A couple of months ago, my oldest son got kicked out of daycare. This is something I didn’t think could actually happen, but all of a sudden, there we were.
Nate had been having some behavioral issues for a while. He was prone to violent outbursts, often with little to no warning. If something didn’t go his way — or more specifically, if something didn’t go in the order in which he expected it, he would experience a dramatic meltdown that rendered him almost completely inconsolable. These events began happening with more and more frequency towards the end of 2015.
He was new to the school. His daycare of four years closed down in the summer, so we had to scramble to find a replacement. We found what we thought to be a suitable one and at first, Nate seemed to be on board. He never told us he was unhappy; we saw no signs of sadness, anger or frustration at first. But then the calls started to come: “Nate hit a friend today.” They started to shadow him at all times, which was a strain on their resources. He didn’t show signs of improvement.
The school recommended he see a specialist. Cathy said “of course.” I said, “Nuh-uh!” and covered my ears. No one was going to tell me that my son had a problem. He just didn’t socialize well, I told myself. He needed more play dates. If he has to see a specialist, that means that we failed as parents, that I failed my son. I wasn’t hearing it.
Naturally, things got worse. His behavior became more aggressive. The school’s director sat me down, I finally listened to reason, and we made an appointment with a specialist. A couple of days before his first appointment, Nate was sitting in “the loft,” which is basically the top bunk in one of the rooms at the school. A little girl started climbing up the ladder to join him. He didn’t want her to, so he kicked her in the chest while she was halfway up the ladder. The girl was hurt (though thankfully, not as badly as she could have been) and Nate didn’t seem to care at all.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last straw. We went to pick the kids up from school that night, and that’s when they told us: Nate can’t come to school here tomorrow.
A few teachers were there to tell us. I don’t remember a lot of the conversation because my ears were ringing the whole time. Kicked out. How could this happen? We had just started seeing someone, why won’t they give it time to work?
They started throwing out words like “Asperger’s” and “on the spectrum.” They said “one of you might want to take a leave of absence.” Cathy was in tears, Nate’s teacher was in tears. And after all that, we had to leave the office, face our kids, and collect Nate’s things. Clean out his locker, like he had just been traded to the Cubs.
As the four of us drove home, minds still swimming with a dozen unanswerable questions, (What are we going to do tomorrow? How do you diagnose autism? What does this mean for the rest of our lives?) these two silly boys in the backseat were talking about which ninja turtle they wanted to be. And right then. Right then. That’s when I learned a very important parenting lesson: life needs to go on. It may sound simple. It may be obvious to those of you with kids. But that night, I learned that life needed to go on.
I wanted to scream and cry and curse his teachers. I wanted to curl up in a ball and think about all the things I did (or failed to do) that made him this way. But I realized I had a job to do. When you’re five, your entire worldview — narrow as it may be — is dependent upon your parents. We can’t just lose our shit any time we need to. Not anymore. That night I found a strength in me I didn’t even know I had.
We dried our eyes, we made dinner. We laughed and played and raced our cars on the floor. Later that night, we told Nate he wasn’t going back to school the next day. “OK!” he said. We put him to bed, kissed him on the head, and then sat down to talk about the next journey in our lives, whatever the hell that was going to be.