by Michael A. J. McKenna
"How many of these damned meetings have we been to so far," was the question I asked of my wife while walking up the stairs of our town's High School prior to attending our youngest daughter's yearly IEP meeting. She answered, "I don't know; there's been a lot meetings, and I am really hoping for good news."
Our present odyssey with Mara started when she was two years old. We both noticed a child, while extremely happy, content and seemingly occupied with external stimulae, whose language development was lagging behind that of the only benchmark we had at the time; her older sister. And, in retrospect, I am happy to have had a comparison. Needless to say our concern was great. We began to search for people, programs, assessment, and support....and we got it!
We live in a very affluent suburb outside of NYC where the taxes are so high you would wonder why anyone would want to live someplace where their monthly mortgage payment was the equal to the monthly tax bill, and here's why: Educational Services!!! Top Notch Educational Services! Since Mara was classified as speech delayed/disabled and developmentally disabled we have received nothing but the finest services available to us - Free Of Charge! Well, better to say without any out-of-pocket expenses. Mara had a therapist come three times a week, one hour per day, for the first year, and I mean every single week. When Mara reached three years of age she was permitted to ride the bus. That meant she was able to attend The Little Villiage School in Bellmore, NY; a very specialized school for a variety of children with various classifications. I remember the first day when Mara was placed on the bus; my wife was balling her eyes out so much so that I put Mara on the bus. There was not a dry eye all morning. The afternoon was a different story as Mara was smiling ear to ear when she arrived home; her stuffed Elmo doll in one hand, and a piece of artwork in the other. She spent three years there, and it was a great experience for her socially, psychologically, physically, and emotionally. But, the time to move on was approaching.....
...and on to our public elementary school she goes. Mara was immediately placed in the Special Education class with a ratio of 12:4:1; twelve children, four para-professionals, and one special education teacher. Those are good odds even for someone who doesn't gamble, and the stakes were, and continue to be, high. Mara settled into the routine of public school life; waking up, dressing, washing up and cleaning, gathering up her bookbag and lunch, and leaving the house for six years. For her it seemed to be about continuity; a set schedule that was ordered with little flexibility. She took art classes on weekends. Picked up the cello starting in fourth grade. Went fishing whenever the opportunity presented itself. Made snowmen. Played in the fallen leaves of autumn. Went to the beach with family during the summer months. Complained when she had to make her bed, dry dishes, clean her room....standard stuff. Mara made progress, slowly, but we could see a difference; sometimes in a span as little as a month, but more often from year to year in comparison. She certainly had a distinctive personality; funny, clever, witty, socially outward with family, socially inward with peers and teachers, reserved and shy, curious....standard stuff, again. But change was happening yet again as she was ready to move up to the Junior/Senior High School.....
...Puberty! Wow! Who'da thunk? And, seemingly overnight it descended. Interestingly enough Mara became less socially awkward with peers. She made Honor Role her entire eighth grade year, made second chair in orchestra with cello, was awarded Student of the Month in nearly every class she attended. Her language was improving. She was gaining a greater sense of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-worth....she was becoming one with her self; simply amazing. If her sister picked on her, as siblings are wont to do, she began to hand it back to her; in spades too. She would no longer be content to be told to make her bed with out some snide comment forthcoming. Her two favorites are, "Stop breaking my uterus," and "What the 'beep'," as she will not utter any oaths, swears, expletives, curses...I swear to god, it's her choice. Believe me, I've even tried to offer her sums of money, and other inducements, if she would just say the word, "shit." She refuses....and how lucky am I.
Her IEP meeting was an important one...they all are... as she's moving to the High School next year. She's being taken out of specialized classes, modifying the foreign language requirement so she can gradute with a Regents Diploma, receiving resource room five days a week, remedial reading three times a week in addition to the regular schedule of required and elective classes. It's a big step for her, and she was happy to hear the news yesterday after she got home from school. She seems ready to move on with her program changes, and both her parents are happy, proud, honored and filled with awe as Mara has made her way in this world.
So, when the tax bill comes my initial reaction is one of horror and fear (yup, it is really that high), but I quickly settle down as I know that Mara is getting everything, and more, that she needs. And, we've been to a lot of meetings too: yearly reviews, test assessment meetings, psychological test assessment meetings, informal and formal parent/teacher conferences, and the occasional program change meetings as required. Suffice it to say that Mara's education has been the hands of a great many people. Damn the Taxes, Full Speed Ahead!