The Battle

Last Friday I lost my work keys at work. The very keys that allow me to enter the building, the classroom, the cabinets. This is the golden key and I lost it while chasing good ole Henry. I had no doubt in my mind that the key was either in the gym or on the football size playground. I noticed the key was missing while I was trying to get Henry back into the classroom. Immediately I reported the key missing and as soon as Henry was safe and secure, I checked both the gym and playground. I could not find the key.

I came home and sent an “all staff” email explaining that I lost the key, and where I thought it may be. In return, I had many responses from staff members telling me they would keep an eye out for my key. Eventually, security had to be notified and it was just turning into a big mess. However, I knew without a shadow of a doubt I knew the key was somewhere on school property. I just knew it.

Six days later there was still no key. I was not giving up though. Once again we had gym. Even though the teacher assured me she checked the gym…..six days ago, I was not going to rest until I checked the mats on my own. So, while the class was enjoying their gym time, I turned the flashlight on my phone on and went to work. I picked up every single mat, used my flashlight to look under all mats. There was still no key.

Still, I was not giving up. It did not matter to me that I had lost the key six days ago. I knew it could be anywhere. However, I felt it in my soul that the key was on the school grounds.

At the end of the day, we took the kids out to to the “Big Playground” for some quiet recess time. As always, I was with Henry. We hung out and did our own thing, which consisted mostly of me following him around. As I said earlier, this is a giant playground.  Not even kidding, the size of a football field. Henry made his way to the grass, and I was right behind him. Just like always.

I found the key. I was following Henry and right there on the shiny green grass was the key. I was in shock. I picked up the key, showed Henry and said: “This was an act of God.” Henry was not impressed.

The key was on the field for six days. Children had recess all day long on that field, and yet I found the key six days later. I knew it was an act of God. I just knew it in my soul.

My fellow co-workers were amazed that I found the key. Some even said it was a miracle, and really, they are correct.

……

This coming week, I have a battle ahead of me. Unfortunately, I can not be too specific. Not yet anyway. Here is what I can say. Whatever outcome happens, I will be okay. I will be affected, but at the end of the day, I will be okay. And, I do not mean that in some sort of motivational way. I mean literally, I will be okay. I have options. My ideal outcome will happen, or the less ideal outcome will happen, but I will be okay.

This battle I feel is not my story. I do not know how to adequately explain it in a way that will not get me in trouble. I feel that this is someone else’s story and I am just a secondary character that is needed to move the story along. Although I will say, no matter how small my part is in this story, it is an important one.

I feel this just as strongly as I felt that my key was still at the school. I feel it in my soul. I know I have this battle ahead of me. And, I am willing to fight it because what’s right is right what’s wrong is wrong, but at the end of the day, someone else, actually, quite a few people will be affected by the outcome, whichever outcome it may be.

So, I have about four days to prepare for this battle. The more I prepare, the more frustrated, nervous, empowered I feel. Because it does not matter that no matter the outcome I will be okay, some of the other “characters” may not be, and for me, that is worth the fight.

So, I ask you to oblige me with this open letter. This “Open Letter” is part of my armor I need to prepare for battle.

To Whom it may concern:

I know your decision has most likely been made. I realize that this meeting that consists of five people who have never said more than three words to me is more to appease me than anyone else. But, for the next few minutes, I ask that you put politics aside and dig deep into your heart.

I have always been told to keep emotion and personal stories out of these types of meetings. Just like I have done most of my life, I am going to go against the grain and bring personal experiences and emotions into this because for once, I feel it may benefit the situation.

As respectful as I can be I have to say you are making a big mistake, and this mistake will only hurt those who you claim to have the best interest of. I ask of you, I challenge you to spend one day in my shoes. Before you make your final decision I want you to see firsthand those who will suffer. This is not a black and white situation. There are plenty of grey areas, and I am that grey area. I need you to familiarize yourself with the world of autism. I need you to understand, I need you to feel it in your soul how big of a set back your potential decision can have on a group, especially one in particular. 

I realize that politics are involved. I ask you to go against the grain. I ask you to take a chance, I ask you to take off your badge and look at the situation for what it is. I know that we as a team are better than this. Hear my voice, let me show you, there is a better way.

I say this not for sympathy but as fact. I am the mother of an autistic child. I have fought these battles for the last 13 years and I will continue to fight. Isn’t that what you want? Someone familiar with the war on your front line?

With my armor on and thirteen years of experience under my belt, I ask you to reconsider. I have fought for my own daughter, and now, now it is my chance to fight for the others. I ask that you allow me to bring home win.

Respectfully Yours,
Jennifer

 

 

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“The valley of the shadow of death”

Henry and I had a good morning. I welcomed him at the classroom door just as I do every morning. He grabbed his snack and met me in our private cubicle. As soon as he gobbled down his fruit snacks we got right to work. Henry killed it. He was on point today, worked consistently with me and then the teacher. He was focused and relaxed. After his classwork, Henry did what we have been trying to get him to do from day one. He calmly got up, grabbed the velcro tag that says “Playground” and brought it to me, signaling that the playground is where he wanted to go. “Okay Henry, ask and you shall receive!” Henry earned it, so off we went to enjoy our early morning walk on the big playground.

Somehow, maybe my guard was down, maybe I was too confident, Henry got away from me. He made a mad dash down the long hallway, with me picking up a quick pace behind him. The faster Henry ran, the faster I did.

Damnit! He cut through the library. The moment I entered the library, already out of breath from running down the hallway, a class of about twenty students and two teachers looked at me. “He went outside!”

I picked up my pace, even faster. I ran, making my way through students, trying to make sure I did not let Henry get too good of a lead on me. I barrel through the library double doors that lead outside, to the back of the school. The library assistant has him insight. Henry is climbing the twenty plus set of stairs that lead from the lower building to the upper parking lot. As soon as she sees me she backs off. While running past her, still trying to get to Henry, who is so incredibly fast, I yell “Call backup!”

I am now up the stairs to the upper parking lot, and Henry is still running. Fuck. The street, he is running towards the street.

The faster I run, the faster he runs. Every now and then he will look back at me. I do everything I can. I am running while calling him. I am digging through my pockets for all of his “motivators.”

“Henry, look! I have gummy worms. I have putty! Henry, stop!”

He picked up his pace. I was losing. I was losing bad and Henry’s safety was in my hands. I thought about all the new stories I have been reading. Too many. “Missing Autistic Boy.”

This cannot be happening on my watch. Again, I picked up my pace, but I was feeling it. I grabbed my cell phone while running. Clumsily dialing the teacher. It went to voicemail. Of course, it did. He was teaching.

I sent a text to the group chat me, my fellow paras and teacher belong to.

“HENRY IS IN STREET I NEED HELP!”

Within seconds the teacher calls.

“Where are you?”

I am running and feeling it. My legs are about to give out. Between breaths, I utter something about 61st Street at the bottom of the hill.

“On my way!”

Henry is still running. And let me just say if you think that there is something wrong with me that I cannot catch up to a third grader then I will politely tell you to “fuck off.” Run a mile in my shoes and then let’s see how quick you can catch up to a non-verbal who has incredible sensory skills.

There is no way I can catch him. I know this. The only thing I can do is keep him in my sight until the teacher comes, preferably with his car.

I am losing him.

Henry rounds a corner. It took everything in me to run even faster. I am at my limit. I cannot do this. Please. I need help. God, please let him be okay. Out of nowhere, I see a lady walking her dog on one side of the street. On the other side is a man, walking. Henry is running right towards them. It’s now or never. I reach deep inside me, pick up my pace while yelling to the strangers “BLOCK HIM!”

Immediately, the two strangers on two different sides of the street circle in on Henry. Henry, being Henry, turns around and runs towards me. Somehow, I was able to grab him. I did a “Right Response” hold on him that I just spent two Saturdays training for.

In a bear hug type of move, I moved him to the curb and sat him down, while placing my own knees on his thighs.

I did not even get a chance to thank the strangers. I looked for them, but they were gone.

I bent down to eye level with Henry who just got a kick out of me being out of breath.

I could not say anything.

It took me about three minutes to regroup. I picked him up using another “Right Response” technique that I was taught. Ever so slowly we made our way back up the hill, to the stoplight at the corner of the school.

There in the opposite direction, we see the teacher. The teacher is running towards us. Henry and I stand there and wait. As soon as the teacher is close enough where Henry knows he messed up, the teacher calls Henry.

The teacher takes Henry. “Jennifer, go to break. Take as much time as you need. You did everything right, this happens, go to break.”

I cry. An uncontrollable cry.

The teacher is walking Henry back to safety.

“Jennifer, you did nothing wrong.”

I cannot stop crying. I go to my car and realize I do not even have my car keys on me.

My mind is full of everything that could have gone wrong. My chest hurts. My legs hurt. I punch my car. I punch it out of frustration, out of fear, out of hurt.

Tears streaming down my face I debate on calling Christin. I can’t. I can’t even talk. I sit down on the curb in front of my car with a hurt hand and hurt spirit and continue to cry.

I am not sure how long I was out there. It was time to compose myself. I take my scarf and wipe away the tears while heading back into the school.

As soon as I close the restroom door behind me, my office manager comes in.

“Are you okay?”

I cry…again.

“No, I am not okay. I had a runner, and…”

She looks at me. “Can I give you a hug.”

I cry more.

“I know. Your teacher ran by here. This is not the first time, this will not be the last. You did everything right and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”

I splashed cold water on my face and made my way back to the classroom.

With Henry settled in, the teacher pulls me aside.

“You did everything right. This, this is the world of autism. We are always learning, always figuring out new ways. Just know, even though it may not feel like it now, you did everything right.”

No. It does not feel like I did everything right.

But, one day it will.

~Jennifer

Henry.

As many of you know, in September I began a new job. I am a Functional Core Para for a Special Ed class. There are eleven wonderful, bright, feisty, children in “my” class. Nine of them are non-verbal.

One little boy, “Henry”, is quite challenging. He is a runner, which means he will take every opportunity he can to run out of the classroom. Henry has to be kept busy the entire school day. Any down at all for him involves running, or, him taking off his clothes. When he is busy he is productive, when he is being productive he has no time to think about running or taking clothes off.

I have been assigned to Henry. The goal is to establish a bond, which would then establish a routine, which would then help him in those moments where he does not quite know what to do with himself. For the past few weeks, Henry and I have gotten to know each other pretty well. I have learned that he will pretty much do whatever I ask if I have gummy worms or therapy putty on hand. I have learned that no matter how many times I say “time to go back to the classroom” Henry will have to push the bright red elevator button just once, and once the doors open, he is ready to go back to class. Henry loves pasta, and from what I can tell, I need to ask his mom for the recipe because it looks amazing when I warm it up for him every day at 11:35.

Henry and I have a pretty good routine going for us. Every morning Mom drops him off and I take over. “Come on Henry, let’s do some work.” He hangs up his backpack, grabs his lunchbox while trying to sneak a snack out of it. Together we then go to our little private cubicle, where he can not escape. Henry starts munching on his snack that he thinks I did not see him retrieve while I prepare his class work.

You guys, I cannot adequately explain to you how smart this kid is. He is non-verbal, but knows his colors, knows his numbers and “talks” through the use of an amazing app on the Ipad. You give it time, I will call it now. By the end of the school year, he will have a nice vocabulary going on.

After Henry finishes his snack and class work, he has now earned his “prize.” His prize is going out to the Big Playground. In the early morning hours, when everything is wet and cold, Henry is in his element on the Big Playground with no one else out there, other than “Your’s Truly” over here. Together, we walk the perimeter, making sure to stop at all the grated water drains so he can throw rocks in. As soon as we get close enough to the set of 50 plus stairs that leads to the upper parking lot, Henry and I have a talk that goes a little something like this. “Okay Henry, I am tired. I am still drinking my coffee. I beg you, if just for today, please do not make a run for the stairs. You are crazy fast and I am not. And then, with my luck, I will trip and fall on the stairs while trying to chase you, and you will just laugh at how clumsy I am and then no one will find us (me.) So I beg you, today, let’s not run to the stairs.”

Some days he listens, while laughing at how out of shape I really am.

I would say Henry and I are pretty tight. I am not too sure if he agrees with my assessment, but I am the adult so he is overruled.

Then, today happened.

Henry and I had a pretty good day. Probably one of the better ones. I think both Henry and I were just tired from the long school week. We had an understanding. It will be a “chill” day. About ten minutes before I take him outside to meet his Mom for pickup, I say to Henry “Time to put your shoes and socks on so we can go meet Mom.” He gets up from his spot under the desk and sits down in a chair. As I am handing him his shoes and socks, he does something I have never seen before. Quickly, he gets up, while screaming and throws the computer off of the desk. I ask him “Henry, what’s wrong?!” He screams more and then starts to cry. Tears are streaming down his face. I look to the teacher for help. Within seconds the teacher is by Henry’s side, with an Ipad in hand. Hoping that through the Ipad Henry can tell us what is wrong. A few of the other Paras start to surround Henry. I am frozen. I cannot speak. I need to tell them to give him some space, but I can’t. I can feel the tears forming. I have to talk myself down. Henry and the teacher are now under the desk together. The teacher is desperately trying to find out what is wrong. Henry is agitated. Next thing I know, Henry gets up, throws the baby gate that is blocking the door and heads outside to meet his Mom. You guys, I have never jumped over that baby gate so fast. I went to Henry, gave him his shoes and socks, and maybe a few gummy worms I had on me. As I am putting his shoes on, his Mom walks up. “Hi! How did it go today?”

You guys, I start to cry. I am not even kidding. I do not know what it was. I just think her asking “How did it go today?” did it for me. Henry is now playing on the Little Playground, Henry’s Mom comes up to me with a look of fear on her face, and I am in a full-blown “ugly cry.” I can barely utter the words “Henry is fine. Well, for a short moment he was not fine, but he is fine now, but, I am so sorry. I feel so bad. I do not know what happened.”

Trying to catch my breath between the full-blown ugly cry, I tell her everything I just told you. In the corner of my eye, I see my fellow Paras come to the door. They see my mascara all over my face. I imagine they tell the teacher “You better go out there. New Girl is losing it.” Henry’s Mom listens to me, then, she comes to give ME a hug! “Awww. it’s okay. I understand. We have been through it. You want to help but you do not know how because he cannot talk.”

Naturally, the tears do not stop.

Henry’s little brother has now joined us. He sees “Crazy Para Crying Woman” and hands me a picture of a pumpkin. “Here, I drew this for you.”

I can’t.

The teacher comes out in record time. As soon as I see him, I cry even more. “I am so sorry I suck at this!” He goes up to Mom and tells the same story I just told her. I am standing there crying, Henry is on the slide, and his little brother is most likely regretting giving me a picture that was meant for his Mom.

The teacher looks at Mom, he is kinda smiling and kinda laughing while looking at me. “See, she has a heart for your son. There is no going back now.”

Henry’s Mom tells me I am doing great. She tells me not to worry, he does this stuff all the time. But….I just felt so, so helpless. I wanted to make things better for Henry and I could not. In my short time with him, I had never seen this behavior.

Eventually, we all said our goodbyes, and I may have just given Henry my last stash of gummy worms.

Once Henry, Mom, and Little Brother are safely in their car, the teacher asks if I am okay. Again with the tears. “I am okay. I am just sad, and worried, and wonder if it was anything I did.”

Slowly, all the other Paras gather outside. Everyone surrounds me with hugs and understanding.

“We get it, Jennifer, we get it. This is only the beginning.”

I appreciate their understanding while apologizing for breaking down, in front of a parent, while the parent was comforting me.

Henry’s former Para comes out, gives me a hug and says “And the district thinks we are overpaid. No one can put a price tag on this.”

And that right there, those last parting words.

Never has a truer word been spoken.

~Jennifer

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Where Feet May Fail

Vinnie has to be at work in an hour. I just got back from the grocery store and checked on the roast that has been slow cooking all morning long. Not too much longer. With the girls cleaning their room, Joe is working on his football stuff, and Vinnie taking a nap, I decided to close my eyes for a moment or two before I have to take Vinnie in.

I am not sure how much time passed from when I closed my eyes. I wake up to screaming. Ear piercing screaming. Crying, horrible sounding crying, cries of pain. Immediately I wake up, not quite understanding what is happening. Joe is yelling “What’s wrong! What happened! Talk to me!”

It only took me seconds to get myself together. Gracie is standing there. Her left hand is on her eye. She is crying. In between the heartbreaking cries she mutters “Something is not right.” I run over to her, she cries more. Uncontrollable crying. Not your normal kind of a cry. A cry that shook me to my core. A cry that I have never heard before and I already know I never want to hear again. Vinnie is now in the living room. Quickly, I look at him. The look on his face tells me he is just as confused as I am. Sofia is now with all of us as well. She is crying. Hers is a different kind of cry. Not a painful cry, but a cry of fear.

“Vinnie, take Sofia to her room, calm her down, ask her what happened!” Joe orders. He is yelling. Loudly yelling. I know he is yelling because he is scared.

My first thought is a seizure. I am standing in front of Gracie, she is in my arms. I am hugging her, whispering so no one else can hear, but hoping it calms her down. “It’s okay, calm down, shhh, it’s okay. Calm down, you have to tell me what happened.”

She will not stop crying. Joe is running back and forth. I have no idea what is going on in Sofia’s room. I cannot get Gracie to stop crying. I continue to whisper in what I hope is a calming voice. “Everything will be okay. Calm down. Everything will be okay.”

Joe runs out of the bedroom. “Get your coats we have to take Gracie to the hospital. It’s her eye. A pencil. Sofia poked her in the eye.”

I cannot even process this. Sofia is now in the living room, trying to find jackets. “I am sorry. I am so sorry. I did not mean to.”

Gracie cries more. I cannot think. What the hell happened? Gracie has her hand so tightly over her eye. She will not move it. I do not force her. The hospital is right up the road. Not even a mile. We will go. The doctors will look at it.

Joe is now next to me and Gracie. He helps her with her jacket, but she will not take her hand away from her eye.

With Gracie now with Joe, I go over to a crying Sofia. “Dad hates me now. He hates me.” I give her a hug. “Dad does not hate you. He would never hate you. He is just worried. It will be okay.”

“Vinnie, turn off the oven, I need her shoes, Sofia, get your sister’s shoes!” Joe is screaming. I cannot concentrate on that. I cannot concentrate on anything. What happened? What the hell is under Gracie’s hand?

Sofia and I are in the hallway. I continue to reassure her. “It’s okay. We are going to go to the hospital. It’s just right up the road. It will be okay. Just calm down.”

I hear Joe tell Gracie. “Okay, I need to look at your eye. I need to see what happened. Joe and Gracie cannot see me. I cringe. I am so scared. Did her eyeball come out of the socket? Is she going to be blind?

“No! Do not touch her eye, we just need to have the Doctor look at it!”

I want to cry. I want to shrink myself up against the wall and cry. But, I can’t.

Vinnie is in the kitchen, looking on at Joe and Gracie. Sofia and I are still in the hallway. I cannot get Sofia to calm down. She is crying. Although a different kind of crying, a different sound, from Gracie’s, Sofia is hysterical in her own way.

Sofia and I are almost the same height. I take her in my arms and whisper to her to the same way I whispered to Gracie ” Dear God, I do not know what is happening now. Right now more than ever we need your peace. We need your guidance and we all need to feel your presence.”

Sofia cries more.

“Gracie, I need you to move your hand. I need to see your eye. Jen, bring me a mirror!”

As soon as Joe sputtered those words, Vinnie took my place by Sofia and I ran to grab my makeup mirror. I threw it at Joe, ran back to Sofia, and Vinnie took his place in the kitchen where he had a clear vision of Joe and Gracie and me and Sofia.

I hug Sofia, she hugs me back.

“Okay Gracie, I am slowly going to move your hand away.”

I hug Sofia tighter. Vinnie is watching.

“Gracie, I need you to open your eye. Jen, grab the keys!”

I hear the muffled sound of a scared Gracie, “I felt my eye wiggle.”

Dear God, please let her be okay.

“Gracie, I need you to slowly open your eye.”

I fight back the tears. Sofia is still crying. Vinnie, the middle man so to speak is continuously looking at me and Sofia and Joe and Gracie.

With Sofia in my arms, I hug her tight. I close my eyes tight, not knowing what is about to happen.

“Okay Gracie, everything looks good. A little bruising but everything looks good. Here, look in the mirror.”

Sofia and I look at each other. For the first time in what feels like hours but in reality was probably only ten minutes, we have a little bit of hope.

“Gracie, how many fingers am I holding up? Can you see my hand?”

I look at Vinnie and he gives me a nod.

A much calmer Gracie mutters “Four. I see four fingers.”

Vinnie gives me a thumbs up. Sofia and I look at each other. “Okay Sofia, that’s a good sign, it will be okay.”

“Gracie, how many fingers do I have up now?”

“Six. I see six fingers.”

Okay. Everything should be fine, right? Gracie has her eye intact. She can see. Everything should be okay.

Sofia and I make our way to the living room with Joe and Sofia. I sit on the Sofia, safely planted between my two daughters, with Vinnie looking on. Joe. He is trying to tell me something but I cannot quite read him. I am drained. I am worried, but Gracie saw the fingers, she saw his hand so she can see. That’s good, right?

Four hours later.

Vinnie is safely at work. Joe, the girls and I are home from the hospital.

Gracie and her eye will be okay. There will be some bruising, some soreness, but she will be okay.

I am drained. Mentally drained. I never want to hear those cries from my daughters again. I never want to see Vinnie worried to the extent that he was worried about his sisters.

Tonight, we were lucky. Tonight, Gracie’s grandparents were watching over her. We definitely had an angel. An angel who probably needs a good couple days off to recover.

 

 

 

 

 

The time I was wrong…

After a long morning of unfortunate events, Joe and I took the girls to breakfast while we awaited our long afternoon of unfortunate events.

It was a crisp 47 degrees today in my little suburb of Seattle. Joe, the girls and I were waiting at the mechanics for them to right a wrong that happened over the weekend. The mechanic’s shop is the equivalent of a concrete shack that you may see on a Steven King film. That’s okay though because there was a bible on the coffee table and “The Price is Right” on the t.v. Sofia had a chance to make her reading goals for school, and I had a chance to showcase my “grocery shopping” skills by pointing out how many times I guessed the correct price.

Once the icicles started to form on out eyelashes, we figured “Let’s go get some breakfast and hope they are finished with the car by then.” Off we went to “The Villiage Inn” which is really just a better version of Denny’s. Good diner food, good portions, and great prices. Plus, they had coffee and heat.

We placed our order pretty quickly. As I was pouring cream and three equals into my piping hot cup of coffee, I noticed Gracie had “the look.”

“Gracie, do you need to go to the restroom?”

“Yes, please.”

“Do you want me or Sofia to go with you?”

“You.”

I take Gracie to the restroom, let her do her thing while I scroll through Facebook waiting for her. While we were in there, a worker comes in and starts cleaning the sink and mirror. We say a quick “Hello” and then I ask Gracie “Are you okay?”

Gracie is finishing up, I am still on Facebook and the lady is wiping down the sink area. Then, the stupid nationwide text from Trump comes in. It was loud and piercing, much like the Amber Alerts, but truth be told, I could not even read the damn thing because it happened so fast.

Gracie comes out of the restroom and goes to the side of the sink where the lady is not working. She washes her hands but is uncertain what to do next because the lady is standing directly in front of the paper towel dispenser. The lady, I believe, sees Gracie a bit confused and moves out of the way, while showing Gracie the paper towel dispenser. The restroom is only so big, so once Gracie dries her hands, she is now looking for the trash can, which, the lady is now standing in front of. Gracie and the lady switch sides, I am asking Gracing “Are you okay” and Gracie cannot figure out how to use the trashcan. It is one of those little ones where you use your foot to press on the lever which then opens the lid. I talk her through it, tell her “Good job” and the lady tells us “Have a nice day.”

Once Gracie and I leave the restroom, she looks at me and says “You talked to me like I am a baby. I am 13, I think I can figure out how to use the trashcan!” Immediately, I start laughing. I mean, she is right and I probably went a little overboard on the whole “making sure she is okay thing.”

At this point Gracie and I are walking back to the table, Joe and Sofia see us, and can clearly see we are laughing. Just then, as we are in the middle of the restaurant, my phone rings. I know it is so tacky to answer a phone in the middle of any restaurant, but you guys, I had to! It was the mechanics and I had to know what was going on with the car.

Let me paint you a picture. A crowded restaurant with the retired elderly crowd sitting around enjoying their eggs, bacon and orange juice. Then, you have my family. Specifically, me, trying to maneuver my way through the tables to make it back to mine, while talking to the mechanic on the phone. “Sorry, excuse me, so sorry!” Gracie following me clearly embarrassed and a bewildered Joe and Sofia looking on.

The mechanic was going to do one last thing on the car and then give us a callback, so we were still good on time. I get off the phone with the mechanic at the same time we make it back to the table. Gracie sits down and exhales a sigh of frustration, while I sit down and wonder if I should order a mimosa.

Sofia: Umm, did something happen? I have a feeling something happened in the bathroom.

Joe looks at Gracie then back to me.

Gracie is giving me the evil eye. “Do you want to tell them or should I?!”

I look at Gracie, not quite sure what I should say, so I figured I would let her take the lead on this one.

I take a sip of my coffee at the exact moment Gracie tells Joe and Sofia, with an air of frustration mind you “MOM TOLD ME GOOD JOB IN THE BATHROOM!”

After that, everything happened so fast.

Joe and Sofia start to laugh. “Oh my God mom, really?”

I start to laugh while spitting out my coffee and Gracie is sitting there just as proud as can be that she was able to envoke so much laughter from off of us.

Sitting there shaking his head while laughing, Joe says “Jen, you didn’t..”

I am cleaning up the coffee that is now all over my shirt “It’s not like I told her “good job” for using the bathroom, I told her good job for throwing the paper towel in the trash!”

Again….more laughter.

So, here I am, officially proclaiming that yes, I was wrong. I need to remember Gracie is a beautiful, smart, feisty 13 year old who is coming into her own. I need to take a little step back and give her room to fly because she will. She will fly and as her eyes are on her future, I will be right behind her (in a safe distance) keeping my eyes on her.

gracie mechanics

 

 

 

In My Daughter’s Eyes

I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a post from another blogger. The gist of it is: A mother took her daughter to get her ears pierced for her 8th birthday. Once the little girl was in the chair, she decided she no longer wanted her ears pierced. The mom then went on about how important it is for us to listen to our daughters, and therefore did not go through with getting her daughter’s ears pierced.

Well, Duh!

So, I am going to “see her ears pierced” and “raise her changing in the gym.”

Here’s the thing. Sofia just entered middle school. Her first class of the day is PE. About three days in, the kids had to change into their gym clothes, and Sofia, being my daughter, felt more comfortable changing in the bathroom stall.

This upset Sofia. Just for the simple fact that she does not like to change in front of other people. Pretty cut and dry, right? Well, the PE teacher would not allow any of the students to change in the bathroom stall, and proceeded to tell Sofia “Do not worry, no one is watching you.”

I sent an email to her PE teacher, sternly yet politely letting her know that I prefer Sofia to change in the bathroom stall because that is what Sofia feels more comfortable doing. The following morning, there were no issues and Sofia was allowed to change in the bathroom stall.

One would think problem solved.

One would also be wrong.

The next day, Sofia comes home pretty upset and tells me that her PE teacher literally blocked her from changing in the bathroom stall.

I was officially done being polite.

“Dear _____.”

I feel there may be some miscommunication issues regarding my last email. I say that because Sofia came home and told me you blocked her from changing in the bathroom stall. I do not want to waste any more of your time or mine so I will spell it out for you.

Until further notice, Sofia will be changing in the bathroom stall. I have zero interest in making her change in front of others. Forcing her, or any other student for that matter is sending a message that I have no interest in sending.

In the days of the #MeToo movement, this should not be an issue, and I am quite surprised that you have to have a parent tell you this. No one will be telling my daughter where she can and cannot change.

End of story.

I thank you for your time, any other questions please give me a call at ___.”

I never heard back from the PE teacher, but I will say Sofia has been able to change in the bathroom stall ever since that email was sent.

……

Fast forward to today. I ask Sofia how PE is going, and make sure she is still allowed to change in the bathroom stall.

Sofia~ Yes Mom. I am always allowed to change in the stall now, and not just me but everyone else. You have no idea how many people you saved and you should be proud of yourself.

Now, we all know I did not “save” anyone, except maybe the embarrassment of my daughter. Although I love that fact that in my daughter’s eyes, I did save everyone.

Changing into gym clothes without any privacy is a hot button issue for me. I do not understand it. In my opinion, middle school is the perfect time to teach our kids that yes, you are entitled to privacy, and we are going to honor that because you are our future.

Back in my middle school days, there was no privacy. In my school, the PE teacher would be standing there with a clipboard watching (monitoring?) all the girls change out of their school clothes into their PE clothes. We were not offered privacy. We were not offered any “protection” or “words of comfort” when the girls would be judging the other girls’ weight, breast size, or even their outfit.

Now even though I was made fun of quite a bit in school, it never happened in PE class. Do you want to know why? Because I refused to change in front of anyone. I ended up failing PE all because I, in my eyes, stuck to my own beliefs.

I absolutely refuse for Sofia to go through the same. In this day and age, there is no reason to. Shell out a few bucks for a curtain rod and a shower curtain to give the kids that want it some privacy. I would be the first to contribute.

Every morning, Sofia has a little less stress now because she knows she can start her school day with how she sees fit, at her own comfort level. And please note, if Sofia was complaining about doing Math, then this would have a different ending. But, we are not talking about Math, we are talking about the right to change in private.

I told Sofia: “I did not save anyone, I used my voice with your permission. That is what I want you to take away from this. Always fight for what you believe in because, in the end, you never know how many people are fighting that same fight.”

An important lesson for us all remember.

Use your voice, because you never know the lense behind it.

~Jennifer

Full Circle

I had a rough two days at my new job. It was hard. So damn hard. For those of you who do not know, I am a functional core Para who works with developmentally delayed 3-5th graders.

It is a lot. Most of the children I work with are non-verbal, and for a hot minute, I was so intimidated by that. My six hour day is non stop. On the floor, up and down, feeding, sleeping, playing, and even teaching,  all the while making sure these children are safe and do not plot their escape. We have a couple of “runners” who will break down the gates, tear down the padded mats in the room just to pull one over on all of us. These kids are smart. Too smart. Just because a majority of them do not talk, do not let that fool you.

My first two days, I was seriously expecting the teacher to pull me to the side and say something along the lines of “Jennifer, you seem to be a nice person, I just think you would be better suited elsewhere.”

Thankfully, that has not happened. On day three, I found my groove.

One of my favorites is a non-verbal little boy who loves books. He loves holding them and flipping through the pages. I am not sure how much he takes in when I point out pictures or words to him, but I know he is taking something in. When you are not paying attention to him, he will grab your arm and guide you to where he wants you to go. Most likely it is either to grab another book or the snack cabinet. The other day he reached for my arm and guided me outside, with a book in hand. Together, we climbed up on the slide in the playground. I just sat there with him. He plopped himself down and continued to flip through the pages of a book. Every time I would clap, he would mimic me. I do not know if “on paper” this means anything or not, but for a newbie such as myself, it means the world.

The most powerful experience I have witnessed just in my four days of work was pretty, well, powerful. There is an adorable little girl who is also non-verbal. All she does is sit in the corner, rocking back and forth, and occasionally “grunting.” In many ways, she reminds me of Gracie. My family knows that in Gracie’s younger years, all she would do is sit and rock. I felt some sort of connection to this little girl, yet I am still working on connecting with her if that makes sense. Well, the other day the teacher had the microphone plugged into the sound system. This little girl grabbed the mic and pretty much went to town. Now, all she did was make sounds into the microphone, but that was huge. It took everything I had not to cry happy tears. Because once she makes sounds, that is the gateway for so much more. And, now, we know that her “motivator” is the microphone….or xylophone, but that’s another story.

I have no idea what I have gotten myself into. Already, after just four days I feel attached to these kids. And, slowly, I am getting to know them. I do struggle with the guilt though. I am no longer able to pick up my own kids from school. I feel I am missing out on so much. Of course, Joe has it under control, but for eight years, this was my gig. I picked up my kids, and asked how their day was, and got them snacks.

During the holiday seasons, the girls would come home, looking forward to seeing what new decorations I had put up. Every day it was something new and we made a game out of it. I feel guilty, and also kind of sad that I can no longer do that during my work days. But, right now there is no other option.

Tonight, just as I was writing this post, Gracie comes up to me. She is swaying back and forth while rubbing her hands together. A nervous habit she has, that is also a part of her autism.

“Mom, how do you know when you made friends?”

Gracie more than anything wants to make friends.

“Well Gracie, the first step is to learn to be comfortable with talking. If someone says “Hi” to you, you should say “Hi” back.”

Gracie is constantly worried about what others think, and I am constantly telling her not to worry about what others think. It’s a struggle for her and between you and me, I have a feeling it will be a struggle for a long time. She is already asking me if high school will be easier.

I know that this is a journey Gracie has to take to get her to the place she needs to be. I know this because just like Gracie I struggled with friends as well. Many times I would eat lunch in the restroom or just hide out in there because I had no friends in school, and who wants to be THAT kid that cannot find a seat, or worse, is sitting by themselves while others make fun of them.

Because I have been down this road I feel I can give Gracie the tools she needs to go on this journey. Patience, faith and a smart ass mouth. I did not have anyone to talk to all those years ago. Not because I could not talk to my parents, I just did not want to. I was worried I would be a disappointment to them, so I kept everything in.

That’s hard for my parents to hear,  but just wait because I am about to bring it full circle with a good ole “mic drop” at the end.

Having no friends sucked. There is no denying that. However, learning the lessons I learned over the years, well, that is irreplaceable. Who knows if I would have learned those same lessons if I had friends or if I allowed my parents to fix it for me?

Granted, it took a lot of trial and error for me to get my act together. It was never an easy road, but as we all know, nothing good comes easy.

Fast forward all these years, and now I am trying to help my own daughter who is walking in my same shoes with no friends. I am able to help her because I traveled down that same road. I have the empathy to not only help and guide her through this, but I have the empathy to work with these children who I talked about at the start of this post.

I remember many years ago as a young child I was crying to my Dad. Through tears of frustration and insecurity, I asked: “Why does it have to be so hard?”

Although I am summarizing, Dad said: “I do not know why it is hard, but I know that one day because of your struggle, you will be able to help other kids.”

Well, I think we are here. I think I have had my full circle moment, because not only am I able to help Gracie and understand where she is coming from, but I am able to take that empathy and use it in my new job. If not for nothing, I can be a friend to these kids, because I know what it is like to not have any.

There was a time where I wanted to be a famous actress, and then a famous author. I wanted to write the next great American novel. I wanted the fame. I wanted people to know my name. I wanted all eyes on me when I entered a room.

I may not be in Hollywood, but with every ounce of confidence I have, and I have a lot these days, I am famous in my childrens eyes, and when I enter that classroom in school, prepared for a busy challenging day, those kids, well, their eyes are on me, and call me crazy, but I would say that is better than all the fame I could ever hope for.

worth