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.




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?”


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.


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.








The Winds of Change…

Seven years ago, almost to the day, I drove Gracie to school for her very first day in 1st grade. I had a four-year-old Sofia, in the back seat, strapped in her car seat, not quite understanding where her sister was going. To say I was nervous would be a huge understatement.

We were not only looking at a new teacher, but also a new school. I made the quick seven-minute drive from my tiny two bedroom apartment to the new school. I wanted to cry. In case you have not been paying attention these last nine years, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I wanted to cry because of the unknown. I wanted to cry because Gracie was moving on to another school. I wanted to cry because I felt I was literally putting one of my most prized possessions into the hands of the unknown. It pretty much sucked.

I remember it as if it happened yesterday. I am on 320th and took that first left at the stop light directly across from the Highschool. The new school would be just up the road. Nestled into a quaint, cozy little neighborhood. Quickly, I found myself discreetly wiping my tears away and taking in the houses. Each house different from the next. There was a duck pond. A large duck pond that served as a pretty cool landscape for the backyard of the houses. The neighboorhood was very Norman Rockwell. My absolute favorite was the condominiums, nestled on a golf course. A rustic wood planked sidewalk served as a pathway from the street parking to the front door. Three levels, with the parking garage being underneath it all. I instantly fell in love and told myself right then and there, “I never want to forget this feeling, I never want to get tired of the drive.”

And, over the course of nine years, with Sofia and I eventually making that very same drive, I never, for one second got tired of that drive, that neighboorhood.

When I had my interview at my now new school, I am going, to be honest. This was not the school I wanted. I applied at this school just out of desperation. Geographically speaking, this was the furthest school away from where I live and the furthest away from the girls’ school. But, I needed a job and I had no leads. So, I applied for the Para position, pretty much thinking that “something else is bound to open up.” Two days later on a Sunday, I got the call for the interview on Tuesday.

Come Tuesday, I brought up the trusty yet outdated Map Quest, just so I knew exactly where I was going. Now, it is important to note that I am only looking at a ten-minute drive. Nothing outrageous, but for me and my crazy mind, ten minutes was so much worse than the four-minute drive I could have at other schools.

As I was making the drive, through secluded back roads with lots of hills, I took in the scenery. “Hmm. Not too bad.” And then when my phone directed me to turn right, everything changed. I was in a fairly nice neighboorhood. The kind of neighboorhood with big fancy houses, the kind of neighboorhood that you just know gives out the full-size candy bars for Halloween, but it was not the houses, it was the view. As I inched closer to the school that I would eventually be working at, I was in awe of the view. In the distance, beautiful mountains that served as the perfect backdrop to this neighboorhood with the fancy houses and my new school. It was the kind of view that told you there is so much more out there.

I left that interview feeling confident, while telling myself, if I do get hired on at this school, I never want to take the view for granted.

Tomorrow will be my first official day, and time will tell how long I have the privilege of making that drive.

Every year at this time, here on the blog I write my “Annual Apology Letter to my Kids Teachers.” A simple letter letting them know that I am indeed a crazy parent. Crazy, but good. A letter telling the teachers about the kids, while asking for understanding if I contact them five times throughout the school day.

This year though, this year is different. I feel I do not need to write the letter. I feel I did well these last few years. I feel I have made my presence known, and most importantly I feel that not only do I trust my own children to use their voice, but I trust the teachers. I trust them without having to write a step by step spreadsheet on what to do or not do with the kids. Instead, the winds of change, have led me to a different path.

Dear Parent,

I know how you feel. I know tonight, the eve before the first day of school, I know you will not get much sleep. I know you have doubts, concerns. I know you want to be assured that you are sending your son or daughter to a school that will benefit them and not hinder them. I have been through it.

Although to you this may just seem like words on paper, please know I have been in your situation. I have had to send my very own daughter to school, knowing she is not vocal. I have had to put my trust in complete strangers, counting on them to be able to read my daughter’s facial expressions in those early years when she was learning how to talk. I have had to send her to school not knowing if she would wet her pants just simply due to nerves, and I know how hard it is to put blind faith into the unknown while needing to know that your child will not be sitting in wet pants.

I am quirky and in many ways childlike, but for what is it worth, please know that for those six hours,  I will take care of your child just as I have taken care of my own. If I get hit in a fistful moment of rage, I will understand that I am a new routine for your child. I will have the patience of a Saint because I have been through it, and I have had teachers offer my own daughter the same patience.

Please know, that as long as I am with your child, they and their needs will come first. No matter how challenging, because even within all my quirkiness and childlike mind, I am a fighter, and I will fight for your child just as I have fought for my own.

Because, at the end of the day, I personally believe that there is no such thing as other people’s children, and your child, is now part of my tribe.


wind of change




Three days ago I wrote This post. I basically had a mini breakdown because I was not having any luck with finding a job.

After I wrote that post, I broke out my trusty ole prayer journal and prayed. Of course, my prayer to the Big Guy upstairs was mostly me having another panic attack. “God, please, I have no idea what I am doing over here. Show me something, guide me, give me direction because I am lost.”

God and I kind of have our own thing going on. He “gets” my breakdowns, he lets me ramble and it is okay.

I end up falling asleep in a stress-induced coma.

The next day I got a phone call from “Ranier Hill Elementary” asking if I was still interested in the Para position I applied for and if I would I be available to come in Tuesday for an interview.

Well, Duh! Of course, I am available to come in for an interview.

Now, I do not want to toot my own horn or anything, but I am good at interviews. I know how to dress the part, I know how to make eye contact, I know how to make the people interviewing me laugh, I am good at reading people. I have the firm hand-shake locked down, and I know the proper follow-up questions to ask.

And, whether given the opportunity or not, you always want to ask follow up questions.

“I would like to know what you guys are looking for in a Para.”
“How long have you been teaching Special Ed?”
“Interesting, what made you decide to teach Special Ed?”

These questions create a dialogue which will show your continued interest in the position.

I am just good at the interviews. Now, the irony that I still did not have a job does not escape me, but I am telling you, it is not because of my lack of interview skills. It was due to my lack of formal job training.

So, Tuesday morning off I go Ranier Hill for my interview. Now, naturally, I had already done my research. At this point not only had I Googled the school but I also “Googled” the Special Ed teacher I would be potentially working with. I went into that interview armed with knowledge and confidence. I walked right up to the teacher, without waiting for introductions, introduced myself, sat down at the table and told them. “Okay, I am ready, let’s do this!”

I left the interview feeling pretty good, but, I have also left all other interviews feeling pretty good. The Vice Principal of Ranier Hill told me they wanted to make a decision sooner rather than later and she promised she would call to let me know either way. It was out of my hands, but once again I felt I did everything well.

On my way home, I stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up a few groceries. As I was making the difficult choice of which holiday coffee creamer I should buy, my phone rang. Just looking at the number, I knew it was someone from the school district.

“Hello, Jennifer, I am the new Assistant Principal at Olympic Trails, I am calling to see if you are able to come in tomorrow for an interview?”

I was mind-blown. You guys, Olympic Trails is the school that I have volunteered at for the last three years. Olympic Trails is the school that has taught both Gracie and Sofia since Kindergarten. Olympic Trails is the school that changed me.

Six years ago I entered the doors of Olympic Trails scared to death. I was a shy insecure worried mother. Gracie was entering her first year in Special Ed, and I was not ready to let go. Gracie’s teacher seriously has the patience of a Saint when it comes to me. She is an amazing teacher who was so beneficial not only in Gracie’s growth but mine as well.

Over the years at Olympic Trails I have met lifelong friends, meaningful connections, I was the PTA Treasurer for one year, PTA President for two years, classroom volunteer for three years, and picked up a part-time gig as parent facilitator. I entered that school not knowing who I was, and walked the halls for the last time with a new found confidence. So, when I got that phone call, looking over the coffee creamer, of course, I jumped on the interview.

Early this morning, I get a text message from my (former) Office Manager at Olympic Trails.

“Jen, Ranier Hill just called me for a reference check! I am telling you, you got this, she loved you!”

I got this text as I was literally getting ready for my interview at Olympic Trails. After way too much thought I decided I needed to go to my interview. I mean at this point I had nothing to lose, right?

It’s only a six-minute drive from my apartment to Olympic Trails. I was early and decided to get a coffee. My phone rings just as I am ready to turn into the coffee shop parking lot.

“Hi Jennifer, this is Elizabeth from Ranier Hills. So here is the thing, I want to move forward and offer you the job, but your second reference, he is not answering the phone. I already spoke to Teresa, she gave you glowing reviews, but district policy is, we need to speak to a second reference.”

I am in shock, and literally, have no idea what to do. Mr. Connor, my mentor, my reference, the one that encouraged me to move outside of my box and apply for jobs in the district, Mr. Connor is in Cuba on vacation. Of course, he is not going to answer.

Elizabeth asked if there was anyone else who could give me a second reference.

“I mean not to sound cocky but you could call any teacher at that school and they will give me a good reference.”

I have balls, right?

Elizabeth laughs, “Okay, let me call Teresa back and see if she can connect me with a teacher.”

At this point, I said “Screw the coffee, I need to figure out what to do.”

I am now in the parking lot, the parking lot that I have been to for the last six years. I am in the parking lot getting ready for my interview while I am this close to a job offer from Ranier Hills.

“Okay God, what are you trying to tell me. You know me, I need a little more direction!”

I run into the school, make small talk with the secretary, then, and even, writing about this makes me laugh, I see Teresa’s head pop up in the back corner from under her desk. Apparently, she was working on wires to her computer. Quickly, I go over to her desk, and in pure Jen dramatic form, five minutes away from my interview, I exclaim “I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!”

“Ranier Hills is ready to offer me a job, but Mr. Connor cannot be reached because, you know, he is in Cuba, and they need a second reference, WHAT DO I DO?”

Teresa, calm and collected as she can be.

“Oh, Melissa, she can give you a reference.”

(Melissa is the secretary I just made small talk with)

You guys, everything that happened next is either divine intervention or a series of unfortunate events, you decide.

Teresa somehow works her magic and gets Melissa on the phone with the Vice Principal from Ranier Hills, at the same time, my former principal and the new vice principal come out of their office ready to start the interview.

I am at a loss. I have no idea the proper etiquette on how to handle this. However, that is what Teresa is for.

“Sorry guys, you did not snatch her up in time, she was accepted at Ranier Hill.”

My former principal is disappointed, yet happy for me.

My phone rings. It’s Elizabeth.

“Jennifer, I just got off the phone with Melissa. I would like to formally offer you the Para position, do you accept?”

And, right there in the office, the same office I entered six years ago not knowing anyone, yet knowing this was the school that offered Gracie the program she needed.

The same office I entered countless of times to check in with Teresa, the same office I would go to sign the girls in or out of school, the same office I would take Gracie when she needed a break from the loud noises, right there in this office, surrounded by Teresa, and Mary, and the new Dean, I accepted the job, the job at a new school, but a job that I hope would continue to help me grow just as much as Olympic Trails did.

I hang up the phone with the biggest, most nervous smile on my face, and Teresa reached out and gave me a hug.

“Congratulations Jen, you did it!”

And I did, I did do it, but not without the help and support of so many……especially, the Big Guy upstairs.

Once again, everyone else saw something in me that I was not able to see in myself….and for that, I am forever grateful.

Teresa and I made one final walk down the halls of Olympic Trail. I saw teachers that have taught Sofia, I see memories in the form of bulletin boards and dust. This was my school. Teresa and I reach our destination, she opens the door, the same door to a classroom that taught Sofia, the same classroom I volunteered in for three years.

I walked into that classroom, my eyes, automatically going to the corner, the same corner I would be studying for my Para test. The same corner where I had my most favorite third graders teach me. The corner is different now though, there is a new teacher in the room because Mr. Connor has moved on to a new district.

But, if I look close enough, and close my eyes, I am right there, back in that corner of the classroom, the same classroom that told me “This is what you need to do.”

As Teresa and I walked back down the hall, I knew it was for the last time. Olympic Trails has served its purpose, but the people, no, the people, they are staying with me.

Those are direct orders from the Big Guy upstairs.






Prayer Request….or, Well Wishes…

You guys, this is going to be one of those blog posts that I am probably writing more for myself. I have so many things going on in my mind I need an outlet.

I need a job. We are two weeks out from the start of school, and I still do not have a job. I am kinda freaking out.

For those that don’t know, I am trying to get a job in the school district. Either as a Para, or Office Assistant. Rumor has it there is a Para shortage in the district, yet no matter how many jobs I have applied for (12) I still do not have one. In a few cases, I did not even make it past the application screening phase.

The plan was, in June, I would start applying for jobs. I took the Para test and actually passed. I was good to go, but something is just not clicking.

Maybe because all I have under my belt is three-year volunteer experience? It is depressing and worrisome. There is no Plan B. I was so confident I would have a job by now, and I don’t.

I honestly have no idea what to do. Every single day, I have my application open on my desktop, on the district website. I am constantly checking for new job postings, and I am just not getting anywhere.

I pray. I really do. I pray and ask for God’s guidance. I ask him to bring me the right job. I am just one of those people who does not know how to NOT worry. Know what I mean?

Seriously, I was up at 6:00 am ON A SUNDAY checking for new job postings. I am only allowed to apply for twelve jobs at once, and I am telling you I have applied for every single Para position as well as office positions.

I am getting scared. I am doubting myself. Perhaps I was overly confident?

I believe in God. I believe in having Faith, and I believe God sees the bigger picture. I know all this, but for some reason, I am still struggling. It is so hard for me to have blind faith. And then, I find myself asking myself, “Do I deserve this?”

I am an “okay” person. I have made a lot of mistakes, but have also asked for forgiveness. Are we always forgiven?

I feel like such a failure. I cannot even find a job. You guys, I cannot find a job in a district that HAS A SHORTAGE of the exact position I am applying for. One day I hope to laugh about this.

So, in closing, here is the thing…..

If you believe in God, I ask for your prayers. I humbly ask that you put me on whatever prayer request list you may have. My situation is a little different, I need a job in the school district so I have the same hours the kids do. Please, you have my permission to put it out there, I am openly praying and asking for God to bring me a job.

If you do not believe in God, I ask for your well wishes and good thoughts. Please send me whatever it is you have to offer.

If you are a potential employee who came across this blog post because, you know, social media, I ask that you give me a chance. I may not have the fancy credentials of what you are looking for, but I have hands-on experience. Give me a chance. I will beg if I have to, give me a chance, and a year from now, you will find yourself saying “hiring Mrs. Pedro was the best thing we have ever done!”

(See, there I go being overconfident again!)

Please, listen to this song. Beautiful perfection for those of us who do not feel so beautiful or perfect.




A.J is my oldest. In many ways, he and I have grown up together because I did have him pretty young. When he was in middle school, he went through a tough time and ran away for about eight hours.

I was pregnant and on bed rest. AJ would get out of school first, then pick up Vinnie from elementary. I would meet both boys outside on the porch, knowing that they were home safe.

One day, just like any other day, I went to my porch. I see both boys walking. Everything looks to be fine. Instead of both boys crossing the parking lot to the apartment,  AJ makes sure Vinnie makes it safely up to the porch, then he takes off. No word, no “I will be back soon” nothing. He just leaves.

Immediately I start to worry. Very out of character for him. I wake Joe up (he was working nights at this time) and tell him what happened. Joe gets dress and goes looking for AJ while I question Vinnie. Vinnie was so young at the time. There is a seven-year AJ difference between the boys.

Hours go by and there is still no AJ. I called the police. The police come over, asked for pictures, looked around the apartment and told Joe and I they would keep an eye out, and after forty-eight hours, they would classify him as a runaway.

I was not having that. Six months pregnant with a high-risk pregnancy, I took matters into my own hands. I pulled on my coat, told Joe to keep an eye on Vinnie and not let him know what was going on. Joe was worried and did not want me to go. I am a fighter though, and when my children are at risk, nothing will stop me.

Nathan. Nathan and AJ have been friends since elementary school. Nathan is a good kid who had a shitty start in life. His mother committed suicide, his father in jail. Nathan’s grandmother was raising both Nathan and his sister. I knew exactly where Nathan lived and made the quick five-minute drive over there.

Maybe it was the stress, maybe the fact that I was high risk, I do not know, I was not feeling good. However, I was on a mission. I knew I had it in me to keep my oldest and youngest child safe and that was my only goal. I pull up to Nathan’s house, make my way through the long knee-length grass that was in desperate need of being cut, and knock on the door.

Eventually, Nathan’s grandmother, Nancy, opens the door. We only know each other through word of mouth. It just so happens she is a substitute teacher at Vinnie’s school. All I had to say was “Hi, sorry to bother you I am….”

And she knew.

“Of course, I know you come on in.”

She directs me to her dimly lit living room. I take a seat on the sofa, while she sits directly across from me. All of a sudden, I am surrounded by cats. Cats at my feet, cats on my lap. Everywhere I looked, there were cats, which, naturally put me at ease. It is only then that I pick up on the scent of litter boxes that need to be clean.

I ask her about AJ. I tell her I do not know where he is and ask if she has seen him or if Nathan has said anything.

Nancy tells me that she sees AJ often. She tells me he is a good kid who struggles because his own father abandoned him. She understands because, in many ways, her own grandson is going through the same thing. She assures me everything will be fine, and as hard as it is, to try to give AJ the space he needs to work this out.

I do not know if it was the authority of her words or her own experience, but I knew she was right. I knew AJ just needed a bit of time because his bio sperm donor is a lying piece of shit who has always chosen everyone else before his own son. Pretty hard stuff when you are a preteen boy.

Just like Nancy said, AJ came home late that night. We talked, we gave him his space, and we let him know that his crappy ass father is no reflection on him.

Before we knew it, life resumed back to “normal.” Nathan quickly became an even bigger presence in our life. Halloweens we would take Nathan with us trick-or-treating. Thanksgivings, Nathan would spend with us. On a few occasions, Nathan even came with us to my in-laws’ house. And please no, this is no reflection of the grandmother. She was getting old and it was just hard for her to get around like she used to.

As the years go on, both my boys remain close with Nathan and his grandmother. I send food over when I can, I give Nathan a place to crash when need be. I do what I can, and many times it was not enough.

AJ called me tonight. Crying.

It seems that Nancy is not doing too well. She only has days left. Hospice has been called, and Nathan, who now has two children of his own, is hopping on a bus from Olympia to make it here in time to say “goodbye.”

Nancy, God bless her soul, is one of the strongest women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She literally sacrificed it all for her grandchildren. She is a Spitfire. She is the epitome of strength, and even though many years have passed, we will all come together on her last days and honor her.

As of the writing of this post, Nancy passed away. Sadly, Nathan did not make it in time. He is here now though, spending time with AJ, and we will do what we can to help him through this difficult time, just like Nancy helped me all those years ago.

Sadly, in the end, there were not many people in Nancy’s life. I hope in some small way, you can all get a sense of the epitome of strength Nancy was.

Rest In Love, Nancy.


“Traveled down a road and back again”

I could’ve done without today for many reasons. One being, I almost died again. If you didn’t hear about the first time, go back a few blogs, it’s there.

 Needless to say, I called my best friend, my confidant, my therapist, my partner in crime…Jen.

“You are not going to believe what happened!”

“What? Did you try to exfoliate and shave your eyebrows off again?!”

God no. I learned my lesson on that one. Never exfoliate with a razor in the shower because something bad is bound to happen like losing an eyebrow or two.

“I almost passed out in the fricken grocery store. My blood sugar, again.”

Long story short, I didn’t eat, went to the busiest grocery store this side of the Mississippi and almost passed out in line. The “significant other” was somewhere scratching lotto tickets as I began to wobble in the checkout lane. I made it out, ate some jelly packets that I had stolen from a recent restaurant visit and felt better. The “significant other” had to deal the wrath of a very hungry, irritated, not to mention hot, woman that was ready to morph into a beast of some sort.

Jen listened, the way she always does. Pointing out the comedic aspects as well as what to do in case a future hypoglycemic attack comes on because like a million other things we have in common, she also has low blood sugar at times.

“If you need to carry a goddam lunch pail, that’s what you do!”

So, tomorrow I am headed to Wal-Mart to find a “lunch pail”.

There was a time that I didn’t have Jen and her infinite wisdom in my life.

For those that read our B-303 series, know that we had a falling out about 2002ish when I left the apartment and never looked back.

Until I found out I was pregnant with my daughter.

Jen was the first one I told.

It didn’t matter that we hadn’t talked in months or that we had differences of opinion on her then current relationship. That all didn’t matter because I needed my best friend at that moment and she was there.

Fast forward to 2004. I had moved to Eastern Washington when I was about 6 months pregnant with my son, Jen was about 3 months pregnant with Gracie. Because of both of us dealing with complex life issues, we didn’t talk for months. Yet, when I came out of my surgery from my C-section, guess who was there…Jen.

People come in and out of our lives, with no real rhyme or reason.

Some come back to reconnect, just like Jen and I did a million years ago, and some come back because a certain best friend decided on a straight vodka night to friend request them on Facebook.

I have qualms about the latter, but I will save that for another blog.

Most recently, I have had someone from the past come back into my life after many years. I was both happy yet on guard because you never know people’s ulterior motives. I watch Dateline and the ID channel. Knowing my luck, I would reconnect with someone and end up swimming with the fishes.

Despite my initial hesitation, I have been pleasantly surprised at getting to reconnect with this person.

I have found that with someone people, no matter how complicated the history, it is as if no time has passed.

Just as with life, I don’t know if this person will stay or go at some point, but as with all people that have come and gone, an imprint of them will always remain in who I am.

Time changes everything and nothing.

Just like time has changed both Jen and me as individuals, however, time will never change the friendship we’ve shared for the last 17 years.