I scanned Brooke’s home-school communication log before sitting down to dinner. Every night, I search the day’s entry for an interesting morsel that I can use to ask her about her day. If there’s been an event of some kind – something outside of her typical schedule – it’s all the better to try to start a conversation.

I honed in on Ms K’s description of the All-School Assembly, excited by the possibility of something that Brooke would remember and hopefully be able to talk about.

“First 1/2 (15 mins) listened and applauded appropriately. Talked about ‘New Year’s Resolutions”. Got a little long – we took a short break + returned + then left at end before masses – then joined class again in hall. Good work self-calm.”

I should have known, of course. We’ve been at this long enough, haven’t we? And the words were right there.

Good work self-calm.

That’s code for needed to self-calm after something happened to make self not remotely calm.

But I was reading too fast to let it register. All I saw was what I was supposed to see.

“Hey, Brooke,” I asked, “Did you have All-school Meeting today?”

She was staring down at a thread between her fingers.

“Brooke, sweetie, did you have an All-School Meeting today?”

‘I did,” she answered.

“Did you take a break with Ms K?”

“I did.”

“Did you leave a little early?”

“I did.”

My next question was to have been about the performers at the meeting – the part of the conversation that I hoped might yield a little more than a two-word response from Brooke – but I never got to ask it.

Instead, Katie jumped in. Her tone was casual as she added, “Yeah, Ms K had to take her out cause she was yelling and crying.”


I tried to keep my face neutral as I turned back to Brooke.

“Sweetheart, did you have some trouble at the meeting?”

She twisted the loose thread in her fingers.

“Sweetheart is my nickname.”

“Yes, love, it is. So was the meeting a little too loud today?”

“It was.”

She winced at the memory and pulled her shoulder to her ear.

I decided not to push it further. I excused myself from the table and went back to the counter to look at the communication log.

It was right there in black and white.

Good job self-calm.

Damn it.

I walked back to the table with the words still taunting me. C’mon, kid. You’ve been at this long enough. You know the code. You know how to read between the sanitized lines – to find the parcels of unvarnished reality prettily wrapped inside encouraging phrases and glowing praise.

As I sat down, I told Brooke that I had heard that she’d done a great job calming herself down and joining the class after the assembly. I told her that I was very proud of her for that and that I knew that those meetings were not easy for her.

Katie munched her dinner without giving any of it a second thought.

Brooke withdrew into a litany of Godspell questions – “What did Mary Magdalene say in the junkyard? What would happen if Jesus and his Mom cut onions? Is there a Jesus and Matthew movie?” – as Katie launched headlong into a monologue about her day. I alternated answering Brooke’s questions – “Let me outa here!” “They would cry” and “No, there is no Jesus and Matthew movie”- and commenting on Katie’s colorful retelling of her day.

Luau caught my eye. He smiled and offered up a nearly imperceptible shrug as he said, “It’s OK.”

I let out the breath that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I reached out for both of my girls. I kissed the top of Brooke’ s head and cupped my hand over Katie’s. Both of them continued to chatter on her own plane. I sat back in my chair and watched my family settle into its natural state.

I took a deep breath – breathing in our normal. I gave a tired smile back to my  husband and did my best to self-calm.


26 thoughts on “self-calm

  1. Good Job Mom!! Let me just add how fortunate you are that you get some adult level feedback on her day. We tried the log once and the helpers just wrote “good day” that was it, no details, nada! Luckily, we’re in a much better place now. On top of that, you have another child at the same school who sees some of this stuff. So many of these kids have bad days and nobody even hears about it! (sorry, a little frustrated out here). You are truly blessed.

    • We are indeed and don’t take it remotely for granted. The communication log has evolved over time, with much tweaking and prodding and changing over time. Luau and I also make a point of offering as much as we ask. We send Brooke to school every day with a detailed note about her evening, possible topics of conversation, her ‘news’ for the day, comments on homework and how it went, etc. I firmly believe that we get a lot more information because it’s a two way street.

      BUT – all that said, I know full well how lucky we are to have the log, to have a wonderful aide who is willing to take the time to fill the log, and to get as much information as we do.

  2. Katie’s comment made me wince – now that we have two siblings at the same school I am also hearing firsthand ‘additional infomation’ not recorded in the communication log. Gives us a whole new perspective on assemblies, lunchroom and recess reports. And now they both dread assemblies – one for obvious reasons and one because of peers’ comments like “There goes your brother!” Not easy, always, to read between the lines.

    • You know, I actually had a line in the first draft of this post that spoke to how lucky we are to have Katie’s extra set of eyes. I didn’t even realize until I just reread it that the sentence didn’t make the final cut.

      But yes, it is HUGE to have Katie’s eyes and ability to report. For two years they were in different schools (and in a year and a half they will be again) so I’m particularly grateful for the current overlap.

  3. sigh. I get those words too – the code for something went awry first. But, like you did, I need those code words to understand the day (and subsequently understand the later behavior at home) and I try to pull out the good. the coping skill of self-calm. maybe last year, she wouldn’t have had that? progress? that’s what I try to remember.
    and our dinner conversations are just like that. my 8yr old tells us about the funny thing that happened at recess, or lunch, or the history lesson he learned. My 4yr old? Talks about the hot wheels cars he wants to race in the basement. it’s our normal too.

  4. Thank you so much for your insite and your sharing. It always makes me feel part of a community and less isolated. I’d to print your comment you made about how Brooke’s communication log evolved. It would help get across how the log should work to our shcool. Ours seemed to be best last year but with new aide(good change for my son), new teacher,new admin… the present time, it is a weekly behavior log that has all of the negative behavior without the cause of the behavior, a point system I don’t understand and I email teacher with significant happenings at home. Thank you again….

  5. Wow… just realized that I read our log book the same way and ignore that their was a situation to cause the self calming or regulation (as our log puts it). I knew it, but didn’t want to see it I guess. We have the added difficulty that 2 of our 5 year old triplets are non-verbal (God willing they will talk soon!)…. Thank you for the post and the perpective.

  6. Oh my gosh I FELT this. I am new to the communication log (my son just started preschool in November). I often wonder what REALLY happens…and know they only tell me about the really big stuff, if it’s bad. Or couch it between positive phrases. I too finding myself needing to self-calm. 🙂

  7. OMG, I had no idea all our kids were being sent home with the same communication logs! Instead of ‘self calm’ our’s reads, “required additional sensory break.” And so the detective work begins… I know if things went awry if I get an e-mail.

    Thank you for your post. It’s like a day in my life.

  8. I sent my communication log to the school in September. Where are we now. Oh yeah- nearly February. Not one single entry. It’s ok only because I shove my smiling face right into theirs and demand details at least twice a week. If they don’t Luke that, they can use the damn log.

    Meanwhile, can I get some lessons on how to self- calm? Because I don’t even know how to do that and I’m ( supposedly) a NT adult ( again, supposedly).

  9. i really love the writing in this. very precise and focused and painful. it hurts to read, precisely because you put us there, in the situation. your writing just grows and grows here, jess, it’s a privelege to read.

  10. “breathing in our normal” – thank you for this lovely phrase, this realization that it’s what I have done every day for so long, encapsulated in that beautiful, palpable image. This is our life. This is what we do. xoxo

  11. And, yes, the logs are particularly vague most times. If it makes you feel better, I got one entry a few weeks ago that said, “Worst I’ve ever seen him.”

    To which I said, @#$%!!! You know that was bad, since the rest of it is typically dressed up.

    But I adore “breathing in our normal,” because it’s so true. There are days I am dismayed by the way things go in our house, and others where I am so grateful to be able to celebrate the ability to self calm, the appropriate wave, the little boy who stops whatever he is doing to bleat like a sheep at the *exact* same time, every viewing of one show.

    And I’m grateful for friends who “get it.”

    Breathe, Mama. You are doing wonderfully well.

  12. This post really hit home. There’s so much to read between the lines, isn’t there? As usual, beautifully handled, and I’m so glad your daughter’s in a place where they take the time to tell you what happened. Both of you deserve it!

  13. Reading between the lines, looking for clues, unearthing missing pieces, one step forward and two steps back…it’s a never-ending process, isn’t it? It’s our normal, too. As someone up above said, you are doing wonderfully well.

  14. Ok, WOW! I get a damn home-school communication log that tells me nothing but “Good job transitioning” and everyone that knows KM says, HOW??? I am new to the communication log and I have no idea how to read between the line. It just makes it look like my daughter is a perfect child with no issues while she is at school and as they remind me over and over “I don’t know what I am talking about” and “I worry too much”. Apparently, I am not alone in the tidied up world. But why is it tidied up before being sent home? How does that help anyone?

    Thanks for posting this. I so got it and now will look at those stupid logs a whole different way.

  15. I am a little behind so just catching up on your posts. There ought to be a Jesus and Matthew movie. I am just spitballing here, but I see a buddy movie where jesus is the straight one and Matthew is the loose cannon always getting into scrapes that require miracles to get out.

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