Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lottery Winnings and Losings

In previous posts, I mentioned a situation we have been dealing with regarding school placement, and this weekend that drama unfolded in a way that leaves us facing another decision.

Maybe you have some wisdom that might help? We welcome all thoughtful and supportive insights.

Here is the basic breakdown as I see it of a very complicated situation.

  • In March, we put the Rooster's name on the Open Enrollment list at a school I'll call The W that we heard is more "autism friendly" than the school he attended in kindergarten and first grade. This other school, we hear, has a more actively involved special needs parent body, more active parents overall, a beloved resource teacher, and a very strong principal. We assumed we would not get in, the way you assume you probably aren't going to win the Powerball, but it's surely worth a buck to try.
  • In May, we had our IEP. The Roo's current school generously agreed to increase all kinds of services for our boy, mostly because he struggles so much with math and he has extremely slow processing skills. Oh, yeah, and monumental ADD. But every person at that table, without exception, acknowledged what a great boy he is, and that he is bright and charming and learning a lot, with help...
  • In June, the W called and said we had won the lottery, (and no that is not a metaphor I'm extending, it's an actual lottery where they supposedly draw names at random to be FAIR) and that our boy would be able to attend their school. Thrilled, my husband and I rushed over to sign the papers a week later as instructed. When we got there, it seems they had discovered my son's IEP. (We had not hidden anything, we completed our application fully and honestly.) The woman who greeted us at the reception desk explained that my son could not go to that school after all. She said, "We are a small school, and we already have a lot of kids with autism."
  • This next bullet point represents my husband morphing kind of like Bruce Banner into Lou Ferrigno on some level, and while he remained respectful at all times on the outside, he popped some serious muscles of indignation and outrage on the inside. Let's just say lawyers, civil rights experts, district officials, and experts in education immediately heard from my husband, all in his admirably polite but clear and definitive terms. Let's just say that my husband is a professional writer, and he used the tools of his trade to make his perspective absolutely clear. "This is not just the back of the bus," he explained, "this is being dragged from behind the bus, and it is NOT right, and it will not stand."
  • So this weekend we got a call and an official email from the district saying that the principal has been instructed to enroll our son on August 25, and we should go to the school to meet with her again on that date.
My husband needed to fight this because he knew he could not let injustice score another point against a child, our child, and he feels deeply gratified that he prevailed. That does not mean, however, that we are at all certain we now want to send our boy to the school that does not want him, where we have clearly made some enemies. It's very complicated, of course... but we have a month to figure out what to do next.

Keep him at his old school, where parents have made us feel heartbroken, the kindergarten teacher probably deserved to be fired, and all three of the first grade teachers he had seemed good but only lasted a matter of months? But on the other hand, at his old school, he had some really good service providers, a wonderful IEP, and people who find him adorable. They have told us that we are wanted there, and that's not for nothing, though it is a school with lots of room for improvement, and possibly at risk.

Or move him to the new W school, where the principal has us flagged as troublemakers, we don't know anyone else, and the amazing special ed resource teacher everyone has gushed about for the last 4 years is leaving anyway? But it's a nicer campus with more stability and resources, and better programs.

I didn't even mention the wild card that our daughter, Peaches, is starting kindergarten in a charter school next year. That means a year from now, she should be able to pull in her brother, as a sibling, and we'll have to consider what THOSE changes might mean, besides even more transitions for a boy who doesn't navigate them with particular grace and agility.

So, if you have a positive, encouraging comment to leave, we welcome it. (Of course, trolls and critics need not apply; comments will be moderated thankyouverymuch.)

For now, we breathe a little easier, at least, knowing that we have a choice at all.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Facing Myself

I haven't posted regularly in what feels like forever, because I've been going back to school while working full time and raising two kids and helping my son navigate autism and finding a new job and ... well, acquiring significant material for this blog just by living my life. Now, I need to share. But I might ramble. And you might not want to follow, but I've got to get it all out, just for my own good. It might not seem like it, but I'm writing about autism, and the thread it stitches in indelible patterns throughout all the backdrops in my life.

So I'm in my first week at my new job, a chaotic event week at my new workplace that takes place once each year and coincided with my arrival, and so far I've attended a seminar about context in documentaries (there are inherent choices behind each cut, frame, shot, and edit), a live testimony from a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and a presentation by an expert in the Holocaust. Now I am in line to get a plate of food, which I will eat during a working lunch on a topic I have not yet mastered. It would not surprise me if I looked a little pale, and if I had smudges under my eyes. The lady behind me said something like, "What moving, amazing... what stories... it's so hard, but so important..." She looked pale and had smudges too as we exchanged a few more convoluted thoughts, and I don't recall the transition, but I came around to full alertness when she said, "My friend told me after my family recently experienced our own tragedy that I was experiencing my own holocaust... You see, we lost my three and a half year old grandson..."

At some point she said she had no idea why she was sharing this with me, because it was not typical for her to do that, especially in a buffet line. At some point after that, she said, "He had autism. He wandered off... "

Every life is a story, every story is all about context. You cannot document a life without making choices of which context to include and which to leave out, because life is too big and messy and layered.

Our lives can seem so random, so disconnected, so different, but that's just costuming, just the cover art.

You see? I have not been writing much here at Rooster Calls, but I've been thinking about you, this, IT, quite a bit.

And now this is going to seem like a tangential explosion, but if you have come this far, hang on for a moment. I have not changed workplaces in 16 years, when I was a BABY, and I feel a little scared as I tackle my new responsibilities. My son got accepted into a new public school through a lottery system and we celebrated because it has such a good reputation for special education, and then that school said, "Oops, we missed the fact that he has autism, and we already have enough of 'those kids' so we are rescinding his acceptance" As my husband pursued legal recourse, I felt torn between wanting to fight and wanting to run from any school that wouldn't want my beautiful boy. Someone I love just had her heart badly broken. I turned 40 and worried about aging.

So all this to say I think it's a really good (scary, overwhelming) thing I made a career change that will help me remember things like CONTEXT, that will help me with the perspective I've been begging for on this blogging journey.

From my own bias as storyteller, through my own lens, via my own filters, this is what I heard this past week, in various experiences, and what I carry with me:
Life is hard. There is no justice. Life has no undo button. Memory is powerful. We live for our children - they are our hope. It does no good to compare suffering. Giving testimony can help a survivor go on. Some atrocities are very hard to fathom, and we must stand in the way of anything like it. Music can transport you. Our memories, stories, context change over time. Silence does not help. To choose not to choose is a choice. Choices have consequences. Never be a bystander. Time will pass. Hate hurts everyone. In the end, we have to live with ourselves alone. Stories teach. Writing matters. Live another day. Assume nothing. Show respect. I am a humanist.

I have no idea if I'm doing what I am supposed to be doing, and I mean that on global and granular levels, and I mean it about my career, my family, my blog, what I wore today. I do know I'm listening and learning, and my instincts tell me I am doing what I need to do. I don't claim to know if there is a reason that I met that grandmother in line for food, but I do believe that our stories mattered to one another, that we had something to offer one another. If you got to this point in this post, I hope that what I wrote today mattered somehow to you, had something to offer, something you can take away with you. My story is a patchwork, shot through with countless colors and threads, autism among them; just telling it helps me find the beauty in this messy life.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

To Infinity and Beyond

Today a stranger heard me mention that I have two children and he asked their ages.

"My son is seven and my daughter is five," I said.

"Oh, so you are practically done with your son! My friends told me that once your kid turns seven, you have taught them all they need to know, and then rest is up to them. Take 'em to school and let them do their thing, but by seven they are ready for the world."

I doubt that works for anyone -- in fact I know it doesn't, because well into her eighties my grandma was still teaching and worrying about my mom -- but clearly my beautiful rooster needs more than being dropped off at school to be ready to tackle the world alone. I write largely about the good things lately, because my boy has a lot to celebrate, and because I am feeling stronger these days, but we have plenty of work cut out for us.

Among many other things, we still need to teach my seven-year-old boy to ride a bike, swim, add, and BE A FRIEND. He needs help with zippers, snaps, utensils, and IMPULSE CONTROL. He has yet to master board games, hopscotch, sports, or CROSSING THE STREET. My husband just remarked to me, "I still yearn for when I can have a conversation with our boy about a non-preferred topic. I know we will get there, but it's taking a lot longer than I had hoped..."

All this flashed in my head in the moment after this stranger told me I was "all done" parenting my oldest child. I thought about just letting it pass but you know I don't roll that way.

"My seven-year-old has autism," I said. "He is a great kid, I'm so proud of him, but I'm pretty sure we are not all done yet."

There are no right answers, but I liked the way this guy handled what could have been a real conversation stopper.

"So you'll give him all he needs to be the most that he can be," he said, not breaking eye contact, not reneging on his persistent smile.

I decided to match him smile for smile, and I said, "Really, that's the best we can hope for anyone."

"Yes," he said, "it certainly is."