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17 Aug 2004
Back to SchoolToday I registered my three boys for the new school year which starts in just over a week. Already I'm wondering what this year will be like for Sam and Nate, my boys with PC. There are a few things I do every school year that I hope will help my kids.
First, I explain to Sam's and Nate's teachers at the parent/teacher conference before the first day of class what PC is and how it affects them. This year I'm excited to hand them each a copy of PC Project's current brochure and website address. (Just send an email to request as many copies as you'd like.) PC is so tricky because sometimes my kids can participate in activities, but when their feet are infected or extra blistery, they cannot. Near the end of the last school year, Nate had a huge blister that flared up at school and his teacher saw his PC feet for the first time. When I came to the school, she met me in tears. This teacher was always understanding, but up until that time had never quite realized how much pain he was in. It's my opinion that educating others can go a long way in helping them feel comfortable about something they don't understand.
Second, I will make a plan with the teacher about whether or not to officially tell the other students about PC and how. I will wait to talk to both my boys and their teachers to see how we should handle this. For Sam and Nate, something so formal didn't seem to be necessary in Kindergarten and 1st Grade. But since 2nd grade, (Sam is starting 4 th ) Sam's peers have been much more aware of his nails and the fact that walking is sometimes hard for him. I've especially found it very important to communicate to other children that PC is NOT CONTAGIOUS. As much as I'd like to live inconspicuously, the reality is, other children are noticing and we have a choice to be offensive or defensive. We're finding the offensive can alleviate teasing, cruel words and even physical hurting (But not always.).
At the first of the last school year, after meeting with Sam's teacher, she and Sam decided it best to tell the class about PC and why sometimes it hurts and is hard to walk and sometimes it isn't. I offered to come and explain, but Sam didn't want me there – he wanted to do it by himself. This teacher gathered the class on a big rug and started the discussion by explaining to the class about her bad knee – how sometimes it hurt and sometimes it didn't and sometimes she needed a knee brace and sometimes she didn't. Then she turned it to Sam and together they explained PC and how Sam's feet were like her knee. Because of our previous discussion, she was very knowledgeable and was able to help Sam articulate. Sam loved how the discussion went and the school year was the smoothest he's had thus far in regards to teasing.
Nate just finished 1 st grade and up until towards the end of the school year, other students weren't bothered by his nails and feet. Then at a dance festival, where all the kids took off their shoes and socks, other children saw his sores and suddenly some friends he had all year didn't want to play with him anymore. From then on, until summer vacation, Nate refused to wear sandals. Needless to say, this year, we may be much more pro-active in formally educating his peers.
Another thing I do is volunteer in their classrooms. This serves many purposes. It's fun to be involved and it keeps me in touch with the teachers. It helps me keep things in perspective too - PC isn't the worst thing that could be going on in a child's life. But the biggest advantage to volunteering at school is I meet the kids in the class. They see me with crutches and always know whose mom I am. They say, “Hi!” and smile at me because kids are basically good and bask in any attention even a boring adult like me will give them. And when I'm helping them read or whatever, they see my nails and ask me about them because I'm friendly and it's okay. I explain to them easily and say “just like Sam's” or “the same as Nate's” and all of a sudden, thick nails aren't so bad. It's a good little PR campaign to help my boys out as they learn to be strong enough socially to answer the questions or handle rude comments themselves. My boys listen to how I respond and hopefully they're learning.
We've also role played at home how to answer questions, especially obnoxious questions. I'm trying to teach them to act as if it's not a big deal, because when they act like it is, or act embarrassed, it only makes the situation worse. I did observe Nate answer a question using the exact answer we role-played. He even did the shoulder shrug when he replied at the end of his simple nail explanation, “No big deal.” And the child he was talking to shrugged as well because really it is no big deal if my nails look different than yours. But obviously, that doesn't work every time as Nate and Sam well know. But we just try to educate the kids and it can help a lot.
The last thing I do to help prepare my kids for a successful school year is something I would do anyways because it's who I am. I am very involved in my neighborhood, community and church. As a result, many parents and children know me and my family and hopefully think we're okay. Because we go with others to neighborhood barbeques, community plays, church functions, etc., they understand PC and how it affects our lives. Our kids play together and then they go to school together. And these great parents are teaching their kids about accepting other kids with differences, namely my kids.
Will Sam and Nate have a perfect school year? No, there will always be kids that pick on them, call them names or say other means things. They've already expressed some trepidation about certain children that target them. I know I can't protect my kids from all of life's problems, but like all parents, I will do my best to guide them as they learn the tough lessons of life. Most of all, my boys hopefully will always know that home is a safe place where they can get empathy - but not pity - and lots and lots of love.
As a parent, I've still got much to learn. If you have experiences you can share, or tips or ideas that you think could help us parents of PC children, please write me or post it on the Message Board so we all can learn.