One last gift

My mother has been battling several chronic illnesses for a long time. But this last year has really taken its toll on her body and spirit. The last few months in particular have shown a drastic decline in her overall mobility and ability to do the most basic of tasks.

During her last hospitalization, Mom came to the decision that should her health decline to a point that death is imminent she did not want medical intervention to prolong her life. With that decision made, the focus of her treatment changed and she was transitioned to hospice. She left the hospital the next day and is currently at my sister’s house, where she is entertaining visitors from all over creation and is reaping all of the love and laughter she has sown all these years.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Mom is dying and we all know it. We don’t know when – the doctors gave her anywhere from a few days to a few months. Some moments it seems like death is sitting in the corner and others as if it’s barely a whisper on the wind. But it is still there, swirling around the edges of our consciousness and adding urgency to our conversations and interactions. She feels it, too, probably more keenly than the rest of us. At times while you are sitting with her she will look up, her face calm with a hint of melancholy, and whisper your name. When you reply, she follows it with, “I love you.” Choking back tears, we all reply that we love her, too, and the conversation shifts back to other things or she will drift off to sleep, content that her message has been received.

It is both brutal and raw but there is a beauty to it as well. Our conversations have a heft, a weight to them that was lacking before. They are precious and painful and we are so very, very lucky that we get to have them.

Talking to the kids about this has really stretched the edges of my parenting skills. I have had several conversations with both of them about what is happening. During these talks it became apparent that my mother is giving me – all of us really – a final gift. She is giving me the ability to teach my children that courage and strength of character stay with you forever. I had several conversations with Dylan, who said he wasn’t sure he could see her without breaking down. This is what I told him.

We’re all going to breakdown. It’s grief, it’s supposed to hurt. Part of being a grown-up is learning to live through the hard parts of life without letting them destroy you. You are going to cry, a lot. But you will also laugh, a lot. We have been given a gift for which many people would chew off their arms – the ability to grant a dying woman her last wish and the opportunity to say goodbye. An awesome responsibility has been placed on us, and it is now up to us to show the emotional courage to pick it up and put her needs ahead of our own, regardless of how painful or difficult it is for us to witness.

Families are built on shared experiences and you don’t get to only attend the good parts. No one likes the bad parts but they’re important, too. If the good times are the bricks the family is built from, then the bad times are the mortar that holds the whole thing together. Without both, a family can’t exist.

When I heard that Mom made the decision to transition to hospice, I faced a slew of emotions. I’m not going to lie, most of them were negative and, in hindsight, a little selfish – a few too many “I’s” and not enough “Hers” in my thinking. After I saw her and talked to her about her decision, what struck me most was the peace she was wrapped in when she talked about it. She misses people: her mom and dad; her sister; her brothers; her sister-in-law and best friend; and all the other friends and family that have gone on before her.

Then there’s dad. Gone almost 24 years now, and very much on her mind lately, she’s eager to see him again. She misses him. I can’t imagine enduring that kind of loneliness and longing for so long.

What I worried was resignation to her failing body and health was, in fact, the opposite. Her decision was an affirmation of her ability for self-determination. Her decision was born from strength and, honestly, I have to support and admire that kind of courage. I hope if I am ever faced with a decision of this magnitude that I can find it within myself to make it with the same courage and dignity she has shown.

I saw her this past Sunday, and I asked her if she had any fight left. Her response? “Hell ya!” She added that she wasn’t giving up but she wasn’t going to fight the inevitable. When her time comes, she will greet it as a blessing rather than fight it as a curse.

Mom has always been a fighter and she instilled that fighting spirit into each one of her five daughters. Although we all embody it differently, we are branches on the same tree. I am the living embodiment of her stubbornness. I have been, and continue to be, the person who will cut her nose off to spite her face. I also have to learn every lesson the hard way.

Mom and I didn’t always understand the larger parts of each other’s personalities but none of those differences matter standing this close to the end. All that matters now is what we still have left to learn from each other. Thankfully, Mom was always “mom” enough to give me the room to figure out the important lessons myself, and most of the time had the grace not to say I told you so when I finally grasped them – however long that may have taken (or in some cases is still taking).

Saturday was a hectic day. We drove to Maine to watch Dylan play lacrosse and then we all drove to my sister’s house in Worcester, where mom is staying. It’s a pretty big family and a good deal of it was already there when we arrived in the early evening. It was loud and boisterous and filled with love and laughter. All 16 of her grandkids showed up that day and her happiness about that was evident from the smile on her face. She sat perched in the middle of the hospital bed, primped and ready to receive the latecomers. She was alert and full of Irish mischief. We looked at pictures and listened as she told us about all her visitors that day.

After we all caught up, the kids spent time with her individually. I don’t know what they talked about and, quite frankly, it’s none of my business.

It was hard watching them wrestle with the knowledge that this may be their last meaningful interaction with their grandmother. They knew it, I knew it and she knew it. I am grateful for her grace and encouragement to all of her grandchildren as she allowed them the gift of saying good-bye to her in their own way on their own terms. I was talking to Dylan via text (he’s back at school) and I told him what I was writing about this week. He told me that he also wrote about Grammy this week in class. When I asked what he chose to write about, he told me he wrote about how she always believes in him.

Her life has touched so many people. Her five daughters and their spouses, her 16 grandchildren and their spouses and significant others, her four great-grandchildren, dozens of nieces and nephews and their children, and scores of neighborhood kids all knew that help was theirs for the asking. She made a place for everyone and anyone and her influence will continue to be felt for generations.

What an amazing legacy she will leave behind.

Update: Mom passed away surround by three of her five daughters and several grandchildren on September 28, 2014. Just in time to see Dad on his birthday which is today, September 30th. I imagine they are having a wonderful time.

Originally published to The Old Colony Memorial on September 24, 2014

wickedlocallarge

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A Mother’s Way (Originally published to Plymouth Patch May 2012)

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle ~ Proverb

As mothers, we share the honor and responsibility for raising the future. It is up to us to advocate for the best interests of our children. It also means that if a child does not have a mother who can support them – for whatever reason – the imperative then falls to us, the moms who can.
I’d like to focus attention, however briefly; on the one issue that I believe is the most important opportunity we have to impact the lives of all children, everywhere. It crosses all boundaries.
Education
We, as a country, need to reaffirm our commitment to quality public education. We also need to reaffirm our commitment to teachers.
Teachers are an integral part of education and they should be treated like partners. Recruiting and retaining smart, dedicated educators by making teaching an attractive and viable profession needs to start with a living wage. We need to stop making them the enemy and vilifying them as lazy and unproductive. Do bad teachers exist? Sure. But so do bad doctors and plumbers and parents.
Advocating for education is not a one-time deal. We will need to do it loudly and often. Investing in public education is not just about money. It’s about taking what works in the classroom and tweaking what doesn’t. We need to create partnerships in the community between parents and educators. We need to dedicate our time and talents as mentors and role-models. We need to empower teachers to spend more time teaching the fundamentals and less time “teaching to the test” and cowering in a corner practicing lockdowns.
I am not an expert on education or education reform. I am, however, a pretty keen observer and I trust what I see.
I was able to spend a lot of time in the classroom when my kids were in elementary school and I saw amazing things happen when teachers are able to develop relationships with their students. I have watched as children began to master near impossible tasks come away with increased self-esteem and greater confidence. Children, when encouraged to try in a supportive environment, will try, even if they fail. They begin to understand that learning is a process, a joy.
I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone will agree with me on this issue. Honestly, I don’t really care. I dare anyone to tell me that investing less in education is the best policy.
I’m not suggesting I have all the answers.
I don’t. But there are people, people smarter than me, who study education and understand how to fix it. We need to let them fix it but we need to make sure we continue to pay attention so things don’t get off track or completely derailed.
Reforming our education system will not come without a fight and progress will be frustratingly slow. It could, potentially, take a generation or more of reinvestment and reinvention of our public schools before significant gains are achieved. This is a long fight and it is not for the faint-hearted.
Together, we can change the world.
How cool is that?

Mr. Checkers

wickedlocallarge

This past Sunday morning, I found him abandoned in the bottom of her travel bag. He had been there since Friday.

Mr. Checkers is an elephant, a stuffed yellow elephant with checkered ears – hence his name. He wears satin pajamas with multi-colored polka dots, and he was, once upon a time, Emma’s most cherished possession.
Read more: Mr. Checkers

When Irish Eyes are Smiling

In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.
 
It’s been twenty-two years since I’ve heard your laugh.
 

dadThe big one. The booming outrageous laugh. The one that started deep in your chest and ricocheted off the back of your tongue and seemed to ride every available sound wave, filling a space. That one. I miss it. Every now and then I think I hear it. Faint and lingering. Distant. Haunting.
 
It’s been two hundred and sixty-four months since I’ve heard your laugh.
 
Your silent laugh, when you laughed so hard no sound could escape. You would sit there, shaking and turning colors. Strangers thought you were in distress. Remember when they stopped “Shear Madness” because someone in the cast thought you were having a heart attack? We had to explain – because you couldn’t pull your shit together – that you were just thoroughly enjoying the show and to please continue.
 
It’s been one thousand one hundred and forty-eight weeks since I’ve heard your voice.
 

Enough is enough

I really haven’t been myself this week.

I’m so beyond done with all the stupid crap that has been swirling around since Friday that I just do not care anymore what people think or feel about what I write.

This started as a status update on Facebook but it grew so quickly that I felt it deserved it’s own blog post.

I’m disappointed.

In people.

Deeply and – what feels at this moment – irreversibly disappointed.

Disappointed with people I know,

Disappointed with those I don’t.

Continue reading

Christmas Memories – The Perfect Tree

I love Christmas! Love! It hasn’t been a life-long love affair. For a little while, in the middle, I was kind of over it. But it’s back now baby! The funny part is, I don’t even care if I get anything. I love the giving. Paying attention and giving the perfect gift. The unexpected. The one they didn’t think anyone paid attention to. That gift. Priceless.

As a child, Christmas was magical. Dad loved Christmas. And he did Christmas like everything else with a style all his own! Or, the tackier the better. He had a lot of great qualities, taste was not one of them. Being colorblind factored into it certainly but it was more than that, it was his absolute inability to edit. Every idea, according to Dad, was a good one and needed to be accommodated. Some how. Somewhere.

You have no idea how much garland, fishing wire, and tinsel were lost to Dad’s quest for Christmas decorating perfection.

First things first.

The Tree. Not just any tree. The Perfect Tree. A Scotch Pine. Oh, the tree, couldn’t be any Scotch Pine. It had to be the biggest, the fullest, the christmas-treeiest of all trees on the lot. He would not tolerate bare spots or other disfigurements. This was Christmas. This was the centerpiece of his decorating madness. The crowning glory of his vision.

I don’t think Dad ever paid full price for a tree. Hell, I’m not sure he paid any price for a tree, ever. People gave stuff to him cause he was a nice guy. He was always the first to offer help and would stay there, at the lot, carrying trees to cars, tying them to rooftops, just helping out a busy guy. For an hour of his time, doing what he loved – shooting the breeze – he would come home with a tree. Dad was smart. He did his shopping, picked out his tree, and brought it up to pay. Then, he would start with the chit-chat and the helping. And when it was time to go, he’d go to pay, and tree-guy was like “nope, we’re good. Merry Christmas.” It was a true talent.

He would drive up Sheridan Street, tree tied to the roof of whatever car he was currently driving, the sisters all excited. Waiting. Anticipating. Dad would park and unload the tree. It would be monstrous. The tallest tree we had ever seen. It towered over everything near it. That folks, that is when the fun would start. Getting it in the house. No easy feat when you purchase a fifteen foot tree for a home with nine foot ceilings!

Wrestling the tree into the house to gauge it’s true height, Dad would then start with the “trimming”. Usually 3-4 feet before the tree could be safely placed in the stand and slid into the box bay in the living room. We would be admonished to leave it alone. Decorating would take place the following day.

The tree trimming doesn’t stand out in my memory. Most vivid, to me, is the wrestling and the chopping. Taming the tree into the confines of the living room and the box bay. I remember some cussing as bulbs blew out and wires tangled. As we all got older, the trees got bigger. One year he cut so much off the top of the tree, we had two trees. One for the living room and one for the playroom.

But the tree was just the beginning of the decorating on-slaught. The true decorations were yet to come.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Christmas memories. Wherein Jim bends wire hangers to his will and another family legend is born.

Attitude Adjustment in 3… 2…

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and widsom to know the difference.

That, for those not in the know, is “The Serenity Prayer”. And, yes I know I spelled wisdom wrong. It’s an inside joke for the sisters.

My first experience with it was when Dad joined AA. He had it in his wallet, he had it engraved in lucite, he had it memorized. He clung to it. It was his lifeline and his salvation.

I heard him refer to it often in the 11 years of sobriety he attained before he died. Which one is it Blondie, he would ask, do we change it or accept it? Change it, I would reply, no matter what. That was my answer. Even the color of the sky? Of course. He would laugh and say no, it wasn’t possible. I’d tell him to put on a pair of sunglasses – sky color changed. Suck on that Big Jim!

My most vivid memory of the prayer is saying it over his casket at his funeral. Mom asked if anyone wanted to speak and, me being me, said yes. What I was going to say, well I wasn’t sure about that. As I stood at the podium on that cold March morning, in front of family and friends, it seemed so right; so appropriate. I remember asking all present to say it with me, if they knew it.

I remember my aunt, Marie, not knowing the prayer. She scolded me after for not telling her about it so she could learn it. Sorry, Marie! I remember another aunt, Mary, scolding me for using the “alcoholics” prayer as she called it. Her I ignored since well, she annoyed me. It was important to Dad and if his sister couldn’t see that, arguing with her wasn’t going to change her mind. Nothing ever did.

I have no physical copy of the poem these days but it’s written on my soul. It’s my personal attitude adjustment. See I’m an optimist, well really more of a realist with a positive attitude. I don’t wish for things to get better. If I’m unhappy with something, I change it. If I can’t change it, I deal with it. If I can’t deal with it – well, let’s just say I haven’t run up against anything I can’t deal with. Yet.

I forget every so often that I have an amazing life. I certainly don’t have everything, not even close. But I have what matters: family, friends, and work (both professional and volunteer). What else do you need. Oh, right.

The widsom to know the difference.

It’s been a day…

You know the kind. The kind of day that makes you feel like you have a target on your back. Yeah, one of those days.

Well it really started last night. With the trip to the ER for Emma and her knee. Crutches, ice, and rest. Tendonitis. No biggie. Except now I have to drive her to and from school for the rest of the week. On top of driving her brother, who is having knee surgery tomorrow. Oh, plus working. Yeah work’s important.

So my plan was: drive Dylan to school, come home, get ready, drive Emma to school and go to work. I would leave work at 1:40 to pick up Dylan after school, figured I’d dismiss Emma early since she had gym last period. Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right. Ha. As if.

Remember the target?

Emma has a half-day; Dylan does not. Which means she is out at noon and he is out at 2. And I am in a whole world of suck.

Oh, plus I decide that this would be the morning that I would clean the trackball in my blackberry. I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment. I pry the trackball out, clean it, and cannot get it back together. Great. Now my phone is not fully functioning. Once again my complete confidence in my ability to do anything, even that which I have no clue about, has back-fired – shocking, right. Remember that target? Yeah. I haven’t yet clued myself into the target.

I get Emma to school and get to work, we’re down one person already due to a family emergency and our part-time person calls in sick. Ever-loving-god-almighty universe WTF. Still cannot fix my phone but I have loads of work to do and not really a lot of time to do it. Except the Server is down. We need to move stuff to backup in order to get any work done. Hours are wasted in the pursuit of the paperless office and modern convenience.

I hurry out the door at 11:30 to get the Divine Miss Em, go to the Sprint store to have a new trackball installed, get Em home, make sure she is settled and back to work by 12:30. Damn, I’m good! Server is finally not acting like a dickhead and I actually get some work done.

Just in time to leave to get Dylan. Leave work at 1:40, get to school, pick up, go home, check out sister, and back to work by 2:30 and jam out a few hours of work. Good thing I’m awesome!

Peace out people this will probably be the last entry for a few days what with having two kids on crutches, a day at the hospital, and my three fav things in the world: work, work, and more work. But no laundry, Pattycakes did that the other night, cause he’s awesome like that.

Oh, and universe, suck it! The target was there all day and you missed.

Send Dylan best wishes, prayers, sacrifices, whatever flavor you indulge in, he could use some. He’s had more than his fair share of the suck lately.

Silent Emma: Why won’t she talk to us?

I wrote this in June for another website. I’m reposting it here, in its entirety. It’s long, so settle in. Oh, it makes me cry every time I read it. You have been warned.

I have a daughter; her name is Emma.  She is 11 and she is beautiful, smart and talented.

When Emma was five, she was diagnosed with Selective Mutism (SM), an anxiety disorder that robs a child not only of their voice but also of their self-esteem.  A good way to describe it is like a fear of public speaking times a million.

I am not an expert on SM.  I am writing this diary as a mother who struggled with doing the right thing for her child even when the right thing was not readily apparent.  While SM impacted every aspect of Emma’s life, I decided to focus this diary on her journey in school since that was where she spent so much of her time and where key milestones were met.  During the height of her treatment, we would drive 3 hours round trip at least once a week to meet with her behavioral therapist and/or her doctor.

At the time of her diagnosis, Emma talked to four people:  me, her brother, Lily and her dad (in that order). Lily was her one “talking to” friend.  They went everywhere and did everything together.  I don’t know how she chose Lily or why but it worked.  She didn’t talk to her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or neighbors.  During a well visit, I mentioned it to her pediatrician and we agreed it was strange and would monitor it.  We knew she could talk since she talked a blue-streak at home.  Her language development was good and her vocabulary was age-appropriate.

Halfway through her second silent year at preschool, her doctor and I started talking and researching in earnest.  It was obvious that whatever was wrong, intervention was necessary.

Intervention arrived in the form of Dr. Black, a psychiatrist who specializes in SM.  Our first session was strange and uncomfortable.  It was difficult to be taking our 5 year old to a psychiatrist but we were open and honest with the doctor and he quickly confirmed what we had already known – Emma has SM and a pretty severe case at that.  We immediately set up a treatment plan, which included weekly behavioral therapy sessions as well as monthly sessions with the psychiatrist.  Her main goal was to take people from her “Not Talking To” list and move them to her “Talks To” list.

Emma worked hard the summer before kindergarten with her therapy and made small gains.  I had spoken with the principal before summer began and informed him of what was going on.  Luckily, we had an established relationship with him since her brother was enrolled in school already.  I discussed her condition with him and to his credit, he said to me: “I don’t know anything about SM but you tell me what she needs and we’ll make it work” and boy he kept his word over the next 6 years and then some!

Emma started school two days before the rest of her class.  She was in the classroom while the teacher was setting up her room so she could feel more comfortable in her surroundings and could learn the lay of the land.  We were incredibly lucky that for her, kindergarten meant a two room school house from the turn of the century that housed only kindergarten kids.  I was able to be in the class as much as I needed to be for Emma’s comfort and read at least twice a week to the class.  By the end of the school year, she had even added her teacher to her “Talks To” list.  We followed that model the next year in first grade when she moved up to the “big” school.

The teacher was once again on board with me being in the classroom to read, although I spent less time in the class in first grade.  Since she had some success in kindergarten she was able to move her teacher to the “Talks To” list and would speak privately to the teacher within the first few months and then in the classroom but only in a whisper.  She worked on her volume but her voice never rose above a whisper that year.  About half-way through first grade, we made the decision to start her on anti-anxiety medication and this helped.  During the final month of school, when I was in the classroom reading, she would read to me a passage and I would then read out loud to the class.  We took her progress as a victory and encouraged her to continue.

She met her two best friends during first grade, the twins – Abbi and Hailey who quickly became “Talking To” friends.  Her friend Lily did not attend the same elementary school as Emma and I was happy that she was able to connect with school peers.

Second grade was more of the same but we introduced (with the teacher’s permission) a new technique.  One day a week we would arrive to school early and I would read to Emma while the teacher worked in her classroom.  After a few times, Emma began reading to me.  Each session the teacher moved closer to us and eventually joined us at the table where I would read to them both.  Emma would then start reading to us.  After she was comfortable, I would start to move further away until one day it was just Emma and her teacher with Emma doing the reading.  During the period of me backing away, we worked with Emma on her volume – I needed to hear her voice no matter where I was in the room; this took almost the full year.  At the same time, I would be in the classroom one afternoon a week reading to the class.  Emma would whisper the words and I would reread at an appropriate volume.

Kids are amazingly accepting of differences and Emma was accepted as herself, they didn’t care that she didn’t talk she was popular and was invited to play dates and birthday parties.  That started to change in second grade as some kids started to exclude her and bully her a bit.  We realized at that point that we had asked her peers to take a lot on faith and, with Emma’s permission, I shared her story with her class.  After telling her story, I opened up the floor for questions.  I was overwhelmed with the response of these second-graders.  One little boy raised his hand and asked if Emma would feel more comfortable if everyone in class shut their eyes when she wanted to talk!  Once they understood the problem, they were able to process it, and move on!  Toward the end of second grade, I joined her small reading group at school to help her speak in front of a small group of kids and she did a good job.  Her voice never rose above a whisper but she did it.

When Emma was preparing to enter third grade, I received a call from her third grade teacher who had spent the summer researching SM and how to effectively deal with it in a classroom situation.  She was calling to invite Emma to tour her class in order to feel more comfortable and she wanted to speak with me so she could get on board with the current treatment and techniques.  Third grade was incredible.  I was out of the morning session within the first marking term; I still read in the classroom but limited my class involvement to one afternoon reading session a week.  In the classroom, the teacher was working with Emma on increasing volume and by mid-year, the kids in the first row could hear her voice as she read with me.

Chorus also started in third grade and Emma loved it.  We did the same morning routine with the chorus/music teacher and things were working great.  She didn’t sing out loud during class but was determined to try out for a solo in the spring concert.  This was a goal she set herself and I applauded her bravery.  She tried out with the rest of her class and the teacher gave her a solo!  She modified the initial solo into a solo in three parts and added Emma’s two friends.  The other girls were prepared to sing her part in case she couldn’t do it.

The spring chorus had two shows, the afternoon show for the students and the evening show for parents and guests.  I arrived at the afternoon show not sure what was going to happen but prepared for either event (or so I thought).  About half-way through the concert, Emma was up.  Standing at the microphone, she looked so scared and small and then she sang her two lines – clear as day.  Let me tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house; I’m tearing up as I write this.  She sang it again that evening, although not quite as loud.  The look of pride and relief on her face was unforgettable.  I think that’s the moment when I knew, she would beat this!

For fourth grade, Emma asked to be placed with a certain teacher. Every year he organized a Veteran’s Day celebration and Emma wanted to participate.  She also asked me not to do our morning routine with the teacher, that she wanted to try to acclimate to the classroom environment herself.  I deferred to her wishes and the year started off fine.  I was in contact with the teacher so he understood her treatment goals and I was always available if he needed to discuss things with me.  Veteran’s Day presented itself and I was very excited to see what the students had planned.  I wasn’t aware of Emma’s role or involvement since she was keeping it a secret.  I’m glad she did because I was in for one of the biggest surprises of my life – Emma was the MC!

She was responsible for introducing the honor guard, the entire class, and each segment.  By herself — in the middle of the auditorium — with a microphone and her determination and she did it!  She was fine with an audience but she still struggled with personal relationships.  She was still withdrawn and quiet, unless spoken to directly, with family and others but she could and would communicate, albeit grudgingly.  Her circle of friends widened with two new “talking to” friends.  Small victories and large, she was still on her journey and I still encouraged her, and cajoled her, and rewarded her.

By the middle of fourth grade we started weaning her off the anti-anxiety medicine since her doctor felt that she should try to do a year in her elementary school medication-free before moving up to the larger middle school environment.  She handled the transition off the medicine with a few bumps but overcame them quickly and she really enjoyed the rest of fourth grade.  By this time, she was answering in a more audible voice and participated in class discussions and other events.  We were able to drop her visits to the therapist from once a week to once a month and with the doctor from every month to every three months.  Needless to say, I was very proud of her and hoped that fifth grade would bring even more success.

Fifth grade arrived and again we skipped the whole routine of being in the classroom and she had a very successful fifth grade.  She participated in class and she expanded her “talking to” friends to include almost the whole class and was really loving her life. She even did the morning announcements. We were able to drop her visits to the therapist to “as needed” and to see the doctor once every six months!  She was still quiet and reserved most of the time and we figured that was her nature.  She was able to communicate with the rest of the world without gripping fear and uncertainty, which was our main objective when we sought help for her.  Her big test would come with middle school.  Leaving the safety of elementary school and moving into the much larger world of middle school and everything associated with that move — the bus, older kids, teachers and staff that didn’t know her history.

I spoke with the adjustment counselor by phone and the elementary school counselor had made her aware of Emma.  During our call, we decided to honor Emma’s wish that her “problem” (as she called it) not be common knowledge so she could start middle school without being known as “the girl who doesn’t talk”.  She acclimated to the school fine; she liked the teachers and the work.  She made honor roll her first term and was participating in class discussions and projects in a limited fashion.  She was still quiet and reserved and began the annoying habit of hiding behind her hair.  At Christmas, she got a cell phone and she became a texting machine!  That thing buzzed all the time with names that I didn’t recognize.  Her social calendar was filling up.  She attended all the school dances. She joined the chorus.  She really transitioned nicely.

In January, I noticed a new confidence.  I let her experiment with makeup she had received as a Christmas gift.  She had a light touch and, even though it wasn’t my initial plan to let her wear makeup in 6th grade, I allowed it since it gave her a boost of self-confidence and made her want to dress a little nicer.  February and March flew by.  One day in April she pulled her hair back off her face before school; she looked nice but I didn’t say anything.  I was driving to school that day and when she got out of the car, she took it down before she went into school.  Oh well, she tried.  About two weeks later, she did it again.  At that time I told her how pretty she looked and her response was “yes, I know, that’s what they told me in school yesterday”.  I laughed and asked her had she put her hair up in school and she had.

All of a sudden, I had a giggling preteen girl concerned with her looks and her friends, and even boys!  Her poise and confidence are stunning.  She speaks to everyone freely and without pause.  While my goal at the beginning of treatment was to give Emma all the tools and support she needed to become engaged and out-going, I always really thought she would continue to be quiet.  I am overjoyed and awed to call her my daughter and she is my hero.

Reading over this diary it may appear that Emma’s journey was light and breezy.  It was not.  It was like a second job.  Progress was frustratingly slow and anxiety-ridden.  This was Emma’s battle and she won it.  I was her guide and her advocate but she did the heavy lifting.

I have to acknowledge her brother, Dylan, older by 2-1/2 years.  He made it easy for my husband and me to handle this.  He didn’t complain when she was racking up the prizes for something he did as a matter of course.  He was her voice when I wasn’t there.  He stuck up for her and included her in everything.  He would take no nonsense when someone decided she couldn’t be included since she wouldn’t talk.  If it was an audible game, he made them change the rules.  He is the most amazing brother and son in the world and I love him more than I can ever really express.

My husband, Pat, will tell you he did nothing.  That’s a lie.  He loved his daughter and supported everything no matter how little he understood it or how slow the progress.

All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

Our unoffical school song. The chorus had been spray-painted on the side of the building for forever. They didn’t even bother to try and remove it. They knew it didn’t matter.

I grew up in Boston and went to school during forced busing. A brutal and ugly chapter in Boston’s history. Neighborhood schools were devastated and many of my friends either left the city or went to catholic school. I understand the rationale behind busing and I support it; I’m just sorry that I had to live through it.

I hated school. All school. Every school. But especially English. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being a teenager. I had fun – a little too much at times! I had my dark moments, but for the most part I dated, and danced, and had great friends. They just weren’t associated with school. They were from the neighborhood. Jamaica Plain.

I went to school, like I did everything else, with my sister Tracey. We went to English High. It’s wind-swept plaza and broken escalators, its ten stories of disgusting lockers and bathrooms that were never open. Hate. I would wake-up every morning and wish, as my first thought for the day, that during the night the school had burned to the ground. It never happened. Never.

But school wasn’t the first hurdle most mornings. No. That was reserved for actually getting to school. We would get up and get ready knowing that a ginormous exercise in suck, courtesy of the MBTA, awaited. The trolleys. The lame, crappy trolleys that would be so crowded by the time they arrived at our stop that they just drove on by, the sign changed to “Express”.  After the first 6 or 7 fully-loaded trolley cars had passed, someone at Forest Hills had a semi-coherent thought and sent an empty one to pick up all the people left on the side of the road. So squeezed into a rundown old trolley that squealed its way down Huntington Ave, getting felt-up by creeps and freaks, we would still then make the couple of block walk to school.  Thankfully, homeroom was after second period and we were seldom marked tardy.

Not that it mattered. Education was secondary. Herding kids up and down 10 stories between every class change – making sure that fighting and drug-selling were minimized  – that was the goal. A warehouse. For kids. I’m sure some walked out with a decent education but I don’t know any. It certainly wasn’t me. I educated myself, later, after I graduated.

I give you that lovely backstory to contrast it to my experience as a parent.

I love school! Plymouth Schools are great. From Oak Street, a charming, turn-of-the-century 2 room school house that both kids were lucky to attend for kindergarten. To Cold Spring and everything they did for both kids but especially for all the special effort (a whole other story) that was showered on Emma. To PCIS and now to Plymouth North. The staff and the parents go above and beyond. Sure, I’ve run into a couple of people that don’t but they’re few and far between.

I love seeing the kids when they’re in school. Walking around, proud of their surroundings and their achievements. I’m thrilled with the people they are becoming. Most of that is from us of course but part is also from their community and their schools. We chose Plymouth rather randomly; it had homes we could afford, it was seaside, and it was on the South Shore. I’m glad we landed here. I (all of us really) have made some tremendous friends that continue to enrich our lives. Even if I don’t see them as often as I’d like!