Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Don’t Wait

It was a hard spring, and summer came down like a hammer. Living in the "American dream" doesn't change those facts one bit, just because it's a privilege to have the troubles I have, I'm still the one who has to decide when to plow through or sit down and cry. 

Or both.

But we did it! And now that we are on the other side of hardhammersummer, I see even more clearly how very treacherous it got, and I see how many people are still in theirs, and how many people have survived theirs in the past, and how many people have one a comin' but I'm pretty sure they haven't been watching the weather forecast and I wish they would buy an umbrella, like, yesterday.

I would lend them mine but it’s full of holes. That’s cool though, because I just found out

I am ferocious. 

I am not a quitter.

And I am smarter and braver than I ever believed.

Finding the right school for Russell was never a question of "if" for me, it was always a question of "when, and where, and how long will I look? How hard will I try, how often will I cry tears of frustration when doors close? Will I have to open my own school to do this, and am I ready to give up everything else I ever wanted to do, or be, to do that?"

When the educators of Carden Academy welcomed us to their school last week it was the best day of my life. 


Why? We took Russell out of public school 6 weeks early because of serious concerns with his teacher, another student, and our continuing education about what it means to be an extraordinary person with ADHD. After Russell was kicked out of two preschools, we found our sanctuary at Cottage Preschool where we learned that he wasn't just saving it for me, but when any adult with a spark of their own takes the time to "get" Russell, not only does he flourish, he shines. 

After we left Cottage for kindergarten, the glow began to fade until two years past found us with the fresh sting of rejection after a local private school called him "too enthusiastic" during a two day trial. When we found Carden, they too had reservations after his two day trial, but after speaking with them, they relented by giving him the opportunity to attend summer school. 

Between that offer and his first day, we were informed that his public school teacher had been dismissed at the end of the year, and was blocked from ever returning, even as a substitute. I can only speculate what her termination papers say, but after having spent hours and hours in her classroom, I felt both validated that our public school standards are at least not laying on the basement floor, and Out. Of. My. MIND. That Russell lost his first grade year to a teacher who routinely stopped her class to tell them how they are making her "already difficult life even harder" when they raise their hands while she's talking, and who, when I witnessed another child repeatedly assault other kids in the class, would shrug her shoulders and say SHE didn't see it (because my parent voice means nothing?)

I'm glad we took him out, because that is how I was able to spend enough time with him to realize we were in a medicine crisis.  I'm glad we had the opportunity to clear our systems and regroup, but that sentence doesn't really cover how AWFUL that dance is, withdrawal, dosage adjustments, not enough patience to go around, labels being reassessed... feeling completely inadequate, as a parent with labels of her own to battle, to be everything the people in my family need from The Mother.

So Russell left Kindergarten at the top of his class, but began his first day of summer school Carden below grade level. 

And Two days in... I knew we were in trouble. I could see it on him, hear it in his voice, and that's when I realized I had undermined him by letting him know this was trial summer school. The third morning as he ran out the door I decided to tell him a great loving lie, hugged him tight, and congratulated him with all my heart for making into Carden because I KNEW he could do it. Then I promptly made a phone call and had an appointment with his teacher and principle even though she basically told me she was planning on calling me Monday to deliver bad news, but I could come in if I wanted.

I had a weekend then. I gnashed my terrible teeth, and rolled my terrible eyes, and then cried my horrible tears to some very important peeps, and I went to that Monday meeting with a proposition. 

Give him a chance.

Let me see, for my own scientific purposes, if allowed to settle in for what might take longer than other kids, if he won't become more than we can see now. "Educate me on education" I asked them. And let me see that I am wrong when I say that some kids may attended Carden, but Russell is the kind of kid who will BECOME Carden.

I knew he loved it, I knew his cursive that he picked up faster and more beautifully than any 8 year old his teacher had ever seen,  was worth fighting for. Yes, I was fighting for cursive!

And these extraordinary educators met my challenge! Because of my proactive nature, and because the day I told Russell was IN, his anxiety dropped and so did some of the troubling issues they were going to tell us about. I told them what I had done and was prepared for cold rejection, for statistics and compliments on character as they shuffled us out the door, but instead they allowed us the gift of time! His teacher began putting in an extra hour with Russell every morning.

And I was grateful.

And scared.

He got better and better everyday! Leaps and bounds on his school work and his behavior at home!  But I knew... four weeks to catch up, to settle down, to get it together...

As hard as I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable dismissal, to really glean what I could from the experience, the day before his last day of school I crumbled. I am ashamed to admit I lost faith... I think it was simply too painful to hope for, and I didn't know how I was going to be able be for him in his life what this one school was for a month.

When we went to the school, we passed a woman heading to her car in tears. I know the school sounds elitist, but after spending time in the classroom, it's really not that... it's a learning style, it's the Carden method, it's a quick pace, and even though I was sad, I trusted them, that they would let me know if Russell would feel behind, inadequate, and essentially "on trial" everyday he was there which isn't good for anyone.  

We began our conversation with some of the finer details of Russell's academic struggles and learning style, and suddenly we were in a conversation where they were referencing our first meeting, when I said Russell would "become Carden" if given a chance, of how at the end of that meeting I told them "Russell will get where he is going because I am his mother; it's not the weight once lifted and it's done, but the length, and I will ALWAYS be his mother."

Then they welcomed our boy with tears in their eyes. They praised his character, his effort, his cursive, his art, and his teacher told me in all her years teaching she has never met an ADHD child who is so WILLING to course correct, and who has been able to connect with the other children so they root for him when he works a math problem at the board. 

I am so proud of him. I am proud of us. I kept it together for the most part in that meeting, but when we left the building I was instantly wrapped in the ferocious arms of the best father a boy could ever pray for, and I cried a salt river all over Jon Kings nice work shirt, and I saw the triumph shine in his beautiful face--the man who religiously drew goofy stick figure pictures on every brown lunch bag Russell ever took to preschool all those years ago. 


Fight for your kids. Start now. Don't wait. SEE them for who they really are, that information will guide you more than any outside source on the planet. There are experts for everything, but we are the Worlds Experts on our children--we could be interviewed on the news and it would say that under our names! Believe in your ability to navigate, because that belief will be your compass, and it's NEVER too late to get your bearings. 

With hope and gratitude,

Alissa Rae



Andrea said...

This makes me SO HAPPY!!! Russell has your perseverance and determination :) CONGRATULATIONS! I love you King Family!

Taryn said...

This made my day!!! GOOD FOR YOU! Good for you BOTH! I am SO proud of your Russell! HE DID IT! And so did YOU! You both make my heart soar with happiness (and my teary eyes can’t stay out of the actions, of course).

Thank you for sharing your tremendous struggles and your personal triumphs. Thank you also for the example and reminder that we, as parents, are the ones who are best qualified to advocate for our children, and that job is best not outsourced despite constant pressures to do so. Thank you! Thank you! And Hurray for Russell!!! And a deep bow of honor to you for your mothering wisdom and grace. Truly inspiring.