Yesterday, I had the IEP meeting from hell. I’m not one to lie to you all. So, I’m going to lay it out there. It was horrible.
We have a wonderful local school. Seriously, I adore them. Over the last eight years that I have been educating my children (Cam entered Kindergarten the year Obama ran for his first term as President, I shall never forget), this school has become like the safe haven in a HUGE storm. I mean, let’s ponder what has changed in our family over the last eight years. We have added SEVEN children to our family. SEVEN. In 2008, when we first started attending this school, our family consisted of Cam, Brady, Jaxen and baby Sofia. Four children placed with us through private domestic adoptions, no special needs noted, and all at, or very close to, birth. Trauma was minimal, life was busy, but beautiful.
In 2009, we added Juliana. In 2010, we added Ally and AJ. In 2012, Tess. In 2013, Bowen. 2014, Cate. 2015 brought us Gigi. Seven children in six years. This school has accommodated, loved on, supported, understood, cheered for, and sometimes, when needed, cried with us in ways I can’t even begin to explain. As we watched family and friends disappear, they stayed. There was never a moment of doubt or uncertainty for them when we said “we’re bringing home another child, they have this need, and we need you to help us.” It has always been, “what can we do to help?” Every child deserves this. Not every child gets it. We are so lucky.
They have been amazing with us as we walk through yet uncharted territory with Gigi. It’s not uncharted for them, I don’t think, it’s just uncharted for us. This little, local, public school had staff who walked up to Gigi her second or third week home and signed to her “My name is…” and “Nice to meet you.” Then they looked at me, “I’ve been practicing. Did I get that right?” This bleary eyed, jet lagged, now mom of 11, nodded, doing everything she could not to cry.
This school gets us. Staff there have referred to our “family culture” in meetings when they talk about us. I kid you not, I cheer when they do. Our family does have a culture. We are ridiculously close knit up in here. I want to, and need to, know all these goings on for these 11 people. For the last seven that came in those six years, life before us was rough. They came from hard places. The school community acknowledges the impact that will have on the learning environment and looks to me with a “help us help you” attitude. Thank you! I do think this behavior has to do with where they’re at emotionally. I will get them to some therapy and I will let you know what the therapist tells us to do at home so that we can try it at school. And, they let us.
The Kindergarten teacher allowed one of our kids to carry a keychain everywhere with her. We clipped it to her pants daily for awhile. After awhile, when she didn’t need it so close at hand, he hung it from her desk, and then on a hook in the corner. That keychain had three tabs on it. They were reminders to this child about how to handle peer related kerfuffles. She could choose the appropriate solution from the three tabs: Handle it herself using a nice voice, ask a teacher to help her handle it, or choose to let it go because it’s no big deal. Those were her ONLY three choices. For a black and white thinker, this was lovely. Three choices, that’s it. Same three every time. If she diverted from them, there were lost privileges. She had the same keychain at home, for when sibling issues arose. A school to home crossover that helped her have success in both places. She rarely ever has an issue with a peer now, when she does, her teacher lets us know, because it’s a sign we need to change something up at home. This happens very rarely though. Our girl is one of the most lovely 3rd graders you’ll ever meet now. This is largely due to the teachers she had along the way.
There are a million more examples like this from this school. They always looked at what our kids needed and always just found a way to work it out. Knowing what I know now, I think I took them a little for granted. Then, Gigi arrived. They need the district’s help to provide what Gigi needs. It can’t be handled in house. And so, my own kerfuffle begins. I might need a keychain of my own.
Some things have gone so well, like when I received a call on Monday evening from the Orientation & Mobility Specialist to let me know that in the meeting the following day she was going to recommend that Gigi be taught to use a white cane at school. Yes, the kind of cane a blind person uses. She wanted me to know this information before I was sitting in a room filled with fifteen (yes, that’s how many people there are on Gigi’s IEP Team) strangers. She wanted me to be able to process this information. And, process it I did, with lots of tears, and some vodka. My deaf kid needs a freakin’ blind cane too. How the hell did I get here? What have I taken on? My first thought was for myself, yes. Don’t judge me.
It was so nice to get to process that information alone, in private. I really appreciated the forethought of that phone call. At first, I thought about telling them I don’t want the damn cane. Stuff it. Then, of course, I absorbed it, processed it, and understood that this isn’t about me. I just needed time to think it through. There have been many other parts of the process where I haven’t been given that opportunity, moments where I’ve been told that if I don’t make big decisions right then, in that moment, with fifteen people staring at me, well, then we’ll have to reconvene the meeting and Gigi won’t get any services until I do agree. Sadly, what I’m agreeing to isn’t usually my first choice for Gigi.
I’ve never not gotten my first choice for my kids. I don’t consider myself unreasonable or unrealistic, so usually, my first choice is within the realm of possible. But, when I’ve asked for it, I want it. Because, you see, I know these kids. I know them like I know myself. This time is different.
I’m not getting my first choice this time. This time, I’m waving the white flag, um, cane, and I’m giving in. I’m settling. And, even after I made the decision they asked of me, with all those faces staring at me, we still had to adjourn. We’ll reconvene tomorrow. Same time, same place, to do this all over again. I have no idea why this process needs to be so complex, but I’m sad for all the families who don’t have the time, energy, or sanity, to devote to this.
–FullPlateMom, who might need a refill.