Lately I have had a hard time posting here. I have things I want to say, things I want to tell you, get off my chest a little. But the timing isn't right. I so want the catharsis of writing about some of the issues we've been slowly discovering with my oldest son's social awareness skills (or lack thereof), and how that is taking us into the abyss of behavioral assessments and evaluations and classroom intervention and I don't know what else. There is also our 8 yr old friend who is dying of cancer, and how his mother recently met with the hospice people, and with a mortician, and purchased a graveyard plot and a concrete bench so they can sit when they visit, and how its all kind of like planning a wedding in some sick and twisted way, there is so much to do and take care of and plan and prepare, and how she is not coming unglued the way I know I would. And maybe how stressful work is. But I can't.
This is the problem with getting what you wish for, sometimes, when you spend your time trying to quietly slink in the background but secretly you are really an attention whore. When you think, how awesome would it be if I had lots of people reading my blog! People want to hear what I have to say! Its the attention I've always craved. Me! Pay attention to me! But don't look too closely because then you will start to see all my flaws. But. People are here, reading. And because so many of those people are not nameless, faceless people on the internet but people in my real-time life, I no longer feel I can lay out my heart here in such raw fashion as I have enjoyed for the last two and a half years. And now I am scared, and my confidence is retreating, and I want to bolt, like I always do when the going gets tough, and just go back to where it is safe, hiding quietly behind the wall of the internet.
I am aware of the irony, thanks, so save the hater emails, UR SO STUPID TO PUT YUR LIFE ON INTERNETS IF U DONT WANT PEEPLE TO NO WHO U R. I get it.
So instead I talk about stupid things, like the songs in my head, the rabbits eating my holly bushes, and the dog's bowels. Because these things are harmless. And they are driving me to the crazy, you may have noticed, this talking about these inane parts of my life and not getting deep enough to release the tension in my brain. Or in my heart, for that matter.
So. I give you something I wrote here a few years ago, but left it as a draft and never posted it. I added a couple of paragraphs at the bottom because I think I got interrupted in my story, it ended sort of abruptly. It tells you a little about me, my experiences, and how they shaped me. And maybe someday if I ever again get comfortable with intimate details of my current life, it will help you understand where I am coming from.
How I chose my career, and then changed it 4 times in 11 years. (October, 2005, one year into our stint in California, while I was working from home, only part time.)
I seem to be a kind of a crossroads with the whole working thing. While I enjoy the time I've had with the boys this summer and fall while not really working (although I have, some.) I find that I still have a desire to contribute in some fashion. Not to mention, California is one expensive-ass place to live, so if I am working, we're a little more comfortable. But as I have looked back over what became my rather gerry-rigged career, there isn't really anything I have a strong desire to go back to. I don't particularly want to recruit anymore, although its certainly the easiest and most flexible way to make good money, so that's probably where I'll end up anyway. The money is hard to turn away from, despite the fact that I'm so tired of listening to people bitch about how much their jobs suck. (To quote the ever omniscient Phoebe, "Hello, Pot? This is kettle. You're black.") I don't want to go back to work in an advertising agency, its been too long since I've been out of media, and its a whole different ballgame now with online media and cable ratings in the mix. I don't want to go back to a corporate marketing department, as much as I loved working for Coca-Cola, and trust me, its an awesome company to be employed by, its just too much structure. Its not the work that bothers me about these places, because I do miss the creative, dynamic atmosphere advertising provides. It's the unforgivable time structure. Its the office appropriate attire. It's the politics. I wasn't good at politics then, and I'm damn sure not going to be good at it now that I've had six years of independence and flexibility while making good money. I mean, look at Lynette on Desperate Housewives: She went back to work (in advertising, to boot), thinking it would all work out great for her to have a career and a family, and its killing her. And I have met people like Joely Fisher's character, y'all, people like that really do run advertising agencies.
That aside, the one thing I do think about is re-entering education. Namely, preschool. So NOT a decision you make for the money. I graduated college with an English Literature degree, primarily focused on the writings of Shakespeare, and had no freaking clue what to do with it. Maybe grad school, so I took the GRE. While I was wasting time being indecisive, I did what I knew how to do: I took a job teaching two-year olds in a daycare. I say teaching, rather than babysitting, because this was a pretty fancy daycare. I made lesson plans, I charted their milestones, I held parent conferences. It was fun. And years later, now that I have my own kids, I have realized that I rely heavily on this experience in the way I manage them. But ultimately I felt I needed a "real" career, one that might eventually pay more than $7/hour. And so, my dad got me an "informational Interview" with a client of his in Dallas. Informational Interview means someone agrees to meet with you and tell you about what they do, and give you a tour of the office. Its not usually a job opportunity. However, that very morning she had to fire her media assistant, for (accidentally, hopefully) sending a private email regarding someone's salary to the ENTIRE COMPANY, and when I showed up for my tour, she offered me a job. Viola! A career was born. A digression taken.
I tell you all this to kind of set up how I ended up an English Major in the first place, then got into advertising, when I really thought early on that I wanted to teach. Considering I changed my major 3 times and my minor twice, I am lucky I didn't end up in school for six years. I still finished in four years, no summer school needed. Not sure how I managed that, but anyway...
The bottomline is, I majored in English and then got into advertising because I didn't have the courage to do what my heart told me to do, which was teach Special Education. Ultimately, my heart wasn't strong enough to take the shit that goes with that career. So I chicken out, and went back to what I knew I could by in, which was literature. Easy way out.
Second semester of my freshman year, I took a special ed class, possibly to get an elective. It was an intro class, and part of it involved spending time in a special ed classroom. I didn't have a car my freshman year, but the professor liked me, so she agreed to pick me up at the dorm on Tuesday mornings, at 8am, and take me to one of the elementary schools where she did some consulting, then take me back to the dorm on her way to teach at the university. She was kind of a mess, a very absent-minded professor kind of personality, with makeup and papers and dripping coffee all over the dashboard of her car, her slip showing, shoes not matching, you name it, she had it going on. I couldn't believe a professor was so willing to help me get where I needed to go, but it wasn't terribly out of her way, and she was just that kind of person. If she hadn't had that "out to save the world" kind of persona, she wouldn't have been in Special Education.
It was this classroom experience that totally made me believe I wanted to teach special kids. We had children 2-6 years old, with serious disabilities: Various brain damage issues, Downs Syndrome, Autism, sometimes both. Many were also deaf, or couldn't communicate. Several of these children obviously came from families who lived below the poverty line, and/or didn't speak english, which offers up a whole different set of issues in and of itself. In Texas, you can qualify for public education at age 2 for special needs, you don't have to wait until kindergarten, the idea being the earlier you can get access to these kinds of programs, the higher the possibility that child could be mainstreamed at some point.
I loved it. I didn't want to leave. I worked with these kids for the entire semester, one morning a week, and I saw the most amazing progress in some of them. You could break through, if you stayed at it long enough, and tried enough new ways to get in. I learned how to get one autistic boy out of a fit: He would roll his eyes back and start grinding his teeth, no warning, no one thing that would set him off, so you couldn't figure out the trigger. But I figured out if I pressed gently on the side of his jaw while he was grinding his teeth, he would stop, because with the pressure against his jaw, his teeth didn't rub just the way he liked, it wasn't satisfying. And he would turn and look at me, and we'd go back whatever we were doing. I could also bring him out of a fit by rubbing a rabbit pelt against his arm. He was very "tactile defensive", and although he reacted to the rabbit fur negatively because he hated it, it got him to snap back to me. It was kind of a last ditch thing, though, because he usually tried to hit or bite me when he came back. I learned to duck.
I quickly went back to the registrar's office and changed my major to special ed. It totally changed my track. What was interesting was that many of the other girls I met in the school of Education were totally there for an MRS. degree, which was so weird to me, because, why waste the time? I didn't get that. Anyway, I started taking classes in Education.
My junior year of college, I took an Ed Psych class that required classroom time, and I called the teacher of the special ed class and asked if I could come back in as a volunteer that semester. She was glad to have me - the more free help, the better. That's when I met Daniel.
I'm pretty sure Daniel wasn't his real name, but I can't remember what it was, so I'll just call him Daniel. He was hispanic, severely retarded, six years old, but about the size of a small two year old. His clothes were 2T, I remember. Daniel was an identical twin, except something had gone very, very wrong. His brother would come and pick him up after class, and the differences were startling. The brother was a normal sized six year old, quiet, sweet and studious, and the primary caretaker of his damaged other half. The story was that apparently, because she didn't have access to prenatal care, the mother didn't know she was pregnant with twins. After the first, healthy baby was born, they realized there was somebody else, someone very tiny and barely alive, still in there. The stronger fetus had received most of the nourishment, that's just kind of the way it works, I guess. Anyway, here he was, in this class, the sweetest, doe-eyed little boy you could imagine.
Daniel was actually rather smart, for his deficiencies. He was quick, and deft. he often liked to climb to the top of the old metal swingset in the play yard, and had to be coaxed down with a cookie. He didn't speak, but he could give you some basic sign language, like More (when eating) and No or Yes, and Mama. He used the sign for mama when referring to any of us teachers. He could do the sign for blue, or yellow, correctly identifying the color on paper, or on an object.
The problem came toward the end of the semester. Daniel missed a lot of school days, there was never any explanation, but he was absent pretty often, at least one day per week. Finally, Daniel had been gone for a few weeks straight, like three. The teacher didn't know where he was, or why he wasn't in school. She could speak fluent Spanish, but the parents didn't have a phone, she had no way to track them down, they probably weren't legal. She would try to catch up with the twin brother, but he didn't have any answers for her, and learned to avoid her. This didn't bode well. Then one day, Daniel was back. He was sick, the brother said, without making eye contact. No other details.
One day shortly after his return, Daniel was sitting in my lap on the playground, just kind of lounging, which was not his style - he was a pretty active little guy. He was very snuggly, like he didn't feel good. I touched his forehead to find it absolutely on fire, and the teacher went into the classroom to dig up a thermometer. While we sat there, I stroked his head, and suddenly my fingers came across a spot of matted hair, and blood. I looked closer and found a large, open wound, obviously been there for a while.
How does a child this age get this kind of a wound? What kind of household does he live in, I thought? Was no one watching him? Do the people who live with him not realize that he's a climber, that he has no concept of caution or getting hurt? And how does it go unnoticed for so long? His hair was matted into a big large clump - how long had it been since he'd had a bath?
I was outraged. The teacher wasn't surprised. She didn't think it was active abuse, we would have noticed that earlier. She thought it was probably just neglect. (Just neglect!?!?!) It was not uncommon, she said, in hispanic or native cultures, to neglect the weak. These people weren't educated, they were poor, they didn't want to get services from the state system, they probably didn't want to be noticed by the system at all. So this is what happens. The fact that the child had access to us at all was just luck.
The next week, I went back to the registrar's office at school and changed my major back to English. It nearly killed me. I felt defeated, I felt like such a failure, for giving up on these kids because I knew right then and there I didn't have the constitution for it. I burned out right there. I didn't have the balls to fight their fight. This action has haunted me, and yet I know in my heart that I could not have done it differently, and that my own mental health depended on this action. I had already, at this point in college, had a bout with a severe depressive episode. I had to cut myself off at the pass, my psyche was too fragile to face this type of trauma again and again, and shrug it off with "it happens."
Part of me has always wanted to go back and try again, with the special education. Part of me is still passionate about helping these kids, in some way. And the education and interest I have had in this is probably helpful now, now that I'm seeing it from the view of a parent, as we start navigating this road with our own son.