Thursday, April 30, 2009

School Vocab - IEP

School Vocabulary – IEP

This is the time of year that school districts are testing kids and preparing for the next school year. Their budgets start over July 1st and they will know how much money they have and what services are needed to start the new year in August. I’m not saying they have enough money but they at least have a budget on paper.

Your child will spend just as much, if not more, time in a school setting each day than you do at work. For this reason, you need to pick your school district carefully. Yes, I’m saying you may need to move. Or you could choose a private school. Or you may need to join a co-op of home-schooling parents. I DO NOT recommend you home school by yourself. You shouldn’t be the center of your child’s life 24/7 – as they shouldn’t be yours. You can gather a group of home schooling parents together and each teach different lessons, but give the local school district a fair shot first. You could be very happily surprised at the amount of resources they have!

Now, you need to know that as SPecial EDucation directors at the district level change within the district, so will the type of services you get. The school district would like to say otherwise, but it’s true. If you have a great SPED director, then the program gets what it needs (money, staff, equipment, etc…) from the top down because the director is fighting for it and coming up with creative ways to get it. If you have a director who is just going through the motions and earning a paycheck, then things are different. Schools are not holier-than-thou places. They run like any other business. So, depending on who is in charge, depends on how good the SPED department is….and that can change over the years. I knew a couple who worked for the city government and had to live within city limits, but “separated” and paid for an apartment in another school district to get better SPED services once their favorite SPED director retired and was replaced. You may be shaking your head, but it’s reality.

The first school SPED lesson is vocabulary. You need to understand the terms and process of IEP’s and 504’s. I feel you need to know the basic terms because you’ll find that the education world uses a lot of acronyms. Knowledge is power! This week is the IEP.

An IEP is an Individual Education Plan. This plan came out of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). It is the framework for your child’s day at school and the services they need to receive. Your child must qualify under state and federal criteria to have an IEP; it’s not just a given because they have a disability (this means a day’s worth of testing). All decisions for your child are made by the IEP team which consists of parents, teachers, therapists, a case manager (usually the special education teacher), and a district representative (usually an administrator in the building). No decisions can be made, or actions taken, without the signatures and agreement of every person on the team.

At the meeting your child’s test results will be given to you and what adaptations the district feels will be necessary so your child can get a full education. The meeting will take about an hour because the documents will be read to you and all educational jargon explained in plain English. This is, sad to say, protection for the district, but also for you. If you have ANY concerns, thoughts, or ideas, you MUST speak up during the meeting and have it documented. This isn’t the time for shyness. Be calm, clear, and open to suggestions. Work WITH the district to find compromises and solutions if need be.

If you find later in the school year that your child’s IEP isn’t being followed, bring it to your case manager’s attention with a phone call, note, or email. It may be your child is doing okay without the accommodation, or that the staff needs a re-fresher. Rarely is the staff blatantly refusing to follow the IEP. Remember they are trying to educate 300-1500 children each day. You know how tough your day is - they are doing the best they can. They sure as heck aren’t doing it for the money.

If the gentle reminder doesn’t work, work up the chain of command. Go to the principal, then the SPED director, then you may need to get an advocate (more about that later).

Being prepared is part of your job as mom, but also a foundation of you as a woman. You will have more time for yourself, to recharge your soul, and that’s the strength and peace I want to see in you. It’s why I write for you and love to hear from you. Next week I’ll talk about 504 plans, the sister to IEP’s, and the week after LRE’s (Least Restrictive Environments). Before summer begins you will be ready for next school year!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Goals part 2

Well, this has been quite the week! I’m amazed at how much junk I collect just because I can’t let go of the “Perfect Wife and Mother” title and the “always-be-prepared-so-keep-everything” motto. I wish I could say “my recycling boxes are full to the brim, my shredder’s motor is whining from overuse, and there is a pile in my basement waiting for Big Brother Big Sisters to pick up” but I can’t. I started with the overgrown vinca in my front yard and that project alone took most of the week. Manual labor isn’t easy to do when you must keep stopping to take care of your child’s needs. So, I’m adjusting. My goals are still there, new due dates are set, and 49 more things will be throw out little by little.

Mentally and emotionally, this goal to chuck 50 things is in no way an easy project to do. I needed a little shove, so I took my mortgage payment and divide it by my square footage. It’s an eye opener to see how much you are paying each month to store (more like horde) stuff. Now those old job files and college textbooks that are were costing me $75 a month are not looking so much like cherishable items. I want them gone and serenity is in their places. I want peace. I want the freedom to be the real me.

As promised, here are some goals of my mom cohorts:

GOAL: Run a marathon
STEPS: she found one for a charity she was passionate about and signed up (the first big hurtle). Now she’s getting donations and training each day, no matter what time she can get out of the house. Its half way across the country and she’s decided she doesn’t want anyone there at the finish line because this is her run, her goal, and will be her triumph. DUE: October 2009

GOAL: Visit Italy
STEPS: she’s adjusted her budget and giving up some of the extra things (like lattes) so she can watch her vacation nest egg grow. She’s bought the travel books and once a week studies a new part of the country. She’s not leaving for another year, but has borrowed videos from the library and has started to learn the language.
DUE: September 2010

GOAL: Taking a stripper’s pole dancing class.
STEPS: this isn’t offered in her town, so a mini vacation and on-line ordering are necessary. She wants to feel sexy, and have the amazing strength and flexibility to do the moves. She has bought some yoga and Pilate videos to start her training. (The poles are portable so your grandma won’t see it when she visits if you don’t want.)
DUE: January 2010

GOAL: Starting her own business.
STEPS: she has the background info of costs of inventory, lease and utilities, insurance, wages for employees, etc… At this time, it’s not financially feasible, but her goal is to have her store open by her 45th birthday, when her kids are old enough to have different daily care and she can be at her store.
DUE: June 2014

GOAL: Obtaining a master’s degree.
STEPS: she is taking classes, one at a time, each fall semester while her children are young. In two years, she’ll increase that to one each semester. With books, each class costs approximately $1000, so she is paying each class as it comes with money she is making part time. She has 1 of 13 classes done.
DUE: May 2012

GOAL: Gardening.
STEPS: each winter she plans for spending her $50 budget. She knows what colors and heights she needs, and scours the Internet to find just the perfect plants. Sometimes she buys locally, sometimes more exotic, but she adds something new each planting season according to the map she drew up 4 years ago of her dream garden.
DUE: continuous

GOAL: Write a story that could be made into a screenplay.
STEPS: her goal is to write two paragraphs each day. Some days she can get in a whole chapter of thoughts. Next Christmas is her finish goal to send it to an agent.
DUE: December 2009

GOAL: Get a boob job.
STEPS: she has researched on the internet (Nicole’s site is her favorite) and interviewed many women. She is saving her money and will schedule the appointment to have surgery on her 40th birthday, when she no longer will have as much of the daily carrying of her child or their equipment. She isn’t looking to be porn star big, just to get back what she lost and perk her “girls” up.
DUE: May 2009

GOAL: Take a spa retreat.
STEPS: This mom has been researching packages from different locations, comparing services that are included, services that are “add-ons”, prices, ease and expense of travel, activities offered, and menus. She’s been asking for money for her birthday and Christmas, instead of gifts, for 3 years and will be able to take her retreat in the fall once her last child is in school full time.
DUE: September 2011

GOAL: Shed the SPED weight.
STEPS: she calls it that because it’s more than baby weight. Her child needs round the clock care and she can’t get out to work it off as a single mom. She found a personal trainer at her church who is donating their time to her once a month. During the workouts at her home, she receives the proper way to do the exercises and a list of sneaky ways to fit it all in during a typical day (which we know isn’t by any means “typical” when her autistic son changes his preference of color out of left field and she doesn’t have any of the new color readily available in food choices – what lunch is available in carnation blue?). So far, she’s 4 pounds closer to her goal.
DUE: ongoing until she reaches her magic number (which I didn’t ask)

Whatever your dreams may be, turn them into goals! Long term or short, you need to have hope in your heart to pull you through the days than can torment your sanity. It is easier to believe in yourself when you have accomplishments under your belt. If you feel like a failure, you are going to act like one. Yes, that’s harsh, but I’m not here to pussy-foot around with you.

Before you begin writing goals, list out all of your accomplishments for today, this week, this year. Did you get out of bed? Did you successfully get everyone to school or therapy? Did you not run away screaming? Write it all down!!! Reread your list every day. Believe in yourself! I believe in you!!

Now for your goals….
Your Goal: ___________________________________________
Step 1: ______________________________________________
Step 2: ______________________________________________
Step 3: ______________________________________________
DUE DATE: __________________________________________

Your Goal: ___________________________________________
Step 1: ______________________________________________
Step 2: ______________________________________________
Step 3: ______________________________________________
DUE DATE: __________________________________________

Friday, April 17, 2009



“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation…and bear the consequences.”
-Susan B. Anthony

Goals. You need them more than the average person. Some days the goal is to not collapse. Some days to not drain your bank account and run away. Those are very worthy goals but short term (though it feels like an eternity that day) in the grand scheme of life. I want you to just sit for a few silent minutes of no TV, no kids, no dog, no partner, no washing machine, and no cell phone. Now close your eyes. Dream. It doesn’t matter if your dreams seem unrealistic or how big or small they are. They’re your dreams….let them flow!

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” — Gloria Steinem

You may have to do this exercise outside of your home or job. I use my minivan a lot for thinking – just pull over (someplace safe, please) and write. Are you ready? Here we go!
1. What do you want to accomplish?
2. What would you like to try (just try, not become an expert)?
3. What do you look like doing those things?

Picture exactly what you are wearing, what the weather is like, how much light there is, what your muscles feel like doing the activity, your breathing, what can you smell, what do your fingertips and toes touch, what is the taste in your mouth. Become alive inside of your dream. Make it real.

Now write it all down (better to open your eyes for this). Every detail goes on the paper. For each dream, start a new sheet of paper (sorry to Mother Earth and the trees, but this is your life or death moment – you will die on the inside if you don’t have dreams and goals).

The difference between a dream and a goal are action steps. Dreams don’t come true unless you make an effort. Mini steps get you moving forward. There doesn’t have to be a rigid time frame, because in reality, we don’t know exactly what’s coming up for our kids (another luxury your “average” parents have in their blessings column) but you can work towards a date and adjust as needed down the line. The important thing is the Goal Due Date is set and the mini steps are laid out.

For example: if you want to visit Paris next year your first step is to set the date of your departure. Next answer the “who, what, and where”. Do you want to take someone with you? (You don’t have to, it’s not a law) Studying the travel books can give you ideas of where you’d like to stay and what you want to see. Some people like to work backwards on the calendar = double check travel arrangements one week out, pre-pack two weeks out, travel supplies bought 1 month out, your passport needs to be updated or applied for at least 4 months out, reservations at hotels or B&B’s at least 6 months out, budget made 9 to 12 months out, get advice from a travel agent, etc…

Is it unreasonable that you could be in Paris next year? Hell no! If that’s what you want, make it happen. Highlight this : Goals don’t have to be about saving the whole world. They just need to be about saving your soul through the journey of reaching outside of yourself. Notice, it’s not about what others want, or about rushing to get to the end just to check it off our To-Do list. Goals are personal growth. The whole point is PLEASURE. It may take a little grunt work, but the uncontained joy and inner peace is worth it.

Next week I’ll show you some goals of other moms just like you. Are they monumental? Only to the individuals who made them. I want to share their goals because sometimes just thinking about taking on a new project seems daunting and I want you to see and feel how wonderful you are by taking the first steps.

Here is my goal : Finish chapter 28 “Mt. Everest = your To File pile; Getting Organized” of my book, Martyrdom Sucks, by the end of April. In order to do that I need to throw out 50 things! Yeah, you read FIFTY. And its 50 different things….50 paperclips don’t count. There is a super book and website dedicated to chucking physical and mental junk. Gail, the author, is a dream because she is honest about our clutter crap and how to get rid of it. If you’re like me and feel you need a little detox, check out Gail at

Remember, goals are personal pleasure vehicles. You aren’t making goals for your kids or any other person or group (husband, mom, church, etc…). Goals are only for you, by you, in celebration of you. Share them with your best friend, your kids, and me! I look forward to hearing from you!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Guilt part 3

Recently I read a book called “The Erotic Silence of the American Wife” by Dalma Heyn. She also wrote the book “Marriage Shock”. Both are describing the transformation we women go through when we marry and have children – the martyrs we turn into. Why do we do it? A huge-society-full-on-press of “should” thinking. We are just as guilty of it as men, the media and other women. We judge ourselves especially hard, and we judge other women : looks, behavior of their children, clean house, hours of volunteering, bitchy attitude, needy, whatever….we are constantly comparing how we measure up….on what we think we should be doing. That is the foundation of guilt. It’s that simple.

“I just smile and nod my head while they chat on about what I should be doing – in reality I’m daydreaming the whole conversation away. My mom and sister are really good at laying on the guilt and worry thick. It used to really get me down, but I know what I need for myself and for my kids. My advice to you is ‘Trust your gut!’” ~Lisa

Who besides you has walked in your shoes? NO ONE! I have two SPED (SPecial EDucation) kids, and a whole host of past experiences, so I know for a fact that my shoes only fit me. Why should I feel guilty about that? Where is that logic? My parents, my childhood, my job experiences, my marriage, my pregnancies, my hometown, my children, my dreams, my hopes, my secret desires – all of these things guarantee that you can’t wear my shoes. You may have shoes that are similar to mine and we can, together, easily understand how the toes or heels can rub, or how good they look with a pair of jeans, but when it comes down to it we have different shoes. So, right off, I know that any guilt the outsiders are trying to place on me just won’t stick.

Let go of the whole “I’m a martyr thing” because you’re just in line with the rest of us. No amount of giving from you will compensate for your child having their disability. I tried it for years, and my kids are still disabled. You can’t overcome the guilt by giving more of yourself. I know what you’re trying to do and that’s not how the world works. There is no scale like that to make things balanced.
Think with your head. That is hard for women to do but I’m asking you to trust me. And I’m saying you need to straighten up – I feel your pain but I don’t feel sorry for you. The world is still revolving and you need to get moving. Wallowing in guilt is a life killer. Think real hard about who you are and what you want to be. Yeah, your kids need you, no doubt about that, but they need you for the long haul. You don’t see marathon runners sprinting the whole race, so why are you giving 180% to everyone else right this minute? Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? What is your motivation?

“I found that the Big Rock system (Franklin Covey Priority Weekly Compass) works for me. I have these little sheets I fill out and carry with me so I can check to see that I’m not wandering off and getting over my head in stupid stuff. At first my chest hurt thinking I was leaving out things that so many people expected of me. But after a month of forcing myself to only do the Big Rocks each day, the guilt lifted and my heart felt lighter, and I found I enjoyed myself and my kids more. I could play with them for an hour, then let go and do something else on my list. I didn’t need to be with my kids each minute. And you know what? They were okay with it!!! They had their Mommy time quota. They learned to play on their own. Looking back, guilt is shit and unproductive. Oh, can I say shit? Edit that.” ~Sarah (yes, Sarah, you can say “shit”)

As for the guilt of your child’s diagnosis…It’s done. You can’t change the DNA now. Living guiltily in the past for some mistake you may or may not have made can’t move you forward, not even one inch. You can learn from the past, but it’s the actions you take today that actually move you toward something.

What you need to decide is…..what is that something you’re moving towards? It’s not an easy question. Along the way, many of us detoured off the path of our dreams. And some of us were never on one, just floating through life without a purpose. Which is perfectly fine, and sounds somewhat lovely at times, but how do you know when you’re lost if you don’t know where you’re going? Every parent who I talk to believes that having a something to move towards is what keeps us focused and sane among the doctor appointments, physical therapy sessions, and complete screaming meltdowns at the grocery store.

Next week come armed with a piece of paper and your pencil (or the crayon your child just rolled under the couch). We’re going on a treasure hunt for the jewels of your life = goals!!
With a little laughter each day, all my best to you,

Friday, April 3, 2009

Guilt part 2

We’ve all been on a plane and heard the flight attendant say, “Put the mask on yourself first, and then put the mask on your kid”. Why do you think they tell you that? They don’t even know your kid, so they aren’t trying to kill them off. It’s because if you don’t make it, your child is certain to perish.

What? I have to take care of myself FIRST so I can be a better mother? What the hell kind of concept is that? You’d never hear any other generation of mothers in the United States tell you that.

Nope, you wouldn’t, especially about mothers with kids who have extra needs. Your grandma is spinning in her grave at the thought and your own mom probably wasn’t much more feminized (talked a good game though). Why is this so important in the guilt blog? Because time for yourself is the number one “guilty” pleasure special needs mothers crave. It’s the thing we feel most guilty about after any physical or emotional pain our children must endure. Selfishness is the hardest thing we find to justify, as society isn’t on our side about it. Personally, I think there are degrees of selfish but no one pays attention to that detail. It’s a load of piddle and we’ve caused that part of the guilt factor just as much as the media and Donna Reed.

“I probably have the worst confession you’ll hear. I have wondered, more than once, what life would be like without my son. If I had aborted like I was told to do, or if he had died as an infant. I have no life, I’m in a prison. I never thought this would be my motherhood. It’s not his fault, I don’t blame him. But there are weeks that I never leave the house, literally. We can’t afford to hire someone who is qualified enough to watch him, no daycare will come within 50 feet of him and we don’t have the money anyway – his medical bills are just too much. I’m on payment plans to every doctor within 100 miles. I can’t trust my husband to take care of him, so I’m stuck. I’m not trying to be a martyr. I don’t have choices like everyone else. And it’s all because of my son. I’ll never be free unless he goes to an institution. What kind of a mother would I be if I put him in there just for me? There’s selfish.” ~Michele

This is the cheerleading section and it’s full of logic: You come first because you are your child’s first line of protection. You are their emotional rock. So you do what you have to do to put the mask on you first. Other people can do an okay job of taking care of your children in your absence, but you need to do a superb job of taking care of you now so that you don’t have to worry about your kid’s future without you.

The first step in trampling the guilt is to recognize the issue = it may be there, but we can control how it affects us. The second step is to actually take a step forward: Go get your calendar. Now, find one chunk of time (meaning at least 3 adjacent hours) that is just for you each week. Stop screaming at me and just do it. I use Wednesday nights to play sand volleyball in the summer, and watch movies at the $2 theatre in the winter. This means you have to give your children over to someone else for a few hours. You HAVE to trust that they can handle things (different from you, but still adequate). Swap babysitting with another mom if you have to.

That new “Mommy time” on the calendar each week is sacred! You are not to do chores or errands. It is a time to rejuvenate. Plan your weeks around that time. Turn down outside requests that conflict with Mommy time with the “Sorry, I already have plans” excuse. Also turn down activities for your kids. GASP! Now, there may be times when something comes up that is drop dead important (like someone actually dies or a school conference) so you’ll need to then SWITCH to another day for that week. Notice I didn’t say to skip your time out, but to switch it.

The people in your life are not going to understand the “who, what, when, where, and why” of life with your child, or your life as an individual person. In their minds, you no longer have a life; you’re now a martyr, dedicating each moment of the day to your child. Funny, they still have their lives but think you shouldn’t just because you have a special kid…..hmmmmm. So, when they see you out “living it up” they will try to guilt you back down. Stand strong!!

Yes, this will make outsiders uncomfortable – you having happy emotions, passion, and vibrant thoughts – but tough cookies for them. Remember, that you belong to a special community that they don’t understand and it’s okay. Their lives are their lives, and yours is yours. Your job is to be the best woman you can be and the good stuff can then filter down into your children. Not the best June Cleaver. The best honest you.

My goal this week is to dig out my yoga tapes and do a few routines. I want to stretch the winter out of my body. Have a wonderful and blessed week!