So this is how my week has been:
We withdrew Master J from school. Only a term before the end of VCE, only a term before the end of his entire 13 year career. We withdrew him because he could take it no longer. He could no longer endure the place that promised us that they would take care of him, and nurture him, and yes, surprise, surprise, educate him. He came home last week, three days from the end of the second term, broken.
I am his mother. I know broken when I see it.
Mr C and I knew we could fix this. And with every socially conditioned fibre in our body yelling at us all the judgement we will endure for being terrible parents, for not forcing him to make it to the end, for not preventing him from “throwing away his life”, we told him he didn’t have to endure it any more.
And a strange thing happened.
The universe spoke back to us.
The following day Master C got accepted to a tertiary college to study Animation, even though he hasn’t got his VCE, because even though he hated school, he found something that he liked in the form of an apprenticeship studying Printing and Multimedia and that love led to a Certificate IV which is considered a higher qualification than a VCE (who knew) and the college liked that he had a Certificate IV and so they offered him a place.
He starts in September.
But it niggled me. No, that is an understatement. It infuriated me. The fact that at the start of this year in February Master J had so many hopes and aspirations of getting his VCE, with an ATAR score, but by the end of four months, so poorly had the school let him down, that he was a broken young man who completely believed he was a “dropout” and a “loser”.
And so I wrote a letter of complaint to the school.
I wrote how when in year 9 he was so depressed and suicidal he confided in a friend his feelings of suicide, and she, worried as hell, confided in her parents, who for some unknown reason complained to the school, who, without consulting me or offering Master J counselling, suspended him for three days for upsetting his friend. I wrote how when they reprimanded him for confiding in a friend about his suicidal thoughts, without representation knowing he had a disability, they were being negligent to my son, completely disregarding his mental wellbeing.
I wrote how a wonderful teacher that had left the school confided in me that she felt bullied by “management”, and could take it no longer and so she left. I did not tell them that she told me that they actively worked to thwart her efforts to do all she could for her students with Special Needs, because that is hearsay and I have no proof.
I did write how when, desperate, we asked for Master J to do an unscored VCE he left that room, not feeling supported, but victimised by the Head because they don’t believe in a system that closes “many many doors”. I wrote how Master J told me he was a failure for even considering a perfectly legitimate alternative that would reduce his anxiety. I wrote about how Master J was so desperate to complete his VCE, how he hung on trying to make it work, whilst they actively worked against him.
I wrote how he started missing school slipping further and further down the depression ladder and how the school never once enquired about his mental wellbeing but insisted that we supply doctors certificates to prove he was “ill”. I wrote about how systematically every single one of his supports had been removed from him in this, his final year, which had resulted in an anxiety so acute that daily functioning had become almost impossible.
I wrote how Master J could take it no longer and how we felt we had no option than to withdraw him with only a term to go.
It took me a day to write that letter, because I have to be honest I wanted to say so much, but knew I had to be considered, and only state the facts. Because when you are angry, you lose ground by being insulting. It’s true. And so I wrote a letter that only stated the facts of how the school had failed my son in the last six years.
And the school replied.
They threatened us with legal action for daring to complain.
No request to come in to discuss our complaint. No enquiry as to how Master J was feeling. Nothing.
And because I am tired, because I am exhausted from fighting a system that is set up to completely crush children with some kind of difference, I cried.
I cried at all the money we spent on private education truly believing the lies that they told us when they said they were a small school that had an Individual Needs department and a resident psychologist. I believed them when they said every child counts and that they believed every child should be educated in a nurturing environment. I cried at the fool I had been.
I cried because they didn’t even offer my son counselling when he was suicidal, instead they “felt it best” he attend a residential intensive for autistic children away from the school. I cried because Master J could not bare the thought of another change and begged us not to complain, begged us to let him return to his mainstream school and I cried as I recalled every single day of the last two years, watching him fight his anxiety to gain that treasured VCE.
I cried at how much emphasis we place on that qualification, and how much we judge children who don’t get it, and parents who don’t “force” their children to stay in school, even when that 60 year old outdated and outmoded model of education doesn’t work for them.
I cried for how much of a poor society we have become that Heads are more concerned with the Business of education, rather than the wellbeing of our children. I cried as my son grappled with his choice, powerless to do anything else. I cried that a school that had failed him, miserably, tried to bully us into submission, showing my son once again that the world is not ready for him, or anyone else that is different.
I cried as I realised we have become a world churning out automatons, forcing children to fit some cookie cutter system whose sole aim is to feed a system that no longer works for humanity as a whole, where we judge, malign and oppress. I cried for all the years I had fought, and for what?
And then I looked at Master J. And I realised I had fought for him. Every step of the way I had fought for him. And he saw me fight for him. He saw how I went into bat, and how his father did too, and he knew that we loved him, and that he was valued.
And then I noticed something. I noticed how not being at school, knowing he was never going to ever have to be at school again, changed him. Miraculously, it changed him. I noticed how within days, he was lighter, laughing, engaged. I noticed how 13 years of oppression and misunderstanding had not broken him. I noticed how he started to talk of the future, and his place in it. I noticed he was….happy.
And I knew we had made the right decision. Even though I know there will be some tough times ahead, because that is the nature of autism – and life – we had so made the right decision.
And we are considering our options, considering if taking Master J through the process of taking the school to task is worth it – for him. As much as I want to make them accountable, are we truly able to fight the dinosaur? Do we want to? Do we want to put Master J through that? Truthfully, probably not.
And so there was that.
Then, on Tuesday we were meant to know who made it into government, but it’s Friday and we still don’t know. I have to ask, how long does it actually take to count the votes? Aren’t we meant to know the following day? And who is actually running the country whilst they count those votes? And is anyone like me wondering whether or not if the reason they are taking so long to count the votes is because there is some dodgy shit going on?
Mr C continues to look for work. It has been a roller coaster, and every time we dare to hope, we tell ourselves not to because it’s been 10 months and hope seems indulgent and as if we are lying to ourselves. And that totally sucks. Because despite my propensity to depression, I have always been a little hopeful of life.
And today, being Friday the 8th July, is the day that my mom passed away 6 years ago, after lung cancer had ravaged her body. And so I am sad.
And I ponder that. I ponder the circle of life. I ponder how Master J has somehow found himself despite not getting that coveted piece of paper, and how I’m still finding myself, still trying to make sense of a world without my mom in it six years later. And I ponder how random life is.
It is all so random. At times it makes no sense.
But tomorrow will be another day, and somehow we have to hang on until then. Because you have to believe that at some point the sun will shine. And this week, in all the darkness, the sun did shine. It shined on my son. And that makes it all worth it.
Until next time,