As I sit her at swim practice, watching Libby, my 11 year-old daughter, do starts and turns and swim her heart out up and down the pool, I’m thinking about my last week, and about what it means to be a mother.
Motherhood means more than just raising your kids. It’s raising your kids to be honest humans, upstanding citizens, and independent thinkers. It’s protecting your kids from the bad people that want to do harm, but also from the people who want to help your kids so much that it hurts them.
And this is where I am.
My kids have alway been pretty easy. Libby is an above average student, not gifted, but ‘accelerated.’ She works hard and enjoys school, mostly. My Katy, my 10 year-old with Down syndrome, is also easy, in her own way. She has few health problems (Celiac and thyroid issues, but those are pretty easy once you get the hang of a gluten free life), she’s social and very verbal, she’s strong and coordinated, and, in the special needs world, she’s a good student. Handwriting has been hard for her (she has small hands and fine motor skills are tough), but she’s getting there (and we live in the computer age. She’s good on a laptop and a tablet). She’s a decent reader, and can do some basic math. She behaves well and listens, and that’s a win. My expectations are different for her, but no less real. And the fact that she takes learning almost as seriously as her sister is heartwarming. Taking away Katy’s diagnosis, I can generalize them like this: Libby is my studious, serious child; Katy is my lighthearted, social child. They would be this way no matter what, I believe.
So, parent/teacher conferences aren’t too much of a problem. Libby’s went well this term (although she’s suddenly becoming scattered, but I think we’ve dealt with that issue). Katy’s started well, and then . . . BOOM!
“We’re so excited that this class [the MD class] will be able to stay here next year.”
And my world came to a screeching halt.
Backstory: Next year, our elementary school’s 4th grade will be heading to a different school while construction is finished on our school, enlarging it to K-5th grade (instead of just through 4th), and aligning it with a huge restructuring of our whole school district. Katy will be in 4th grade. We got a letter telling us she was going to the other school for 4th grade, just like every other 4th grader got.
And suddenly she’s not?
I was enraged. I got teary for the rest of the conference (my reaction to anger, frustration, and helplessness), and the teacher had to deal with my emotions. I told her that I wasn’t happy about this decision (made without me), and how Katy needed to be with these typical kids as much as possible. I listened while she told me about Katy’s triumphs and how much she seemed to have matured over the summer, but my mind was really reeling and not hearing it all too well.
In the back of my mind, my little voice kept repeating the mantra, “second class citizen. Not a student, but a special needs student.” And that was how I felt.
I left the conference not feeling happy at my child’s (my KATY’s) triumphs, but angry and frustrated and slightly defeated. There were fights I hadn’t stepped up and fought in earlier years; they weren’t big deals, but now those issues seemed incredibly important. Maybe if I would have fought those mini-fights, they wouldn’t see Katy this way. Because I’ve always been loathe to fight, to churn the waters, to confront anyone in authority. Even though, or because, I was once a teacher. I know those squeaky wheels get (the grease), but they also get cuss words associated with them after they leave. I want everyone to like me–I don’t want to be ‘that mom.’
After the conference, I got in the car and bawled. I may even have pounded the steering wheel in frustration. I went home and cried to my husband (who was ready to fight, just unsure of how to do it). I ranted a bit on Facebook, and to my mom, and to my friends. And I realized I had a lot of support. I went to Zumba and pounded out my frustration, came home and drank wine, and slept uneasily.
As soon as they were on the bus the next day, I fired off a nicely worded e-mail to our principal and the district administrator in charge of special needs students making my position perfectly clear: Katy was going to go with the other 4th graders. We would make this happen however it had to happen, but it would happen. It was a fight I was finally prepared to fight.
The principal basically punted the fight to the administrator. And that was Friday afternoon. So, the weekend happened. And it relaxed me, but strengthened my resolve as well.
We went to a fundraiser for special needs adults on Friday, which was a nice adult night with friends, seeing and helping a community of adults that are amazing. Saturday night we went to a wonderful Halloween party at a good friend’s house, with kids. And that night really warmed my heart. When we walked up, one of the girls ( a third grader also, but at a different school) hollered to Katy, “go say hi and then come back!” The other kids (some in her grade, some at her school) included her like crazy, until she needed a break, and then they stood back and let her have some room. In other words, she was just another friend, and they understood her likes and dislikes just like they understood any other friend.
And I knew I was fighting the right fight. Katy needs to be with these ‘typical’ kids just as much as she needs to be in her MD room. She needs these role models, these champions, these friends. But they need her, too. She’s funny and sweet, and brings something to their lives. She’s a friend right back.
It wasn’t until late Tuesday when I heard from the administrator. Basically, the information wasn’t communicated properly (not sure if I believe that or that they were rethinking their decision). They would be making the decisions to move the each special needs student on an individual basis, calling each family to decide what will work best WITH THE PARENT’S INPUT.
So, the fight didn’t end up being a fight. BUT I’ve realized that being a mother to a special needs child means that I need to fight these fights, no matter how small, because it means that they will no how I stand on the bigger issues.
And they all become bigger issues.
Now, onto Lucky Us by Amy Bloom.
Amy Bloom can really turn a phrase. She’s a beautiful writer who sets a scene so well that, even if you don’t like the characters all that much, you still want to keep reading. And that’s the gist of Lucky Us.
Eva knows her dad as the man who visits on the weekends, a warm, gentle man with a big heart. So, when her mom suggests they travel to his real home because his real wife just died, they go. And her mom leaves her there, with his ‘real’ daughter, Iris.
And a bond, a sisterhood is forged. And an adventure begins.
Iris and Eva’s adventures occur in the 1940’s, from Ohio to Hollywood to Queens to Long Island, with visits to England and Hitler’s Germany. Bloom does a good job of fleshing out characters, even minor characters, and making them real. Eva is wise beyond her years, content to be the guy (or woman) behind the guy, supporting her sister in her acting and romance adventures as well as a cast of characters that cross the her path.
Eva is likeable in a way, doing all she can to help her family survive. I did not like Iris and found her very unsympathetic, but I think that was the point. I think she did redeem herself, but a little late in my eyes.
This book is a study in contrasts. One minute I hated the main characters; the next, I liked them. I was astounded and astonished, a moment later disappointed and disillusioned. In other words, the characters were very real and human.
Amy Bloom is an amazing writer, and I just learned that she is the niece of the noted literary critic Harold Bloom. This makes sense.
I have said it before, you don’t have to love the characters to love the book. This is true in this one. The characters were very real and honest. The story was decent, but the writing was incredible. I will recommend this book to everyone who appreciates great writing. I could picture every scene perfectly, and imagine the characters vividly.
I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.