I sit on the edge of my seat in the school office, watching the secretaries answer phones and attend to students’ needs. It feels a lot like sitting in a waiting room, waiting for the nurse to call you back into your medical appointment. I’m anxious, nervous, and on high alert. Because what happens next could go really well or really bad.
I’ve sat in this same chair many times, waiting for my child’s teacher or therapist to walk through the door, call my name, and smile. Attending these meetings feels routine, yet the outcome isn’t predictable.
I re-apply berry lip gloss. Cross and uncross my legs. I smooth my skirt over my knees. Take a swig from my water bottle. Straighten the stack of papers I bring with me, and then re-clip them to my clipboard. Click and unclick my ink pen. Check my phone for texts from the sitter.
It’s finally my turn. The speech therapist approaches, smiling as always. I trust her. She’s been on “our side” for months on end. But I still don’t know what I’m walking into.
I truly believe that the six people sitting around a conference table want to help my child. But they are limited by state funding, overworked staff, and the number of children who need services. I know what I’m working against.
So I’m there, with my invisible boxing gloves on, ready to fight for what my child needs.
We each sign a paper stating we are present for the meeting. We exchange pleasantries during this short time. But soon enough, we get down to business.
I listen to each person present their observations. I nod at the right times and interject when need be. My child is impulsive, empathetic, unfocused, and smart. Speech is going well. Good progress has been made, but there are still miles to go. These are things I all know and accept, but they are still hard to hear at times.
Then, we move on to the deciding phase. The decisions made today will be in place for a full year. How can we project the future? Do we base today’s plan on the past? Do we lean toward optimism, or do we err on the side of caution? How much do we “wait and see” vs. be proactive and aggressive?
School is structured and routine. But there are variables that can cause my child to have epic tantrums and refuse to participate in the day’s activities. A substitute teacher. A rainy day where outdoor recess is impossible. A snack that isn’t crunchy enough to meet the needs of a sensory seeking child. A shrill sound from another child. A favorite toy that is out of rotation that day.
And next year, the year in which we are making decisions for, my child will be in a new classroom, at a new school, with a new teacher, new therapists, and new peers. A new school bus with a new driver and aide. And the school day will be seven hours instead of three.
So much newness and uncertainty.
My heart pounds a little harder, and I feel my face flush pink. Because I know what’s at stake. And the person most affected is the one I call mine.
I state what I think is best, without being fully confident that I know what I’m talking about. What I’m asking for is based upon my greatest attempt to be fair and reasonable. But how can a mother truly separate her need to nurture and encourage her child from what is feasible in a school setting for just one of many children?
Our words mingle, an awkward but necessary dance. We brainstorm. We agree. We disagree. I present an idea that’s (kindly) rejected. They offer an alternative. I sometimes stand my ground. I sometimes give in. Decisions happen so quickly and feel so definite.
I write on my clipboard, and they write on their file folders. There are a few lulls in conversation, but not long enough for me to think through everything that’s proposed.
It’s over before I know it. Because more parents waiting for their turn.
We have a plan in place. I don’t know yet if it’s a win or a fail — or what needs to be tweaked, removed, or upgraded. I really won’t know until the new plan is in full swing, when I release my child into the adventure of a new school year. We’ll have a long summer ahead of us — three whole months — and then, the plan.
I leave the meeting exhausted, as I always do. I feel like crying and cheering. I leave the stuffiness of the building, with students’ squeaking shoes and the hum of the heater still echoing in my ears, and enter into the coolness of the air in the parking lot. I find my minivan, slide into the driver’s seat, and exhale.
Surviving another IEP meeting feels like a victory. But it is also terrifying. Because I’m greeting another unknown and saying goodbye to the security of the old plan. And mostly, because I know what’s on the line, or should I say, who is on the line.
It’s only 10 a.m., so I swing through the drive-thru of my local coffee shop. Instead of ordering the smallest size like I usually do, I order a grande, hoping the caffeine and warmth will ease my nerves. And then I drive home, walk in the door, and scoop up my toddler into my arms as she squeals, “Momeeeeee.” I snuggle her extra close, sensing time flying by too quickly.
I’m a mom of four. Two of whom have meetings like the one I just attended. Very different needs. And every day, I hope and pray that I’m doing the right things. Fighting the right battles.
Because I’m a mom. And that’s what we do. We relentlessly step up to the proverbial plate, aim for the fences, and swing. Then we watch to see if it’s a foul ball or a home run.