What makes a life meaningful?
Is it what we accomplish? Is it gratitude for what we have? Is it what we learn on the way? Is it who we love, or perhaps how we love? Is it how we spend our time? Is it what we contribute to the world?
After the Lockdown, our life had gotten smaller while the rest of the world evolved. We didn’t have family near, and holidays were achingly quiet. The boys weren’t in school, they weren’t in sports, we didn’t belong to a church. There were no neighborhood friends to ride bikes with and make memories. My friends kids had grown up into teenagers, and we weren’t part of that regular life anymore. I felt lost, but knew the answers I needed to find we no longer inside myself. I had to look outward.
For three years, we chose to forgo traditional schooling for what I will call "a’la cart education". Replacing traditional brick and motor with outside Behavior Therapy, Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy and tutoring for Math and English. Life was simple. The level of knowledge acquisition my boys had was astronomical, confirming what I’ve always known and fought for- my boys can learn. (So much).
This was the right path, I knew it in my bones, albeit a deeply lonely one, and one I knew needed to be a temporary choice. My kids need to be around other kids.
In June, we booked a visit to tour our local high school. My Bitty G was soon to be a Freshman for the 2023/2024 school year.
“But he was just born”, I told God. The year on my calendar gently let me know I was wrong. On our tour, we were taken to a single Special Education room. There were no classroom changes for these students beyond PE. And even that was presented like it was a gift they were letting us have. PE with General Education Students! Aren’t you lucky!
I looked around the classroom. One that Grey would spend almost an entire day in (no transferring to different teachers for different subjects), for four years. Just a few seconds after arriving, my gut made the decision before my head even knew. After this tour, he will never set foot in this classroom again, it said. The Teacher was a kind angel, it had nothing to do with it. But we were pelted in the face with so many other huge red flags. Broken systems, one without foundation or structure or accountability don’t work. Can’t work. Ever.
Michael and I drove away, the car heavy with silence.
For the year prior, we had been discussing moving to my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, even though I hadn't lived there for almost 25 years. I had been away, almost as long as I had been there. We couldn’t fight our district for another minute, and we wouldn't waste any more of our boys' time. The tour alone gave me PTSD. Although the boys were learning so much in our "a'la carte home school" setting, I knew they too needed the community and connection that Michael and I also longed for. Who will visit them when I die? The question that doesn’t let me sleep some nights.
What was slowly being examined and weighed and contemplated back and forth- exploded into kinetic energy. The next thing I knew, we purchased a house under construction in Kirkwood Missouri- sight unseen, and baby steps went directly to leaps.
I compartmentalized this decision in my mind as we carried on with the quick ending of our regular life in Fresno, California. It was so hard knowing we reached a crossroads in a place where we had poured 13 years into. Semisonic said it best, “Closing Time. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
Michael drove with our three dogs from Central California to Missouri, and the boys and I flew.
I was hopeful yet terrified. We spent a few weeks in an Air bnb as we waited for our house to be completed and waited for our stuff to arrive. To a girl who thrives off of the smooth groove of routine, life was a foreign country.
As soon as we moved into our house, I felt my heart drop out of my chest. I couldn’t even remember all the big signs that had guided me to this decision My internal voice asked, WTF were you thinking?! over and over again. In the midst of selling our house, buying a house, finding our way around, getting lost (daily), unpacking, transferring prescriptions, teaching Michael to say Schnucks, buying new crap, throwing away old crap, cleaning, registering the boys for school (and touring and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork and meetings), finding a pediatrician to get updated vaccines for Missouri, finding a new place to cut the boys hair, looking for a hair dresser and a dentist, finding a vet (Lucy had an ear infection). I just lost it. I had opened a door into a foggy room of depression and laid in a bed of anxiety.
I cried because I missed the Palm trees in my front yard in California. I cried because I didn’t recognize the people on the news. I cried because I had to use GPS to go to the grocery store and I would still get lost. I cried because I didn't know where anything was at Target. I cried because I couldn't find Grey's special crackers. I cried because I was terrified about starting over in life.
One day was too much, so I took it hour by hour. I started online therapy (Thank God). Sometimes life is simply a radical acceptance of the things that are hard, and knowing you will be ok despite their presence. I made peace with temporary paper blinds and broken down boxes scattered like snow flakes. I couldn’t do Social Media, because that involves processing all these emotions and changes and I wasn’t anywhere near that neighborhood in my mind.
A quote from the movie, Life of Pi says, “Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little.” So I started to do. I made myself do the things I didn't want to do- but know made me feel like me. Some days that was an exercise class. Some days a shower. I celebrated making it to the store without using Maps.
There were bigger spaces between the tears, and the silver linings started to shine through.
Halloween felt like it was straight out of movie. Our street was lined with Trick or Treaters. Kids knew Parker from school and called out. "Hi Parker!" When you deprive a child of going to their neighborhood school- that is what you deprive them of. It was one of the reasons I fought SO HARD. I knew that the tiny things added up to what matters most in life.
I can’t believe how remarkably upside down different Special Education is here. It feels like a dream come true. When we toured Grey's school- they walked us through the entire school. I kept waiting for the "Special Education section", somewhere in a dimly lit basement, and braced myself. There is no such place here. Those classrooms are integrated within the school. We saw the huge indoor swimming pool, the cafeteria, the band practicing Sweet Caroline (You could feel it vibrate in your chest. I had tears in my eyes!), the hum of children changing classrooms after the bell- it was magic. This was all available to Greyson as a student. I feel like he's part of the heart of the school, not a periphery Special Education student. It was so incredibly different than our, "Here's the one classroom your son will be delegated to, and let's not bother looking at the rest because it's not for him" school tour.
Parker had the best IEP meeting we’ve ever had- in our life. Not having to fight for a thing is welcomed and foreign. Speaking with people who have knowledge and resources feels like a lottery win. I have so much trauma I’m working out in therapy from our previous experience. But our current situation is healing many of the broken parts.
Parker's school has chickens. YES CHICKENS. They live and breath inclusion there (the school, not the chickens, but hopefully the chickens do too). I've never experienced anything like it.
And being with my Family is everything to all of us.
I still don’t know the full recipe of what makes a life meaningful, but some days it feels like I'm closer to knowing. I think it’s a combination of many things in different seasons of our life. It depends on the person and sometimes even the day. I think part of it is forgoing temporary comfort for something bigger than you. Something that might just turn out to be magical.