Safe Places & Safe Spaces

A couple weeks ago I blogged about our experience in the transition from Middle School to High School.  I was (and still am) SO SO SO impressed by our Assistant Principal.  I affectionately refer to him as Principal Snapple…check that post here.

At the end of that post I promised to write about our very first 504 meeting.  I’m all for holding that promise, so here we go.

We’re beginning a new chapter in this life.  Off the IEP, onto the 504.

One of my favorite moments in Tucker’s educational process is gathering teachers in a common place and telling them the story of Tucker.  One thing becomes abundantly clear…

Like autism itself, his story is so different.

Different than ‘other kids’ who have autism.
Different than ‘other kids’ who are neurotypical.

This makes it difficult.  Difficult to explain.  Difficult to advocate.  Difficult to persuade.

Maybe we’ve done too well?  He’s developed these coping strategies really well. REALLY, REALLY well…so well that others may not believe anything is different. He seems so…um…get ready for it…I hate using this word…normal (insert *cringe* here).

But, he’s anything but normal –  he’s remarkable.

So, there I sat in a room full of teachers – and it’s odd.  It’s odd because I’m also a teacher and a researcher and an advocate…and (most of all) a mom. Managing those tensions in my life can, at times,  prove to be difficult.  A constant state of push and pull between who I am in that space in life.  My brain begins to swirl.

As a teacher…Don’t put another thing on their plate – they already have so much.
As a researcher…Don’t fill the time with talk of proprioceptive and interoceptive challenges – these are busy, busy folks, stay on point.
As an advocate…Don’t expect them to care about autism as much as you care about autism.
As a mom…Don’t cry. Seriously.  Don’t cry.

In these difficult moments I often channel something wise told to me by my parents or grandparents.  Something soothing…something that will bring clarity.  My dad often said, ‘fair is not equal, and equal is not fair.’  The older I get, the more I experience life with Tucker I realize this. It reminds me of this picture…

fairandequal

(Okay…let’s be honest.  Anyone who knows Tuck will giggle at this picture – you know, because he’s like a giant. So don’t take this picture as a literal representation of his needs)

He simply needs a boost.  With that boost he is absolutely capable of doing everything that EVERY. OTHER. STUDENT. is doing at that school.  Period.

So, what did I do?

I told Tucker’s story. Margaret Wheatley wrote, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.”   I believe this wholeheartedly.  If people would simply provide space in their hearts and minds to hear and feel his story, they would understand.  They would understand where we’ve been, how we’ve arrived here, and the place in which we currently exist.  When we finished I asked them, above all things to…

Provide a safe place, a safe space for him.  A place or him to feel loved, wanted, and needed – and a space for him to continue to grow.  

I left that meeting with hope.  I left that meeting believing that his teachers are those blocks of fairness.  I left that meeting knowing those blocks of  support would allow him to see the world like everyone else.  I left that meeting smiling and reassured.

And…for the most part, it’s been true.  For the most part, these teachers are reaching out when they have ideas.  They are reaching out when something seems ‘off.’  They are working at constructing those boosting blocks.

Most of all?  Their emails begin like this,

“First, just let me tell how much I enjoy Tucker…”
“I have to tell you that I think Tucker is very funny…”
“That kid of yours?  He’s so very kind…”

That is how I know safe places and safe spaces abound…it’s also how I know they will be an important part of Tucker’s next chapter.  This chapter will be full of new thoughts and exciting revelations.  A chapter that will end with what will be the beginning of the rest of his life.

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Coming to Terms

Something really fantastic has been happening in our home.

Something that I had always hoped would happen.

As parents, we hypothesize certain parenting behaviors will work…but, let’s be honest, it’s a crapshoot. (I have no idea what that phrase really means…but I do know how to use it.)  No matter what we’re going to screw some stuff up – and are hopeful that MAYBE…just maybe, we’ll get something right.

From the very beginning we were honest with Tucker.  We told him why he was different.  We’ve shared why he may struggle in school.  We promised we would be right by his side – always – rooting for him, cheering for him, advocating for him.

Those times were often filled with tears for his struggle.

Now?

Now…we’ve begun to root WITH him, cheer WITH him, and advocate WITH him.

These times are often filled with tears from his struggle.

My heart is in a constant battle…jump into my throat with anxiousness or jump out of my chest with pride.

He’s loving himself.  Oh man…he’s really loving himself.  AND – not in a I’m too cool for school or I’m too awesome or I’m so special way…but in an ‘I’m different…and that can be pretty awesome‘ way.  Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?

It started about six weeks ago. My two children were having a discussion about the plan for a Friday night at the dinner table.

Estelle was pressing Tucker for more and more details.  What time is the game?  What time are you leaving for the game?  Where is the game?  When will you get to play in the game?

Finally, Tucker stood up.  He took his plate to the sink.  He came back to the table.  I could tell he was irritated.  He stood over her and my stomach dropped a bit…what was he doing?!?!  He looked at his sister – IN HER EYES – and said, “Why are you being so Tucker-ee?” We all froze.  He continued.  “Why are you needing every detail of the night?!?!?”

We all froze.

We all looked at each other.  He got it.  He gets it.  Then he smiled…and all of us laughed like we hadn’t laughed in  months.  The kind of laugh where you bend over and let it all out.

Finally, Estelle answered, “Well…why are you being so Estelle-like?”

Another round of laughter…and the tears that came were tears of laughter and relief.  This is the deal.  He’s learned that we are all different…AND we can (and should) find humor in our unique ways of living life.

It happened in our house, unbridled acceptance led to a recognition of unconditional love.

Then…a couple of weeks later it happened again.  He’s so very literal…SO VERY LITERAL.  He had a Doctor appointment.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a doctor laugh so hard.  Here is what I posted on Facebook…

fullsizerender

So…you’re laughing, yes?

Did you notice who commented?  Tucker did.  Did you see what he commented?  ‘You’re all welcome.’

It happened online, unbridled acceptance led to a recognition of unconditional love.

Tucker will be confirmed at the end of this month.  Two weeks ago he read his faith statement to our congregation.  In that statement he wrote (and then read aloud),

One of my favorite songs is by TobyMac.  It is called, Beyond Me.  I’d like to share some of the song.

Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched, outsized, the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe

In this first part he sings, “I might be outmatched, outsized, the underdog in the fight of my life”  I can feel that because I’ve been made fun of and had difficult times because my brain is different than most people. But then he sings about his dreams being beyond him. That’s like me.  God gives me the faith that I’m different, but I know can do it.

Not a dry eye was found in our house.  Did you see that again? That, my friends, is an acceptance of self.

It happened in the public sphere, unbridled acceptance led to a recognition of unconditional love.

During this moment in our history it feels we need a bit more of this…unbridled acceptance that leads to a recognition of unconditional love.   Thank you for your part in Tucker’s recognition and/or acceptance, no matter how big or small it may have been.  Now…go out and give it to someone else…