The children officially started back to public school this week, allegedly, some of them.
Anber has been very brave, going to Kindergarten all by herself. Barrett spent the entire weekend screaming and throwing toddler tantrums, and so we knew he was not ready for school yet. It is really sad that he struggles with these issues, because he loves learning and is very advanced in math especially. He can add and subtract in his head, and is so good at it! But he still struggles with emotional regulation, even though he has come so far and we have tried for so long. His tantrums are not as bad or as often, but they are really bad – as in “I’m-going-to-kill-you!” and describing how he will do it, that bad, quoting things from his childhood from before he was even verbal – so at the very exact last minute, he stayed home instead of starting kindergarten. He has come so far, and is doing so much better, but we don’t feel like he is safe for school yet and don’t want to set him up to fail. Maybe in Spring, maybe next year. We will see.
Not only did Anber – our queen of anxiety and shyness and selective mutism – go into the school, and stay in her class, but she did it without her very best friend Barrett. We were so proud of her! And she is loving it!
Kirk is loving his class, too, which is such a relief to us. He even has new friends and knows their names and tell us all about them! I am so glad for him, and it is good modeling for Barrett, who so badly wants to have friends but is going to have to stop screaming to do so. He will also have to stop cutting his own bangs at some point, if he wants to make a good impression!
In the middle of all our IEP drama, though, we struggled with an incident with Kirk. We took him, as usual, to the therapy center we love where all of our children receive services for speech, occupational, and physical therapies (plus feeding therapy for Kyrie and sensory and social skills therapy for Alex). Except the speech teacher had changed, and when she came out to get Kirk from the waiting room, this conversation happened:
“What happened to your hand?”
Kirk, unfazed, explained he has CP.
She followed up with, “You’re not left handed, are you?
What kind of question is that, from someone who works at a therapy center?
Of course he’s not left handed, if that is his weak side from Cerebral palsy. That hand can barely even move. If you touch his left hand, it feels like there are no bones in there. Why would he be left handed? We were shocked.
Not wanting to be ugly, but needing to advocate for Kirk, we did go ahead and report that to the owner. While Kirk was not offended and didn’t miss a beat, some other family could have. It was an easy opportunity for education with someone who will be working with a lot of other children like Kirk.
It’s been a weird week, Owasso.
When we knew we were cleared to go back to public school, we were a little worried about Alex and how he would adjust. But he is doing very well thus far… at least according to him! Allegedly, he is staying in his classroom, and staying in his seat, and staying “very quiet so all the other students can learn.” We will see, buddy, how true that is! He is such a character, and I am glad he is having fun at school.
Sweet Mary did not get to go to school. She wants to mainstream with an ASL interpreter at the same school as her siblings this year, and her counselor agrees this is best and fits her “unique needs” and is part of what least restrictive environment means to Mary. It’s not just about her ears, but her psychological needs as well, with attachment issues and trauma issues and all we are going through as a family. Between not even coming to us until age six, and then all the hospitalizations since Kyrie was born, and watching her baby sister nearly die, bounce back, nearly die, bounce back, and then be placed on palliative care… Mary doesn’t need or want to be away from us, and is very anxious about it, and wants to be close. These children have been through so much, and right now don’t need to be “sent away” – whether that is physically, or perceived and experienced emotionally.
So Mary stayed home with us – me and Nathan, Barrett unexpectedly, and Kyrie – who was delighted she had not been abandoned after all. We would much rather Mary be able to go to school if that’s what she wants to do, but the school system where we live said absolutely not. They said she has to be bused all the way to Tulsa to her old school where we used to live down the street, because they have a sign language program in a special education classroom for her.
Mary said that’s segregation.
Now – don’t get me wrong. We love those teachers. And we love that program. We would have stayed there, in fact, if we had not been told the children weren’t safe in that school, and if the boys had been in class instead of Alex wandering the halls and Kirk “helping” in first grade all year after his class was deleted due to not enough students and not actually being in a second grade class with his own peers. That was our terrible experience. It wasn’t about the deaf program, other than Mary not feeling challenged enough. But she was there to meet other Deaf students, and to continue signing, and that was good for her.
But when Kyrie was released by the hospital for palliative care, and the boys needed to be in real classrooms, too, and I finished my residency, it was time to move home.
And so here we are, in what we know to be a very good school district. We believe in the schools here, truly. We know so many of the teachers, and so many in the community, and we were relieved to land back in our yellow house after these hard years.
But Mary? Here has been her education experience thus far: no sound in Kindergarten. I made her repeat Kindergarten because she had no language before we got her, and couldn’t do anything. That’s what was best for her then, but it had nothing to do with her actual cognitive capacity.
We got her hearing aids, and requested an interpreter when we put her through Kindergarten again. We were (allegedly) denied because she did not know sign language, so we had to begin documenting that she was learning sign language. The very first thing we did the very night she was adopted was send all the paperwork in to the state Deaf school to get her admitted there.
She loved the Deaf school. We love the Deaf school. That’s where our culture and language community are. It’s a big deal for the Deaf community, and I was so proud of her going there!
She was excited to go, loved going, and enjoyed every minute.
But in what other context would you adopt a child and then immediately send them off to boarding school?
There were attachment wounds there, even though she had fun, and even though we knew that was the only way for her to be immersed in a sign language environment.
Besides attachment concerns, they wouldn’t let her read her scriptures in the morning, or do her journaling at night. These are big pieces of our faith tradition practice, and it was frustrating that we couldn’t be there to help her develop those habits if they weren’t even going to let her. Then, people on the bus were trying to convert her to their church because we weren’t “real Christians”, they told her. That was not okay for a number of reasons, but primarily because it was a state school bus – and very confusing for Mary.
But the biggest reason she couldn’t just stay there was the same thing I was just talking about: attachment. Mary came to us just after her sixth birthday, and lived with us for almost two years before we ever got to confirm she was being adopted. She is a sweet girl and full of life, but we still had to work on attachment building after adopting her from foster care – and we couldn’t do that while she was a residential student gone for most of the week. It was such a hard decision to pull her out of the Deaf school! But we couldn’t move there because there is no specialty hospital close enough for Kyrie, so for the context in which we live, there was no other choice really for the time.
That’s why we were so excited about trying the program at Wright for second grade.
And it was so good for her! The teachers are amazing, and the friends she made will be forever friends. We love seeing them at camp and silent dinner and other events! It’s really special!
But it wasn’t good for us as a family, and we finished our reasons for living in Tulsa, and moved back to Owasso.
And it’s really, really important to her to be close to us and to attend school with her siblings. That emotional safety of being together, even when in separate classes, works together with those small moments like seeing each other in the hallway or across the lunch room or playing together on the playground… these are huge attachment pieces for her, and she needs them.
There are other layers, too, private to Mary that she can share on her own later if she wants to, so it’s hard to explain it fully when we can’t disclose all the pieces. But it comes down to her needing to be in her local school, and in a mainstreamed class, and this being the least restrictive environment for her.
She will have less of a choice later, if she does not do well and cannot really succeed with just an interpreter.
As she grows and continues to heal, I think some of her needs and choices will change as she focuses more on her own identity – including connecting with her Deaf peers at a new level.
But we can’t get there if she has no attachment.
Attachment is everything.
Even so much that when you spend the entire first week of school in fancy meetings with state level people and attorneys and trying to decipher emails, you still stop everything to Facetime the moment those children get out of school and find out how their days went. They loved it! The boys had a hundred stories to tell me, and naturally, Alex could quote every conversation he had all day. Anber was too busy ready all her papers to talk very long, and they all were excited to show me everything when I finally got home from work.
We were waiting on meetings, and listening to our advocates and attorneys, when we got more emails from special services saying that if we did not get the paperwork turned in for Mary to be bused to Tulsa, that they would come to our house to get it. That was scary! Mary got scared, and I don’t know what confusion there, but it seemed like we had to withdraw her all together just to keep them from sending her on the bus to a program we had declined. The advocates and attorneys were not happy about that, but their next plan of action is really big. We just want Mary to be able to go to her local school, in a regular classroom, and thrive with her siblings.
In the meantime, while we wait to see all that, Mary is continuing homeschool because special services told us that was the only option. We know it is not the only option, but it is sweet to have her home while we figure it out. She is on fourth grade work in her homeschool curriculum, and we have added Spanish for her this fall while we wait for her to be able to go to school, as well as cooking and sewing classes. She is progressing well, but really wants to be at school with the others. We are trying to keep her strong emotionally while she waits, and enjoyed using a gift card yesterday to take the little ones out for lunch after the other three came home from school yesterday bragging about snack time. We had fun with these sillies!
Then last night was our bake sale hosted by friends at a church down the street, and so many people brought us baked good to sell! We were so grateful! People came to support us, and the leftovers are being sold to our friends at the hospital today. So much support has really made possible what we do, and we see that even as we prepare to open the group homes. Thank you!
Anber was especially excited about the bake sale, as she has developed her own brand (“Cranky Berry”) of organic Popsicles. She has now sold enough to have made a profit above her costs, and was so proud of herself last night! She put some money in tithing envelope already, and some in savings, and some left for re-investing into more Popsicles, and some in her jar for spending later. She did great!
We have a lot going on as we prepare for the hospital in Cincinnati, and I don’t know what’s happening with Mary. I know what the advocates and attorneys say is next, but we would rather just be able to work things out easily and quickly with the school. We wouldn’t be trying if we didn’t believe in the schools here, and have hope that it is the very best for our children and all their special needs.