Eliza Grace was born on March 15, 2006, at 26 weeks, 4 days, weighing 1 pound 4 ounces and measuring just 11.5 inches long. She is the light of my soul and this is the story of our life in the big city.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Lasting Effects of Bullying

I haven’t posted much about this past year with Eliza, because those posts probably would have been filled with anger and venom at the bully who tormented Eliza last year and the system that failed her. 

As I wrote in my last post Eliza was the target of a bully at school. And I mean a real bully, not just some kid who occasionally acted inappropriately (because let's face it "bully" is an overused term to describe any kid who didn't play well with others in the school yard). 

Because of the bullying, Eliza went from a child who loved to school to one who begged not to go. 

From a child who was not irrationally attached to me, to a child who would say at night that she wanted to go back to being an embryo in my uterus so she would be safe.

From a child who loved the noises and sights of the city, to one who wanted to move to Saba because there are no scary things or people on Saba.

From a child who enjoyed her five minutes of privacy while I stood outside our door while I took the dog out, to one who had to watch me from the window to make sure I was safe.

From a child who loved watching Taxi TV in cabs, to one who would close her eyes and cover her ears until I turned it off.

From a child who was not afraid to go out of the house, to a child who literally would not leave the house ... for weeks.

The first day Eliza cried and begged not to leave the house was awful for her, heartbreaking for me. It was the first day of summer vacation and my mother and I were taking Eliza to her favorite diner to have her favorite waffles. The diner is 100 feet from our building. Eliza made it ten feet from our building entrance and then ran back and hid in the bushes sobbing and shaking.  She did not know what she was afraid of, just that she was afraid of everything out there, bad things that might happen, things she couldn't even articulate.  We went back in and I hoped this would pass. Then it happened again and again. Eliza didn't want me to go to work, she was obsessed with something happening to me, happening to my mother. This was not just the typical 8 year old curiosity about when we are all going to die.

When we absolutely had to leave the house Eliza would either where a cap pulled down over her face or one of my scarves over her head.  She wore a special pin to protect her. We had to walk a certain route that was safe. Not only couldn't we take a bus, but we couldn't go near a bus since, thanks to the graphic ads on buses by the FX Channel. Eliza wrote a letter to the mayor (still unanswered) asking why such scary things were put on buses for children to see.

Eliza started seeing a psychologist to deal with her fears. In my nightly talks with Eliza at first she wouldn't tell me what she was afraid of. As time went on though Eliza began to tell me details of what she was afraid of. She was afraid of being sliced open, of being stabbed of being shot, to name a few. A pretty graphic list of ways she was going to die. After weeks of me gently asking her why she thought these things might happen she told me that those were the ways the bully told her she would die, apparently at his hand.

Eliza's anxiety has improved with months of therapy, reassurance and coping skills. She is less afraid, but still has many moments where she is so afraid she wants to be an embryo because she was safe then. We'll continue with therapy for the foreseeable future and I am hopeful things will continue to improve.

I don't know where the bully is now. Eliza is in a new school where she feels safe. It saddens me that a seven year old child could do and speak the things he did.  I am angry at his parents for failing to recognize he needed help. I am angry at myself for not realizing the extent of the damage he caused sooner. I'm not sure my anger will dissipate anytime soon. Maybe when Eliza feels safe again.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Year in the Life of the DOE

And How It Affected Eliza

From those of you who read my Facebook posts you probably recall my various rants about the DOE and its policies ranging from busing, to assistive technology, to bullying and a whole lot more.

After a pretty miserable year Eliza is now a very anxious child with self-esteem issues so I think a recounting of the year's events is in order.  And at least I'll have all of this written down in one place to print out for the DOE and whoever else needs a reminder of how we got to this place.

The year started out fairly promising, Eliza had moved on to the 2nd Grade and was a pretty happy kid who looked forward to school.  The promise that the year held dissipated pretty quickly with the bus.  

Ah yes, the Special Ed bus. 

After dealing with OPT for since Eliza was 3, I was pretty used to the bus bullshit and had a nice investigator from OPT on speed dial.  I had gotten so good at filing complaints and checking OPT's website each day that I could file a complaint in my sleep.  But this year was different. You may recall that there is no age restriction for Special Ed busing.  I bet you're surprised that a 38 pound seven year can be placed on the same bus as a 200 pound 20 year attending high school (actually several 18 to 21 year olds).  I had the chance to meet Eliza's bus driver on the first day of school.  Wilfredo regaled me with stories about how much he loooooves women, his great dancing skills and his even better conversational skills.  He was so kind that he gave me, a single mom, his phone number, in the event I wanted a good time or just to have someone to talk with!  Now that is some service from a kid's bus driver, very much above and beyond what his union contract requires I am sure.

As much as that bothered me (and the OPT investigator) it was what Wilfredo did every morning after he picked up Eliza to take her to her school less than a mile away.  Eliza was always getting to school late, but this made no sense even with Manhattan traffic, Wilfredo only needed to drive down our street, make a left turn, drive 8 blocks and make a right turn to get to the school.  So channeling my inner Nancy Drew I decided to take a page from my favorite sleuth and follow Wilfredo (and this being Manhattan traffic one can do that on foot).  I quickly discovered that Wilfredo was stopping at Dunkin' Donuts, parking in front of the high school where his other charges attended and enjoying his morning cup of Joe and a box of glazed donuts.  So I taped Wilfredo a few times and then confronted him.  He had the best explanation ever!  If he got to school early they would add more kids to his bus!  So instead Eliza sat on a bus for 30 to 45 minutes with about 10 high school kids.

Thanks to my friends at OPT, Wilfredo was suspended pending a union hearing and Eliza was assigned to a new bus (which was better, until the driver showed a bootleg version of Godzilla to appease the high school kids).

And then there was the bully.

After the bus fiasco, Eliza came home one day, not even a month into school, and told me about a boy in her class who had thrown her on the ground and tried to choke her. No particular reason, I guess he just felt like picking on someone that day.  Luckily a friend came to Eliza's aid and got an adult.  The boy was no longer permitted to attend after school (which is privately run on the school grounds), but after a day out of school he was right back at it.  While calling Eliza "stupid," "dumb," "baby," making fun of how she runs or plays ball on a daily basis may not seem as bad as choking her, the affect was nonetheless the same.  Eliza became unsure of herself, more isolated and her self-esteem suffered.  Because to a 7 year old when your classmate is calling you stupid, some part of that 7 year old starts to believe it, no matter how much reassurance she gets from those who love her.  

After being assured that Eliza would be kept safe, low and behold, this boy cornered her in a room and pointed a triangular shaped MagnaTile in her chest (leaving a small mark) and told her he was going to kill her.  As you can imagine my head burst into flames when Eliza told me this (note there was no note or call to me from the powers that be).  I know you are just dying to hear the punishment for this assault ... are you ready ... the boy had five coins removed from his behavior chart.  Pretty serious punishment don't you think?  Not.  But even more curious was when I spoke with the school about this, I was told that "in the child's defense," Eliza had been quite rude to him.  I have always tried to remain calm when dealing with the DOE, and school personnel but I could not help but scream "Are you fucking kidding me?  Did you just say that?"  I asked if by "rude" did he mean that Eliza would say in a loud voice when this boy came near her "I don't like you" "Leave me alone" "I'm not your friend" and things of that nature.  Yes indeed this was Eliza's rude behavior.  I was delighted to hear that Eliza had been following my instructions! It is sad that I had to teach her to say these things loudly but I thought it was a much better alternative to teaching her to hit the kid back.  Apparently this last event was one in a long string of behavior issues and the boy was gone shortly thereafter.  But the damage had been done.  Oh, and by the way, when your kid is the one being tormented the DOE apparently doesn't require the school call you, only the parents of the bully, or maybe they just avoid calling you to avoid a kerfuffle.  

Good to know you have to regularly ask your child "did Little Johnny assault you this week?"

And we capped off the year with an insanely long delay in getting Eliza's IEP amended to allow her to use one of these things:

What pray is this magical device?  Why it is a portable word processor for children who have issues that affect their ability to write.  Now you would think I was asking the DOE to provide Eliza with a $3000 laptop (and I did offer to have Eliza use her own Notebook from home ... but no, can't do that). This thing costs the DOE under $200, certainly not a dent in a budget that pays Pearson tens of millions of dollars for workbooks, test prep materials, test, etc.

There is no great mystery why Eliza needs this.  Her fine motor function in her dominant hand is in the 4th percentile.  She also has some processing and working memory issues that make writing very, very, very hard.  You would think the DOE would be delighted to offer up one these, especially after reading the very pricey neuro-psych report and me being repeatedly told "oh Eliza would do so well with a word processor!".  As an aside Eliza has been typing all of her homework since the beginning of Second Grade so there should be no surprises there.  But noooo.. Parting the Red Sea had to be easier.  First the paperwork wasn't right.  Then when it was corrected the DOE took all of the time allotted to have the AT eval on the last possible day. Fifteen minutes into the eval, the very lovely evaluator wondered out loud why this had not been done sooner.  So we began a trial with a particular device to see if that worked.  Of course the device was supposed to be used during certain periods, but the powers that be decided that it would be best to have Eliza use it when it was most convenient to them.  Huh?  I did not realize that convenience for the teacher was the guiding principle behind the IDEA.  So once again my head burst into flames when I was told "we were being "nice" letting Eliza use it more often" (said with great enthusiasm).  While I wanted to repeat the line "Are you fucking kidding me?" I decided to use this as a lesson in how to deal with parents whose kids have IEPs.  My gentle wisdom (okay so I wasn't so gentle) was to never, ever, ever tell a parent that you are being "nice" or "doing a favor" when you are carrying out the bare minimum that the law requires you to do.  Apparently the logic of limiting the use of the word processor was to "force" Eliza to learn to write by hand.  I asked if Eliza instead needed a walker would she only get to use it during PE and be forced to go without it the rest of the day to buck her up and walk better?  The answer I got was "well that's not the same."  Sadly I had to point out that it was in fact the same. That if a child needs a device, any device, per her IEP, then you have to use it in accordance with the IEP and your judgment (and utter lack of experience in these areas) does not supersede the mandate.

But happily the school year has ended and Eliza is doing nothing but being a kid this summer while I cross my fingers and rub the Buddha belly that life in a new school next year will be better.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hey There! We're Not Dead!

Nor have we moved off the grid.  

Well, we did move, but I don't think moving 7 blocks in Manhattan constitutes a major move ... unless you decide to have all three generations of Richter girls under one roof.

Yup, my mother is now a full fledged New Yorker once a again.  Her sojourn in the Garden State came to an end last fall and she, Eliza and I now live together.  The decision to move in together was well overdue.  My mom living alone in NJ and Eliza and I being only able to visit on weekends was not the best arrangement.  So after much thought we took the plunge.  Three generations ranging from 8 to 91 has its challenges at times, but the benefits outweigh the hurdles we occasionally face.  However, my mother and I will never agree on the right way to cook rice. 

And we have a fourth edition to the family in the form of Pikachu, our rescue dog.  Sadly we lost our beloved cat Bosley shortly before my mom moved in with us.  Although Bessie was not too thrilled when she discovered Eliza and I surprised her with a dog, she has come to love the little fur ball and I think she is jealous that he sleeps in my bed not hers.

This school year has presented more challenges for Eliza than one kid should have to shoulder (or that one parent should have to deal with).  In the past two years her class size was manageable for her and she had the great support.  This year Eliza's class increased in size by almost one-third and it has just been overwhelming for her.  To make things more difficult she was continually bullied by another student who began with verbal taunts (baby, stupid, dumb) and then escalated to violent behavior against Eliza.  Despite a DOE "no tolerance" policy for bullying, he physically assaulted Eliza on two occasions and even went so far as to say he was going to kill her. It appears that the "no tolerance" policy means that it takes almost 6 months to remove the offending student from the school.   

In the DOE's continued slow boat to China method of addressing issues, it took far longer than it should have for Eliza to have her Assistive Technology evaluation.  Eliza will now be given a word processor for class work, which she can also use at home.  Given that her fine motor function score for her dominant hand was in the 4th percentile, being able to type her classwork should be a great help.  She has been typing her homework almost all year and it has helped to diminish the angst that homework creates.  But more on the DOE later ....

Eliza is counting not the days, but the hours until school ends and I can't say I blame her given this past year in school.