We’re all on the mend from a hostage situation of another kind. The common cold. That bit of booger nastiness moved in and set up shop a few weeks ago, running through the house and the daycare with the efficiency of a brush fire. Usually, a common cold virus shows itself as runny noses and sneezing, and for almost everyone here, that’s all it was. For one little boy, however, it was something else.
TJ stopped eating. Completely. Within the span of 10 days, the sum of all he ingested barely amounted to the equivalent of a small snack. He dropped three and a half pounds. When he tops the scale fully clothed at 43.6lbs, three and a half pounds is a lot of boy that wasn’t there anymore. He was lethargic, exhausted, and easily agitated. He snuggled his rail thin, bony body next to mine, desperately seeking warmth and comfort.
It was really #*&$% frightening.
With the weight loss came behavior that I describe as fragile. Little upsets and things unexpected cause quick and unpredictable responses. Overwhelmed and helpless, TJ will lash out non-verbally with wails and screams. He will isolate himself from others, curl up into a ball and hide his head in his knees, clearly distraught. This is how TJ shows hunger during those times when he is most anxious about, well… anything really. He needs lots of reassurance, gentle guidance, and constant increases in blood sugar.
This morning, he took longer than necessary to get dressed. When he did finally make his way downstairs, breakfast is waiting for him, but he doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want to sit at the table with the other children, one in particular. He doesn’t want to be in the same room with anybody else.
It’s also raining, unseasonably warm, and windy. The perfect recipe to aggravate his environmental allergies. Introducing hungry child, now congested. Sure, I considered the ramifications of sending him to school in this state, but I can’t keep him home everyday it rains. I certainly don’t want to introduce a scenario where delaying breakfast rewards him with a day off school.
So we walked in the rain to the school bus stop. On the ride home yesterday afternoon, the resident bus bully had punched the kid who was sharing a seat with TJ in the face. The bully was climbing the steps to board the bus this morning when TJ spotted him just three children ahead in line, initiating a full on protest against getting on the bus. Thankfully, the driver understood and made a seat for him near the front, and away from the bully.
I waved at my sad, hungry, congested and now very frightened child as the bus turned the corner and headed toward the school. I called the school to alert them to expect an out of sorts child and that offering him an opportunity to eat something would very likely be helpful.
Half an hour later, the vice principal calls.
“TJ is sitting in the hallway, crying. He is refusing to go into the classroom.”
Cripes, can you blame him? He’s probably thinking, ‘What else is going to happen to me today?’ I explain that he hasn’t eaten… Allergies… Bully… I suggest reassuring him that he is safe and again suggest offering him something from his snack bag. Maybe some orange juice.
“I understand he has some issues with eating,” explains the vice principal. Great, someone was listening, “We obviously couldn’t force feed him….”
Force feed him? I asked if someone could hand him some orange juice. So much for the listening. Ten minutes later, the vice principal and TJ are in my driveway. The VP informs me that before TJ can return to school, we need to have a meeting.
On how to offer him orange juice?
I’d like to believe that this will lead to a better understanding, better communication and better support for TJ at school. This is what I hoped would happen when I explained what to expect from my son on rainy days and around food at the beginning of the school year. That has obviously been forgotten. The vice principal or the school social worker promised to call before the end of today so TJ could return to school tomorrow. That didn’t happen either.
Tomorrow is another day, possibly one that greets us with an eaten breakfast, sunshine and better behaviour. I know better days are ahead. We just need bigger servings of patience and understanding to get there.
What we need is a plan.