When I get a phone call from school during school hours,  I get a little knot in my stomach.

When I get that call from preschool at the end of the school day, the knot gets a little bigger.

So when the phone rang at 2:45pm last week and it was the preschool, I almost didn’t answer it.  I really didn’t want to know.

But I did.  Because I’m not that bad of a mom.

It was the lead teacher of the special education classroom.  “Everything’s fine,” she said.  (Because she probably heard the fear in my “Hello?”) “I just wanted to give you a heads up.  Howie was really upset when he got on the van at the end of school.  He had made a ship out of bristle blocks and it fell apart right before cleanup time.  We tried to help him put it back together, but he was too upset.”

Damn you bristle blocks!

I have to interject here that bristle blocks have become my least favorite toy in the house.  We got them originally when Howie’s fine motor skills needed some help and he would get incredibly frustrated building with regular blocks or even Lego Duplos.  They were great.  At first.  Now that he can build, he wants his creations to be perfect and look perfect.  And stay together.  Not a strong point of the bristle block.

His teacher continued.  “He was really mad.  The maddest I’ve ever seen him.   He was refusing to get on the van and just kept repeating how mad he was.  He did eventually get on the van to come home, but he lost his ‘earning’ for the afternoon.  If we had had more time we could have worked through it with him, but we were at the end of the day.  It was too bad because he was having a terrific day up until that point.  I just wanted to warn you.  We’ve never seen him like this.”

Oh I have.  For a while we struggled with emotions in our house.  Howie would have screaming crying meltdowns but couldn’t tell us why.  Now he can verbalize it.  Sort of.  Mostly it involves him stomping around the house for a very long time with his arms crossed, mouth clenched and tears in his eyes, accompanied by the “I’M SO MAD AT YOU!!!” screams.

I thanked her for the information as the van came down the street.  I grabbed my boots and rushed out.  Last time we had such an incident, I could see his face pressed up against the van window crying as it came down the road.  I wanted to get out there as fast as I could.

This time, he was sitting still in his seat.  His coat was lying across his lap.  And his face said it all.

“I heard all about it,” I told the van driver.  “I know what happened.”

“But he pulled it together.  He’s even earning his special van treat!”, she said back, with a smile on her face.

I pulled Howie off the van with his arms still crossed.  He refused to come in the house even though it was 10 degrees outside.

“I’M MAD!” he yelled.

“I know,” I said.  “But please come inside.  At least into the garage.”

He gave me that much.  And after a few minutes, he found his way in.

“I’m mad because my ship broke.”  His tears came back.

“I know, sweetie.  Maybe tomorrow you can work on it again.”  And I just left that there.  I’ve learned.  Any more discussion would just add fuel to the fire.

About an hour later, Gerry asked Howie how his day was.  Out of the blue.

I held my breath.

“I was mad because my ship broke and I didn’t earn.”

Gerry looked at him for a minute.  “Do you want me to help you make it again here?”

Still holding my breath.  Waiting for the explosion.

“Ok.” Howie said.  “I’m not mad anymore.”

I looked at the clock.  It was 4:30pm.  I made a mental note to mark this day down in history.

Gerry got the container of bristle blocks and dumped them out on the floor.  And together all three boys made their own new ships.

I just sat back and watched.

Later that night, I sent his teachers this e-mail:

Just wanted to let you all know how things turned out this afternoon.  He turned it around on the van (J. even let him earn his pop), and came in a little mad (but acted fine).  But around 4:30pm, he said “I’m not mad anymore”.  Gerry asked him why he was mad in the first place and Howie explained about the problem with the ship.  Gerry asked him more about it and Howie said “maybe I could  make it again here.”  Gerry told him he’d help figure out what went wrong with the ship the first time.  And while they couldn’t make the exact ship, Gerry, Lewis and Howie all made ships together to fly around.  Success.  Pictures attached to prove it.
(well, until Howie bashed into Gerry’s belly with his ship, but it all can’t be good all the time ;-) )
thank you for working this through with him.  He just needed some time to process it all.
And here are those pictures to prove it.
bristleblocks

boys with their ships
There is my permanent record of progress.  A year ago – a month ago? – this could have ruined the whole day for the whole family.  But as a team – at school and at home – we solved it together.

I’m still putting away the bristle blocks though.  I don’t need that kind of stress.

Together we’ll stand
Divided we’ll fall
Come on now people
Let’s get on the ball
And work together
Come on, come on
Let’s work together” – Let’s Work Together by Canned Heat