"Change, when it comes, cracks everything open."
Dorothy Allen

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Last Day

Today was Sebastian's last day of this school year.   He was pretty happy about it, as would be expected, but not quite as happy as he has been in previous years.  He is just excited that he gets to spend tomorrow at home with me, as I am working, and he gets to watch TV.  I haven't told him yet that I am going to take him to a matinee this weekend to see Monster University as a celebration for finishing the school on a high note.  We will save that little tidbit for later, or I will never hear the end of it!

As you all know, Sebastian attends a private school called Julien School for Alternative Learners (previously known as the Little Brick Schoolhouse).  This was his first year there, and my first year dealing with tuition and learning the ropes of being outside of the regular public school board.
Every Friday is community day. 
One of their community trips was to Geoff's comic shop. 
How is that for an awesome school trip??
Working at the comic shop.
I have talked a bit in the past about his experiences with school- how much he hated it, and his teachers, the struggle, the fights, the failures.  This year was so different.

When you have a special needs child, you have lots of meetings.  Lots.  Most of them are useless, you really don't do much but reclassify your kid, so that the school board can get the funding that they need.  Or the teacher talks to you about how your kid doesn't do what he is "expected" to be doing, because of A, B and C.  Or how the goals they have set for your child, arbitrarily and without your input, are really reflective of what your child is capable of and how it isn't practical to expect too much or set goals too high.

I am sure this isn't everyone's experience.  But it seemed to be mine.  Pardon the cynicism.

But once a year or so, you have a meeting where you are asked to define your goals for your child.  I hate this meeting.  My goals were always simple.  Get him to pay attention and participate, even a little.  Help him read.  Get him to print his name.  Anything normal would do just fine.

Fast forward to this year at Julien School.  Our "goal setting" meeting rolled around.  And when they asked me what my goal for Sebastian for this year was, I was speechless.  I had nothing.  Nothing.  Everything I normally said, he was already doing. 

Me being me, tough and resilient, always prepared, did the only thing I could think of.  I burst into tears.  Of course I did.  Sheesh.

What I told them, was that I really had never had goals, not real ones, for Sebastian.  Goals mean looking ahead, and working towards something.  You have to have faith, and strength and hope to have a goal.  After only 3 years in the DSBN, I was out of that, where school and Sebastian was concerned. 

They clucked at me, and soothed my frazzled self.  They understood but also chided me, gently.  "You set your expectations too low.  You need to change that.  You need to let Sebastian surprise you, you need to challenge him and let him rise to that challenge.  He doesn't achieve, because you don't expect him to achieve."

And as incredibly hard as it was to hear that, they were absolutely 100% correct.  So, we have been trying to change that. 

So, here we are, 10 months later, at the end of his first year of his new school. He is amazing.  He surprises me every day.  I hope I am surprising him too, with what I expect.

Through the summer, I am setting a curriculum of learning for him, to keep him in the habit.  This will hopefully give me a bit of a taste of what homeschooling is like.  There are a million resources available for free online. It will take a bit of work, time and dedication (not to mention a printer) but I think I can put together some lessons, to help keep him sharp.  Keep him learning.  Keep my expectations high.

Recently, I was asked by the president of the school to speak as a Julien School parent, at their recent rebranding celebration and enrollment drive.  I agreed, and was the only parent speaker (that caught me off guard!  I expected to be one of many!)  The other speakers covered everything important- what and how they teach, the reasons behind it.  Their flexibility and experience. The costs.  Just before me, one of the assistant teacher spoke and read a piece she had written on change, and how change, seen so often as a horrible thing for autistic kids, is really an amazingly positive force of nature for the Julien  School kids.  (yeah, I cried again. I recognized when she was talking about Sebastian, of course.)  I got to go last.

If I do say so myself, I brought the house down. In a good way.

I started by saying that while there had been a lot of amazing and important information shared with them already that night, I was, in my own humble opinion, the most important speaker they were going to hear.  Because I was them.  I was the parent sitting out there, absorbing, trying to make the right choice, for my child, for my family.  And wondering just how the hell I was going to make it work (they laughed here, so I knew I was good to go. :)

I spoke a little about Sebastian's journey towards the Julien School- how we started therapy at 18 months, transitioned to the Niagara Children's Centre for fulltime therapy and school when he was 3, and for the first 4 years of his education, we were spoiled rotten.  Then we moved to the DSBN and things when downhill.   I was good, and didn't name names, or point fingers, but said that Sebastian and public school weren't a good fit, for a number of reasons. 

First day of school
Julien School, Sept 2012
And then I talked about my conversation with Camille (the president and founder of the school.)  I said that we were into Sebastian's 3rd year at school, and things weren't going well.  We wanted to take him out, but didn't know what to do.  I didn't feel qualified to homeschool him, and didn't have the time.  We were lost.  And one day, in December, Camille, who knew everything about Sebastian- his strengths, his weaknesses, everything, started talking to me about an idea she had.  An idea for a school.  And as she talked, it sounded better and better.  And (I said), I will never forget what she said to me next.  She looked me in the eye and said "Anita, Sebastian would be perfect for this."

Up until this point, Sebastian had never been perfect for anything.  He was always too slow, too different, too unfocused, too young, too old, too..whatever.  He didn't fit anywhere, except with us, his family.  And now?  Now, he was perfect.  For something. 

I hadn't even checked with Geoff yet, but I was ready to sign him up.  If I had had to, I would have given her a check that day. 

When I shared this story with the group, I cried.  A little.  They cried too.  A lot. 

mother effing fractions. 
Slice of fried gold.
I talked about the changes.  How he couldn't print his name when he started.  Now he prints for fun.  Just cause he can.  I talked about how on his last IEP, one of his goals was to count to 20 (ridiculous I know.)  The night he brought fractions home as homework, I literally sat at the kitchen table with him, and cried.  I wept, because I never thought I would see that.  I wept because someone, somewhere, was expecting my son to do great and powerful things. Like fractions.

By the end of the speech, people in the audience were crying right along with me.  The lady sitting behind me, touched my shoulder and told me that I had sealed the deal- she was enrolling her son that night.  Strangers hugged me and thanked me.  The teachers were thrilled.  Camille told me she wanted to take me on the road with her.  I told her my appearance fee could come off the top of my tuition. 

And now, it's over.  For a while. 

For the next 2 months, I don't have to think about school.  I don't have to pack a lunch (which, irrationally, I hate doing.)  I don't have to rush in the morning to get him up and dressed and fed and out the door.  For one whole month, I don't have to worry about tuition (first cheque is due August 1.  Yippee.) 

I am grateful for this year.  I am grateful for this break.  All and all, I am just completely and totally grateful.  For Sebastian.

 Rosie N. Grey
The N stands for "next September is soon enough."


  1. Love this. Love him. Love you.
    Also, I may have a printer at work for you. I just want to see if I have all the 'set up' stuff like discs or whatever they require to install them on another computer. I'll let you know.

  2. Fantastic Anita! Way to go. Congrats Sebastin.