Continued from Part 3…
The thought of leaving the LD Center and going it on our own never failed to send me into a panic attack. The fact that we had come to rely so heavily on these “strangers” for daily support never failed to make me laugh. If I could rent a time machine, I’d go back to me as we were first stepping onto the LD path, pat my past-self (the one with the horrified look on her face) on the back and tell her it’s going to be okay. Who would have ever thought I couldn’t live without these people? Certainly not me. Those people kind of had an inkling though. As with everything else there, they were intuitive and understanding and began preparing Drew and us for our departure six months before it actually happened. We met as a team to discuss the transition, how to best handle it for Drew, and things we should keep in mind as we “mainstream” him.
For example, I didn’t know how to handle our first meeting with his new public school teacher. I wanted her to know about Drew and his challenges but that’s not what I wanted her first impression of him to be. I wanted her to know we were on top of everything and very involved parents without making her feel like we were going to be invasive. More than anything I wanted her to know that I thought of all of us like a “team”. That was one of the best parts about the LD Center- the fact that everyone who had anything to do with Drew was part of a team with one goal in mind- success for him. I wanted his new teacher to know we were on her side and wanted to make her year a success just as much as we wanted it for Drew. Dr. S suggested I say just that. She assured me that my sincerity and love for Drew would shine through and put this woman at ease with us. If it were another woman, maybe Dr. S would have been right.
Our foray into Drew’s public education didn’t start out well. To begin with, our neighborhood had just been rezoned so the school Mary had been going to for three years was no longer our school. I had loved that school and hated that we wouldn’t be going there anymore. On the other hand, I thought the change might be a good thing since Drew was going to be joining his sister. This could be a new adventure we would all be starting together instead of Drew being the only new one. Also, there would be fewer expectations as “Mary’s brother” at a place where nobody knew either of them. That being said, I didn’t know anybody either and three years of volunteering at the old school, showing my face around, and making friends in the school office in preparation for the day Drew joined the ranks had just been flushed down the toilet. (Not that the experiences weren’t still valuable but the in-roads I had made with the administration had essentially just been deemed irrelevant.) I began to make my round of phone calls to the new school and the county to figure out the procedure for getting Drew’s IEP reinstated or if, instead, we could have him retested and a new IEP drawn up. Little did I know it would take five months and being bounced around like a pinball for that to happen. In that time, I made multiple phone calls and wrote letters to assure people that 1) Drew was indeed supposed to be going to first grade at the same school as his sister 2) he DID have an IEP but had been in private school for two years and he probably needed to be retested 3) had been registered at our base school two years prior before private school was decided upon and was in the system 4) DID have an IEP on file (even though it was outdated) 5) his last name had a “d” in it instead of a “t” 6) HE HAD AN OLD IEP ALREADY- I SWEAR!!! Even after all that, the county refused to return phone calls from me or the school, actually faxed the wrong child’s file, and finally declared his old IEP “expired” and suggested he be retested and a new IEP drawn up. Government agencies can really make you want to stick a pencil in your eye sometimes.
In the meantime, Drew finished up his days at LD. His phone calls home only occurred maybe once every other week which mostly consisted of him telling us things like “Hey Mama! I made blue gak!” and the sounds in the background were delighted squeals instead of demonic screams. We started practicing Arnie dropping him off at the door and Drew walking down the hall by himself. It was all coming together, just like they promised. And just like I thought, on his last day of school there Drew was, the strong one and I was emotionally fragile. I had bought each of the teachers a combination cork/dry erase board as a gift. To the cork board I had tacked a picture Drew had drawn, a letter I had tearfully written, and tons of gift cards I had hoped they would use to pamper themselves. On the dry erase side I had written “YOU ARE” in big letters and wrote all the adjectives I could think of to describe what wonderful human beings they were even though it fell woefully short of telling the whole story of them in our lives. I hoped it would say what I couldn’t because at the time I was choked up with all the feelings a grateful mother could fit inside and it felt like a huge ball in my throat. I tried to squeak out a “thank you” but nothing but tears, snot and a forced smile through a constrained sob came out. Yes, it was the ugliest of ugly cries. I didn’t think anybody who wasn’t a parent could get the magnitude of thankfulness I felt, but they did and pulled me in for the world’s longest hug. Going down the hall felt like a pep rally, everybody coming out to say their good-byes and Drew high-fiving every one. I lagged behind dabbing at my eyes, thinking with each step of how far we had come in two years, and how I didn’t want to leave this bubble. I came to the end of the line and standing there was the director of the Center. He was the first person we had met so it was a perfect bookend that he was the last one we saw. This older man who hadn’t so much as touched my hand in two years opened his arms wide and enveloped me in a tight embrace. After a minute he patted my back and said “You and Drew will be just fine.” “Thank you… for everything.” I quietly responded and apologized for getting snot on his tweed jacket. Drew and I left triumphantly and went to have ice cream.
It was the middle of July and it turned out that, with the 11 month schedule of the LD Center and our new school’s year round calendar, Drew only had two weeks before he started his public school career. We met his new teacher beforehand. Everything Dr. S had told me to do kind of flew out the window when I laid eyes on her. Arnie and I had an idea about what kind of teacher would be right for Drew. This woman was none of them. She was a classroom veteran, somewhat severe looking and definitely intimidating. Maybe that’s why when it came to be our turn to say hello during the open house I started talking and couldn’t stop. I verbally vomited on this woman who stood there shell-shocked trying to process everything I was throwing at her. I’m pretty sure the only things she heard were “unresolved IEP situation”, “social and emotional delays” and “challenging but lovable”. And then I asked if I could take a picture of her with Drew so he could look at it over the next couple of weeks and be better prepared. (Another one of Dr. S’s suggestions.) Ugh, the look on this poor woman’s face. She looked like she wanted to vomit for real. Still she could have completely ignored me and been warm to Drew but she wasn’t. On the drive home the kids were gushing about their new school. I was glad to hear their excitement but couldn’t hide my anxiety. Arnie glanced at me and patted my knee, “It’ll be okay” he said without ever having to ask why I was upset.
I hoped he was right. I tried to keep in mind what Dr. S had told me, to remember how unsure I felt when we started at LD and that (to quote my mother) “this too shall pass”. I never let Drew see any of my apprehension. In front of him I was enthusiastic, positive and always spoke highly of his new teacher. He had to know that he could trust her as much as his old teachers. I was praying she was trustworthy. The first day of school came. I followed Drew down the hall since he wanted to walk by himself. He looked so adorable with his camouflage backpack and fresh haircut. I walked with him into his classroom, found his cubby, and got him settled at his desk. I took a deep breath, went home and waited for the phone to ring. It never did. Drew came home excitedly telling me about all the new friends he had made. I was the tiniest bit relieved. The next day I walked him to class again. I was the only parent to do so. While talking to the teacher briefly about how Drew had done the day before, more students came in and were meandering around the classroom. Let me remind you this is first grade… and only the second day. All of a sudden the teacher very loudly began yelling at the kids, “Uh, uh, uh, uh UH!!!” she shouted as she shook her head, marched over to the light switch and (somewhat violently) flipped the lights off. The children froze. “We do not come into our classroom like THIS. We are quiet and calm and move to our seats in an orderly manner! YOU! (she pointed to a student who looked terrified) You get to where you need to be.” I was floored. I looked at the sweet faces staring blankly at their new teacher. Over half of them looked like they were going to cry. Hell, I was about to cry. She turned the lights back on, walked back to me and said, “So… anyway, Drew had kind of a rough time containing himself yesterday but he’ll get there.” I tried to smile at her but my ears were burning. I couldn’t believe this is the teacher we ended up with and that THIS was her method for teaching 6-7 year-olds. I went over and hugged Drew tight, waved at the other kids and told them they were doing an awesome job. I left the school, went home and began plotting how I could get my child out of that classroom.