Thursday, October 02, 2008

a rough transition

Lucy started kindergarten this year. I was expecting this to go smoothly. Lucy was a scarily independent toddler, and she had no separation anxieties going to part-time preschool (although it was a parent-participation school, so I worked a regular shift, and there were always scores of parents about). Also, she was very familiar with her new school, having been there hundreds of times over the three years Iris has been there. Her big sister, Iris, on the contrary had an epic separation anxiety about preschool but skipped all the way to kindergarten her first day, taking to the school like a wild animal finally released into its natural habitat.

The reality is that here we are in October, and Lucy's still miserable. She's crying at school nearly every day, and she's fearful and unhappy.

Mind you, the school is as close to ideal as imaginable. Lucy and Iris are lucky to attend a delightful all-girls private school on a beautiful campus. Lucy's class has fourteen girls and two gentle, kind full-time teachers each day. There is a playground for the kindergarten and first grade girls' use only, a fabulous art program, funny phys ed teachers who get the girls to run around screeching in a most satisfying manner, etc... Everyone makes an effort to put the kindergarteners at ease, from our new head of school, who already knows Lucy's name, to our receptionist, who shook Lucy's hand and asked her to come to her with any questions. But still, Lucy is unhappy in a way which seems deep and unable to be comforted.

I thought things would be fine once Lucy made friends, and despite her unhappiness, she has already made some. However, she pines for me, and she cries often. Once she saw a woman wearing a denim jacket like mine in the library, and that set her off. Another time Iris told me that another girl had seen Lucy crying in the lunchroom (Lucy herself doesn't report her crying; I learn about it from her teacher), and in discussing that with Lucy, I learned that Lucy finds lunch to be noisy and scary (we had noticed that she ate very lightly). Lucy has bonded with her teacher, and that comforts her, but still she is so unhappy.

Lucy's teacher and I have figured out that part of the problem is that Lucy is very sensitive to noise. Lucy has always been upset by loud noises, preferring not to go to the movies. The one time I took her to a parent-child nightclub event, she was miserable and had to leave. It's common for Lucy to tell me to turn down music, complain of getting a headache from noise, or cover her ears in protest. The school, with its hundreds of girls, can be a very noisy place, much noisier than the tiny preschool programs Lucy attended or her home, and there's not a lot that can be done about that.

We had originally intended for Lucy to play after school in the aftercare program until Iris's class was dismissed an hour later, but that hasn't gone well. I now pick up Lucy when her day lets out, and we mill about near the school for an hour until we can retrieve Iris. (We've become regulars at a nearby cafe, which is not good for my healthy eating regimen, as the coffee is abysmal there but the pastries are excellent). We're also leaving early so we can park and walk Lucy to her classroom, as she finds it intimidating to walk through the craziness before classes (the girls are supervised as they play outdoors in the central part of the school before the bell rings at 8:30, and it is a supervised madhouse, with manic girls in green jumpers darting about screeching).

If Lucy were in a crappy school, I'd start thinking about a timeline for pulling her out if she were still unhappy, and I'd be considering alternatives. But it's not; it's an excellent school. Even with her unhappiness, Lucy is already learning. One day she came home and told me that the pupil is a hole in the eye which lets light and air go in and that the iris is a muscle. Another day she informed me that Kandinsky was a Dutch painter who used to paint realistically but "he decided that was boring, so he broke the rules" and started painting first mazes and then just lines. "Horizontal AND vertical lines. Two kinds," she stressed over and over. Later I saw her draw an elaborate frame, which she filled in slowly with a variety of horizontal and vertical lines.

I think Lucy has to work through this problem by herself. I can't fix this for her; I can't soften it or take it away. But she's only just-turned-six, she's still a funny little child, and it's heartbreaking to see her so persistently unhappy. As a parent I try to help my children solve problems, but there's not much I can do to help Lucy with this. She has to do it herself. It's agonizing for me not to be able to make this situation comfortable for her.

12 comments:

Meeks said...

I felt this so deeply. I, like Lucy, hate noise. Always have. My favorite time of class was "Reading, Resting and Writing" because everyone had to shut up. I hate(d) screaming girls with a passion when I was little and only made it through the first half of girl scouts because I would have rather spent time being quiet with my mommy. I even cried through most of my birthday parties because I didn't understand why kids had to be so damn loud. (I sound like a super fun kid, huh.) You are a wonderful mother for wanting to fix it for her and even more wonderful for recognizing that you can't. She will get through it and when she grows up and the world is still noisy, she'll still love spending quiet time with you the most :)

Debra said...

Poor baby. I wonder if light-weight ear plugs could help? Or if the medical world has any other help for this issue?

I don't recall minding noise, but I was definitely a "sit in the corner and read a book" kid. Is Lucy a reader? (Well, as much as she can be, at age 6)

the Drunken Housewife said...

Lucy is a huge reader, having taught herself to read through an act of will. She likes to play quietly with toys and stuffed animals, to draw, to read, and to play on the computer (she's an aficionado of the pbskids website right now).

Debra, her teacher did raise the possibility of trying an earplug in one ear to reduce the noise somewhat, but we haven't tried it yet. I should discuss that more with her. It might help at lunch.

emily said...

Speaking not as a parent or teacher, but as a big sister to a kid who (like Lucy) is sensitive to loud noises, you may want to look into sensory issues. It may be nothing more than a mild problem with sensory integration, but there are a lot of tools and techniques to help kids find their own coping mechanisms for situations that might otherwise cause a lot of stress. I really wish we had known about those techniques when my sister was Lucy's age.

Anonymous said...

Lucy has hyperacusis, I bet. It can be treated. Judy Peyton treats it in the SF Bay Area. My mom is a learning specialist at a private school in that area and refers many kids with Lucy's issues to her. They are helped tremendously. I will get her contact info and post back.

Anonymous said...

I had the wrong spelling of her last name. Here is her website with contact info:
http://www.judithpaton.com/about.html

Susan said...

I have been a reader for some time, my first comment - I thought of the ear plugs right away. I am sensitive to very high pitched sounds - like girls shrieking on the playground! I can still hear, but it seems to soften the higher registers so I can function. My best to you and Lucy!

Joyce said...

I totally want to cry. I remember when Lucy was more withdrawn (towards me at least) when she couldn't speak well and then got the therapy and then she could speak! Hallelujah! and she was such a bright and bubbly child, I hadn't realized that before because she wasn't talking. It makes me so terribly sad to think of her being sad and not doing little spider dances. This too will pass. I know a couple of books you can read about sensory stuff, there are maybe things you can do to soothe her? we should talk on phone about this. google "therapeutic listening" as well, there are cds.

Joyce said...

oh, i see emily already left a similar comment. i agree with her, there are relatively easy ways you can help lucy not be as sensitive to sound...let's talk about this on phone. i haven't talked to yo uenough lately but vi has been in occupational therapy for 5 weeks now and the changes are unbelievable.

Captain Steve said...

Awww, that sucks for her! I hope it gets better for her.

snowqueen said...

Obviously as an occupational therapist I am going to second the sensory integration route - definitely worth a try.

Epiphany said...

This doesn't solve the sensory problem (as someone who is sensitive to noise myself, I can emphathize), but have you considered homeschooling? Homeschooling has gotten so popular that most cities now have programs where you can take your kids a couple of days a week for classes with other homeschool kids. I also know a woman here whose daughter is part of a worldwide program of homeschoolers where the kids have virtual classes and such. I'll see if I can get the name.

I hope Lucy starts feeling like she's fitting in soon. Sucks to be the odd kid out (and to be missing your mom at school).