Still blogging with my three co-bloggers! Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays. (Usually we are on time. Usually. Ok, mostly. Sometimes? Don’t judge me.)
Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:
This week is a make up/free week. I was going to make up a post I missed a few weeks ago, but something else is weighing on my mind. So, I’m going to write about that, instead.
I’ve mentioned before that my 12 has autism. Most of you know that we haven’t been super lucky getting help (known as “services”) from the two school districts with which we’ve been involved since her diagnosis at age 9. We fought our last school district for a year and a half to even get her an IEP (her own educational plan, including services like time with a social worker, math help, etc.). Our first year in Tennessee was much better; they transferred the IEP and gave Grace more services than she needed.
This year? Did not go so well.
About six weeks ago, I realized they were not giving Grace her math services. I started asking questions of her math resource teacher (and her homeroom teacher) and got some really unbelievable answers. Answers like, “I don’t take attendance,” and “It’s her fault for not showing up.” Stuff like that. I saw the writing on the wall and started calling educational advocates. A law school friend told me to contact the Federally funded disability advocacy/watchdog group for Tennessee. Sadly, they took our case. I say “sadly” because this means my daughter really was getting shortchanged and we really had a problem.
This past Tuesday, we had a meeting with the resource teacher and some other school officials about the missed time. To say they were unwelcoming would be a great understatement. Try unreasonable. Try defensive. Better yet, try nasty. Try hostile. Try “how dare you challenge us.” Try try try. And then bite holes in your tongue as you maintain your civility while they do not.
Here’s where I want you to close your eyes and pretend you were there with my husband and me. Listen to your child’s resource teacher call your child a liar. Listen to her blame your child (the one who is 12, the one who has autism) for the resource teacher’s own mistakes. Listen to her voice fill with mild disgust as she makes a comment under her breath about the number of last names in your blended family. Even worse yet, listen to your child’s homeroom teacher – the one your child loves so much, she wanted to buy him two end-of-year-gifts; the one you met with repeatedly during the year; the one you helped out in class on the day he taught the kids about arguing the other side of something – deny the contents of a conversation you had with him about missed services. Feel your heart break. And then feel it absolutely shatter when you have to tell your daughter about the meeting and she specifically asks you if her teacher backed her up. Tell me how you feel.
I will tell you how I felt. I felt drained. Defeated. Unbelievably sad.
Now imagine the next day, when you receive a phone call from the head of special education for the district, and he tells you that they are going to give your daughter some math assistance over the summer to make up for what was missed. How do you think you would feel?
You all know I am an attorney. I have won “cases” before. I once won an outright reversal on an appeal; that happens in very few cases. I’ve been on teams that earned NGs in a jury trial (“not guilty” – also rare). Those victories were sweet. We celebrated. We felt good.
This victory? Felt incredibly hollow. At no point did it feel like a “win,” even though in a sense it was, as it was adversarial, it was us against the school district. Yes, we got what we wanted, without even filing an administrative complaint (the next step). I felt relief, felt glad we would not have to engage in a protracted battle. But I did not feel victorious.
Now I want you to imagine later that day. Your daughter – the one who needs the extra assistance – is graduating from the school. You spend an hour and a half in the gymnasium staring at the principal (who was cc’d on all the emails with the resource teacher and never once stepped up to help), staring at his assistant (who was downright nasty during the meeting), staring at the homeroom teacher (who had just betrayed not only your trust, but that of your child). Put your hand over your mouth to stop yourself from laughing aloud when the guest speaker (the one who used to teach at the school but left to become a realtor) talks about the importance of taking ownership of your actions, of apologizing when you make a mistake. Take those feelings and mix them with your feelings about watching your daughter graduate, the same ones every parent has, plus the extra ones you have because she has had a higher mountain to climb. Feel the lump in your throat. Because there was one in mine.
Listen, now, as they give out achievement awards. Realize as they announce the awards that, at the most, your child could possibly qualify for one – Most Improved. Know that she will not win that award, because she did not improve. Know that because of her challenges, she will never win the Academic Award (because her math grade will always pull her down) or the Citizenship Award (because her social skill struggles will always make her seem aloof and sometimes even unfriendly). Try to imagine an award she could earn and hope to God or the Universe that someday, she will at least have the chance.
Now, watch the video someone put together showing highlights of their last year of school. See snippets of your child here and there, in the classroom, on a field trip. See even more photos of that one group of girls who are always together – the group your child was never part of because of that social skills thing, even though you know she tried. And while you’re at it, try to tune out the song playing with the video, I Hope You Dance, because it always, always makes you cry. Because your daughter always chooses to sit it out while the other girls always choose to dance.
Push down all those feelings and head out of the gym. Ask your daughter if she wants a photo with her homeroom teacher. Watch her struggle, because she really does but she also really doesn’t. Tell her that she might regret not taking one, because someday the positive memories might actually outweigh the negative. Say that to her even though the last thing you want to do is look at her teacher, because you know you cannot speak your heart, not now.
Take the photo, anyway.
Go home and try to wrap your mind around the past few days. And then remember what the guest speaker said, not the part that made you laugh, the other part. The part about gratitude, about being thankful and grateful for what you have. Remember that your child is not winning an Achievement Award, but she is verbal and able to attend a Gen Ed school. Remember that she has to work harder and you have to work harder, but that you have the love and support of family and good friends and a kind advocate from the Federally funded advocacy organization to hold you up and carry you through. Remember that you are sitting in an elementary school gymnasium, and not in a cancer hospital.
Remember, then, that you have won, no matter how much it feels like you haven’t.
Remember . . . and then close your eyes and hope that someday, your daughter chooses to dance.