By Hazel Donovan
Every year it’s the same. I walk into the school conference room carrying a binder and a single question. Teachers and administrators group in a defensive formation, a single chair waiting across the table. Like a criminal facing the parole board, I take my designated seat, eyes on the neat white stapled pages arranged like place settings.
A quick glance at the ring of faces — tight smiles, dropped eyes — and I have my answer. In spite of everything, nothing has changed. Hope flutters out the window with the spring breeze.
I blink back tears. Crying in an IEP meeting was expected in Kindergarten, the tissue box at the ready. They tolerated it in elementary school, disapproved of it in Junior High. My son’s a freshman now, and the faces at the table are blank. There’s a quarter moon mark where my nail digs deep into my finger, the pain a necessary reminder to focus. The faces start speaking, and the words are familiar but like a pair of dress shoes, never quite comfortable.
Your son is too loud, distractible, annoying to the other students.
The buzzing starts in the back of my head. The build-up to a scream.
Instead, I swallow and nod. Drop my head to scratch random nonsense in a battered notebook full of scribbles and false hope. The writing grounds me; keeps me from shattering to pieces under the table.
Every year there’s always one. A district newcomer who, with a raised eyebrow at the report, shakes my tight walk of self-control. Who will, in the privacy of the administrative offices, voice the question – what has the Mom done to fix the problem?
Only practiced deep breathing prevents me from dropping the binder in his lap, wrinkling his pressed khakis. Tattered and faded, with a cover half-peeled off, the notebook holds a decades of fixes. Ten years of neuro-psych reports with fancy charts, percentiles, and standard deviations. Ten years of therapist names, book recommendations, and diet changes. Ten years of staycations, hand-me-downs, and budget matinees to pay for all of the above.
If Mr. Khaki-Pants bothered to read the notebook, he would understand the conundrum that is my son. A freshman with the processing speed of a nine-year-old and the reading comprehension of a college sophomore. A boy who can memorize the entire score to Les Miserables with imperfect pitch, but not his math facts. Who in February can’t remember the names of his classmates he’s seen every day for six months. Who eats the same lunch every day, takes the stairs because the elevator smells like chewing gum, and avoids homecoming because they shoot a cannon.
I tap the page, as they wait for me to sign his accommodation plan for the year. Accept what they so benevolently provide. With a deep centering breath, I put pen to paper, remembering.
I remember the good days. Days when the wind in his hair doesn’t hurt and taco shells aren’t too loud. When he joins family game night and lets his brother win. Or even, makes a joke that’s both funny and appropriate. Those are the days I remember as I sign, dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s.
The sun darkens the now-empty conference room and my heart sinks. Time is running out. Five- years-old has become eight, eight became eleven, and now he’s a teenager. His loud voice, outbursts, and funny noises are odd and scary, not cute and funny. Time is running out to teach him about perspective taking, indoor voices, and eye-contact. The clock is ticking, disappearing faster than donuts in a teacher’s break room. We’re edging towards an adulthood neither of us is ready for, and we desperately need more time, and practice, to get it right.
Hazel Donovan lives in Florida with her husband and two sons, but will always be a New Englander at heart. Although writing a historical fiction novel is her main entrée, flash fiction stories are the yummy nibbles she can’t quite say no to. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Sick Lit Magazine, 101 Words, and Flash Fiction Online.