A warm rain pelts me as I try to open my umbrella to no avail, and I silently curse our local supermarket for selling me a defective product. I soon give up on my pathetic attempts to protect my hair, and instead surrender my locks to the whims of Jersey weather. Quickly I hustle to the door of Zachary’s school and am promptly buzzed in, then wait patiently as I’m given the mandatory nametag proclaiming I’m his mother.
I assure the friendly secretary I know where I’m going (at least this time), and I turn and walk at a brisk pace down a hallway filled with children’s artwork, proudly and prominently displayed. I reach the child study team office and knock lightly as the sign tells me to do, then sit on the vacant bench and attempt triage on my mane.
Within minutes I am ushered into the inner sanctum where my son’s principal, case manager, and teachers reside. I take a deep breath, seat myself and wait. Today is Zach’s thirty day review, otherwise known as the day we determine whether or not his mainstream placement is working out.
Not that that’s a big deal or anything.
I have to admit I walked into the meeting feeling fairly confident that for the most part all was well. Zach’s teachers have been great about communicating both the good and the bad, with academics being a strong point, and compliance and focusing in a larger group setting still requiring some work. Together we’ve weathered several mini-crises, including the morning my youngest decided to freak out about the banana I’d given him to eat for healthy snack day. We told him in no uncertain terms that both at school, and at home, a lack of gluten-free pretzels does not create a legitimate reason to yell at his teacher.
I’ve also shared with Zach how proud I am of the notes of praise he receives, how his father and I hope they’ll become a weekly staple. Frankly, we’ve also explained to him that attending the mainstream class for two-and-a-half hours in the morning is a privilege, not a right- that he has to behave in order to stay. I recall his eyes grew rather big on that one, but I felt the right thing to do was to let him know. He’s five years old now. It’s never too early to learn about the consequences of behavior.
I can personally think of a few adults who could use a refresher course on that lesson.
Quickly my panel of professionals settles in, and I whip out my notepad and pen, because after dozens of meetings I’ve learned that I retain very little these days if I don’t write things down. I am privy to reports from his special education teachers, his mainstream teacher, and his occupational therapist, and it is clear early on there’s a running theme. Zach is bright, social on his terms, and very interested in working hard as long as the task at hand is something that captures his interest.
Inwardly I smile, as this description depicts about 80% of the students I instructed when I was a teacher. No surprises here.
We discuss the fact that he’ll need differentiated instruction when it comes to reading, as he’s way past “what sound does ‘m’ make?”, is instead voraciously devouring easy-to-read chapter books. One of his teachers asks what his interests are (apparently Angry Birds and Phineas and Ferb are only discussed at home), and she kindly offers to use books including those characters as a reinforcer for both good work and good behavior. I grin again, as the thought of using a book as a reward for my child is just too good to be true.
He may not be thrilled with sand or chocolate, but he is definitely my kid.
Fairly quickly the meeting concludes, with the consensus being that Zach continue in his current program of attending the morning session of mainstream kindergarten, followed by an hour-and-a-half of instruction in a self-contained classroom with other children also bearing IEPs. Although I was anticipating this outcome, I’m still proud. It is both a pleasure and a relief to know we were right about the placement we picked for him in the spring.
There is a special education teacher with him and several other students in the morning, but he is thriving in the midst of mainstream without an aide, at almost an 8:1 child to adult ratio. This is a kid who’s transitioned from a 3:1 pre-school environment, has always had a “shadow” with him when he’s attended camp. Even the latter stricture has been removed from him this summer, as his camp counselor felt he no longer required it, that he “fit in”. All in all, with a great deal of social/emotional growth taking place this calendar year, my boy is thriving.
I thank all of the consummate professionals gathered around this table, a piece of furniture I know for certain is not always the receptacle for such good news. Zach is in wonderful hands, and he is rising to the occasion on a daily basis. He is striving to be included.
As I walk to my car I ponder all of these realities, and settle on the comment made this summer about him fitting in. I contemplate why I want this mainstream placement so much for him, and while the answer may seem obvious (don't most parents want that?), I know it’s not so simple for me. I want Zach to secure his place seamlessly in the mainstream of life because that’s what he wants. I witness his desire every time we’re at a park and he tries to initiate a game. I’ve watched him brave the trials of “typical” when he attempted to insert himself into a group of fellow campers already at play, sometimes to great success. I see his urge to “fit in” revealed every weekday afternoon he tells me I’m boring him.
Full day kindergarten should be a rule, law and a sacred covenant.
Zach wants this life, this imperfect one that his father and I walk, the one which his older brother will never follow. I think of Justin then. I consider my beautiful boy who has also soared with his skills, who reads and delights in words, who has mastered the use of his iPad to get his needs met, who has mostly conquered the need to cry and instead has immersed himself in “happy”. I am so proud. I am so equally proud of them both, so grateful that joy, hope and peace now reign mostly unimpeded in our home.
And as I relegate my lame umbrella to the back of my car I let that often elusive peace settle over me, smile, and head home.