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Parenting Stories: My Life as an Advocate

Published on: December 30, 2013

yoga_zenThis morning was one of those mornings. It followed a night with too little sleep (me unable to fall asleep, and then when I finally was sound asleep, Annie waking me back up because she couldn’t sleep).

Needless to say, getting to school and dropping off my tearful, cranky first grader seemed like enough for a difficult a.m. that followed a rough night. But, no.

Annie’s teacher walked over to chat with me, and said, “I hear Annie’s tutoring sessions are changing next week and she will have a new tutor.”

Funny, no one told the mom. The advocate (me) stood very still. I paused. I sighed. And then I spoke. “No one told me this. What?”

The teacher is an oasis of calmness, making her a very good leader of young children. “I received an email from our learning specialist,” she said calmly. “I think the new schedule starts next week. Let me look.”

I helped my still-teary girl into her chair. Annie took her “Mom loves Annie” note out of her pocket and put it in her desk. (It’s important to recall the love of your mom during the long school day.)

I walked to the teacher’s desk, and we read the email from my school’s learning specialist together.

It turns out Annie has a brand new tutor for her reading and math sessions starting next week, and both of the session times have changed.

Why is this such a big deal? I know, parents juggle endless scheduling changes and snafus all the time.

But I spent more than a week setting up Annie’s tutoring sessions this fall, creating the most ideal week for her with the least amount of disruption, to foster an environment that would most help her learning and ease her angst.

I created back-to-back sessions at the public school on Tuesdays to consolidate upheaval, but now I am supposed to pull her out of school twice on Tuesdays, creating four transitions.

And both of the newly-timed sessions are during Annie’s math class in her regular classroom.

And the worse part: Annie has a brand new tutor that I haven’t met. Maybe it’s the replacement tutor they used a few years ago who was seriously horrible?

The teacher and I chatted, and I practiced holding it together. No one called me. No one emailed me. No one asked me, the person responsible for a minor child, my opinion or even told me what was going to happen.

There really wasn’t much to say, except that I would contact the public school so I could get the actual information in person. Then I said goodbye to my very tired and still-sad girl so I could rush off to a dentist appointment. It’s too bad the unpaid advocate is a mere human being.

This isn’t the first time the Seattle Public Schools Special Education Services have NOT called me to tell me a vital piece of information. The most memorable example took place two years ago. We showed up TWICE to an empty tutoring office, and I had to ask around until someone told me Annie’s tutor was out on leave.

Just last week another parent said to me, “I mean it’s a win-win, the public schools in North Seattle.”

I agreed, saying how I have grown to like the public school where Annie receives services. I guess I misspoke.

This learning disabilities journey with Annie has taught me one important lesson, though. And today, as I called different people at both my school and the public school to untangle this new mess, I hold tightly to this one lesson. It’s really a yoga word that my favorite Yoga Teacher Jennifer Keeler taught me: Santosha.

On a particularly tough morning years ago, I asked her for a mantra, and she gave me this word. Here’s a lovely definition from Dr. Venky's Shivshakti Yoga Institute:

Santosha (contentment): But the real meaning of santosha involves accepting whatever happens, with a clear mind and a clean heart. God has a plan for you; that is the message. Be happy with what you have, rather than being unhappy about what you don’t have. In the Yoga Sutra, there is this commentary: “Contentment counts for more than all sixteen heavens together.” Don’t complain about things that go wrong; accept what happened, learning from it instead.

What is in front of me today? Well, after my own dentist visit, I was able to call the awesome secretary at the public school, who heard all of my concerns about the tutoring situation and said she would start working through these issues with the new tutor.

Some people call it santosha, some people call it making lemonade out of nasty lemons. I like to say it’s all about my advocacy learning curve: The further along on this journey Annie and I are traveling together, the easier it is to take the unwieldy curve balls that occasionally head our way.

Santosha and lemonade making are vital skills for my advocate’s life. I’d say they rank right up there with a post-dentist Starbucks stop.

nancyschatzalton_headWriter, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of her memoir about the beginning of Annie’s learning journey. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.

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