Sunday, January 27, 2008

When Justin began his junior year of high school, life quickly became chaotic. Starting with the first week of school he was sick at least once or twice a week. His stomach ached, he seldon vommited but felt nauseous. He would just ache, back, gut, shoulders - it depended on the day.
I could tell by looking at his eyes that he truly was sick. I had no idea what to do for him. I began to dread waking him up, afraid he would tell me he didn't feel good. Calling the school so often was excrutiating. Have you ever had to tell the school secretary at least once a week that your child was sick? Not fun.
One day I asked the secretary if there was a certain number of days a student could miss. She said as long as he was getting his work done. Well, that was a problem, he was getting it done but by the end of the first nine weeks was barely passing most of his classes.
This puzzled me. He'd always been a good student, seldom had homework but still got As & Bs with very little effort. Now, he seemed to be studying but was not keeping his grades up. Our school had an internet program in use for parents to keep track of their students daily grades and assignments. At first I tracked his progress, but that became painful. I talked with him and he always assured me that it would improve.
I'm sure he thought it would. But he kept falling farther behind, assignments were late. I finally decided to talk to the school counselor. Until I made that initial visit, I'd always assumed the counselor was there to help in situations like this. I'm not quite sure what I thought they would do - but, well, SOMETHING.
Surely there was somehow they could help Justin get back on track. I did explain to the counselor that Justin was sick alot and I thought that was a large part of the problem. The counselor thought we should call him down and all have a visit. That sounded like a good idea. If I'd known how all this would play out I think I would of gotten up and walked out.
Justin was called down to the office. I'm sure he was surprised to walk into Doug's office and see me sitting there. Doug started scrolling through his grades on the computer and talking about how they needed to be brought up to a better level. So far so good. He then said to Justin that he understood he'd been sick alot. In fact he looked up his attendance record.
For some reason I really thought at this point was when things would start to fall into place. How naieve I was, but I was sure that Doug had dealt with something like this before and would magically know what needed to be done. Nothing like that happened.
Doug looked at Justin and said "But this isn't because you're sick, right? It's because you just aren't applying yourself, right?" At that age Justin always deferred to adults whether he agreed with them or not. So he dutifully nodded his head and agreed. End of visit, go back to class. Doug told me he would keep an eye on things. I believed him.
Looking back on this visit, my heart breaks for Justin. He was blindsided by Doug who started out as the concerned counselor and then pretty much turned the tables and discounted Justin being sick and just implied that he was lazy. I had not yet developed the backbone I was to get later. I never tried to tell Doug, in front of Justin, that being sick was the problem. I feel as if I really let him down and I regret that.
Things continued to go downhill with school. In October Justin got a job at Dillon's bagging groceries. He seemed to like the job pretty well. In fact he even talked about it sometimes - told me who he'd seen there, if they'd told him anything interesting. This was a little unusaul for him, as he was usuall pretty quiet.
I thought the job was going pretty well. He didn't miss alot of work because of illness. In fact sometimes I wondered what was really going on. Alot of times when he was sick he would feel better by afternoon and by evening he seemed pretty normal. Odd, but I still knew that he'd been sick earlier in the day, I could see it in his eyes. If you've ever looked at the eyes of a really sick person, they look dead. I recognized that look, I seen it for years in the mirror everytime I had a Crohn's flareup.

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