Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Second Week: From Elementary to Middle School

The Second Week. March 2015

Moving to another state is not an over night process. At least not for this family. We have been back and forth, back and forth. The second week we were here, we were still driving back. A lot was happening in both places. We drove back for dance class, for Josh and Lilli's last days of school to say goodbye to their friends, and getting our old house ready to rent out. We celebrated my mother in law's birthday. I had my first meeting with the new school district about Lilli.  Lilli had two more seizures. I unpacked, cleaned, and did mounds of laundry, catching up from not having the washer and dryer for just a few days.

Lilli's last day of school at her old school was on Thursday morning, after we'd already been at our new house for over a week. She had missed her last day two weeks before, because school had been cancelled for days from of all the snow and ice. Josh had missed being student of the week and taking his birthday cupcakes in to his class because of the snow days. Lilli's class had all made things for her and wanted to see her to say goodbye.

Even though we had already moved away, I felt like it was important for both Josh and Lilli to go back and see their classmates and teachers one last time. So we made the trip back, with cupcakes for Josh's class in a cooler.

The School Goal

Before school that morning, I get Lilli dressed in one of her coolest Justice outfits, with her boots. I do her hair, and get her little backpack purse ready that she wears with her ipod inside and earbuds, in case she feels anxious. Sometimes Ms. Leslie will put one earbud in for Lilli to listen to her favorite music, and it calms her down. There are also her favorite Legos in the purse - the ones with windows.

As we drive to the school, I give Lilli my usual pre-school pep talk.

Just enjoy being there. There's no pressure. Just smile and be happy, and hug your friends. Ms. Leslie will come and get you, and it will be just a short visit. I'll wait out front. You look adorable. Have fun. Tell Ms. Leslie with your NovaChat if you have to use the bathroom. I love you. It'll be great.

Lilli sits in the back of the van, silently. I have to do all the talking because she can't answer me. It makes me feel like I talk too much. She looks out the window. I wish I knew what she was thinking. If I had a dime for every time I think this to myself. Maybe she appreciates my pep talk. Maybe she wants me to just be quiet already.

When we pull up, Ms. Leslie comes right out to meet us. I tell her that I'm a little nervous because another snowstorm is supposed to begin in the next few hours, and I need to get on the highway soon to drive the hour and a half back over the mountain to our new home. I help get Lilli out of her seat and out of the van. She starts to make happy sounds, and hops with delight at being back at her old school with her favorite teacher. She's all smiles and excitement, awkwardly jumping up and down. She flings her arms around Ms. Leslie and squeezes her tightly. She and Leslie walk together into the building, and I watch Lilli's back before she disappears through the double doors. Lilli is gloriously happy. She is walking her happy walk.

I haven't seen her this happy since before we moved. After a week of crying, it is like the sun has come out from behind the clouds. It's like a Lilli rainbow. It makes me so happy, I want to cry. But no crying from anyone today, this is a big day.

This is what I want for her, I think. This. Being happy to go to school and see friends. I want her to be happy. I want to see her bounce into school, all smiles like this.

I decide right then and there, that this is my new goal for Lilli. To be happy to go to school. I don't even care what they do in her new school. I want her to be happy again.

She comes out later, still bouncing and all smiles. Leslie says she had a wonderful time.

I drive my four children onto the highway, anxious to beat the snow, and Lilli is on cloud nine, smiling and laughing in her carseat on the back row. I keep smiling at her in the rear view mirror. She had a wonderful day. When we get home to our new house in the mountains an hour and a half later, we go through the little gift bag that her teacher and classmates gave her. Inside are handmade cards from all twelve classmates, and a bubble kit. I sit at the dining room table and read every one of the sweet cards out loud to Lilli and her dad. We both make a big deal out of it. Chloe makes a huge deal out of all of her sister's cards. Lilli puts her hand on her neck like she has so much to say, over and over, and smiles. She doesn't smile at us, she smiles at the carpet. But she is smiling at what we are saying. She is sitting on the floor, looking at her legos. She is so super happy.

I tell my husband about the day, and how I want so much for Lilli to be happy going to school here. I need to prepare what I'm going to say at the meeting about Lilli the next morning, and we talk about it.

We agree that this school meeting will be different than any other we've ever had.

Meeting at Lilli's New School

The next morning, I leave with purpose. But anxiety is notably absent from the things I typically take along to a school meeting about Lilli.

The meeting is unexpectedly relaxed. They offer me a cup of coffee in the cozy, creaky old schoolhouse building that had been turned into offices. There are hardwood floors and old clanking radiators. I find the restroom and feel like I am walking straight into 1960. In the bathroom, there is an ancient physician's scale, and wheely carts with long-unused overhead projectors parked in a corner used for storage.

It feels oddly comfortable in this warm old creaky school building.

I had thought a lot about what I wanted to say. In the past, I would have shown up to a meeting with all kinds of paperwork, notes and goals, and prepared proof of all the things she can do. Friends have seen me with all of my notes and prepared requests. I would have had an "I'm here to focus on all the many things my daughter needs and prove what she can already do" attitude. But this time around, Jasen and I had decided we just wanted one, simple thing for Lilli.

We wanted her to be happy. Happy at school. Just happy.

I never thought I would be at this point, after all the goals we have been striving for over the years to get her to communicate and function independently. In past meetings over the years, I have been organized with binders full of information, lists of goals, videos of Lilli's therapies on my laptop, and a serious, let's aim for the unbelievable attitude. Not this time.

I told the nice people in our new school district that this was what we wanted.

Simple happiness.

I told them about Lilli's last day at school, how I had taken her to see her friends and say goodbye, and how she looked to me as I watched her happily walk into the building with her backpack on. That we want that for her here.

The goals, the therapies, the academics, the hard work with trying to communicate, to use a communication device and type words and sentences...that will all come later.

Let's work on having Lilli simply go to school, meeting new friends, and being happy first.

I tell them about what Lilli is like.

I take out pictures of Lilli at school and pass them around. They oh and ah about how cute she is. I tell them the awesome things I love about her. I tell them how smart she is, and how amazing she is.

These are pictures are the pictures I showed them. They pass them around the table.

I take out a picture of our family. I want the new people in this new school district to get a good sense of who we are. I don't want Lilli's crying to obscure how awesome Lilli can be. I want her to make a good first impression, but I worry that it won't go well. So I show them pictures of her being happy at school and happy with our family.

And then I tell them that she will likely feel anxious and cry in the beginning. Because she has been crying since we moved. I prepare them for the worst. I tell them that she might scream and sob and throw herself on the floor. That she might push and pull on people. That she might not do anything academic for anyone for a long time. And that I'm okay with that. Because we have decided that after this awful past fall that she had, we do not want to pressure Lilli. We want her to get comfortable in her new surroundings and feel relaxed and positive about coming to school first. The other stuff will come later.

They tell me that they are prepared for meltdowns, that they will not be fazed by it. That they have seen it all. They are excited to meet Lilli. We all decide that it would be better for Lilli to start going to the middle school right away, rather than spend April and May at the elementary school only to have to transition to the middle school in August anyway.

The school nurse is at this meeting. She is amazingly comforting and thorough. She is loving and familiar, like a dear aunt. She tells me not to worry. We talk about Lilli's seizures. This school district is so very different than the last one, when it comes to seizures. Everyone has been trained on what to do. All of Lilli's teachers - the therapists, the teacher assistants, even the gym teacher is trained and prepared to jump into action if Lilli should have a seizure. There are other students in Lilli's class who have seizures. Everyone is prepared. The director of special education takes me over to see the middle school and meet everyone there. I meet the principal first. He is extremely laid back and friendly. He is not at all intimidated about Lilli's special needs. He is welcoming and kind, with a good sense of humor. He also tells me that he is trained to help if a student has a seizure.

I feel better already about this. I see the classroom, and I meet the teachers and students. As the special ed director, the principal and I all enter the self contained classroom, some of the students come over to greet us.

My first impression: these kids are huge. 

My immediate next impression: these kids are awesome.

I meet a boy who has autism, who comes right to me and shakes my hand and says, "Hi, how are you?" They tell me later that he has learned to do this because he used to try and hug everyone. And not everyone wants to be hugged when they first meet someone. I think about Lilli. How she tries to hug and literally climb up certain people to throw her arms around their neck - practically into a headlock - even strangers sometimes if she likes something about them. I think about how Lilli needs to learn to shake hands when she meets someone.

I really like this kid. Lilli will like him too.

I like this class already. I don't realize it at the time, but another boy who comes over to greet me, is my next door neighbor. His teacher tells me that he loves legos. I think he is absolutely adorable, and I know Lilli will like him.

I see friends in this class for Lilli. Another girl is in a wheelchair. She can't talk. She has seizures. She flaps her hands and makes a loud excited noise. I tell her hi, it's nice to meet you.

Lilli will have a lot in common with these kids. She will fit in here just fine, even if she is tiny compared to these kids.

A few years ago, I might have had nervousness about Lilli going into this class for different reasons. Now, I am looking forward to seeing how this all turns out. Even though there is an absolutely huge eight grader that will tower over Lilli. (He told me a knock knock joke that didn't make any sense when I first met him. I liked him instantly.)

Even though she might not love everything about this new school, I think she will like a lot of things about it.

Later, the principal and director of special education talk with me out in the hallway. I confess that I am worried about how big all the kids are, and how tiny Lilli is. They assure me that this is middle school. Kids come in starting out small, and then they have growth spurts and get much bigger. I guess I had forgotten all about that growth spurt stuff.

Lilli is little. She is Chloe's size, only skinnier, and Chloe is eight. The biggest boy in this class is taller than I am. He's a big kid.

This is going to be interesting.

I come home and tell Lilli all about her new school and her teacher. She smiles at the carpet and puts her hand on her neck.

I think she is ready for this. I might be ready for it.

I guess this is what happens when your child starts to grow up. Middle school happens.


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