Jamie Landry had been called to the principal’s office. Which meant that his mother, Charlene Landry, had to leave her job in the middle of the day to attend as well. Which meant Charlene was pissing off all her co-workers at the Java Quick drive thru again.
When she got to the school, Jamie was pacing outside the principal’s office. He was stroking his hair behind an ear, quietly talking to himself, and patting his belly. He was wearing his favorite yellow and black striped shirt that Charlene had dressed him in that morning. His ‘bumble bee’ shirt. The phrase ‘bumble bee’ made Jamie giggle.
A young woman introduced herself to Charlene. She was Gwen, the new educational assistant. New school year, sometimes new educational assistants, and now, a new principal.
Mila, the office secretary who always gave Charlene grief and pushback, escorted them into the principal’s office. The principal stood, smiled and gestured to the two chairs in front of his desk.
Charlene sat and dropped her purse down on the floor beside her. Jamie went to the window beside the principal. Jamie stared outside stroking his hair behind his ear and quietly talking to himself.
The principal waved one hand near Jamie while another indicated the remaining empty chair by his mother, Charlene. He was unable to draw Jamie’s attention. The principal looked at Charlene. “I wonder if you could…?”
“No. Jamie’s doing that because you broke his routine. I’m his mother and he doesn’t even want to look at me right now, because I’m not supposed to be here until the end of the school day. That’s his routine. And he’s not going to sit if he doesn’t want to. And he’ll be screaming his head off if you try to make him. And so will I.”
Mila looked to the principal with a I-warned-you shrug as she sat to the side of his desk. Gwen stood hugging a thick folder by the closed door.
The principal sat down to begin, then remembered himself and stood again holding out a hand to Charlene. “I’m sorry, I’m Mr. Fairweather, the new Principal.”
Charlene gave him one shake and said, “Yeah, I know. We all know who you are? Why am I here? I’m missing work. I don’t work, we don’t get fed. I hate having to do this every time someone new comes here. Every new teacher, every new educational assistant, and now you. Did you really need me for this? You guys can’t talk amongst yourselves and do your job?”
Mr. Fairweather sat down and evaluated Charlene’s statement. He looked uncomfortably at Jamie still talking to himself at the window. Mr. Fairweather held up a hand just above his desk to Charlene. It was like the red hand on a cross walk telling Charlene to stop and wait. “Okay, I thought it important that we meet. Now, I apologize if that causes an undue hardship on your finances.”
“Okay, don’t do that. I don’t want apologizes. I don’t have finances. I have rent, and every bill you have to pay to keep this close from living on the street. What do you want?”
“This morning, shortly after classes began, Jamie, I’m told he became agitated, and overexcited, and hit his homeroom teacher.”
“Mrs. Ruckle? Is she okay?”
“Well, we did have to have the nurse look at her.”
“Is she okay?”
“There’s a bruise on her arm. It is a reported incident.”
“Did someone get in Jamie’s face?”
“I’ve met Mrs. Ruckle and the impression I have is that she knows her business.” Mr. Fairweather assured.
“Yeah, she’s awesome. She knows Jamie. Jamie likes her. Why do you say ‘her business’? This is a school, isn’t it? It’s not a factory.” Charlene turned in her chair. “Gwen? Gwen, you didn’t get too close to Jamie, did you? Like, I don’t know you, I’m not trying to pick on you, but Jamie has a big thing about his personal space. He won’t take anyone who gets in his face.”
Gwen shook her head.
“Ralph and Reggie? Is it Ralph and Reggie? We went through this last year. Those brothers start hitting each other in class all the time and it gets Jamie going. I said at the end of last school year, don’t put Jamie in the same class as them. I saw them. I knew this when Jamie started this year. I told her.” Jamie pointed at Mila.
“Miss. Landry, we are not going to discuss other students. This is about what Jamie is doing.” Mr. Fairweather held up that hand again, low near his desktop, but held up none the less. “Mrs. Landry, we’re not looking to assign blame here. We’re looking to work together with everyone in our community to move forward with solutions to these challenges.”
“Please, don’t tell me your mission statement. I can get that crap at work where they pay me to listen. Are you paying me today? No? Then don’t waste my time. What do you want?”
“We want to work with you.”
“At the drive thru?”
The principal looked to Mila, who nodded to him.
“Don’t look at her.” Charlene interrupted. “Work with me? You don’t want to work with me, you want me to do your job. I have work already. I need you to work with Jamie. Help him. Educate him. That’s your job. My work is giving him a home and shelter.”
The principal changed tactics. “Have you considered whether this is the best fit for Jamie? I mean, the school system can only accommodate his needs so far.”
“Oh, you mean, maybe I shouldn’t let Jamie go to a school like other kids? Maybe because he doesn’t fit in, and he can’t think the way the other kids do, maybe I should keep him at home? Lock him away somewhere?”
“Nobody wants that, Miss Landry.” He held up his hand to calm Charlene.
“Oh, well, maybe that’s my bad thinking because of all the other people in this school who have suggested to me before that maybe my son doesn’t belong here.” Charlene did not look at the secretary Mila, and Mila did not look at her.
The principal nodded some more. “I can see this is very difficult.” Before Charlene could interrupt, his hand came up once more. “I have had experience with kids like Jamie. Kids who have challenges that most institutions have difficulty with. Kids who most parents have difficulty with, let alone a single parent.”
Jamie began to get louder in his self talking. His words were becoming a low growl.
The principal held a hand towards Jamie to quiet him, but he paid no attention, continuing with his growl while he still looked out the window.
“One thing I have seen successful in many of these cases. In several schools. I have here a list of several medications that have done wonders in reducing overstimulation in kids with challenges like your son.” He gestured to Mila who handed Charlene a memo pad scribbling of medications. “Now, you should take some time to think about it. Talk to your doctor. Jamie’s doctor, I mean. And decide on the medication that’s most suitable for him.”
“You want me to turn Jamie into a zombie?” Charlene stood up.
“Miss Landry.” The principal waved for her to sit down.
“We don’t like the way you behave, we’ll just pump you full of drugs?”
“Miss Landry, no one is suggesting that.”
“Yes, you are! Why don’t you just tie him up? Why don’t you just duck tape my son to a chair?!”
“Miss Landry. Miss Landry!” Now the principal was standing and holding up his hand, at chest height, for calm.
Charlene reached up and over and grabbed his wrist. “Stop telling me to shut up!”
It was at that moment Jamie screamed, turned, and started slapping Mr. Fairweather on his arm. Mr. Fairweather backed away while Charlene came around to Jamie.
“Jamie, no! Jamie, it’s alright! It’s alright. Mommie’s alright.” Jamie face was contorted and red. Charlene took a breath and addressed everyone in the room. “We’re going to go outside. Jamie needs to walk around. To calm down. Come on, Jamie. It’s alright. It’s alright.”
Charlene led Jamie out of the office, and down the hall. The other kids were still tucked away in their classes. Outside Charlene kept up the ‘It’s alright’ soothing with Jamie. Jamie held her hand as they walked around the school that made up the whole block.
Charlene had the wherewithal to take her purse with her. She had managed Jamie’s fits many times. She wondered if they were watching her from the school. It didn’t matter.
She took out a cigarette and lit up. She knew the cigarette made her look like a bad parent, but she couldn’t handle quitting. She had quit during the pregnancy, and for years, but after Jamie started slowing on his development and his father left, Charlene took it up again. She wasn’t always sure of making the rent, or buying food, but she always found money for cigarettes. Life is guilt, she thought.
She stepped out the cigarette as they finished the block. Jamie was calm again.
When they returned to the principal’s office Gwen and Mila were no longer there. Mr. Fairweather was sitting in the chair opposite his desk that Charlene had sat in. His hands were clasped together on his lap.
“I’m sorry, Miss Landry. I know I haven’t… I know, I didn’t… I know I don’t… fully appreciate your situation and your circumstances. I have more to learn about Jamie’s needs. We do… We have more to learn.”
“As an institution?” Charlene offered.
Mr. Fairweather nodded. “Gwen, Jamie’s educational assistant, has provided us with some recent literature on behavioural modifications. It has some different strategies we can implement. Coping mechanisms. I’m sorry, what I mean is, we’re going to try to do the best we can for you son. For Jamie.”
Business-like, Charlene shook his hand. Then she took Jamie’s hand. “Come on, Bumble Bee, we’re going home.”