When It’s Time to Let Go
The decision for Jess to go to the school for the blind was followed by a multitude of meetings and evaluations in late Spring and Summer. During evaluations, we continually attempted to describe Jessica’s complexities. Each time, our concerns were dismissed and the response was always to emphasize they were experienced, used to, and able to handle children with multiple disabilities. They were sincere with their comments and we had no reason to doubt them.
After all the evaluations were completed, we were notified that Jess was ‘accepted’ to the school. We waited to hear something more during the summer, we vacationed, and celebrated Jessica’s upcoming move towards independence with a big sweet 16 birthday party. Late summer arrived and still we had no word from the school. When our local school started for the school year, we again called the school for the blind to find out when Jess could start. Each time we called, we were told they would get back to us in a few days.
Early September, we still had no answer. Because Jess was technically not being served, we had another IEP on our local end to set up home based education until we got word on a moving date. Up until this point, we felt it would be too many changes for Jess to start to a local high school then make the move midstream.
Finally, in late September, the school for the blind was ready to meet. In the meeting, they told us the class was too full and it would not be safe to add anyone else to the classroom at that time. Since Jessica’s move was on an indefinite hold, we again had an IEP within our local school system. In October, she started high school in our county in the MOID classroom. Jess was welcomed to the class by a beloved veteran special ed teacher with a well established program.
By the next month, we heard from the school for the blind, and scheduled another meeting in December. Jessica’s move in date and school start would be the beginning of January. The time had come at last. Would we be ready?
Moving day arrived. We packed the car with the items we had chosen for her to take. Much planning had gone into which clothing she would take (easy to match, easy to put on.) We had the crucial items like CD’s and a CD player. Headphones were going to be important as well! We let her take a few toys, including a baby doll. Also, we had chosen some cute things for her room, like bedding and a few matching items. One slightly unpleasant thing we did was cut her hair. She had long hair, but she wasn’t able to put it up by herself. Since there was a push for independent living skills, we felt that shorter hair would be easier for her. Once the car was loaded, it really did not seem like much stuff to take.
It was a three-hour drive. Honestly, all of it felt weird. That uneasy feeling had a serious grip on me. But, with this being Jessica’s desire, we had decided as a family this was a good opportunity. Maybe she would finally make good progress on self-help skills. Maybe she would continue to make academic progress. Just maybe she would learn Braille. She would finally have friends and would socialize with them every day.
Moving her into the cottage was easy. We got her room set up fairly quickly and oriented Jess to the building. We met all of the other girls that lived in the cottage. Then, we spent a little time talking to the house parents, who seemed confident and unconcerned about Jessica’s idiosyncrasies. They did not seem worried about the (helpful) things we were telling them about Jessica and her personality. We guessed that they had been prepared for Jessica via previous meetings with school personnel, paperwork, or something. Still, that uneasiness was still there, but it should have been, right? After all, I was leaving my (big) baby with strangers. I was having to let go a little and it did not feel natural…at all.
Eventually, we had to pick a time to say goodbye and head home. I think we all cried as we drove home that day. It did not feel wrong. But, it did not feel right. There was such a tremendous emptiness about it. We hoped that feeling would get better over time.
Three hours later, we were back at home. It was so different…that emptiness and quiet. No sounds of music, laughter, and self-talk coming from her room. We knew, though, it was going to be for the best.
Sadly, before night one was over, we began to lose confidence in our decision. Way too soon, it became painfully obvious they were not really experienced with the combination of disabilities that Jess had. Or, that there was a major breakdown in communication. Or both.
Around 11pm we got a phone call from the Director of Residential Services…