filling up with tears. And I felt as bad for her as I did for Caroline. And if she had heard, as we drove away, Caroline sobbing, “I want to go back to school, I can’t miss my first day”, I know she would have just sat down in the parking lot and bawled.
The break was as bad as I’d feared in Mrs. Schroeder’s office. When the nurse took off the splint for just a second, prior to Xrays, Caroline’s arm was this terrible S shape, with the skin stretched out disproportionately long. For those of you who have seen the second Harry Potter movie, think of the scene where Lockhardt debones Harry’s arm. It looked like that. When I first saw that film, I decried that scene as bad CGI imagery. I hereby retract those negative statements, because Caroline’s forearm looked just like the rubbery mess a cartoonist might render.
In the end, she had to go to surgery to have her bone set. But she did not need a pin, entirely because the Churchill staff stabilized the arm right away. Because she hadn’t been able to make the injury worse waiting for the doctor, Caroline doesn’t have a piece of metal in her arm to forever mess up the metal detector at the airport. She spent a week in a soft cast and six more weeks in a hard one, but she suffers no long-term effects, even psychological ones.
I rather thought that would be the end of Caroline and the monkey bars, but she has proven me wrong. By this February, she could cross them hand over hand, and she’s now working to master dangling from her knees. Her first day at Churchill, while quite traumatic, has proved to be a wonderful thing for our family, as it showed us that the quality of care our child would receive on a horrible day was on par with the care she would get on a good one. We made a lucky move when we came to Churchill, and I look forward to a long association with the school.