Wednesday, November 29, 2023

new beginnings

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. 

Note the Tshirt in front of the boys: Hell is in your head. So true.

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. 

Here we are at the annual Kirkwood/ Webster High School Turkey Day Game. 

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.

Parker and his cousin Logan.

My Family! (sorry Michael cut you out of the picture Lisa and Joe!)

My Sisters Lisa and Katie 

My Niece Maggie and Nephew Jameson

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.

Our new favorite park


  1. Good for you! I too said enough, and moved back close to family. Best of luck.

  2. These big moves are SO hard and I’m so glad it is going well. We did the same for schools and family when mine was entering kinder. MN has amazing services. Our autistic son is thriving.

  3. Congratulations!! It sounds like the right decision. You won’t regret it.

  4. Oh how life takes you right back to where you started. Welcome back to 314! Maybe I'll see you at Target. Thats where I tend to see a lot of "old" friends. Go Statesman! Lol

  5. How was your sons’ IEPs different?

  6. You are home! May every adjustment be rewarded with joy and peace.

  7. Congratulations! Sounds like a good move for many reasons. 💕

  8. As an SLP in education in Central CA I’m barely holding on by a thread working in the schools….would LOVE to hear how sped is there!!! So happy to hear you and the boys are so happy!!

  9. Oh my goodness…so good to hear this wonderful news! Taking a leap of faith can be scary but you DID it and your family is shining! Best of luck to you, Michael and those precious boys💕

  10. I'll admit, I have been worried about you! I'm SO SO SO happy for you all. I am so glad that you made the leap and it has paid off. Congratulations!

  11. Welcome home! From time to time I think to myself I haven’t seen posts from you, and would say a prayer for you that all is well. I hope your family continues to thrive here in Missouri and you continue making sweet memories with your family!

  12. So weird because I randomly thought of your boys today (SLP in AZ and an adorable student reminded me of Parker today) but I hadn't checked your page in ages. Glad to see your update! Happy for your beautiful family. I live in a small town and work in a school in an even smaller town and I feel like we try our best to do the word "individualized" justice. It is sometimes hard but the kids deserve it, as we help them celebrate their beautiful, unique qualities and personalities. I couldn't be happier that you found this incredible place for your boys. I know I'm a stranger but I am POSITIVE that the schools are so lucky and blessed to have your boys attend. Happy holidays to you and your big, glorious family!

  13. Welcome back to Missouri. It’s not perfect here, but then nowhere is. But I’ll glad to hear you’re finding more resources for your precious boys, and that you have family support and love surrounding you. Welcome home!

  14. Look at all those smiles. That makes this momma’s heart happy for you all. I deeply admire and respect the choices you have made for your family. I have followed the growth of your boys and their astronomical progress and know the dedication and prioritization it takes to make it happen. Keep trusting your gut and your heart. I know this Christmas will be extra special for you all.

  15. Happy new beginnings to you and your family! I look forward to all the positive adventures to come.

  16. I have been thinking about you and the boys and wondering where you have been. I am so happy for you all that you are in a place surrounded by family and that you have such a good school situation for the boys! My autistic kid is supposed to start junior high next fall and I'm really struggling to figure out the correct path for him. I really applaud you for taking a leap to make things better for all of you!

  17. So happy for you. The right school setting is everything. My grandson survived cancer at 18 months and is autistic. He is high functioning, and school has done much for him. It is scary, but he has grown so much. God Bless.

  18. So happy for you! Enjoy your family!

  19. 7 years ago we moved to KCMO from Texas. Day in and day out it was just so the next right thing. It was so hard. And it is so good. I’ll think of you each time our weather makes that MO change! Hugs! Oh yeah, my youngest and Parker were born on the same day!

  20. Welcome to MO. We too moved here from CA, thirteen years ago. Who knows I may run into you in Target or at the park! Enjoy your holidays with extended family❤️

  21. Just so happy for you and your family. I was worried that you hadn't been posting much, praying you all were okay. As I read your post, I could feel you exhale- like you had been holding your breath for a long, long time, and could now finally begin to relax and breathe. I only know you on here, but if I was there, I would give you the biggest, longest hug. You are a strong, remarkably resilient mama who will go to the ends of the earth for you family. What a role model you are! Welcome home!!

  22. So happy for you and your family. As a special education teacher this makes my heart happy. It is unfortunate that you had such a bad experience in CA. Having worked in different states it is amazing how different special education services can be. Good for you recognizing what your boys needed and taking the big leap.

  23. I just read your story. You are a strong woman and an amazing mom.your kids are so lucky to have a mother like you! Your story gives strength to fight for my son who is going to high school next school year. You are amazing. Best of luck to m of you🙏❤💞

  24. Welcome to St Louis and Special School District! I've followed your story for a bummer if years and have worked for SSD for 15 years. I'm so happy you're off to a wonderful start!

  25. I've been following along for long long time and have boys same ages to yours. My older is Autistic, Younger is ADHD. I always thought my Liam and your Gray would be best friends.
    We did a similar move in summer 2021. Decided in just a few weeks, it was now or likely never. We moved from NC back to Western NY to be closer to my family and in better schools (and better post school opportunities too). It was hard to leave 13 years of our lives in NC but to be around family who understands and getting all the services our boys needs has made it the best possible choice. The road & transitions were not easy but a few years in and boys are thriving!! Good luck!!