I SEE RED: Chapter Three


The Extremely Important Day

[I see you.]
My 6am alarm goes off, and I’m about ready to snooze when I remember the vital importance of today. I shower, make my hair look nice, and spend an extra few minutes on my makeup because a woman should never underestimate the value of perfectly winged eyeliner. My breakfast is full of protein and whole grains, and my coffee is locally sourced. I even ate chia seeds for Pete’s sakeI’m not about to let Dallas go down without a fight. I stuff my bag with a bunch of resources that will help him learn with the other kids. Today is going to be the day he shows everybody that he is smart, that he is amazing, and that he adds value to their school community. Just you wait and see.
On the way, my car playlist is on point: calming my nerves and building up my bravado. I find a parking space straight away, which is a miracle in and of itself. I walk up the stairs with my head held highoh, I can’t wait to see Dallas and tell him how he’s going to win this one!

The minute I walk into the classroom, one of the morning teachers accosts me at the door.
“He’s hiding under the couch,” she says, rolling her eyes. Suddenly I’m feeling all Mama Bear. I can roll my eyes at Dallas, but she sure can’t.
“He’s not even supposed to get here until 8 am,” I snap, considering it took less than three seconds for one of these morons to rain on my parade. Looking at my watch, I continue, “It’s only 7:55 am right now! Who dropped him off?”
“I guess it was the Dad?” the teacher divulges. “A guy, anyway.”
(Thanks Jacob, that was really helpful. Way to get on board with the intervention, douchebag.)
Before nine, all the kids are cared for by the extra staff who cover teacher breaks and after school care. They’re all about eighteen if they’re lucky - some looking barely older than the kids in the upper grades. The morning staff aren’t the brightest sparks, and few of them have a clue about early childhood development. It pains me that they say, Good Boy/Good Girl to these kidstheir lack of separation between child and behavior makes me cringe. They’re too young to be looking after this many kidsI know, because I’ve been there.  When I was their age I thought I knew it all, only to soon find out I knew nothing about the tiny humans before me. Being excellent at working with children doesn’t come from books, it comes from building a relationship with each child as an individual person. To effectively change the course of a child’s life is to stop viewing them as a child, and start respecting them as a person.
Maybe these teachers don’t have a clue, in part, because they’re not reading the room. I guess I’ve always been an emotional sponge, soaking up the feelings of everyone around me like some kind of superpower. It’s the most wonderful blessing, and simultaneously a terrible curse. I only wish I were oblivious to the emotional temperature of the room; I’m jealous of ignorant blissif I want to bury my head in the sand, I have to make the conscious decision towards oblivion. Maybe there aren’t enough people born this way, and that’s why so few are able to see Dallas the way I see him. Like x-ray vision, I see through the wild exterior to the bare bones underneath that prove we’re all human; we’re all imperfect, we’re all trying our best, even when we completely miss the mark.
I have decided to use my oblivion card and ignore the morning staff, doing my own thing instead. I walk over to the couch and take a seat, pretending I have no idea Dallas is on the rug below. I grab one of his favorite books from the shelf and begin reading:
“The Army Ant is a name that is applied to over 200 species of ants, known for their aggressive predatory raids.”
I see his arm poke out from under the couch. I have no idea why he loves this book, I think it’s about as entertaining as watching paint drybut for some reason he’s got a real attachment.
“There are workers, queens, and males. Workers are the lowest caste of Army Ants. Colonies of Army Ants only have one Queen, and her job is to reproduce new ants by laying eggs.”
Dallas slides his torso out from under the couch, and I pretend not to care. I continue reading aloud this vapid exposé on the Army Ant.
“Army Ants forage for food, sometimes a colony can devour up to half a million prey animals per day. As you can imagine, this kind of raid has a tremendous impact on the surrounding ecosystem.”
A warm body sits beside me, and finds a front row seat to the Army Ant show. Again, I’m playing it cool and intend to keep reading. His leg is careful not to touch mine; his body turned away, ever so slightly.
“The Queen is the winner,” Dallas whispers.
“What does she win?” I whisper back.
“All of the power. Her is the boss of everything.”
“What’s better, love or power?”
His eyes widen. He whispers, “Power.”
I get close to him and say, “I want to give you some power today.”
“What kind of power?” he curiously inquires.
“Today, you’re the boss of something really important.”
“What kind of day do you want to make for yourself?”
“A good one.”
“That’s your power.”
“I don’t get it,” Dallas admits.
I wonder if I’ve lost him, as he slides his body off the couch and onto the rug again. I might need the innocuous Army Ants book to continue. Like magic, he jumps up and looks at me.
“How do I make a good day?” he asks.
“One step at a time,” I say.
He thinks first, then inquires, “What if I make a bad step?”
“As long as most of the steps are positive, you’re using your powers for good.”
He falls on the rug again, “What’s the point of a good power?”
“All of the true winners have good powers,” I explain.
“Nuh uh...the bad guys win,” he retorts.
“I disagree. They might win for a moment or two, but not in the end,” I say as he grimaces. Clearly, this was not the news for which he was hoping. “Let’s just try it out for today.”
“Okay,” he shrugs.
I take him over to the table and show him today’s schedule.

[I see red.]
The Evil She is showing me a schedule of things what are happening today. Her is kind of a nice girl some days when her isn’t being super bad. You might be wondering why I think that The She is evil, and I can tell you a few of the reasons. First, The Evil She stops me from doing things that I want to do. When I have good ideas, her catches me and holds me until I can’t breathelike yesterday when I wanted to draw at writing time. The stupid lady wouldn’t let me, so I ran away from her, but she sent a hundred grown-ups to kill me. They didn’t win though because here I amalive and ready to play with blocks. I won’t write though because I don’t know how to do writing.

This is the list of things she is making me do today:
·       Check in with Zoe (That’s The Evil She’s name, but I never call her it)
·       Morning choice; blocks, drawing, reading (I’m absolutely doing building, I have a plan too)
·       Morning meeting; 5 min with group, then body break (I don’t like the first bit, but I love the second bit, so one minus and one plus is a nothing)
·       Snack (For your big fat information, I only eat animal crackers and never ever disgusting yogurt)
·       Writing; 3 sentences about your weekend (I would write if I knowed how to write, but I don’t so I’m not doing it)
·       Lunch (Mom packed chicken nuggets in a warm thing with a strong lid)
·       Recess (Best, but I wish I had friends)
·       Quiet time (I usually make this into loud time)
·       Math (I never do this because mostly I am kicked out of class when I’m bad and that happens before lunch mostly)
·       Closing circle (never been to this, I wonder if it’s fun, but probably isn’t)
·       Pick up (I hope it’s Mom today) by Jacob (ugghhhhhhh)

I grab a marker with my fist (they’re hard to hold) and check the first item. The Evil She looks happy about this, so I check off the next thing, and her takes the marker from me. I wonder if she forgot how I can’t read or write?
“Wait! You haven’t done your morning choice yet,” her explains, and what she said is really true. “What are you going to choose?”
“Building,” I say, running to the blocks. Her grabs my body, which I hate.
“Dallas, plant your feet,” she says. I keep my body still, but it doesn’t mean I like doing nothing. I’m just doing it for extra time with the blocks, not because I am listening to the stupid instructions.
“Eyes,” she reminds me. I look at her.
“I want the blocks,” I say, looking at her. I’m bored of this already, but she looks happy. I wonder if her thinked I couldn’t talk or stay still? I’m not stupid, I’m just bad. These things are two different things.
Her sticks a golden star on a paper with lines.

[I see you.]
I’m so excited. Today is going exceptionally well so far, especially considering the lemonade we made from this morning’s citrus cocktail. He’s making eye contact, he’s speaking clearly, he’s calming his body with prompts. He’s getting it! Thank God.
“Buddy, you earned a sticker! Only nine more, and then what do you get?”
He doesn’t reply. That’s OK, I guess Dallas is done talking for the moment, and maybe I should stop pushing my agenda so hard. I sit beside him on the rug as he pulls out various blocks.
“In nine more stickers, you’ll get ten minutes on the…” I’m leaving a gap for him to finish my sentencethis way I can check that he’s tracking what I’m saying, and he has processed what he is working towards. No reply. I count in my head: five, four, three, two, one.
Still, no response.

[I see red.]
   “On the game tablet,” yes, I already knowed that. I wish her would stop talking to me and leave me alone. I have a good idea about not answering she when her speaksif I stop answering, her will stop talking to me. I do this all the time, and mostly people get tired of talking when nobody talks back. They say it’s like talking to a brick wall, which I never knowed if they did or not. I don’t feel like trying to talk to walls because that sounds stupid and really not fun. Also, people who get prizes for being good are people who aren’t me. I don’t need a sticker for talking, and I like games, but I don’t need a prize.
I didn’t do work for a award.

[I see you.]
“You’ll get ten minutes on the game tablet!” I say, in a voice more condescending than I’d care to admit. He doesn’t acknowledge what I’ve said.
I know he likes having time on the game tablet, but I also know he’s not big on rewards. Maybe he is, but he hates the educational game selection the school allows? Hmm. He’s playing his cards close to his chest. I find myself getting worked up in the confusion of all these things. This is the part of the job that I hate the mostam I actually supposed to understand this kid? I’ll tell you something for nothingI don't get Dallas Jensen in the slightest. What if today turns to shit? I’m supposed to have it all together. What if I’m wrong and he runs away? What if we don’t catch him this time? Forget catching Dallas, first I need to catch myself. I take a deep breath, relying on affirmations to keep myself afloat.
Zoe, we can do this.
I decide to choose my battles and back off while he plays with the blocks. The more I trust his behavior, the more space I put between the two of us. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’m breathing easier. He looks so normal right now, like every other kid in the room. Every now and again we get these windows into who Dallas could bewho he might become with an early intervention. Why Dallas is the way he is is still a mystery, one I can only attribute to an omission in parental communication between home and school. He strikes me as a kid with attachment issues, but I’m not sure that’s the whole picture. I think there’s something neurological going on, but heck, I can’t diagnose. But I do wonder.
   I became a Behavior Specialist three years ago after completing an Education degree at college. Somewhere along the line, I realized I wasn’t made for classroom teaching, and came to resent the idea of wiping snotty noses and tying shoelaces all day. I was knee deep in a four-year course, and subsequently in student debt. I decided I would see the degree through, thanks to the encouragement of my parents, then take a look at my options later on. During my last teaching internship, I was given the responsibility of handling the behaviors of an eight-year-old boy with Autism. I was thrown in the deep end just as I realized I had been born to swim. Quirky kids were my field and I found endless joy in building a relationship with this boy.
   After finishing the degree, I landed a Behavior Specialist position where I could learn on the job. I rang in my first day with a four-year-old boy who had torn up his living room from floor to ceiling. He stood there holding a key, which he had used to carve the words “FUCK YOU” in the wall (I was equally horrified and impressed with his literacy skills). He scowled at me with a certain kind of look in his eye, one I now see in Dallas. I’ve known so many little guys with the same narrow eyes, the same flailing limbs, the same proclivity to succumb to power outside of themselves.
But right now, I’m here watching Dallas play like any other kid. His eyes are clear, his face innocent. No matter what happens today, we have this moment. This super friggin’ normal throwaway moment. I snap a picture, both in my heart and on my camera.
Hope rises.