I don’t know where to start writing about Jermaine. This kid has been in my life for almost five years now. Predominantly as a thorn in my side, a challenge to overcome, a behavior plan that was never enough. But also occasionally as a card buddy, a therapuddy artist, and now lately, a meditation partner.
When he was in first grade, Jermaine and his two friends would wreak havoc during music class. They just wanted to have fun, and there happened to be toys in the room, so they found any way possible to get at those toys! Eventually I created a plan with these three that if they made it through the first 30 minutes of music class without complete meltdowns, they could come and play with puddy in my office for the last ten minutes. The look of relief on the music teacher’s face each time I came to the room signaled to me that this reward was as much for her as it was for them. Puddy has always been my go-to calming device. I put it out on a table and anyone who walks in ends up picking it up, squishing it, and eventually taking some deep breaths, talking about challenges, or just letting go. I don’t know why. I’m sure there’s some sensory system biology behind it. But whatever the reason, I know I should always have it on hand. What was most surprising about these three muskateers was that the puddy plan actually worked! See usually I don’t think that first graders who struggle with attention and a need to move have the self-control to make it through 30 minutes, especially if the activity is not something they really want to be doing. But somehow with the promise of puddy with the principal, these guys were regularly holding it together for 30 minutes of music class! In second grade we didn’t continue with the puddy routine, and Jermaine would regularly stop me in the hall and ask, “Can I come see you to do puddy?” So I would occasionally invite him down for some puddy time.
There’s something about the look in Jermaine’s eyes. He is a truly connected little guy. Even when he gets angry, has meltdowns, yells at teachers…he fundamentally wants to connect with those around him. His anger usually sounds something like, “I don’t care. I hate you. This school sucks. You’re the worst teacher in the world.” He wants to distance himself when he gets upset. But most of these insults hurled are just the very opposite of what he actually believes.
But Jermaine is leaving tomorrow. And it’s kind of hurting my heart. It’s probably what is right for him. The kid needs a fresh start. He has burned all of the bridges of relationships in his classroom. Stealing from them, denying it, teasing, taunting, disrupting. They’re all pretty tired of him. He needs a fresh start. His mom requested a transfer to a new school, and given the issues that have arisen, the school district granted the transfer. I know there is a way in which my days will be smoother when Jermaine is gone. But those big brown eyes! The way he asks what I’m having for lunch. The honesty in his reflections on his missteps. These fill me up in a very particular way, and for that I will truly miss Jermaine