Saturday, May 28, 2011

This One's for the Schools

Often when I hear about parents’ experiences navigating the special education maze on behalf of their children there is a distinct ‘us vs. them’ sentiment. It seems, in these accounts, that the schools are either too quick to label a child or too slow to initiate the complicated process of accommodating special needs. In either case, the relationship created is adversarial, rather than mutually supportive. While I have had one frustrating experience along these lines, I am grateful that, in general, this hasn’t been the norm for me.

In fact, this past Monday I left a meeting with the special ed team at my daughter’s school wanting to sing. Honestly! We spent more than half an hour discussing her evaluation results and planning her IEP and several things were abundantly clear. One, these people were professionals. They knew what they were talking about not just from a theoretical standpoint, but from direct experience with children. Two, these people cared. My daughter was not a series of labels or diagnoses to them, but a complete person with great potential. Three, these people had taken the time to really get to know my daughter. They all had anecdotes about her, observations of her humor and her intelligence. They like her. They truly want her to be successful.

The one thing that struck me as odd was the reaction when I said that reading the evaluation had been “hard.” I mean, there were no surprises whatsoever in the testing results, but it’s still a little sad to read in black and white that your child is having difficulties; is not, in fact “neurotypical.” The school psychologist looked… could it have been… worried? He rushed to ask me whether there had been enough positive information in the report. Had I felt my daughter had been accurately represented? Did I see indications of where they had pointed to her strengths?

“Oh, of course!” I quickly reassured him. “The report was full of positives! It wasn’t that at all. I was just having a ‘mom moment.’”

There was palpable relief in the room. “Of course,” someone said. “You’re allowed to have those.” Nervous laughter.

I thought: these poor people! Could it be they were so used to being confronted by parents, criticized for the system’s inefficiencies, even blamed for children’s poor outcomes, that they felt they had to treat me with such kid gloves? What a pain in the butt for them! Who has time for that crap?

That’s when I decided to write this blog entry. Yes, my job is to advocate for my children’s best interests and I will go to any length to do so. But this is a team effort, and these professionals, whose expertise and services are being offered to me at no cost, by the way, are critical parts of my kids’ long-term educational success! Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but at both FAIR Downtown, where my daughter is a student, and Eden Lake Elementary, where my son is a student, I have felt supported and affirmed by the special ed department, teachers and administrators. And I firmly believe that they have my kids’ backs every bit as much as I do.

So for those public school professionals who so completely rock: I salute you!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

That Mom

I know what it feels like to be that mom
The one with the bad kids
enduring glances, always sidelong, fleeting
from acquaintances and strangers

To be told—never directly—
it's all my fault
that I don’t discipline
that I should have stayed home

To have tried everything
of sticker charts and point systems and coupons
that work for a while and then don’t

To be criticized for overdiagnosing
a string of acronyms
as if I want to give my children drugs
and spend hours at appointments
as if it gives me justification

And still to have a sixth grade girl
punch me repeatedly
in a crowded, well-lit room
and have to pull her out of an event
that three-year-olds
are successfully enjoying

To have a fourth grader run
away from teachers
out of the building
or into the bathroom, feet up, angry

I’m not looking for special privileges
or pity
or even understanding
A little acceptance, maybe—
I guess I'm human, after all.

I know what it feels like to be that mom
The one who laughs until sides ache and tears roll
hugs away disappointments and fears
hears time and again “I love you”

To be awed by a daughter’s wild creativity
vivid expression

To be humbled by a son’s enormous heart
compelling earnestness

I know what it feels like to be that mom
The one who is doing her best
whose best is not perfect
whose best is enough

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mercurial Me

mercurial, adj (muhr-KYUHR-ee-uhl): characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood

On Sunday morning I was full of positive energy, unflappable even in the face of spring-fever-crazed Sunday School kids. Monday morning saw me sobbing for a good bit. By Tuesday afternoon, I felt even-keeled and motivated. Wednesday I was joyful to near manic. Then on Thursday I was dogged by anxiety and directionlessness, resentful at my own inaction. I don’t even know what to plan for today. Kind of like the weather this week.

Maybe it’s my own spring fever. The school year is winding down at a pace I can only describe as frantic, with IEP meetings and picnics and final projects and band concerts, trying to figure out summer plans and even fall ones, and all this on top of the usual slate of appointments and obligations that thickly populate my iCalendar. I’m probably not alone in the mad dash mentality.

But it’s possible my up-and-down nature is just part of living life on life’s terms. When I’m fully engaged in life, rather than trying to stay numb through compulsive eating and similar behaviors, there’s no artificial buffer between me and my feelings. Being suddenly confronted by a challenge over which I have no control brings me face to face with naked reality. Whatever my immediate reaction, be it calm decorum (appropriate) or wounded rage (not so much), I still have to feel what I feel.

Often my own, imperfect response to a situation exacerbates the feelings. On Sunday afternoon when my daughter’s hypoglycemic meltdown in the middle of Orchestra Hall infuriated me, my response was to make sure she knew just how angry I was and just how awful a human being she was. The incident itself was unpleasant, to be certain. No one wants to have her pre-adolescent daughter dissolve into a temper tantrum in a public place. But upon reflection, I could see there were a whole lot of things I could have done better as a parent before, during and after the debacle, which would have minimized or even prevented the problem. So now I had to deal not only with the feelings that come from the challenges of raising high-needs children, but also with my own sense of failure for the way I handled it. Hence Monday morning’s sobbing.

The good news is that allowing myself to truly experience my feelings means that just as quickly as I can slump into a funk, I can also bounce back. When I’m wallowing in self-pity, it honestly feels as if there is absolutely nothing right in the world; that I’ll never recover from whatever is painful at the moment. Yet, as I frequently tell my daughter, when it comes to this kind of thing, the quickest way out is through. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable, but it’s not permanent either. And once I’m on the other side of it, it really is gone. The resentment seldom lingers and I’m free to skip back into life with my preferred buoyancy.

I guess instead of trying to plan for what today might bring, I’ll just accept things as they are in the moment and go with it. No matter what might smack me upside the head, I can call a friend, write in my journal, and pray, and I know it’ll be fine, even though I might feel otherwise for a while. I’d rather be fully alive, even when it hurts, than spend my time and energy wishing the world would just go away.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Two Choices

Every morning I have two options. I can choose to live the day in fear or in hope.

My practical nature pulls me toward fear. This world is a messed up place, filled with unimaginable suffering, rampant human evil, natural disasters and meaningless death. I can’t pretend these things aren’t so, because they are. If I am honest with myself, I have to accept that in the incomprehensible scope of time and space that surrounds me, I am utterly insignificant.

So why get out of bed? (Other than to pee, of course.)

Because I won’t choose fear.

The very act of pushing back the covers and swinging my legs over the side of my bed is the embodiment of hope: a great big Bronx cheer to all the nay-sayers, the “realists,” the pessimists and every force in existence that tries unceasingly to crush the spirit. In the heart of the mundane; eating breakfast, greeting my husband, waking my children and preparing them for school, even walking the stupid dog!, there is a spark of hope infinitesimal yet capable of generating more energy than a collapsing star.

This is not blissful ignorance, but a call to action. I don’t pretend there aren’t parents who fatally neglect or brutalize innocent children, oil companies who post record profits while collecting billions in government subsidies, or fundamentalists—of ALL religions—who aren’t using their so-called faith as justification for oppression and atrocities of every sort (these are just a few random headlines from the past three days.) I cannot change these things myself, but I will not let them immobilize or enrage me—neither is productive.

Instead I will choose hope.

I will do what I can, when I can. I will try to teach my children that the meaning of life is to love and serve others regardless of differences. I will do my best to put this belief into action at every level—in my home, my community, my church, my government, my world. When I fail, as I will often do, I will pick myself up and try again. I will know that I am not alone. I will stand at the edge of the universe, smile quietly and say: I hope, therefore I am.


(with gratitude to Douglas Adams)