Peeling Back the Layers

Yesterday I spoke to a friend who works in healthcare. She confessed that she was not handling all of this well in comparison to others around her. She had to coach herself to get dressed every morning. Her depression and anxiety were worsening. I told her those were normal feelings in response to this very abnormal turn of events, and not everyone around her was enjoying the state-mandated social distancing and quarantine. She kept saying how thankful she was to at least have a job as if it was supposed to cover up her feelings in response to being on frontlines facing an invisible enemy.

On the surface, if you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll share that I miss my work clothes. Waking up and selecting from a series of yoga pants and a t-shirt has lost its charm. I love athleisure wear as much as the next person but I’m missing my dresses, real pants and clothes that make me feel like a person and not a human kleenex. I make way too many passes past my pantry, and my stretchy pants are just furthering enabling the incessant snacking.

Then I’d tell you how supervising and attempting to educate my children while working full time is laughable at best. We are not homeschooling. Teaching is a full-time occupation that requires preparation, forethought, and planning. I never intended to do any of this so no real teaching is occurring. We are traversing Google classroom links, Zoom meetings, and trying to understand how to step into the very big shoes of our children’s teachers. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling like a failure.

My son requires paraprofessional support in the classroom and we, like many other special education families, have been thrust into the roll of figuring out how to get our children to attend virtual classroom Zoom meetings. If you’re curious, it’s not going well. He also depends on very structured routines. This is also not going well despite my best efforts to make pretty visual schedules, phone alarms and commanding my family members to be aware of said schedules.

Just like all other parents of young children, we are interrupted a million times per day for drinks, snacks, meals, help in the bathroom, diaper changes, and kissing boo-boos.

Further beneath the layer of juggling work and childcare, I am also stopped several times per day because my daughter suffers from anxiety and panic attacks. Want to know what her number one trigger is? Illness. Can you imagine what a global pandemic does for a person terrified of getting sick, not to mention sick from a deadly illness? 

I’d then tell you that our life, which is normally chaotic, has been turned up an obnoxious notch to absolute insanity. Like my daughter, illness is something that I normally fear and is the source of my PTSD. Guess who already had latex gloves, N95, and surgical masks, along with cleaner that kills the coronavirus? This girl right here. I did grocery pickup way before it was the cool, less risky way to buy groceries. And guess who washed her hands constantly and used disinfectant spray on my phone, doorknobs, and remotes on a fairly regular basis? Yup. I’ve been preparing for a pandemic since my son Mark was born. Why? Because illness for us means weeks of misery and unknown. It means regression. Food and drink refusal, loss of words and incessant irritability and crying. And it could mean the development of seizures. I am always on guard and now the rest of the world is too.

And further beneath that layer, I’m shaken. Each time I read a news story about a vivid, excruciating experience with COVID-19, I am pushed to this place where I begin to imagine what it could be like if I was one of the unlucky ones; one of the ones to die alone in a hospital with my loved ones listening to my labored breathing over the phone.

I think of my parents and in my in-laws who are in the age bracket of those at risk. Both my mother and father-in-law are cancer survivors with underlying health conditions. My dad is an essential employee. My grandmother is 90 and living in an assisted living facility. The first death was reported in our county today, a person in their 20s with disabilities. Each and every stat and report of cases and deaths further stirs my worry.

And then I scroll past the story of Charlotte, the little girl who inspired Charlotte’s Web, the CBD product used to treat epilepsy. She had SCN1A, a sister gene to Mark’s genetic mutation, SCN2A. Mark falls into the underlying medical condition category, and one of the people who may not fare well in the face of this virus. That is the dark place plunged beneath the layers of overwhelm and irritation. The place which reawakens my fears and leaves me wide open and vulnerable, just like my daughter who keeps telling me the house feels different and she can’t quite explain it.

I am not doing well but it’s because I am having a normal reaction to an unprecedented global pandemic, on top of the layers that were there before the coronavirus descended.

So no, my healthcare friend, you are not bad at this. You are human, experiencing real feelings that shouldn’t be diminished because you at least get to collect a paycheck. There is no place for comparative suffering amidst this pandemic. I’d venture to say we are all experiencing waves of panic, grief, uncertainty, and unease. No one is guaranteed their job, food, toilet paper, their comfort or their loved ones. And feeling those feelings is natural and thankfully bonds us together in this chaos. We may be socially distancing but we can experience closeness knowing we are not alone.

An Open Letter to the Under Appreciated Special Educator

To the Under Appreciated Special Educator:

You have a really hard job. Harder than most people realize or understand. 50% of your special education colleagues will leave before their fifth year of teaching. Your job is not a job, it’s a calling. One that results in high turnover and burnout. This job is not for everyone and the select few who are called have a tremendous responsibility. You are tasked with leveling the playing field for students whose decks are stacked against them. And your job is getting harder as the demands on you increase, and funding and support decreases. Teaching can be a thankless job, and even more so when your students have extra layers of challenges. You love on your students like they are your own and are rarely recognized for your efforts, but I see you.

 

I see you get to know each of your students and understand how they operate and what makes them tick.

 

I see you researching and pinning things on Pinterest that you aspire to do in your classroom.

 

I see you spend your own money to outfit your classroom with sensory items, books, and toys that are on the developmental level that your students need.

 

I see you complete all of the legal aspects of your job, maintain compliance with state and federal guidelines, and handle ALL of the paperwork.

 

I see you keep track of all of the goals and objectives on each of your student’s IEPs, compiling the data that you need to be able to complete their progress reports and report cards.

 

I see you juggling multiple IEP meetings in one day while struggling to have your class covered in your absence.

 

I see you stuck in the middle between what administration wants, budget constraints and what you know the student needs.

I see you handle parents, those that are overly demanding and those who are unresponsive. And despite their different levels of involvement, you recognize their importance to their child’s education.

 

I see you when you are sick and struggle to get a substitute teacher for your room because just like teachers, subs are hard to come by, especially those trained to work with students with disabilities.

 

I see you skip lunch and your planning periods because your students need you.

 

I see you get creative with materials you’re given or have purchased even if things are destroyed.

 

I see you dodging spit, kicks, meltdowns, flared tempers and behaviors while still trying to maintain safety and meet the needs of all of the other students in your class.

 

I see you love the hard to love students.

 

I see you recognize when a student is having an off day and employ methods to address it or perhaps not push as hard that particular day.

 

I see you take on a parent role during the day because you know at a certain moment your student needs a mom/dad versus a teacher.

 

I see you beam with pride when one of your students finally reaches a goal, no matter how big or small.

 

I see you try to come home to your family but struggle because you gave absolutely everything to someone else’s kids all day.

 

And I see you pick yourself up again and again, and return to your classroom despite the adversity and lack of support.

 

I write all of this because I am a parent of one of your students. A grateful one at that. I want you to keep going; to keep fighting the fight, because it’s always a fight. For services, for funding, for inclusion, equity, and for respect. Please keep fighting, because I need you by my side. I don’t have the option of quitting this gig, and I need a powerful advocate like you in my child’s corner.

 

Sincerely,

 

An eternally grateful parent of a special education student