Caught between a rock and a moderately challenging place

The week before school started and the first week of school, Peanut turned his anxiety about starting second grade and his smallness in the face of big change into kindness toward his brother. For the first time in their lives, we had full days of genuine cooperation, joyful play, and sibling kindness. They’ve been nice to each other before, but it was always short-lived.

Late August and early September were just sibling heaven. I memorized the feeling of joy at watching them lead each other in play, offering each other kind words and gentle reminders that they, together, are a team. I felt down to my bones the calm of an absence—absence of fighting and teasing and retaliation—being filled with hope and love. My adrenal glands ceased production of adrenaline and my body started to recover from the stress of the past two and a half years. Okay, three and a half years. Okay, four and a half. Ah, hell…eight years.

I am so grateful for that eye in the storm because it taught me what might be.
What will be.
What won’t be. Specifically, incarceration and millions of dollars in therapy.

And then it changed. Peanut got impatient and mean. And I’ve tried to piece together what changed.

Because I really want that lull of sibling peace again.

And today I knew. Because for the first time since the day before kindergarten, he cried and told me he didn’t want to go to school. That he wanted me to come to the classroom with him. That he wanted to go home.

I hugged him and told him parents aren’t allowed in the classroom yet, by the teacher’s request. I reminded him we had an afterschool date planned, just the two of us.

I told him he would be okay. I told him he’s kind and wonderful and that he works hard and listens well, and those are the things that make school days go by quickly and productively.

Mostly I lied.

And I died a little. Because I wanted to take him home.

The first week, he was at an ideal table with two girls he knew, both of whom are bright and kind and silly. And who follow the rules. My son, the defiant, willful, rude creature at home, is a rule follower in public. He’s very cautious and does not believe in rocking the boat. He wants to play and have fun and fly under the radar. He values colleagues who do their work and leave him alone and engage in occasional harmless silly behaviors, not disruptive shenanigans.

Well, a few days into school the teacher moved last year’s Biggest Frustration right next to him. And the beginning of the second week she changed his table entirely to the one with two of the class’s Most Frequent Disrupters.

He’s devastated. He’s trying to muddle through and acknowledge that he has no power in the situation. But damn, that’s a rotten place to be. Powerlessness sucks.

I asked him to brainstorm solutions. Every night the whole family talks about their favorite part of the day, their biggest challenge, and how they handled it. The seating topic has been his biggest challenge for at least a week. Tablemates kicking each other under the table, jostling the table to break others’ concentration, jolting into neighbors’ arms while they’re writing.

“That sounds like a lot to handle,” I said. “How are you going to address it?”

He suggested just trying to avoid them.

“That’s a possibility,” I said. “What else is there?”

“I guess I could tell them to stop.”

“True. Any other options? Best way to find the right option is to think of as many as possible.”

“I could ask the teacher for a new table. The one with…”

As he fantasized about being at the table with the quiet and respectful kids, I thought about the difficulty of being introverted at school. I thought about the very different challenges of kids who have processing differences and disturbances at home and insufficient support systems. And the ones with mean streaks.

I know that my earnest, sweet, lovely child will have challenges his whole life. I know that he has to learn to work through the difficulties to prepare for the real world. I know that colleagues are often rude and brutish and stupid and lazy and all manner of terrible, so there’s no need to protect him now from what he’ll eventually find at work.

I know that life is not easy for students with neurological and biological and sociological challenges, either.

But I want so badly to pull my kid out of school forever so we can face the world together. Without quiet kids or mean kids or disruptive kids or hardworking kids or irritating kids.

Just me and Peanut. The way it used to be.

I also know I will serve him better if I teach him coping skills for life’s annoying jackasses, instead of teaching him to run to Mom.

So I’ll just cry a lot while he’s sleeping, and gently teach coping skills while he’s awake.

But man, I totally want to teach him to run to Mom.

How do you handle wanting to protect your child(ren) from all that hurts them? Tough love? Pull them out of bad situations? Teach them kindness and strength and hope for the best? Cry and overeat and hope that things are never, ever hard for your family? [Scratch that last one. It was a hypothetical that I completely, totally made up. As a joke. Yeah…a joke.]

In which I go all Yosemite Sam

Frickafracka galldarned fanglewrangle pifflepoffle…

[UPDATED 8/21]
Searching for a child-sized non-toxic backpack for Peanut is some serious bullsh*t. Almost all the backpacks out there have PVC and lead, and I’m furious that I have to work so hard to find that most companies are a bunch of corner-cutting liars, thieves, and jackweeds. Not shocked, mind you. Mad.

Phthalates were banned from children’s toys in 2008 (but not other children’s products). PVC (vinyl) and small amounts of lead are allowed in the manufacture of children’s toys and in other products. Despite the hazards of PVC, shocking number of school supplies are still made of this toxic plastic, including binders, backpacks, sheet protectors, paper clips, and rain gear. And offensive as that is, since none of the parents I know are willing to buy products that invite their kids into the worlds of asthma, reproductive problems, cancer, obesity, ADHD, and learning disabilities; lunchboxes and backpacks with PVC have lead, too. That’s because PVC is made with heavy metals. Bonus, special for you today: (at least) two toxins for the price of one! (and don’t get me started on cadmium)

Sorry, what? They’re making stuff for kids to carry around and touch and eat from that are not free of lead or PVC? What the frickafracka glippidygloppedy…

Here’s what I’ve found (in my copious free time for such nonsense):

DwellSmart’s backpack is bigger than a toddler pack and smaller than a big kid pack. PVC-free and non-toxic. Cotton and whatnot. Thank heavens. Also? No chance my kid will want it. I would. But he likes bold and designs. And glitter and sequins and stickers and neon lights on everything. [sigh]

Dwell Studio offers some nice retro-esque prints and an ideal size.

Cute packs for big kids and for little kids by Beatrix are just the right size and fit our non-toxic requirements.

Ah, hemp. Can’t go wrong with natural fabrics, right? Rawganique has a whole selection, including a mini backpack just the right size. As with DwellSmart, small problem with the lack of kid-friendly prints or design. Perhaps they could add just a sweet cotton applique or stitched design? My kid would choose either if they had a stitched robot on the pocket.

Fluf Organics has my personal favorite kindergarten nontoxic PVC-free, lead-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free backpack.

Not Quite:
Wildkin pack-n-snacks are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free but don’t specify lead-free. They say they comply with legal standards. That pretty much screams “probably has lead but don’t sue us because we didn’t promise it didn’t” to me. There’s a big difference between lead-free and lead-compliant. Lead compliant means within the legal limit for lead. Federal standards for lead is less than 100 ppm (if they actually found that level feasible, having proposed lowering it from 300 ppm. So complying with federal law means less than 0.03% to 0.01% lead. Lead free, however, means no lead. Given how much energy I’m investing in these kids, I prefer lead free.

Crocodile Creek has some backpacks that are PVC-free, phthalate-free, and BPA-free. Again, they say they comply with legal standards. Less than 100 ppm lead.

Hanna Andersson has a line of PVC-free backpacks, too. They will only say they comply with lead and phthalate regulations, which does not set my mind at ease. Plus, they don’t have any without pink and purple right now, though, and my long-haired, nail-painting, pink-loving son has enough hurdles entering kindergarten that I’m not showing him these.

High Sierra has PVC-free backpacks (and tents, which we found as we searched for a four-person tent [shout out to Butter, y’all!] But I can’t find one for kids and their pack-finding tool at the High Sierra website is broken, so I’m mad at them.

SafeMama, the guru of hunting down companies until they weep and admit their eco-toxic ways has a cheat sheet for us. Naturally.

But everything else out there is too big for my kid or too toxic for anyone.

[aside: if you have someone larger than a kindergartener, you might be interested in this link from Be Safe Net. That, plus SafeMama’s cheat sheet, might lead you to High Sierra and Jansport and Patagonia and Timbuk2 and Ecogear. Maybe not. If you have a smaller dude on their way somewhere important, like school or day care or from one room to another, you’ll check out Mimi the Sardine and Skip Hop zoo backpacks. And CBHstudio, which has the most adorable backpacks I’ve seen, PVC-free, BPA-free, phthalate-free, lead free. Maybe you’ll make your own backpack. Maybe you can send me one and I will be grateful.]

Frickafracka…we’ll see which of the five options I found that work for us, DwellSmart, DwellStudio, Rawganique, Fluf Organics, or Beatrix.

Why can’t we just go to local stores and buy things that are safe?