My daughter is an artist.
She pairs clothing based on rules I can’t discern, garnering compliments from style-savvy people. She makes jewelry and crafts out of tidbits she finds―pebbles, old pencils, buttons, bolts, those little plastic pom-pom streamers from a child’s bicycle handle―things others overlook as trash.
Last summer, as she prepared to go to middle school, I wanted to honor the art in her, but I also wanted to enroll her in a school capable of honoring her IEP accommodations. The first lent itself to a magnet or charter school. The second, to a more established traditional school with a defined special ed department.
Here’s where it gets tricky: My daughter is not just an artist, she has bipolar, speech delays, and Reactive Attachment Disorder from her foster care experience.
Knowing that my daughter’s speech challenges make socializing hard (and that middle school is hellish even for mainstream kids) I went with the charter school. Small classes, project-based learning, emphasis on respect and teamwork. Perfect, right?
Not so much.
Four months in, my daughter had only completed one writing assignment, and 1/3 the math standards her peers had. The year before, under traditional special ed assistance, she kept up with her age-peers. The special education department simply wasn’t able to work with her like they’d done at the traditional school.
It became clear that to stay at the charter school would widen the gap for her, a gap she worked hard to narrow in years past. On top of that, she wasn’t growing and learning about art.
Crap, I thought.
In part because I knew we needed to move her, and in part because I knew the local media arts middle school had an opening in the middle of the school year, which meant I could move her . . . this week.
The questions swirled and blurred into each other:
Should I move her mid-year, after she’s just gotten used to things at her new middle school?
Should I let her fall farther behind, which, when she moves to the new school in the fall, will spike her anxiety and mood disorder through the roof?
Will she find her way to independence at the charter where she is or will she fall further behind?
Would it matter to move her now, versus in the fall?
Is moving her worth the regression, tantruming, irritability and other fear-driven symptoms it will bring?
One option is peaceful for her now, but less beneficial over time. The other offers resources for both her special needs and special talents. . . but only after we walk through the whirlwind that is my daughter in seasons of change.
These moments as parents of special kids can stretch us farther than we think we can manage. They pull on our hearts, our fears, our insecurities. Which of the two hard choices do we choose, knowing we’ll pay both ways?
I wrestled with the question, but I knew what to do. Even when we don’t think we know. . . as parents, deep down, we do.
I considered our goal as her parents: to get her as independent as possible. I asked the real question.
Which gets my child toward her life goals best?
It took leaning on what I believed was good and right in that moment. It required commitment and risk to turn in the new school’s forms.
It’s requiring that I endure her regression, tantrums, yelling, and the bitter rage she aims at me during this grief and change.
It requires many hugs, much soothing and guidance for my daughter.
I breathe through the moments that feel like I’m raising a handful of glass shards. I pray. For both of us. I trust―God, and myself―as we walk further into this life with special needs.
Just as all of us do each time we must choose what’s right over what’s easy as parents.
When have you chosen the harder path with your child lately? How are you holding up?