If you are anything like me, you cringe when it's time for open house or parent/teacher conferences. Open house seems benign enough, right? Until a few kids from your child's class make it their job to tell you everything your kid has been doing in school lately. Crying. Knocking chairs over. Just being weird. Why does she do this? Why doesn't she do that? Then there's always the quick talk with the teacher, different from the chats she has with other parents. There's no gushing about how well things are going. It's mostly therapy related, or things they are working on to help your child make it through each day. You walk out, happy it's over (while usually trying to wrangle your overstimulated kid.)
Parent/teacher conferences are more of the same. Sure, you get to look at some work, but the majority of the conference is spent talking about your child's weaknesses. Behavior issues. Everything that's going wrong. Last year I was even asked to make time for an "extended" conference for my son. Not the 10 minute, in and out, talk, but 30 long minutes of listening to how everything was going wrong.
You get home, check Facebook, and notice everyone else has posted these status updates about how awesome school is going for their kid, the wonderful things the teachers said, how their child is practically on the fast track to Harvard! You close down your computer, and give your kid a hug, wishing your conference had been a tribute to your child's strengths, instead of a summary of the opposite.
Last night was open house at K's new school, and I almost didn't go. I have what I like to call "school PTSD" which makes every bump in the road seem like a giant road block, and every phone call from school seem like the beginning stages of another program going down the drain. In my mind, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. For people to pull me aside and tell me how poorly things are going. That the next phone call will be the one telling me we are back to square one, when it comes to finding an appropriate education for my child.
K had a couple rough days at school recently, and I was feeling down. I didn't want to attend an open house where I would be bombarded with yet another laundry lists of everything my child can't do, and every weakness she has. I didn't want to see looks of pity on the teacher's faces. I've already seen enough of those to last a lifetime.
At the last second I decided to go. I almost turned around on the way there, and sat for a few minutes once I did arrive, working up the courage to walk in. I was so nervous. I felt like I'd be assaulted at the door by stories outlining how things weren't working out. I tried not to make eye contact, but in a school of only 26 kids, it's hard to disappear in the crowd.
As soon as I sat down, people started introducing themselves. The woman who teaches K art. Her OT. A few other staff members. And they all started gushing over how much they love working with Katie. Yes, gushing. Telling me story after story about my child. Not stories about things going wrong, but stories about how well things are going, and what she brings to the school. How they look forward to their time with her. Are excited to see her each day. And they meant it.
When I say everyone I spoke with focused on K's strengths, I mean it. I know there are times when K struggles, but those weren't the stories I heard. They even looked at her choosing to do work under her desk as a positive, whereas before it would have been a huge issue. I had to hold back tears as I heard about her interactions with the other kids. I rarely hear anything from K about school, but she has a whole life there that is just amazing.
I think I was the last parent to leave, when I thought I'd be the first person trying to escape. For once, I left with a giant smile on my face. I can't remember the last time I left any school function feeling anything other than sad for my kid, and throwing a pity party for myself. All my fears melted away. I realized the little bumps in the road really are just little bumps. That K is at a place where the focus is finally on what she can do, and she is appreciated and cared about by those around her. It was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I could stop worrying about her placement. I could stop cringing every time the phone rang. I didn't have to browse the Department of Education site on a daily basis, making a list of other programs that might work, after this one inevitably failed.
A bit of that "school PTSD" fell away. Open house ended up being a game changer for me, and I am so glad I went. I had built it up so negatively in my mind, because it's hard for me to believe any program will go well. That anyone would see my child for the great kid she is, and not as a problem child who no one wants around. Let's face it, last year was tough, and I am still dealing with the everything that happened. It's nice to finally be able to relax, just a little, and know K is somewhere she is happy, and thriving, and an important part of the school. Where she is valued, and loved.
If you are anything like me, you know how miraculous this all feels, and how a placement like this is something every child, every family, deserves. It was a long, hard fight, but so worth it in the end. For the first time ever, I was the one posting a status update about how everyone gushed over my kid, and it felt really, really good.