Tuesday, December 11, 2012

lessons on consequences

Our little community has had a rough weekend. Friday afternoon we received an email that our beloved principal had been suddenly terminated. Details were vague, but mentioned a violation of a code relating to alcohol abuse. He is a father and husband, a visionary and leader. It's all just so...disappointing. That's what I kept thinking on Saturday. When I told the kids that he would not be their principal any more, they naturally asked, "Why?" My first thought was to tell them as little as possible. Just that he had "made poor choices." As soon as I said that, though, realizing that to them "poor choices" means not doing their homework or excluding Gemma, I nearly cut myself off (if that's even possible), "Nope. You deserve to know. There are rules at school, even for adults. One was that they cannot drink alcohol on campus. He broke this rule." Joel cut in with a very wise assessment, "When you are in charge of enforcing rules, and you don't follow the rules yourself, you can't be in charge any more." It's an awful feeling, to miss someone even though you know it was the right decision.

You'd think that would be the big news Monday morning at school. Tragically, it wasn't. A former student, whose younger siblings still attend our elementary school, died Friday evening. Details here were also vague, and teachers were tight-lipped, so one naturally (and, in this case, accurately) assumes the most devastating reason. His youngest sibling, whom I will call Sam, is one of Donovan's buddies at school. I have had the pleasure of working with them on writing every week for the past year and a half (they're in a blend, together, so they've kept the same teacher). He is a charming boy. Donovan's teacher, whom I adore, had emailed us to say the kids could bring their slippers to wear in class and a stuffed animal to love on through the day (and are continuing this all week). I think this has helped a little. Donovan seemed quiet, but not out of sorts when I was in the class on Monday.

That afternoon, however, he suddenly had an outburst that was uncharacteristic. He was irrationally worried about his math and how he's dumb (fyi - his Star testing revealed he's in the 99th percentile, and testing at a grade equivalency of 4.5. that's how irrational this was). I knew it was something else. I asked if he wanted to talk about Sam.

Tears filled his eyes and his lower lip quivered. He tried to purse his lips to keep them steady, but it was no use. He wrapped his arms around me and just sobbed, "I tried not to think about it all day so I wouldn't be sad, but now I'm home and I'm worried something might happen to my family. I don't want to go to sleep tonight because I don't want to have bad dreams."

I just hugged him and cried with him. I told him it was ok to be sad and that it was worth being sad about. I told him it was also ok to not be sad at school if he didn't want to be. And then I told him that he could be sad, but he shouldn't be afraid, because his family will be just fine. Accidents happen, and sometimes they can be prevented and sometimes they can't. But he has a family who is very concerned with safety and we will stay safe.

I know that's not entirely true. We can't always control safety. But I wasn't about to explain depression or anger or anything like that in terms of life and death. Donovan kept asking how the boy died. I asked why it mattered. He kind of shrugged, but I wondered if what he couldn't verbalize was a desire to know how it happened so he could convince himself it wouldn't happen to us. I kept reassuring him that we would be fine.

Last night he kept coming down and saying he couldn't stop thinking about Sam. At one point he was crying about how much he missed him. I thought this was a little dramatic, considering he had only been gone one day, but then I considered that what he probably was feeling was a wish that things could go back the way they were. So I just held him and said we'd see him soon.

Today he went to school and talked with one of the crisis counselors available there. I had told him that he could talk to me, but if he wanted to talk to someone else, then that would be fine, too. He said she mostly had him draw a picture for Sam and then told him his family would be safe. I think he took comfort in hearing it from someone besides his mother.

It's been a rough few days. I have the utmost respect for the teachers and other administrators at our school. I can't imagine how our vice principal is feeling right now. It's a lot to process. But I have to believe our little community will be stronger because of it. I guess it's good for my kids to learn hard lessons by way of others. But I wish they didn't have a reason to learn it. It's all just so sad.


laura said...

Oh, poor buddy. What a terrible situation for everyone, and I'm sad he has to go through it.

Becca said...

Oh Donovan, you are so sweet and caring! I am sorry that you are going through this hard time!