Safe Passage

Yesterday, Emily brought home a copy of the report from her recent testing by the psychologist at school. This is an item she will carry to college with her, providing documentation of her “specific learning disabilities” so that she can receive appropriate services as she embarks on her college career. As I was reading through the testing results, I was reminded of our early struggles with learning and our many IEP (Individualized Educational Program) meetings over the years. Emily is so organized now! Her teachers have done well by her, and she has taken ownership of her learning needs.

Being the family historian that I am, I went back and found an email I wrote almost 10 years ago that reflects a time BEFORE Emily had mastered organization and before any of the other children had been tested or given some of the help they need. I laughed at myself as I read it. It’s good to be reminded that you have survival skills!

To put this email in perspective – Emily is 8. K.J. is 6. Skye is 5. Our foster child, Isaac, is 3. Journey is 2…

November 18, 2002

Things started to go awry after lunch when Journey refused to take a nap. She is getting very skilled at manipulating me. First, she didn’t want to sleep in HER bed. She would sleep in mine. Then she needed a Barney video. I picked the wrong blanket. Then I put the blanket on the wrong way. You see, the bunny had to be facing her. Did she sleep? Two hours of Barney later, Journey was still wide-eyed, but grumpier now.

Once the kids came home from school, we were going to rake the yard. I even found five rakes, so there would not be arguments about who got to participate. [The Falcos are currently foster parents for 3-year-old, Isaac. Emily was still at school.] Two minutes into our labor, Skye was tired of raking. Three minutes later, Journey was done. Isaac and K.J. hung in for another 15-20 minutes before they abandoned me to climb a tree and jump in the piles. They are kids. I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, when I later left them alone outside to continue their play while I did another load of laundry and started dinner, K.J. came running in to report that Isaac was yelling at passers-by. He called one woman a “poopy head.” He told a man, “If you come back, I’ll kill you!” That was the end of outside play.

After starting dinner, I left our trusty babysitter with four kids, and drove to pick up Emily. On the way home, Emily told me, “Do you remember that I said I had a project on the Cherokee Indians to do? Well, it’s due on Wednesday.” We are talking 39 hours from now. “Okay, Emily, what is this project supposed to look like?”…

Now, I should tell you that K.J. recently did a project on the “mammal of his choosing.” I learned about this project on the day before it was due merely on the coincidence that John had just spoken with K.J.’s teacher. The project had been assigned two weeks before. When I called K.J. to account for this — this son of mine who, minutes before, told me that he did not have homework — K.J. responded, “I just don’t know what mammal to pick.” And this is supposed to get you out of doing the project!? Needless to say, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening completing the assignment.

Back to Emily… Emily says she is not sure. She thinks she is supposed to write a paragraph about what the Cherokees eat. That’s it? Are you sure? Were there any instructions? That did not sound right to me. I called the mother of a child in her class. Sure enough, that mother and child had spent the prior weekend in the library. This was to be a two page, in your own words, essay, with maps and drawings. There was a handout describing the assignment, which I later learned from Emily that she was harboring in her desk at school. She could not explain why she did not tell me about this handout. The project requires her to answer numerous questions as well as depict housing and clothes. Yikes! We are going to library tonight! Because, of course, tomorrow we have swim practice and basketball practice in the afternoon and early evening, and John will be out of town, which means we won’t even get around to thinking about this project again until almost bedtime. Now I’ve got to quickly finish dinner preparations, feed the children, and beg John to come home so I can make the library trip with Emily.

Skye emerges from the downstairs playroom and sheds her second wet outfit for the day. I tell her to go back down and pick up the mess she’s made. Don’t leave it for the babysitter to do. Skye goes, but she is back in two minutes. I suggest that it wasn’t enough time to do the clean-up. She says, “Oh, Daddy always finishes for me.” After a few more minor threats from me, she goes back and does a better job.

Journey has been my whiny helper in the kitchen. She is so tired that she falls on her head, she scrapes her hand, and she cries any time someone looks at her the wrong way. Thank goodness she is a pro at working the microwave oven. It gives her a purpose and meaning in the kitchen! The babysitter and I round up the kids and they eat a hasty dinner. John has graciously agreed to leave his work at the office until after the children are in bed, and he arrives home in time for us to make a dash to the library. As I leave, I ask K.J., “Have you fed the dogs?” “No, but I will.”

When Emily and I return around bedtime with an armload of books, no one is asleep. John is busy dismantling Emily’s room. I had forgotten that the builders were coming through Emily’s bedroom wall in the morning. We had been cautioned to move everything out of her room and the linen closet. (We are adding two bedrooms, a bath and laundry room to our house over the existing carport and family room.) Imagine the chaos. John says Journey has been “cracking me up.” She came in and offered to help, tried to pick up the bed, and exclaimed, “I can’t do this by myself!”

We shift focus to getting kids to bed. I ask K.J., who has been unpacking the library shelves with his cohort, Isaac, “Have you fed the dogs yet?” K.J. replies, “No. It’s my bedtime.” Now I’m ready to shake him. Instead, I have him cool his heels on the porch for a minute, while he thinks about whether or not he would like me to get too busy to feed him. To his credit, he got the message.

As I sit here writing this email, I realize that I will be spending tomorrow pouring over books on the Cherokee Indians, trying to create a safe passage for my 3rd grader. Who knew it would be like this?

When Emily receives her high school diploma in twelve days, I will recall how far she has come from the girl who couldn’t remember her Cherokee Indian project and, no doubt, spill over with happy tears of pride.

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