It's hard to leave Oli with others right now. So many people look at him and say, "He's three. With a three year-old, you ..." Physically, Oli was born three years ago. This is true. Mentally and developmentally, Oli is still a very young two year-old. On some days, he is closer to 18 months in terms of what he can process. At home, this makes for accommodations that otherwise probably wouldn't be needed with a child of his age. For example, when my first three were in that four and under window, I could easily sidle off the the potty relatively alone for two minutes. I'd leave the door open, but I wouldn't expect any drama.
With Oli in the house, there are zero unsupervised moments. None. If I go to the bathroom, I must either take him with me or call for Jo to monitor him. This is a fact of life for us.
But for others, it's just not second-nature. And it shouldn't be. Unless you've had the job of keeping tabs on a developmentally-impaired preschooler, you really have no idea what it's like. I get that. Goodness knows, this is all new to me, as well. But still ... leaving him with anyone, anyone right now gives me chills. No one knows what he's capable of. Sometimes, not even me. Remember the toilet incident?
Our only "safe spots" right now are preschool (5:3 adult/child ratio), our babysitter (and we put him to bed first), and Sunday School (hyper-vigilant, closed environment). This doesn't mean that I don't trust other people, and it says nothing about the level of competence of my friends. What it does mean is that small, super childproofed spaces are best for Oli. And pretty much those three places can handle that kind of confinement right now.
Preschool has gone off without a hitch, thankfully. And our babysitter is an angel. Once Oli's in bed and asleep, she dutifully carries the baby monitor on her hip the entire time she's here. She even goes up to check every hour on the hour and make sure that he's still in bed. Granted, we've only left her with him a handful of times since he became a little more of a handful, but still--I'm confident that the combo of our house and her vigilance (combined with Jo's Mother Hen behaviors) will keep things under control.
Which leaves Sunday School.
Sunday School has been a mixed back for Oli. He loves the social interaction. He clamors to get into the room each Sunday, and looks forward to swooping trains across the track and listening to stories. We asked that he be able to stay in the two year-old room, and our Children's Director obliged. Even she admitted that moving him up was a recipe for disaster, despite her general, "Well, he seems fine to me," and "He just needs a little more time," attitude about him.
But lately, stories have been trickling back my way. Some of the classroom volunteers barely notice he's there, because when employed with a toy, Oliver has the habit of becoming invisible. Other volunteers have told me that Oliver wouldn't participate in any way, choosing instead to play the whole hour. Another said that he pestered the workers for hugs the whole time, which wasn't feasible in a room with 16 kids.
All in all, I'd started to wonder if it was time for a sit-down conference with the children's ministry staff. Time to disclose the full story (not the bits I've felt comfortable) and help them develop a game plan for keeping everyone happy and safe. I admit that I've been loathe to do this partly because I've only been able to pull myself out of what felt like full-time children's employment within the last 18 months. Going back in, laying out needs ... well, let's just say that I can see a whole lot of people saying, "Great! So you'll take his class every week?"
Which is, frankly, the last thing I want or need.
Today, as I was scanning my facebook page, a sweet woman who is a regular in Oli's class posted about how funny it was when my son dumped a pitcher of water on her 15 year-old daughter's lap. I sighed. This same lady--who is clearly enamored with Oliver--has commented before about him dumping his own water, or spilling on the floor, etc. He does it about every week that she's in there, and honestly, not a lot of people are smiling about it. (Other than the poster, who seems to get a kick out of it.) I prayed, and I knew what I had to do: this dear lady needed to be in the loop.
Using carefully chosen words, I pieced together an email to her:
Hey, Hailey! I'm starting to realize that I need to let everyone in on the "Oli loop" a little bit more ... especially if he's dumping water on people's laps!
Oliver has FAS, which means that he was alcohol-exposed in utero. His birthmom refuses to admit that she used alcohol during pregnancy, so we've had a hard time getting help. BUT--he's finally being fully evaluated. One of the key markers of FAS (and one of the hardest to work with as his mom!) is that he doesn't learn form past experiences. Consequences are completely lost on him; everything is novel and new and exciting ... every single time.
I am really not sure what I need to pass on to the folks in his SS room. We're trying hard not to label him, but frankly ... I think he may need a label so that people can help him. He's already three, but he'll be staying in the 2s room until (Children's Director) kicks him out. He just can't function with the bigger kids.
Thank you so much for your patience with him. You truly sound like you enjoy him, and you have no idea what that means to me. Oli is one of those little boys who rarely catches a break in life, and for some reason, a whole lot of people see him as more trouble than he's worth. (Just being honest.) He's an amazingly sweet, loving little boy with a big heart. Thanks for seeing that. It does my heart good. :-)
I sent the email off with yet another prayer. Please, Lord, let this be fruitful.
Here's what I got back:
Oh my goodness, MG! That brought tears to my eyes. I find GREAT joy in Oli's presence. I have always known, without being told, that Oli was special. Not just because of the subtle hints in his reaction time & interactions with the other kids, but because of his sweet, sweet nature. He does everything with simplicity and innocence & then gives that little smile that communicates, "isn't that neat? I love it when that happens!", no matter if it's dumping water, watching the puzzle pieces all fall out of their respective places when he turns the puzzle upside down, or just seeing the wheels turn on the truck another kid is playing with. I'm sorry that he isn't appreciated by everyone. I think we all could take a page from Oliver's book! He is truly one of my faves and I am happy that he will stay with the two's. I would miss him! My girls love him, too. The 12 yr old plays with his hair cuz it's so straight & silky & he just looks @ her & smiles, never irritated. The fact that he spilled the water in Lizzie's lap was funny cuz she had a funky attitude that morning (a common occurance @ 15, it seems), and once he dumped his water, & she started laughing about it, the storm cloud over her head seemed to disappear. It will never cease to amaze me when parents don't treasure the little ones God entrusts us with, so the fact that Oli's birth mother can't admit she did something unhealthy to him in-utero makes my heart hurt. My husband's sister did the same thing & then said she thought she drank contaminated water for the month she went to stay with her father while she was pregnant and that's why her baby came out with so many health issues & continual challenges. Her son, Joey, clearly has FAS as well as other disabilities. Thankfully, the nurse that cared for Joey in the hospital every time he got sick from Cassie taking his feeding tube out when she went out in public, adopted him and he leads a very normal, balanced life in spite of his physical challenges. I grew up in a very unstable home and no one ever stepped in to rescue me, so kids that are "underdogs" always come first in my book and I can "sniff them out" a mile away! Don't ever feel like you have to apologize to me for Oli's reactions to life. He's perfect to me, and even more so now that I know a little more of his story. I'm just glad he was blessed with such loving parents to be that safe place for him to land when life, and people, don't give him a fair shake! I am wondering if maybe it would be a help to you (to get a break) if I just said I'd take the 2s room at that time every week? That way I could be Oli's "special teacher." I'd love to do it, and you wouldn't worry so much. Let me know. Hailey
Are you wondering at what point the tears started flowing? Yeah .. it was somewhere between the word "innocent" and the part where she mentioned his beautiful, silky hair.
My baby boy ... appreciated.
Who knew how much it would mean to me?
I forwarded the email to my husband. Tonight, we plan to sit down and talk over the offer (which I'm pretty sure we'll accept). And then, we'll say a special prayer of gratitude. Because in the midst of all of this "new to us" and "what do we do?" God is certainly, clearly, and without fear walking ahead of us. Making straight the path. Lighting the way. Moving hearts. Bringing community to our doorstep.
It doesn't look like anything we expected. The preschool, this lady (who I really don't know well at all) ... it's all so new.
But it's got all the fingerprints of God. And it's blessing us. So on we walk. One step at a time.