Friday, November 9, 2012

Sometimes You Get Kicked In The Head... And Sometimes You Don't.

"The development of the social individual proceeds through a series of phases, from the first weeks when there is little awareness even that some stimulation emanates from the outside environment, through a dawning awareness of self and others, to reciprocal relationships, to a responsive partnership in the preschool years, wherein the child has internalized social values and the beginnings of self-control"(Sroufe,1995. p.151).

Sometimes you get kicked in the head... and sometimes you don't. Unfortunately for me, I did get kicked ... by a very strong, playful five-year old boy. His brain you see is making social connections at a rapid rate, connections that are typically (in optimal situations) made in infancy within the context of his primary caregiving relationship. This didn't happen in the way it could have. At five he is learning joint attention, the pleasure of a shared activity, a gaze. He is at the very beginning of what clinicians describe as "mutual" or "co-regulation", that magic dance between adult caregiver and young infant, that quite literally maps the infants brain, teaches the child how to be, how to respond, and ultimately how to regulate his nervous system. He is learning how to modulate arousal in multiple settings outside of his primary relationship. The encouraging thing is that he is five, and this is really happening for him, it's not too late. His affect, his emotional expression has brightened, he is all giggles, and laughs, and constantly seeking positive playful interactions from myself, from my assistants, and in moments? From his peers, which in turn stimulates his cognition, his communication abilities, his sense of self.

The question has been asked, "Did he mean to kick you?" Yes, yes he did. But it is important to note, that while he was trying to kick me, his intention was not to hurt me. He wasn't anticipating that I would yell, and have to leave the room quickly to put ice on my face.  When I returned to the classroom that day, he was watching the door when I opened it, I beckoned to him, and he sat in my lap, with his hand on my face. Precious child, stronger than he knows, and well on his way to modulating his own arousal levels. He wanted a response, but his intention was not to make me leave the room, and as it has happened, to not be at school for several weeks recovering.

And for me, this has been a very different thing. That one swift kick in the head resulted in what my Doctor calls a "traumatic brain injury." Things are fuzzy. I lose focus quickly, am inundated with consistent headaches, foggy thoughts, clumsiness. I cannot be in noisy, bright places. Noise, and bright lights flood, overload my system. The patience that I exhibit daily at work in my classroom feels out of place when I need to focus that patience on myself. It will get better. My brain will heal, realign, regain footing so to speak. And in the meantime I am the other side of the caregiving relationship for perhaps the first time. Vulnerable. In need of help, and in many ways being too weak not to take it in, the care being offered me.

Learning, growth does occur in the context of our relationships. Even in painful moments, a kick to the head for me is resulting in a more open heart. A willingness to let go, to worry less, and trust in the goodness and presence of the people close to me, willing to do for me, what I do for that five year old boy. For this, I am grateful.

Waiting to heal requires a different kind of strength, patience with myself, a conscientious choice to focus on positive outcome and interactions, things that will ultimately I hope, make me a stronger practitioner and teacher when I am given the green light to return to my classroom. Until then, to those  caring for and educating my students in my absence, and my loved ones who are taking very good care of me I thank you from the bottom of my brain, and my heart.

* For those interested in reading further about emotional development in infancy check out the following book (quoted from above): L. Sroufe, A (1995). Emotional Development: The Organization Of Emotional Life In The Early Years. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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