Our Family’s Update – 3.5 years

first day special education preschool

What an eventful six months this has been for our family and our world! COVID-19 has changed the landscape of everything, and continues to inject a layer of uncertainty over all of our plans. What a time to be alive. The last time I updated, we were juggling quite a bit with all of M's virtual therapies, but school was on summer break and we weren't sure exactly what August would bring for anyone's school setup.

Living in Gwinnett County, it was a very adventurous start to the school year with a delayed start, initial option to send kids in person, then decision to start completely virtually for everyone. Ultimately, Gwinnett landed on a fully virtual beginning but a staggered in-person transition for those who chose it. We decide to all stay virtual, which meant we were juggling multiple Zoom calls each day for all five of us - therapy, school, work, and the occasional attempt to stay connected to friends. N started middle school virtually, A started Kindergarten virtually, and M continued right on doing 8 therapy appointments per week virtually. All the while, Ben and I were trying to get some reasonable amount of work done virtually, too.

Hello, chaos! Not so nice to see you again. 🙂

Thankfully, the grandparents in our very conservative and careful quarantine pod were close by and ready to help. They learned school schedules, helped with virtual therapies, and gave us as many date nights as they could. It was a huge transition for everyone, but we settled in reasonably well.

Meanwhile, M's special education evaluation that was supposed to be in April happened in August, which started an entirely new process for us. Establishing eligibility for special education services and going through the initial IEP setup is a gargantuan task that has a legally-required deadline. Becoming an expert on something so important to your child's long-term goals that quickly was just impossible, so we hired an educational advocate to advise us through the process. After dozens of hours in meetings, prepping for meetings, and following up on meetings, we reached our goal: M was placed in a Gwinnett County special education preschool class.

While virtual class was an option, I honestly wasn't sure I could juggle one more Zoom call, no matter how many days each week the grandparents were helping us! We also were under no illusions that virtual school was going to be very effective at the preschool level. After talking through the decision with our quarantine pod, learning about the school's safety measures, and doing some research on the data and risks for her age group, we decided to send M in person to school to maximize her long-term success. It meant breaking up our quarantine pod - no more date nights, breaks, hands-on help, or hugging grandparents. We had our final visits (for now), gave lots of hugs, and shed a few tears. We bought school supplies, masks, and extra clothes. 🙂 We worried about how M would handle school and if she would like it.

M started school two weeks ago now, and she just loves it. Her school team is great and thinks she is wonderful, which means they are very smart people. 🙂 She is talking more than ever, trying to tell us about things that happen at school. After her first day, as we were talking about her teachers, she said, "My teachers take care of me." I confess I got choked up over that one! She comes home beyond tired, and excited that she gets to go back the next day. She started riding the bus last week, and though the first day brought some intimidation, she loves riding it now and gets upset if I pick her up from school ("I ride the bus today!").

I can't say that we have fully adjusted to the transition two weeks in - the house seems so quiet without M here, and we all miss her terribly. We miss being close with our beloved grandparents, and Ben and I are definitely feeling the pinch of the lack of breaks. There are many positive things as well. N & A love helping see her off to school and are just amazing cheerleaders for her. A is very excited that she is placed in the same school he would be going to so that he can see her on the playground and in the hallways when he is back in school.

I think one of the most challenging and draining things about this season is finding the energy to allow both the incredible hardships and the immeasurable gifts to coexist. To say we are incredibly grateful is absolutely true: we both still have our jobs, we have not gotten sick, and we feel pretty good about the current setup for each of our kids. We're in the middle of a Facebook fundraiser for the nonprofit behind the research for M's genetic disorder, and it's just breathtaking to see the generosity of so many. We see so many gifts, so many reasons to be thankful and to celebrate. That does not take away from the deep struggle of it all. The transition from fully virtual with lots of family help to somewhat in-person without family help has been staggering. I've been having some persistent stomach issues that regularly impact my sleep. Our anxiety has been very high. I miss hugging the friends and family members that I moved across the country to be closer to. The emotional and mental burden of making this school transition for M has been very real and very tough.

Therein lies the truth underneath it all: life is rarely, if ever, purely positive or negative. There is always a mix of seemingly polar opposites -- gifts and heartbreaks, triumphs and struggles, gratitude and grieving. Our challenge is to find space, courage, and strength to allow all of those to be true, and not discount the reality of any of them because of the existence of the other. While by no means easy, the brave effort is to name them, process them, feel them, and know the next one follows closely behind, all the while doing our best to be true to who we are and what we value. That's where we are, and where I expect we will continue to be for quite awhile.