Pandemics, Special Ed, and Rolling With the Punches

Photo by Ashutosh Sonwani on

Generally, I would say I’m pretty good at rolling with the punches.

Fifteen-plus years of parenthood has taught me to make good plans. It’s also taught me to be flexible, because plans usually get shredded. But simply having one allows me to know the parameters and priorities, which, when plans do get shredded, leaves me better prepared to adjust while still achieving what’s most important.

This week, though, has about done me in.

A couple weeks ago, a family member had a meltdown over the start of school. I tried to be as empathetic as I could without really delving in, because I could already feel the same panic nosing around at my back, looking for an entry point, and I didn’t see any point in giving it ammunition. We were still waiting for numbers to settle and decisions to be made.

My time is here now.

I realized a few days ago that the very last thing I did on site at a school this spring was Julianna’s IEP meeting. And the very first thing I am doing in communication with her school this fall is to redo that IEP for hybrid and virtual learning.

We had a phone call this week with her case manager. I feel kind of bad for that poor lady, actually, because she got a heck of an earful from us.

I haven’t shared a lot about special ed things in the past year, in part because it’s a topic so fraught with stress and passion, I don’t want to give an impression that isn’t true. My daughter’s teachers work really hard, and in fact, this spring it became clear to me just how much they do and how important they are. That clarity came from attempting to teach her myself.

It was bad. Really bad. If I ever had any doubt about whether I was meant to be a school teacher, working with Julianna this spring dispelled it. I was not. ESPECIALLY, I was not meant to be a special ed teacher.

So there was that: extremely unsuccessful online learning. And then there was the twin issue: the impossibility of me working under such circumstances. From school closure on March 17th until sometime mid-April, I basically did not write, because supervising Julianna (and, in fairness, managing the freak-outs of myself and the other three kids) required so much time and energy. Writing novels and crafting liturgical song texts are not jobs that can be done in scattered bits and pieces. They require focus, and focus means concentrated time. There was none.

What changed in mid-April was that the pastoral music convention went online and I suddenly had big deadlines. I no longer had the option not to work.

At that point, Julianna basically stopped learning for the year. We made perfunctory efforts every day, but–basically, we were done.

The last day of online school was May 21st. My husband had taken the day off because that was also the first day of an online retreat I was helping present for the aforementioned convention. Half an hour before I went into my room to go online, we were taking a walk around the neighborhood and I was fretting about the 20-21 year. Which means I spent the last day of LAST school year fretting about THIS one.

Well, now it’s here, and it’s looking like an entire school year of the same. The school district keeps putting off making final decisions, which I appreciate on one level because I’d rather keep the possibility of in-person schooling alive until it simply can’t be entertained anymore. But the lack of details, which prevents me from making any plans on how to even ATTEMPT to manage a write-at-home career plus school, is pinging every anxiety nerve in my brain. Last night, long after I should have been asleep, I was pacing my living room in the dark, raging and crying and feeling totally, completely helpless. And the worst part is that the anxiety is chewing up the last remaining weeks when I ought to be able to focus on work, because I shouldn’t HAVE to be focusing on my kids’ school.

There are no easy answers here, and I’m not putting this out there to ask for advice or solutions. Trust me, I have MANY more thoughts than I’m sharing here. But I have found that this blog is a chance to give people a glimpse beneath the veil, and while everyone in America is dealing with these issues to some extent this fall, having a child with a developmental disability takes it to a whole new level.