“When I Am A Hundred Years Old”
I head into the school for another “Parent Teacher’s Night” to discuss Johnny and Princess’s recent report cards and their progress. I am a few minutes early for the first teacher, so I stand outside the classroom and see if I can find any of Johnny’s Grade 2 work displayed outside of the classrooms. I jump back because I instantly see Johnny’s face looking down at me. I should clarify, his “When I Am A Hundred Years Old” Project hanging up in the hallway. Staring back at me was Johnny’s face all aged and wrinkly staring back at me. Suddenly my thoughts crystallized and I understood why his thoughts and questions regarding life, growing old, dying, living forever, and having time to do things were at the forefront now which seemed odd for a little boy who is only 7.
I was not expecting to see Johnny looking like that and I couldn’t help but shutter to think about how his Daddy was going to react seeing this. I was told it was the Grade 2 class project for the “First 100 Days of School.” Instead of thinking how how much they have done already and how long it took to get to the “100 Days of School” point, instead use the opportunity for the children to imagine days were like years and wonder what it would be like when they live to 100. The teacher wanted them to take a picture of themselves and use an app to make them look older and then have a laugh at what happened to their face or picture. Then later have a classroom discussion and brainstorm about what it would be like when they were 100 years old.
How did Johnny react to this project? Johnny was not happy at all and was very mad and he did not want any part of this project. To be fair, he wasn’t the only child upset by seeing themselves look like this. Some children laughed and giggled but others were very sensitive about it. In hindsight, a project like this might not be the best idea for a literal thinker like Johnny who is still dealing with tragedy in his past. His Special Education teacher did say that was intriguing is that out of all the other children in the Grade 2, Johnny had the most thought provoking, inspired, insightful ideas about what he wants to do when he grows up and it showed a level of maturity about him. Other kids were talking about they’ll get false teeth, need canes to walk, they will be all wrinkled, they won’t have to listen to their parents and they’ll get to sleep in. Johnny wrote this:
He couldn’t fit everything he wanted to on the space provided, “I want to go to university and study engineering. I want to drink beer, coffee and wine.”
Later, when I met with Johnny’s Grade 2 teacher, she told me that it was a great project for the kids to see things from another perspective and laugh at themselves. It’s also an opportunity to think about the “Circle of Life” and think of life in a broader sense and brainstorm and think about the future. She could see by the look on our faces we were uncomfortable and that’s when we told her that it coincided with Johnny processing the loss of his Grandpa since November and only getting more intense over the Christmas holidays as he now misses him and deals with it differently because he’s more mature now. My husband then told her about how 3 years ago I lost my Dad to cancer, he had palliative care in our home to the end, how close Johnny was to him and how my Dad was a constant care giver to him. “Isn’t this project great then for him to look at getting old in another way, to deal with the his own feelings of loss away from “me” and not be dealing with “my” feelings of profound loss but his own. She said he knew he didn’t like it at first, but she said he stared at it for a bit and looked thoughtful as if saying to himself “hmmm…isn’t this interesting” as he processed things.
Deep inside I suspected that this was not true because he’s a sensitive boy who is still trying to figure out losing his Grandpa as he grows up but I tried to see it from her point of view. I know this idea was her idea and I didn’t want to place her on the defensive but the words, “I know my son” kept swirling in my head as I listened to his teacher who had three decades of experience behind her confidently make some suggestions about some life skills that need working on. I held my tongue and I knew I needed to wait until I spoke to Johnny myself and listened to him about how he felt about this project. I’ve been his Mom for nearly 8 years and that experience has taught me that I should never make assumptions but always “stop, wait and listen.”
At home, I take out my iPhone and show Johnny’s sister pictures I took of her art projects that are hanging in the halls of the kindergarten wing of the school. Johnny looks on in interest and then I ask if I can show his sister his projects. I show her his Switzerland travel brochure and then I show his “100 Years Project.”
“I hate it Mommy. It made me mad and I took my friends pictures and fixed them back. I am not going to heaven. I am going to live forever. I am going to have friends. I am going to go to University school and become an Engineer. I am going to go to outer space and ride a rocket ship. I am going to go to a Pub and I will drink wine and beer. I can drink coffee too right? I am going to be a Grandpa and have kids. I will live forever Mommy. Right Mommy?”
As I write this post I can’t help but think that dealing with the subject of getting old, even with all the best of intentions, is risking a walk through an emotional minefield. I am sharing this experience on my blog because this is not a case of shedding light on Autism but that every child brings their own ideas and personal history into the classroom and some kids might find this subject hard. After talking to a few other Mom’s who had to deal with children who were unsettled by the project I think that seven years old is a little young to process this. In the off chance one of his teachers read this I am sharing this you all had the best intentions at heart and I understand that but it is what it is.
The difference for me being the Mom of an Autistic child means that just when I think he’s processed the thought he brings it up again and re-hashes it and sees how he feels about it again. He started thinking about life, death and Grandpa at the beginning of November 2014 and every single day he mentions something. It is nearly March and I do not see an end in sight and this project only gave him a visual to think about again every single day as he has to walk past it in going back and forth between his classrooms and recess. Repetitive reinforcement is one of my son’s gifts but can also be his greatest kryptonite.
To read more about how Johnny and his grief process here are links to previous posts:
1) Are You Sad? Shh! http://wp.me/p1KVmo-6c
2) Bumps, Emptiness and Fond Memories http://wp.me/p1KVmo-6e
3) Sad Bunny To Deal With Sadness and Grief http://wp.me/p1KVmo-9T
4) Days Of Our Lives Missing Grandpa http://wp.me/p1KVmo-ql
5) The Berry Juice http://wp.me/p1KVmo-1oR
6) I Buried Grandpa http://wp.me/p1KVmo-1Re