I’m going to need a crowbar and forklift…

Jeremy went to school willingly on Monday, which not only floored me but surprised all my coworkers. I was thrilled with this… until I came home. I’d barely walked in the front door when Jeremy informed me zie’d gotten so fed up with being misgendered, zie started calling the teacher and EAs “he” and “him” to see how they’d like it. It turns out they didn’t like it at all.

One EA told Jeremy that she didn’t mind at all, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Zir teacher complained that she was promised zie wouldn’t make a scene if they forgot the right pronouns. Jeremy informed her that was supposed to be an occasional lapse, not non-stop for half a year. The teacher then went on to complain about Jeremy’s rudeness and told zir that she was going to write a letter to me about it. Then she sent zir out of the classroom ten minutes early sans letter. I figure she had second thoughts about writing me an angry note about being misgendered. Good choice on her part because I’d have either laughed hysterically or put that letter someplace letters should never go.

The irony of the whole situation is that Jeremy figures zie used the wrong pronouns for about five minutes.

I half joked on Facebook a few days ago that I was going to need a crowbar and forklift to get Jeremy out to school today. I could have used them because zie didn’t go. Jeremy was positive they were going to be mean to zir, which made zir anxious. Jeremy uses electronics to calm down, meanwhile they’re constantly fighting zir on having “gadgets” in the classroom.

There’s a meeting with the school board tomorrow night called Families Engaged, where they want to hear from LGBTQ families (either LGBTQ parents with children in the school board or parents with LGBTQ children). Emma and I are going and I’ll be sharing what’s happening with Jeremy. I also have a meeting with zir school on Tuesday. Jeremy’s not back in school until Wednesday so hopefully we can get something sorted out before zie returns; although considering my track record with this school I’m not hopeful.

School trepidation…

Gatineau*

The first time I heard that name was with Emma. She’d been dealing with several issues; bullying, anxiety, and an overwhelming conviction that she’d made her Dad disappear and he was never coming back. I asked the school’s social worker for help and was assured that Emma and I talked well so we didn’t need any outside help. This was flattering but not useful. I requested an assessment from the school psychologist and asked for more help. Gatineau was recommended and an assessment was scheduled immediately.

A stern looking older man met us outside their interview room. Emma immediately froze. He stared at her then barked, “She’s obviously depressed.”

“She’s very shy,” I replied as we edged past him into the room. “She’s always been scared of men. Besides, she was laughing and joking around just a minute ago.”

I looked back to see him glaring at me. “I’m the psychiatrist and I know depression when I see it. She’s depressed.”

His tone said he felt that was clearly the end of the discussion. I figured it wasn’t worth starting off with an argument, not when I was there to get Emma help so shut my mouth.

The room was filled with a huge circle of chairs and a fish tank, which looked oddly out of place. We all sat near the door, the fishes swam alone on the other side of a vast expanse of chairs. There was a man who sat across from us with a pad and pen, obviously ready to take notes. He didn’t make Emma any more comfortable although, to be fair, she could hardly get any less comfortable.

Then I thought of something else. “Before we begin, I should let you know I’m having Emma tested for Aspergers.”

The psychiatrist looked over at Emma then shook his head. “She definitely does not have that,” he replied haughtily.

I began to wonder if it was possible to pull a doctorate of psychiatry out of a cereal box. The psychologist had me fill out checklists that started almost from conception and sat with Emma for hours. Meanwhile this doctor had diagnosed her in under two minutes without speaking to either of us or even attaining eye contact with her.

The doctor settled on play therapy for Emma along with a parenting group for me. I wanted Emma to get social skills help and was assured that would come as long as I joined their parenting group. I agreed and we were placed into art and group therapy at the same time. The only caveat was I needed to miss the first three sessions as my parents were away and I needed them to watch Jeremy. I was assured that was fine.

I knew immediately the group was a poor fit. Emma was prone to slamming her bedroom door while yelling, “I hate you! You’re mean!” Meanwhile the rest of the group were dealing with youths who set fire to the living room, robbed stores, and smashed furniture.

The weeks went on. Emma enjoyed her therapy, coming home regularly with crafts, while I listened to the other parents and offered any support I could. One day our group mediator was late and conversation immediately moved to the psychiatrist.

No one in the group liked him. They disliked his attitude and distrusted his diagnoses. I commented that Emma was diagnosed with Aspergers** but hadn’t got any of the social skills help I’d been promised. The mediator stepped into the room to tell me I was wrong, their psychiatrist had ruled out that diagnosis, and my diagnosis couldn’t count because Aspergers was only diagnosed by a psychiatrist. I pointed out that he made that diagnosis in less than two minutes, without speaking to Emma; meanwhile the psychologist spent hours with her. He retaliated, saying their art therapist had also spent hours talking to Emma and agreed with the psychiatrist. I pointed out that their art therapist wasn’t a psychiatrist either, so if I couldn’t go by a psychologist’s thorough assessment, he couldn’t use six hours of art therapy for a diagnosis either. But she was well respected and spent many hours with children… and so was the psychologist. The mediator told me they’d never agreed to any further help for Emma and certainly not with social skills; they didn’t even offer it.

Didn’t even offer it. What the hell was I doing there then? I sat through the rest of the session feeling numb then talked to Emma about her sessions. I’d thought the therapist was letting Emma discuss her feelings about her father and school. Instead she’d been spending therapy listening to why her art therapist felt she didn’t have Aspergers. I pulled us out of Gatineau.

I got a withdrawal letter a month later, claiming I’d missed almost half the group sessions and had been a reluctant participant. I looked at the dates and realized he’d not only counted the initial classes but a full month of sessions after we’d left. I vowed I’d never go back to the agency.

And then came the chance for a new class for Jeremy. A smaller class setting, an LGBTQ friendly school, a program that offered a chance to earn school credits, and it was brand new and barely had any students. Jeremy could get in almost immediately. But the class was run by Gatineau.

Yeah.

I stammered that I’d been there a few years ago and had not been impressed with the service, only to be reassured that they had almost all new staff and no longer had that psychiatrist.

We had our intake assessment. The new psychiatrist was cheerful and engaging, while Jeremy was in amazing spirits and responded quite animatedly. I was told a second appointment would be set up “next week” between us, Gatineau, and someone from Jeremy’s school; probably zir teacher.

There was a message from Gatineau today, wanting to arrange Jeremy’s counselling sessions. I called them back and was told they could only offer an appointment mid-day, which means Jeremy is going to miss a full day of school every week on top of what zie’s already missing due to anxiety. Then I asked about the class.

“Oh, umm, yes. Well, that class is full right now so Jeremy’s been placed on a waiting list. We’ll let you know when he gets to the top.”

“I’ll have to call [school board member] and try to get Jeremy into a different class then. Zie needs to get out of zir current class immediately.”

“Oh! Oh!!!” She sounded shocked and a bit worried. “I’ll have to talk to J and see what she says. I’ll let you know next week where Jeremy is on the list and if we know how long it will take for him to get to the top.”

So yet more waiting. Waiting for Gatineau and waiting for the school board member to call me back.

There’s a meeting on Thursday between the school board and PFLAG to address how the board can improve how they work with LGBTQ families. I figure we’ll have quite a lot to discuss.

* Gatineau is not the real name of the agency
** Emma was diagnosed with Aspergers through the school board. However it is not a diagnosis she agrees with and she’s subsequently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression. I’ve also since discovered that Aspergers and anxiety have a lot of similar symptoms.

School Identification Forms…

Ever since Emma started kindergarten I’ve been getting at least one school identification form home on the first day of school; the second at the very latest. I immediately read through, checking phone numbers and email addresses, ticking off permission for them to take neighbourhood walks, and pondering whether we actually live close enough to a nuclear power plant to tick the potassium iodine tablet section. I check it off just in case… better to be safe than sorry. Even if we’re all glowing, at least they’ll have less chance of cancer.

Jeremy came home on the first day of school this year and I promptly checked zir backpack. No form. Same with the second, third, and fourth day. I was just about to write a note to zir teacher asking if it had gone missing when zie got suspended. I got the form a few days after zie returned. By then I wasn’t worried about sitting right down to proofread it, figuring if they wanted it back promptly they’d have given it to me the first week.

I filled it at the end of September so you can imagine my surprise when Jeremy informed me zir teacher wanted me to look around the apartment for zir form.

“Wait, I gave that to you over a month ago,” I blurted. Zie sighed and shook zir head.

“I told my teacher ages ago that I lost it on the way to school but she won’t believe me. She keeps saying it’s an official school document and she can’t just go print out a new copy.”

“Well, it’s not around here,” I replied. “If it was we’d have found it. I’ll write a note saying I can’t find it and that you lost it in transit.”

Emma, Mark, and I were talking in the living room this evening when I looked down at a sheet of paper. It was Jeremy’s school identification form. I have no idea where it came from, at this point you could blame aliens and I’d almost believe you. My apartment isn’t the cleanest place on the planet but we’re far from candidates for an episode on Hoarders and it was sitting right there in the middle of the floor.

Also it’s a good thing I never wrote that letter to the teacher.

I gave the form a quick scan then looked once again at the gender marker. X was already typed into the male section, the only other option was female. I glanced over at Jeremy and wrote in another X…

School form

Emma peered over my shoulder. “Shouldn’t you write something down?” she asked. “What if they think you just marked it by accident?”

I thought about writing down bigender then circled male/female instead. She nodded her approval.

There’s a good chance the school board will have me fill in a new copy or simply change the marker back to M but it was worth it just to see the expression on Jeremy’s face when zie saw what I’d done.

Inconvenience and the right to life…

When my children were little, they had a friend named Peter*. He was a cute and mischievous little boy with bright eyes and a wide grin. He loved playing Pokemon and dancing around the living room with my two kids. He also had a large amount of food allergies. He was deadly allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts plus he was also allergic to peas (linked to peanuts), wheat, soy, and beef. On top of that he had a sensitivity to raw fruit and veggies and for one whole summer he could not handle any water (either for drinking or bathing) that hadn’t been boiled. He had so many allergies that his doctor used to rotate the minor ones just so he’d have something to eat. Malnutrition was a concern.

He was invited to both Emma and Jeremy’s birthdays, which meant I baked an egg, milk, and nut free cake for several parties. Every time I cooked anything for Peter, I scrubbed my whole kitchen counter (then rinsed it with a bleach solution) plus I scrubbed every single utensil, bowl, and pan even though I was pulling them clean from the cupboard. I triple checked every ingredient just in case as I did not want to kill off my childrens’ friend. Peter’s Mom was thrilled as this was the first time he’d ever been to a birthday party and eaten the same cake as everyone else. Meanwhile I was surprised. I knew I’d gone a little over the top but, even so, my additional precautions took maybe five extra minutes. What’s five minutes compared to a child’s life?

Then Jeremy started school. As you know, Jeremy is autistic. They also have texture issues that affects what they eat. They didn’t even eat solids until they were over a year old, and then went on to eat only a few select items. Sometimes yogourt… sometimes applesauce… sometimes cereal… sometimes scrambled eggs or tofu nuggets. They liked macaroni and cheese and they loved peanut butter sandwiches; those were one of the few things they’d eat with any consistency. Jeremy had a little boy in their JK class, who was also in their Beaver troop. The little boy was bright, cheerful, and happy… and he almost died that Christmas when his throat swelled shut while tasting nuts from his grandfather’s Christmas nut bowl. They had no idea he had allergies. That January brought around a ban on peanuts and tree nuts.

Remember the only lunch item Jeremy would eat with any consistency was a peanut butter sandwich. My immediate response was to explain to Jeremy how sick their sandwich could make their friend and immediately switch to a cream cheese sandwich. My child’s “right” to a peanut butter sandwich did not trump another child’s right to life itself. Jeremy was upset about the change but was willing to try, especially when promised they could have a peanut butter sandwich as soon as they got home. I never did need to make one though, Jeremy quickly grew used to cream cheese sandwiches.

I’ve heard a couple of arguments over the years about food bans then heard them all again yesterday when a friend had this article posted on her Facebook page…

Link to article

Link to the article about 7 year old Elodie Glover

Argument #1 “My child is such a picky eater. They won’t have anything to eat if I don’t send peanut butter sandwiches”

Really? If the only thing your child eats AT ALL is a peanut butter sandwich, day in and day out, then you really need to get that child in to the doctor. Your child won’t eat a wrap or a sandwich with cream cheese? A thermos of soup or macaroni and cheese? A slice of cold pizza? Hummus, cream cheese or cottage cheese with crackers (or veggies)? Cold cereal with a little container of milk? Mini pitas and pizza toppings so they make their own pizzas? Muffins? Apples? Yogourt? Apple sauce? Mashed chickpeas as a sandwich or wrap filling? Deli (or vegan deli) meats in a sandwich? If you’re not vegan you could add meat sandwiches as well. Go look at a variety of lunch blogs and get inspired by what’s available. Just don’t tell me there’s nothing else your child will eat. That says more about your sheer lack of imagination than your child’s eating habits.

Argument #1b “I bought Wow butter (or any peanut substitute) and now the school won’t allow that either. My child still will only eat peanut butter (or that one sub) and their rights are being infringed on.”

You know who you can blame in this case? The asshole parents who make peanut butter sandwiches then tell their child to lie and say it’s Wow butter. Know how I know this? Because four year olds don’t lie well.

“What kind of sandwich are you eating?”
“Mommy made me a peanut butter sandwich. She said to lie and say it’s a Wow butter sandwich. What’s Wow butter?”

Yeah, because no one will notice when the kid beside your angel breaks out in hives, starts gasping and vomiting, and their eyes start bugging out. Thankfully I noticed the sandwich before she took it out of the saran wrap considering she was right beside the nut allergic kid.

Argument #2 “We are too broke to afford anything but peanut butter sandwiches. All that’s left is meat.”

You know what? Just once I’d like to make it to the poverty line. Not above (although I’d like that as well) but just plain to. Take a good look at the list I wrote above and tell me the only thing left up there is meat or that cereal and mashed chickpeas are mega expensive. I’m a vegan and can come up with all sorts of milk, egg, and nut free lunches. It’s not that hard or expensive. Really.

I had a parent complain to me before that her son was made to starve one lunchtime because she sent him into school with a peanut butter and jam sandwich and it got confiscated. This was despite there being a ban and despite knowing his teacher had a life threatening allergy to peanuts. She was furious because the school board was discriminating against her since she was too poor to afford anything except peanut butter and jam sandwiches. My response? “Well you can obviously afford jam. Why didn’t you send a plain jam sandwich?”

Argument #3 “I don’t mind accommodating allergies but I don’t want to cater to kids with allergies. They should have their own little corner to themselves so I can send whatever I want with my own children.”

Really? You want to segregate 2 or 3 kids out of several hundred, pulling them off into their own corner away from everyone else to eat? Are you going to put a flashing sign over their table that blinks “different” as well? And all because you don’t want to have to think of other foods. Alrighty then :/

Argument #4 “These children need to fend for themselves. How are they going to learn how to protect themselves if everyone coddles them and hides them from dangerous foods? What’s going to happen when they’re adults and Mommy isn’t there to protect them?”

This one tends to be the “intelligent argument”, the one that gets people nodding. It’s still crap though. What other life threatening situation is there where we leave elementary school children to fend for themselves? Do they walk themselves to school because they’re going to have to learn how to keep an eye out for cars as adults? Do they prepare their own meals over a hot stove because no one’s going to cook for them as adults? Do they go home as latch key kids in kindergarten because when they’re an adult they’ll have to let themselves into home and spend hours by themselves unsupervised?

In our society we tend to go the complete opposite. I know someone who had Children’s Aid called because she let her children play on their front lawn while she was inside watching them from a window; something that Children’s Aid took quite seriously by the way. Parents are known for over-supervising their children… becoming “helicopter parents”. But throw in an allergy that could kill a child and suddenly that child (who often isn’t even old enough to read an ingredient list) needs to become an immediate expert on the subject. We don’t expect that level of expertise from our children in any other area so why are allergic children treated any different.

I’m not saying to hide the allergy from children. By all means teach them about what they’re allergic to and show them how to protect themselves. I simply don’t feel entering the cafeteria should be a life or death situation.

* the kid’s name was not Peter

And once again… way to go Vancouver!!!

“The new policy calls for single-stall, gender neutral washrooms in all school buildings so that a child will not have to tell anyone their gender based on the bathroom that they use.”

Interestingly enough, this is pretty much exactly what Jeremy suggested to me last fall. His idea was that schools should have a hallway with private single stall washrooms along one side (with full length doors) and common sinks on the other.

Jeremy has a girlfriend…

When Jeremy got home yesterday he immediately wanted me to see his bedroom. He’s been working on cleaning up for several days now and spent an hour working on it that morning after I left for work.

It looked really good but he hadn’t cleaned under his bed. I got the broom and began sweeping.

“I’m in a relationship,” he blurted.

I reached the broom into the far corner beneath the bed. “Does The Doctor know?” I asked.

“Mom!” he retorted. He was probably trying to sound shocked but was laughing too much to manage. “It’s not The Doctor.”

I put the broom down. “Okay, so who is it?”

“It’s Hannah,” he replied, which wasn’t a surprise. He’s been frustrated with Hannah since late last year. She keeps picking boyfriends who have her marked as an easy lay then inappropriate behaviour ensues.

“I wouldn’t treat her like that,” he told me last spring. “I don’t know why she keeps picking assholes to date.”

This was shortly after the bus incident; one where Hannah was caught giving her boyfriend sexual favours on the bus ride home. Jeremy is in a special class and he’s quite easily the most high functioning child in the room. Hannah would be more accurately described as sweet and pliable and the boyfriend as developmentally delayed.

This incident is what prompted the school to finally offer their classes a sex ed program. Until then I’m pretty sure Jeremy was the only teen in his class who’d attended one and that’s because I sent him to the OWL program offered through our Unitarian Universalist congregation.

As an aside, I highly recommend this program to anyone with children, especially if they are or you suspect they might be LGBTQ. It’s not a religious program, Canadian Unitarian Universalists aren’t considered Christian and I’m sure a third of our congregation is atheist. It’s a comprehensive program and one which treats all sexual orientations and gender identities equal. When Emma took the program, they role played asking people out so they’d know how hard it is and be gentle with someone who’s made the effort (even if they weren’t interested). They didn’t pair the kids by gender, they drew names out of hats. Emma was paired with a girl for her turn.

Obviously sex ed for Jeremy’s classmates had come a bit too late.

Last month a friend of Jeremy, one of Hannah’s ex-boyfriends, decided to touch her inappropriately at school. She complained to one of the teachers. At first Jeremy was mad because he felt his friend hadn’t done anything and they were blaming him over nothing. Then the friend confessed. Neither teen wanted to go any further with charges so the issue was dropped. However, the school and Hannah’s parents decided it would be better if Hannah didn’t date at all anymore. Jeremy was livid.

“She wasn’t dating him and didn’t want to be touched. They’re punishing her for doing the right thing and telling someone in authority. That’s not fair.” He shook his head in disgust. “She keeps picking guys who only want her for sex and I’m not going to be like that.”

He said the last part emphatically and I believe him. That’s why he broke up with his last girlfriend. She wanted sex and he didn’t, at least not with her. And I was dancing inside because he was only 15 years old at the time. You can be sure I praised him to the sky for his decision.

Of course this is a relationship in name only. They can’t go out anywhere because she’s not allowed to date. They can’t say anything at school. I’d be surprised if they’re even able to hold hands, let alone kiss. But he can tell people outside of school that he’s dating her and I guess that’s good enough for him. As Lenny pointed out, it’s a safe relationship.

Shortly after I sat down at the computer, Jeremy appeared at my door, a huge grin on his face.

“Did you know The Doctor’s bisexual?” he asked. “There’s this guy he likes and they flirt back and forth and talk about sex. The guy can’t die either.”

“Is it Captain Jack?” I asked. I’ve only seen four episodes but Jeremy’s watched everything available on Netflix. He nodded.

“Yes, Captain Jack and the second doctor in the new seasons,” he replied.

He came back a short time later. “Mom! Mom! The Doctor went to a gay strip club,” he blurted excitedly.

One of these days I’ll have to sit down and watch the rest of the shows with him. Four episodes and some disjointed descriptions aren’t enough to know what’s going on.