For the Love of Jamie — and Sophie

posted Wednesday April 6th, 2011

This afternoon is the dreaded IEP meeting, the day (finally) when we will (probably) discuss what sort of help (if any) Sophie is going to be offered in the classroom.

She might be offered a one-way ticket out of the mainstream classroom at our neighborhood school. It’s happened before. It’s been years, but it still feels like yesterday when I remember that principal wincing (visibly), sucking wind (audibly), sighing (dramatically) and announcing, “If Sophie needs to be treated differently than a typical kid in the classroom, you’re going to have to explore other options in the district.”

As if that was written on a script, which I’m pretty sure it is/was, somewhere. To be fair, over the years Sophie has received services — resource room time, small (in some cases the maximum allowed, though still small) amounts of physical, speech and occupational therapy. Even someone to watch her at lunch, though only after she was bullied in the cafeteria by older kids.

But never any extra help in the classroom. That discussion will come (finally, maybe) today.

Under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t be looking forward to this meeting by any means, but after what happened at the last meeting — the one where test results were presented and the school psychologist announced that Sophie “has the cognitive abilities of a three year old” — I’m downright dreading it.

“Are you feeling better?” a couple friends have asked in recent days.

“No, not really,” is the honest answer.

I’ll never look at Sophie the same. (My love is not affected, by the way.) At least, it feels that way right now. And maybe — true or not — those comments from that psychologist are exactly what I deserve.

Here’s why.

About a week into my pity party over this whole Sophie has the cognitive abilities of a three year old thing, I remembered something that made it even worse. I remembered Jamie.

I have been working for newspapers for 20 years. For years, as a reporter, I told other people’s horror stories — in the name of both bringing change and truth-telling. Sometimes I told stories that involved children. I’d like to think I was always okay at it, but looking back I believe that being a parent has made me a better, deeper, more sensitive storyteller.

Except for the first story I told as a parent.

Annabelle was born in the summer of 2001. Five days before she was born, I finished a big project about juvenile justice. Baby or not, I was on a roll and determined to keep going. And so even before my maternity leave was up, I was out of the house, driving to the western outskirts of town to interview a mom with a horror story and a lawsuit (the two usually go hand in hand).

This woman was suing the adoption agency that promised her that the newborn baby she was adopting from Korea was healthy. He was not, as it turned out, and there was plenty of evidence to suggest that to the adoption agency — evidence they ignored. And so this woman was raising a little boy whose condition (water on the brain) gave him cerebal palsy-like physical symptoms, and severe developmental delays.

Long story (and I do mean long, the final story was probably about 6000 words) short, I did my best to capture what this mother was going through, including a divorce – again a far-too-common byproduct in such a situation — and her deteriorated relationship with her older children. The one thing I had trouble understanding, I’ll admit, was the unabiding love she felt for this little boy, Jamie. But it was there, most certainly. She was (I’m guessing still is, I haven’t been in touch) a truly remarkable person.

In my zeal to capture the story — to put the reader there with this woman, raising this 5-year-old boy — I put in her description of what happened whenever she drove past a McDonald’s. The boy was able to recognize the Golden Arches, and demand his favorite meal through grunts and signs.

“See?” the mom announced to me at her kitchen table one afternoon, as Jamie watched Barney. “They say he’ll never be more than a 2-year-old! But a 2-year-old wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Yes, I thought to myself, a 2-year-old would. And I put that in the story.

I didn’t have to. I could have left well enough alone. It didn’t add anything — I was just being an asshole.

I’ve thought of that moment from time to time, since Sophie was born. And particularly in the last week or so.

I asked Sophie’s lawyer to ask the school to tell that psychologist not to come to the meeting this afternoon. The lawyer did it, but warned that the psychologist might show up anyhow.

I doubt she will. But if she does, I suppose I’ll be getting what I deserve.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, public school by Amysilverman

7 Responses to “For the Love of Jamie — and Sophie”

  1. I really hope all goes well today and that you feel a sense of clarity as you discuss the topics at hand, that you feel in control and a sense of calm.

    I’ll knot my stomach up for you so you can try to relax and go in there and be Sophie’s advocate.

    *oh and the story about Jamie. Isn’t it amazing how becoming a parent can make you a better person, more aware, more sensitive? Raising a child changes you in ways you never thought it would. Let yourself off the hook about it, you can only move forward.

  2. Another honest and thought provoking post, Amy.
    Don’t we all have memories of events we’d like to snatch back, press “re-wind,” as if they’d never occurred. So many damn learning opportunities.

    I’ll be holding you in my heart this afternoon!

  3. Fingers crossed here too.

  4. Surrender it. Then what will happen will happen. It will be the next step no matter what. It will be the right way to go. No matter what. Look at Sophie. The right thing happened when you had her.

  5. Amy- you are way too hard on yourself. You don’t have to be a perfect person to love Sophie or never make mistakes along the way or always feel perfectly balanced about raising her or even how you see her.Think about it- aren’t there times when you look at Annabelle and see her through a negative lens? Shame is the toxin here.
    What that principal said was WRONG. Sophie has the right to support in a classroom setting. Thank god she has a lawyer but why the heck should she need a lawyer at an IEP- that is so sad and maddening.
    You seem to be on the next level of acceptance and I promise- you will certainly look at Sophie comfortably again. Sometimes folks go through this “my child is really not soooo bad as some” process and it just takes a few more bumps to get to the reality and until you get to reality you can’t really do the whole acceptance thing.
    Well- I hope that makes sense.
    Hugs and support. And if you get more grief I’m going to fly there and kick some school ass!

  6. I hope it goes as well as it possibly can. I’ll be thinking of you.

  7. “I suppose I’ll be getting what I deserve.” I’m not a big believer in retributive karma. I think Maya Angelou expressed it better : When we know better we do better.

    Best of luck with today’s meeting.

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