Category Archives: Family life

School Meetings and Phone Calls

When I get a phone call from the school, my stomach sinks. I pause, wondering about how my day will change. When I hesitantly answer, the fake cheery voice doesn’t soothe me. It scares me. I silently breathe a prayer as I hear about the latest problem.

When I hang up, I cry.

Then I steel myself to whatever action is necessary on my part. I leave my job early, or turn around on my way. I call my husband and we formulate a new plan. I spend my life on the stupid phone.

When we walk into an IEP meeting, we feel like sitting ducks.

Sure, the staff try to begin by talking about positive things regarding our child. And then we dive into all the tantrums, the bad grades, the melt downs, the language, the inability to cope, the self injurious behavior. It’s taken me 5 years of these meetings to start to realize they’re probably not blaming us.

But we feel responsible. We feel defensive. We hate having to go over all of the data and incidents. It’s just another meeting to them–but to us, it feels like one more nail in his coffin of Hope and Possibilities.

And sometimes, I think they do blame us.

We try so hard. It never feels like enough. We want our lives to be normal, uneventful, boring. Instead they’re so filled with stress and adrenaline and cortisol that we can barely breathe. We’ve been to trainings. We’ve implemented everything we possibly can. We are as present as possible. We give everything we have to our children. Someone always feels left out.

And when we hear from the school that our kid is failing, is tantrum-ing, is out of control–it’s more than we can bear. I’m sorry, but what more can we do? We drive 65 miles to the nearest psychiatrist on our insurance plan. We take all of our children to therapy several times a month.

We create a stable, predictable home environment for the very child who creates chaos and disruption.

We spend hours on homework, we follow up with teachers (for the love of donuts–PLEASE keep your electronic grade records up to date! I cannot follow through if I don’t know an assignment exists!).

And we bring an advocate or attorney to meetings now because we have been let down so many times. We have tried on our own–just to have services removed or not be offered that actually benefit our child.

You act like we are combatants, when we are actually tax paying parents who desperately want our child to have an appropriate education.

I wouldn’t call it free when we’ve shelled out thousands of dollars for therapies you wouldn’t provide. Like how his speech wasn’t bad enough to qualify when he was 4-6 years old little so we paid for that privately out of pocket until our insurance plan changed. Now he’s 13 and difficult to understand.

Or like how he didn’t receive services he desperately needed the first day of middle school and was so stressed that the SRO institutionalized him.

So please don’t blame us for bringing whatever experts we can finagle to these meetings.

His volatile emotions are understandably challenging to navigate. Imagine living with him. I know my son better than anyone.Yet I often feel like I have zero authority or “expert status” when discussing his education and behavior.

I know most staff members try their very best. I’ve witnessed kind, warm, loving words. I know my son is regarded affectionately by many. And I am grateful they catch a glimpse of his humor and kind soul. Thank you for that.

Please understand that as his parents, we are responsible for him above all else. When we entrust him into your care, we are praying that you will treat him tenderly and help guide him to be his very best.

We pray for you every day. We hope that you are praying for us, too.

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ABCs, Stars and Dots

Who invented report cards, anyway??

My youngest came bouncing home with her first report card using a  traditional grading scale (A-F, instead of Os and Ss). She has always been a conscientious student, eager to attend school, follow the rules and help other students who are struggling. She is bright, always reading and quick to learn.

She and I were both surprised to see two “C”s on her report card. Admittedly, I’ve been distracted with her brother this quarter after our traumatic beginning to the year. She requested to change to a new class that opened after the school year began, and her dad and I supported her in her request. As a sibling of someone with autism, she has unique stressors including a volatile, irritable sibling and she often has to exercise patience beyond her years.

We let the new teacher know about our family circumstances, and I offered to volunteer in the classroom.  We eat lunch with her at school about once a week, and we know she is making friends and assumed her academics were fine.

A “C” is passing. A “C” is average. A “C” is not an academically respectable grade. There goes Honor Roll . . .

I believe my daughter has absolutely done her best–but I also know she is academically extremely capable. There is a disconnect and I can’t yet pinpoint it.

Her report card stated they are fostering “independent learning” and she needs to ask for help when she doesn’t understand the instructions because she is very quiet and obedient.

She is 8.

I hugged her and told her it was fine, we would schedule a parent conference, and it’s ok. We moved on with our evening.

And then bed time rolled around. My daughter was sobbing into her pillow, feeling ashamed. I wanted to say bad words about grades in general but didn’t.

I remembered this amazing children’s book we have been reading written by Max Lucado called “You Are Special.”

It’s about these wooden dolls who stick dots for bad things and stars for good things on each other all day. Except for one character, to whom the stickers don’t stick. She ends up taking a sad dot-covered doll to meet their maker, who tells him, “The stickers only stick if they matter to you.”

I reminded my daughter of this story and the perspective  “A”s are stars and “C”s are dots to her.

But I asked her, “Does this change how much I love you?”

Does this change how much God loves you?

Does this change who God has made you to be?

Does this change whether you can make a difference  in the world?”

She shook her head.

“That’s right, darling daughter. NO. A thousand times, NO.

Nothing you do will make me not love you. Nothing you do will make God not love you.

“You are so loved. I’m sorry you’re feeling bad about your grades. Daddy and I are going to meet with your teacher to find out how to help you earn better grades.

I whispered: “(And don’t tell your brother, but grades don’t matter as long as you learn what you need to learn, until high school.)

She hugged me and said, “You always know how to make me feel better, Mom. thanks.”

I prayed for and with her, thanking God for loving her so very much. Asking God to give her courage at school and teaching her what God wants her to learn.

I still want to say bad words about report cards and arbitrary grading systems. I will employ self control.

A second try for middle school

We have decided to try a middle school recommended at the IEP meeting.

Note: Many people have suggested homeschooling or private school. I toured several private schools in our county, and many have wonderful programs for children with autism, combining behavioral therapy with academics.

As appealing as those options sound, they’re not feasible in our case at the present time.

My husband and I both work. We have more than one child. Pulling our child out of public school and driving him twice daily, paying a great deal out of pocket in private school fees, or supervising/entertaining/educating/socializing him every day is a tall order that adds unbearable strain to a family already stressed to our limits. “Just —-” isn’t as simple as it sounds.

So when we scheduled an emergency IEP meeting, it was with the intention of sending our child to a school with strong leadership, effective communication and positive culture for students with special needs.

In essence, where his IEP would be communicated and implemented.

In the meeting, despite pressure to return our son to his original school–from where he was institutionalized–we stood firm that this is not a safe option for him and unacceptable to us. We have zero confidence in administration after what our family endured.

Essentially, the arguments for “meeting kids in the neighborhood” rang hollow for us.

A principal of a neighboring middle school attended this meeting (it’s like they knew we wouldn’t consider returning him to the original school!) and explained in detail how her particular school would accommodate my son.

(So the team defined his needs and then the school will work to meet them, instead of trying to make my son fit into a system)

In the meeting, it was suggested we meet with teachers and staff ahead of time.

I couldn’t help but explain the numerous efforts we had made to do so at his previous school but we had been told that was too hard to accommodate.

In this meeting, we were affirmed in our reasonable request and received an apology that we hadn’t been accommodated.

We emphasized that he will make triggering statements again, that he will continue to engage in self injurious behavior, and that we are deeply worried we will end up with our child institutionalized again.

As a result, we put in his IEP that he is not to have the school resource officer become one of his preferred persons at school. We added in extra behavior supports. We have new assessments scheduled to better teach and support our child as he learns how to transition and how to cope with stress.

I have also added a non-consent form to each of my children’s file. More on that later.

This meeting was 3 hours long, and did not include rehashing the past incident. We remained focused on putting in place accommodations that will allow our child to be successful and to thrive.

Following the IEP , we drove our son to the new school.

The principal was waiting for us! She had guidance, administrators, and the friendliest 8th grader I have ever had the pleasure of meeting to greet us and give us a tour after school ended for the day.

They were friendly, kind and gentle. They showed our child many options for where to eat lunch, how to ask for help, and which hallways would be the least crowded.

He received his school planner and learned how to assemble his binder.

They plan to have him attend school the first day and just spend time with guidance and administrators, getting acclimated to the sounds and sensory stimuli of the school. They have art for him to do and will allow him to desensitize at his own pace.

They are planning to add one class at a time each day to break him in gently.

Their kindness and sensitivity to us brings me to tears.

We realize this is a long road but we are committed to supporting our child and to advocating for his quality of life.

We still have legal aspects to handle, but our primary goal was to get our child into an appropriate, safe educational program as quickly as possible.

Step 1: ✅ check.

Catching Up

Do you ever feel like you’re playing catch up? Breakfast dishes are still in the sink at 6pm and your kids are hungry and you’re wondering where the day went?

Sometimes I have such careful plans that get derailed by a Sick kid. Or a client with unexpected urgent needs. And sometimes it is my own lack of planning that kicks me at the end of the day.

today I realized a Bible study I had decided to start never got started. I was 11 days behind. I got overwhelmed just looking at how many days I had to go to catch up.

i logged into the settings and there was a button called “catch me up.” I hesitated because I thought it would double or triple the days to get me to where I thought I should be.

Imagine my relief when it simply reset the timeline.

Talk about God’s grace! I don’t have to work double or triple. God wants me to walk with Him and listen to Him daily. I miss out on the richness of life with God if I don’t.

But I’m not penalized when I run to Him. He meets me exactly where I am and pushes that lovely “catch me up” button.  And all is right again.

💜

 

 

 

 

 

Easter Grief

Easter seems to be like such a happy celebration of life. Western culture has made it the new Christmas, it seems. School spring breaks are scheduled around Easter often. Children wake up excited to find eggs the Easter Bunny hid for them–and a large basket of gifts. A new Easter dress and shoes and hat. Fancy lunch. It’s the Christian holiday of the spring.

It is celebratory. Yes, Jesus Christ conquered the grave! Yes, Christians are given new life and hope of Heaven because of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. His life and death would have been pointless without the resurrection.

And yet–I’m filled with grief. As I read different accounts in the Bible of the events leading to Jesus’ torture and death, I’ve been moved to tears. This man, this God, loved His people. He lived to bring them Life with a capital L. He was born of a miracle, created miracles all to bring attention and glory to a God who loves all people. He taught people to love each other, to fear their own judgment and not judge others. He taught communities how to live together, how to worship together and how to resolve conflict according to the way we were created.

People were afraid because he challenged the status quo. People in power were afraid to lose their power. They feared this humble man because he had the ability to inspire people to want better, to hope for justice, to care for each other.

Because he was a threat to oppression, he was killed. The nighttime mob in the streets of Jesusalem screamed for a bloody show. The religious leaders plotted and threatened to have this man killed before he upset the “system.” Pilate refused to take responsibility and acquiesced to the crowd. Who rules who, really?

And an innocent man stood condemned for crimes he did not commit.

My grief overflows. The Hope of the world–condemned by the world. Ironic. Sick. Twisted. I imagine what it might have been like had the world accepted Jesus and sought social reform, justice, hope and love for all. I’ll see it when Heaven is at my door.

But I don’t want to miss that Jesus brought the Kingdom of God TO EARTH. It’s not missing. It’s here. It’s in my local churches. It’s in people who seek to do God’s will and love the Lord. It’s in me–because the Holy Spirit is in me and all believers. The Holy Spirit is a gift and a crucial piece of the reconciliation we so desperately need today. Believers can continue to make a difference in how they live, in how they treat others, in how they spend their time and money and gifts. Jesus is the Light of the world. I think the local church is now the Hope of the world.

Leading up to Easter, I participated in Lent. This participation included regular reading of a Lenten Bible study plan .Throughout this time, I was not just preparing my heart for the seasonal Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. I was also preparing for the death of a dear relative.

Pamela is actually my husband’s cousin. She’s our favorite relative because of her solid faith, sweet natured spirit and love for everyone she meets. She particularly had a gift with children. She and her husband were unable to conceive a baby, and so Pamela took on her nieces and nephew and my own children as some of her many projects. She has always made a point to connect with us and our children. Pamela was a social worker, placing children in foster homes and helping young adults who age out of the foster care system at 18 years old with no family and no resources. The closest I can come to describing her is that she reminds me of Rev. Fred Rogers from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” That’s high praise, if you’ve ever been a kid who watched that show and felt the warmth and caring through your tv screen straight to your heart. Messages like “I like you just the way you are” are exactly things Pamela would tell the gaggle of children who constantly surrounded her.

About a year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare cancer. We were shocked. She has always been healthy and active. Just after Christmas, she called us and explained that the chemotherapy and surgery she’d had were no longer effective and that she was planning to enter Hospice Care. We were shocked and in denial.

How could we imagine a world without Pam??????

My husband took our daughters across the country to visit her and say their goodbyes. Pamela’s one outing that week was to the mall. She was on a mission to purchase stuffed bears from Build a Bear for our daughters. She kissed the heart that goes in each bear and recorded a voice message for each girl. They sleep with their bears every night. My family came home with a handwritten card for each of us that Pamela had written. We haven’t presented the cards to the kids yet. I don’t know what they say but I know they will be encouraging, positive and loving. As her card for me was.

As far as miracles go, I’m pretty realistic. I don’t often ask God for miraculous help but I was praying for it this time. “Please, God–heal her. Don’t take her just yet. Give her more time. Give us more time with her. We need her, God. So many people need her. Take someone else. . .”

A tiny little spark of Hope lay dormant inside me, hoping against Hope that Pamela could be a miraculous testament to the power of God.

And yet, on Easter Sunday–she died. 36 years old. We learned of it on Monday morning.

I was and am so disappointed. I felt like God let me down. Like of all people, why? How?

It’s unfair.

And yet–there is still Hope. I still have faith that God is in control. That Jesus loves us. That this world is not forsaken as long as there are people who continue to love God and love each other.

Pam died. But she’s not gone. The resurrection of Jesus means that beautiful Pamela is resting in His arms. And that one day we will be reunited.

My 12 year old daughter told her, “Think of all the babies in Heaven who are waiting for their parents. You can be THEIR mom now.”

I imagine this beautiful woman, rocking a baby, completely fulfilled with confident purpose in Heaven.

And I know that her life isn’t over but just beginning.

But I miss her so.

 

 

 

Teaching Grace Reading

A friend of mine loaned me a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It’s quite incredible. We’re on lesson 22, and Grace has learned how to sound out words and read small one and two sentence “stories.” The pace at which she learns is quite incredible. I was getting frustrated with our early attempts–she has been able to recognize all the letters in the alphabet for 2 years, but didn’t get the concept of “sounding it out.” This book changed that.

Every day, she asks if she can have “Princess Lessons.” She puts on a pretty princess dress and decides which Princess she would like to be. I’m her “teacher” and I “rescue” her from the evil stepmother or wicked queen. Reading unlocks the door to the dungeon!!!!  She loves it, and after her lesson she gets to choose a piece of candy or a sticker. It’s so cool to watch her learn.

I was reading the newspaper at 5 years old, and I’ve been a bit disappointed that she hasn’t caught on to reading as naturally as I’d expected. However, I have no idea what formal instruction I received through daycare and preschool. And I started kindergarten early, in private school.

 Anyways, this curriculum is amazing.