“Mom, we’re so glad you could make it.”
I hate when school principals call me “mom.” Fuck off. The long oval table in front of me has thirteen people around it. Thirteen. How many people do they need to fight little old me?
I smile widely and walk on in. Files under one arm, a laptop under the other, an absurdly tall coffee in one hand — and my cell phone, unmuted in case of a call about a different child at a different school, in the other.
“Thank you for scheduling this so quickly,” I lie right back. It wasn’t quick. It was three weeks of nearly constant calling and emailing on my part. But this is the special education dance, am I right? We play along, respectfully bantering like we’re all on the same page. Like we all have the same goal. Like I believe they want what’s best for my kid.
Breathe, girl. It’s cool.
I sit down and immediately the speech therapist leans over to shake my hand. He is young and eager, my son’s favorite grownup on earth right now. We shake and I feel better already. There is at least one person here who believes in my kid.
Over the next hour, then two hours, lines are drawn. The speech therapist is not the only decent human at the table, though he speaks the most frequently, drawing glares from the Director of Student Services.
This woman is no fan of mine. I’m a squeaky wheel. A really, really squeaky wheel, and she silences squeaks like mine with a little “PhD in Educational Leadership” oil. Instead of quieting down, I squeak louder. She squirts more forcefully, this time adding supplemental “I’ve had decades of experience” oil, as well as a little “Here have a box of tissues, mom” coolant for good measure. Now I start to squeak aggressively, like an angry old station wagon with rusty doors, and she begins to hemorrhage all the different types of oil she has. Out come the “We’re all here for the same reason” and “I’m going to give meaningful looks to the principal as if you’re not here” oils, which are the least effective ones to splash around the conference room – but she’s too defensive to see that.
It’s a messy, blame-y tango that entrenches both of us in our positions. And now the team is just going to ruin her day entirely by listening to me? Oh yes.
So the Director of Student Services is not pleased, occasionally ahem’ing as the speech therapist and occupational therapist decide that more support hours will help my son. The principal nods in agreement, which is never a good sign for central office, and even the classroom teacher shrugs as if this is the least of her concerns. I pounce.
“I think a collaborative approach is perfect. The enthusiasm and knowledge you two bring to the table is so inspiring. How can we have you work with my child in the classroom, instead of just pulling him out?”
Keep it nonchalant, girl. Nobody needs to see your inclusion advocacy victory dance. Flossing is inappropriate at your age.
That’s the thing with moms like me. You give us a millimeter and we ask for a centimeter. We’re the worst.
“In the classroom?” asks the principal. “Can we do that?”
“Inclusion is proven to be best practice,” I say.
“That’s not traditionally how it’s done,” says the Director of Student Services. “We prefer-“
“I think that works with my schedule,” says the speech therapist. He’s so young, blind to the administrative daggers shooting in his direction. I contemplate divorcing my husband and immediately proposing. This caring, twenty-two-year-old practitioner has me all kinds of fired up. We could make it work.
“Wonderful!” I say. Maybe just an effusive thank you email.
“I guess that’s okay. It wouldn’t interfere with instruction, right?” says his teacher, in a shocking display of not-fighting-everything-I-say. I add her to the thank you list. No proposal for her, though. She’s kind of an asshole.
“I could provide support at his desk. It would probably help with behavior,” says the speech therapist.
I consider bringing doughnuts tomorrow.
“He would miss less content,” I add.
“Maybe we could try this for OT, too,” says the occupational therapist in a quiet voice. She is older, and well aware of the daggers, but is willing to delicately place a toe across the line.
Definitely doughnuts tomorrow.
The Director of Student Services is not having it. “This is getting a little-“
“AMAZING!” I announce. “I knew this was the school that would finally be able to dig deep and do what other programs could not. My son has never been so happy, never been so successful. And it’s because of this team. You all are amazing.”
The principal claps her hands in agreement. CLAPS. HER. HANDS. The teacher is now convinced she’s the one who came up with the whole plan, and preens with her success at being the first teacher ever to get me to sign the IEP papers on the same day. The therapists are discussing their schedules, their excited chatter filling the room.
The Director’s lips are pursed. This is not how this meeting was supposed to go.
I smile at her. Losing is hard, bless her heart.
And now lessons have been learned by us all! I, for example, have learned how to self-translate my rage into appropriate teacher-speak! A chart, for those of you who need the Cliff’s Notes version:
When speaking with a teacher who does not consider my child a “joy to teach”:
What I Want to Say What I Actually Say
Why are you so fucking mean?
I know you have limited bandwidth. How can I support you?
My child is not your punching bag. What can we do to make sure you have all the tools you need to handle my son’s additional needs?
You are an asshole. I respect the work you do so much. Your job is the hardest in the world.
My child is not a bad kid, turd! My child is not a bad kid.
FOLLOW THE IEP MOTHERFUCKER. The IEP is a legal document, and it must be followed.
See how easy it is?
Hannah Grieco is an education and disability advocate and freelance writer in the Washington, DC area. Her work can be found in Washington Post’s ‘On Parenting,’ Huffington Post, Barren Magazine, Lunch Ticket, Arlington Magazine, and other publications.