Moving on up

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Those binders and clipped papers represent 18 years’ worth of reports. Don’t let the color coding fool you — they’re really not that organized. Not pictured: two bulging files in another cabinet.

 

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I love this photo so much. You can just see the adoration for that beloved kindergarten teacher, who moved to North Carolina for a better paying job.

This time, I left myself cry.

For the past 13 years I’ve been to these meetings, I’ve always held it together by pressing a fingernail, hard, into my thumb to keep those stupid, weak tears in check. Ever since I was a little kid, it didn’t matter whether I got my feelings hurt or was crazy angry or even actually happy about something, my first response has always been to cry.

It’s super annoying.

Like any embarrassing personality trait, it hasn’t gone unnoticed by my children. While Nos. 1 and 3 let me sniffle in peace, No. 2 can’t help but point it out.

“ARE YOU CRYING?!”

”Yes, I am! I was not expecting Nick Jonas to be so touching in this ‘Jumanji’ reboot!”

Of course since she was sitting mere inches away from me at this particular online school meeting, she couldn’t miss me struggling with the waterworks. Again.

“You’re crying!” She pointed out to the screen full of educators who probably suspected but were cool enough not to say anything.

“I can’t help it,” I explained. “I’m just so grateful.”

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Yeah, yeah it takes a vineyard village to raise a kid.

You know what? It takes a utopia to raise a kid with special needs. We’re talking a magical place populated by dedicated educators who — though they are undersupported and underpaid and most definitely overworked — go above and beyond to make sure your kid, regardless of disability, succeeds. My family’s been exceedingly lucky.

It was obvious early on that something wasn’t right.

My husband and I acted quickly, reached out to friends who evaluated children who might need special services and sure enough, there were developmental delays. Speech therapy became a twice-weekly activity and then physical therapy and occupational therapy. Despite all the efforts, it was obvious that things weren’t improving as they should be, that there were other, underlying issues. It took years — of different doctors and specialists and tests and failed medications and pricey but ultimately useless treatments — before there was a diagnosis that would finally make more sense. It took so long to get there. And here’s the thing when it comes to education and you have a kid who isn’t “normal” — you don’t get choices; there aren’t (or at least there weren’t) a lot of schools that are viable options. So after finding and paying for an amazing preschool that specifically helped kids with speech problems, the biggest obstacle at the time, our kid ended up at our neighborhood elementary.

Now public schools are much maligned in Arizona (here’s a novel idea, why don’t we try adequately funding them? Why don’t we pay teachers what they’re worth? My suggestion: a minimum $1.5 million a year.), and it was truly the best we could do.

It seemed like just about every weekday for many, many years, I would get a call at work about some sort of behavioral issue. My favorite: During the first-grade fine arts program, which was creating an opera, my kid was not at all into the collaborative process and instead whipped out a toy cellphone and excused herself to take a call. Now that, I thought, was funny. It was the only funny one in 13 years of public schooling. All the others just… sucked.

Teachers changed every year, but the constant dedication and creativity never did.

Some were definitely better than others when it came to dealing with this feisty kid’s unique challenges, but everyone tried. Hard. The greatest blessing of all was that the resource teachers, the special ed instructors — the true foot soldiers who worked with her the closest — were always aces. After elementary school, I held my breath. Middle school was surprisingly good, and I really fretted about high school but this special ed teacher, who’s worked with her for four years, she is unbelievable. She is a saint.

She constantly checks in, not just about school but about life and counsels her on her many fears and anxieties. She’s not afraid to tough-love her, like a second mother, which doesn’t sit well with a teenager. I, however in my permanent role as “bad cop,” appreciate the backup. This teacher even gave my daughter her cell phone number — a dangerous, dangerous thing and I know because she has my number. I get, like, 13 texts before noon. Even now that we’re quarantined in the same house. You will not be surprised to know that I assigned this child her own special text tone.

In February, the drama kids — of which mine is one — headed to California and Disneyland. She was so excited about the trip, and I thought we all were going to go crazy since we heard about it every day since school started… in August. But, a not-so-funny thing happened as the trip ticked closer, she started to panic. Big time. Anxiety overtook excitement to the point that I genuinely thought she wouldn’t go. Her teacher made it her mission to talk that kid off the ledge when she needed it, which was pretty much every hour. When the day finally came and they would be bused to what was no longer seeming like the happiest place on Earth, that teacher texted her (and me), sending jokes, assuring her of the fun she would have.

I’m the mom, I have to deal with this, and I was exhausted from the constant calls and texts. I can’t imagine volunteering for this kind of duty. Gotta admit that I felt pretty horrified a civilian got sucked into it. I apologized — profusely —  for the constant pestering and do you know what the response was? This woman, this teacher, who’s not even a blood relative and is definitely deserves hazard pay, said she felt lucky to be able to help my kid work through this.

Lucky? No, we’re definitely the lucky ones.

It’s been a long journey through school. So long. And now it’s almost done.

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It was just something about all those “Brady Bunch” squares — each one filled with someone who worked so hard to shepherd this sweet but definitely high-maintenance kiddo through her last year of high school — that just got to me. Each of the people in this online meeting, the teachers, the counselor, the speech therapist, all of them came in to school early or stayed late or let my kid interrupt their lunches or, more often, their evenings at home with multiple, panicked emails. They put up with her quirks and chronic meltdowns.

So yeah, I cried when I was asked if I had anything else I wanted to add during her yearly progress meeting. I awkwardly fumbled my words, as I am now, because how do you adequately express how much it means to have so many people work so hard to help a kid with disabilities mature toward becoming an adult?

There really aren’t enough words. But I guess a good start is thank you.

 

2 thoughts on “Moving on up

  1. You said it all. Such people are rare indeed and when they touch a life, they change it forever.
    Btw, I too tear up in a moment, and I too feel embarrassed at this trait, about which I can do nothing.

    Like

    1. Thanks for reading, Jaya! Yeah, it’s embarrassing but I guess it’s better to be overly sensitive than not 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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