Mama Bear

About four years ago we dove head first into a world I knew nothing about.  This world was filled with words and acronyms and terminology that was completely foreign to me. My calendar suddenly began filling up with Parent-Teacher meetings, planning meetings, therapy services and appointments, parent training/coaching sessions, child-behavioral classes and so much more.  For a huge part of that time I seriously felt like I was spiraling out of control and making mistakes that were going to not only affect me but my precious son as well.  I took each piece of advice and outside opinion to heart and internalized them all.  I fought fight hard for my son and never really thought of myself as a ‘mama bear’ until now.  Now, I get it.

Well yesterday I had (yet another) IEP meeting.  This wasn’t just any meeting it was the BIG meeting with the whole gang.  I walked into the room, my hands full of a laptop, musical turtle books, snacks, sippy cup and talkative toddler in tow.  I was so busy concentrating on not dropping anything and making sure Petyne was following me into the room instead of running off to find her sister and brother that I didn’t look up to see that I wasn’t just walking into a casual ‘chat’ with his friendly youthful teacher… this was a freaking board meeting!  There were five finely dressed women seated around a long rectangular table.  Each of them had a lap top open with stacks of papers spread out on their table.  A few of them had their heads down and looked like they were already taking notes. What could they possibly already have to write about?! That Mom came unorganized and unprepared?? Oh God, I’ve messed up already!

Let me back up a little first, I have been to MANY IEP meetings over the last four years.  IEP in case you have no clue what I am talking about stands for Individualized Education Program.  The overall purpose of an IEP is to help a struggling child get resources they need from the public school system.  Any struggling child.  There are many many ways of qualifying for an IEP, for Kaelob it was a long process of getting thrown out of various preschools at the age of 4 because of physical ‘tantrums’. If you know Kaelob you also know that he struggled verbally since he was very young and has always been physical.  His ‘tantrums’ then AND behaviors now all relate to how he is feeling or reacting to something but unable to communicate it verbally. When I realized he would be incredibly unprepared for Kindergarten if we could not find a way to work with him and find a school that wouldn’t send him away we were referred to Rady’s Children’s Hospital and a long process of testing and procedures to essentially determine what was wrong with him.

That was a long day (literally over 8hours) sitting around the testing center hoping and praying that he would do well, but not too well.  Praying that the doctors and specialists wouldn’t point angry fingers at me for causing the problems he was having.  It was an emotional day… it was an emotional few months.  I cried the day we went in and I had to pin him between my legs and arms as the doctors and nurses drew blood from his arm for a test to determine if there was anything wrong in his brain… I knew what we were doing was important and hoped it would lead us down a path full of answers, support and success.

Anyway, the result of all the tests and procedures was a check mark next to the box titled other health impaired”.  This check mark was so bittersweet because it meant he really did qualify and fit the requirements of someone with some form of disability but also a relief because I felt like now he would get the support he so desperately needed, now I could take this piece of paper to the school district and get an IEP for him.  I could protect him. Little did I know, it was just the beginning of a life-long battle advocating for my child and his right to success.

I have been into many IEP meetings over the last few years, but none have felt as uncomfortable as this one did yesterday.  Sure the very first one was nerve wracking and FULL of hundreds of papers and LOTS of ‘professionals’ who had observed or tested my son presenting all the results to me.  That meeting was very informative and I began to understand with their help where my son was coming from and some of the things he was struggling with.  I felt like they were working with me to protect him and help him. So back to yesterday…

 

I walked in and unloaded all of the junk I brought to entertain Petyne (even though she insisted on sitting in my lap the entire time) The ladies all greeted me warmly, except the one to my left.  She was an older woman, kind of reminded me of that teacher you had in elementary who always looked angry and may have actually been a really nice lady but you never saw that side of her.  She scared me. She hadn’t even said a word and I already felt myself avoiding eye contact with her.  I looked down at my lap and saw the dog hair and dirt on my jeans.  I brushed it off as the lady across from me re-introduced me to the women in the room, almost all of them I have met at previous meetings; the school psychologist, the occupational therapist, the special ed program director and Kaelob’s SEAS Program teacher.  The one I didn’t know yet was introduced to me as the General Ed 3rd Grade teacher who was there as a ‘consult’ for any 3rd grade level/academic concerns.  As she was introduced and I listened to her discuss some of her qualifications and thoughts on the matter I began to think, okay she’s not that bad. But then when the Program Director mentioned she was also here to discuss the potential of Kaelob being mainstreamed into her class for part of the day I heard her harshly interrupt, “Wait, what?… Oh, we will have to discuss that further.” 

She was looking down at the stack of papers in front of her that displayed years of goals and behaviors and test scores… I heard the disgust in her voice.  I saw the panic and uncertainty in her eyes.  She didnt even know Kaelob, she had never met him and here she was judging him.  Right there in that moment I wanted her out of the room.

I realize that getting her perspective on grade level behaviors and academics is very important but IF my son is going to be placed in a large class with a General Ed teacher there has to be respect and acceptance there.  She was instantly rejecting my son purely based on a stack of papers.  Kaelob has worked incredibly hard to get where he is today.  He has even improved his test scores and behavioral goals since last years IEP meeting.

The Mama Bear in me turned away from her and tried hard to listen to what each one of the other ladies were respectfully saying about my smart, hard working little boy.  I tried to pretend like she wasnt in the room but almost every five minutes there it was again, her voice asking a question about him… backtracking just to fill her in and I could tell that the agenda behind her ‘simple’ questions were purely for her own reassurance.  For example she asked about when he gets angry or frustrated whether or not he would let an adult help him come out of it and how distracting would it be for the rest of the class… they were loaded questions stuffed full of her own personal issues with him and very clearly struggling with the thought of him in her class.

I get that she was not prepared for the meeting, and that was unfair of Kaelob’s teacher to do so…but she is an adult, she is a teacher who is trusted with my child’s education and growth… she should be able to respond in situations like this appropriately and the further we got into the meeting the more and more disgusted I got.  I just wanted to run out of there, grab my son and hug him.  She talked like he was a burden and problem… not a beautiful hard working human being who struggles every day to achieve success.

About a hundred more papers we read through, a few slides on the projector, overview of his old goals; whether he met them or not, creation of new goals and the services they are going to provide during the next year for him and then we were done. Due to our lack of time (thanks to angry lady asking too many questions)  we didn’t even go over everything in detail, I had homework to bring home and read over then sign for it today or discuss if I had any additional questions… To be honest, I love the idea of Kaelob experiencing a regular size classroom with the general population of his peers, but with a teacher like this?

Mama Bear says no way.

It’s going to take a lot of convincing for me to agree to him going into her class after what I saw yesterday.  It is so detrimental to his success that he goes into an environment like that feeling supported and encouraged.  He needs you to earn his respect and show him that you are there to be on his side, if he doubts your ability to do that you will lose every time with him.  AND he will give up and my hopes of him blossoming and strengthening his coping skills into a boy who can walk into a large class with any  teacher and believe in himself will be shattered.  We will keep working, we will keep meeting and we will find  a way.

For now? I hug my son, tell him I am proud of him and I love him and we drive home from school singing to the radio talking happily about our day. He will never know.

 

 

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