Congratulations, Katy and August

Dear Katy Perry,

You don’t know us.   And despite the fact that we may see you on television or on the internet or in the occasional magazine, we would never purport to know you.

However, I thought we should take this opportunity to reach out to you and introduce ourselves since you and my youngest son, August, age four, are apparently now engaged.

My oldest son, who is eight and most assuredly going on eighty, has warned August that by the time you and he can actually get married, “Katy Perry will be as old as mom!” Yet nothing can deter him.  He is in love with you, thinks you’re the “most beautiful girl in the world except for my mom,” and even has plans for your eventual family, which he relates without pausing and without punctuation:  “When Katy Perry marries me I will be so happy and we will have a little daughter named CeCe and she will be so beautiful and little and I will be a good father and hold CeCe so gently and change her diaper all the time and Katy Perry will not have to change the diapers just me . . .”

And so it goes.

Every day August asks me if I have been able to get in touch with you.  Whenever he gets my phone in his hands, he attempts to call you.  He is smitten and plans to change the diapers . . . All in all, not a bad deal.

IMG_0669I’ll close with a photo of August from a recent trip to Build-a-Bear workshop.

The bear’s name is CeCe.

Of course it is.

My best to you during this very long engagement.

Your future mother-in-law,

Samantha

Standing Up for Newport’s Students

Below is a Letter to the Editor in tonight’s edition of our local newspaper, The Newport Daily News.  I wrote this last week shortly after learning our seven-year-old son is a full year behind grade level in reading.

I wrote this letter for one reason only: While our family is fortunate we have the resources, stamina, and expertise to address this unfortunate situation, we know not everyone does.

That our son should not be in this situation is clear.  That we only just learned of the extent of it is concerning.   Yet the more salient questions are How many more of Newport’s students are struggling?  How many are behind a grade level or more?  What tests are used to measure students’ reading comprehension?  What do the scores mean?  How are they reported?  What resources are available to students who are not on grade level?

And, perhaps, for me, the most important: What can I do–as one parent, one individual–to help support all of Newport’s parents and students? 

We’ve all heard the saying, Be the change you wish to see.

There is now no question of where I need to be.

This is not the easiest letter I have ever written, but it is one that desperately  needs to be written—not just on behalf of my son but on behalf of all children enrolled in Newport Public Schools who are not reading on grade level. It pains me because in writing it, I must admit to two things: (1) my child is at present not reading on grade level and should be; and (2) he is most assuredly not the only one.

Just seven days before the conclusion of the academic year my husband and I learned that despite a Personal Literacy Plan being in place for our son, a document that is supposed to ensure the implementation of the interventions necessary to bring a student to grade level, our son had shown barely any discernible growth over the course of the year. At the end of last year, our son had met his benchmarks and was reading on grade level; and at the conclusion of first grade, an entire year later, he was essentially idling at the same point.

He has been in a classroom in Newport Public Schools for the last 180 days and has shown such insignificant growth that, as a parent and  taxpayer, I find myself asking not only why—why has our son’s education seemingly stagnated—but how: How could this happen? And, of course, why  did we not know the severity of the situation until  June?

While this is surely a major and personal concern for our son and our family, it is an issue that should also concern all parents, all  residents of Newport, and all taxpayers. In an era of severely decreased funding  for public schools and rising academic expectations, assessment data that shows a student—any student–not showing growth is alarming.

Research supports and common sense dictates that young students who are not reading on grade level have an increasingly difficult time accessing knowledge. The subjects that inspire and incite the curiosity of  children—science, history, storytelling—remain shrouded behind a complex vocabulary and sentence structure that tragically eludes them. And as they get older, if their deficiencies in reading follow them, it only gets worse.

 Newport Public Schools claims it gets results for its  students and offers an “outstanding” education to all. I am asking all of my fellow Newport parents to take a long, hard look at their child’s current reading scores—today—and ask themselves: “Is our son or daughter receiving the outstanding education promised, the one s/he deserves? Is Newport Public Schools getting results for our child? And, if not, what is the plan to ensure they  do?”

 It is their promise and your child’s right.

She Said “Had”

IMG_0773This moment wasn’t supposed to come.

Or, at the very least, if it were, it shouldn’t have come for another five or six years.

But instead it came today.

Today at 4:25 PM in an eight-by-eight-foot examination room at Rhode Island Hospital.

The neurologist who has been by my son’s side since she met him in the emergency room after his first grand mal seizure in October 2011, looked at me and used the past tense to describe his epilepsy.

She said “had.”

Had . . . as in no longer.

It’s her theory, based on the substantial medical evidence she has been collecting, that he had it, and as quickly as it came, it went–faster than anyone could ever have anticipated, but gone nonetheless.  She said children can and do grow out of it–though usually not this fast.  But here we are.

So, we are going to move toward eliminating his anti-seizure medicine altogether.

And with a little luck and a whole lot of good intentions, had will be our new reality.

And tonight. for the first time in my life, I finally and completely understand what is meant by the sublime.

A Tale of Two Mothers

From the outside looking in, the particulars of our open adoption agreement for our youngest son August can seem complex if not completely intimidating and confounding.

IMG_0620Here I am, the adoptive mother—the mother—of this beautiful child going off four times a year to visit the equally beautiful young woman who gave birth to him.

It has inspired questions, many questions:  Isn’t it confusing for your son?  Isn’t it unnerving for you? Don’t you worry that it will undermine, even threaten the bond you have? 

The answer is a very polite no to all of the above.  When an open adoption is in a child’s best interest, it is indeed one of the most important relationships in his or her life; and it is one that needs and deserves a most careful cultivation.

Because she is in his life, my son’s birthmother can answer his questions as they arise.  He is not relegated to the position of having to file away his queries for decades and be sated temporarily with “maybes” and “I-don’t-knows.”   He will never have to wonder why because he can ask her, and she can tell him.  And of all the gifts a parent can give to a child, peace and security are among the most profound.

As August’s mother, I have received my share of pats on the back for embarking on this path and maintaining this connection for him.  And as appreciative as I ever am for the kind words of others, I don’t know that I deserve a single accolade.  At the end of every visit, I get to go home with this beautiful boy.  His birthmother does not.

August has two mothers—one who would sacrifice anything in the world for him and one who already has.

A Road of Our Own

As a parent of a child with an IEP, I now can say with full conviction that negotiating the labyrinth of special education services for your child is a test of patience, a battle of wills, and most assuredly not for the weak.

IMG_0458And it’s a paradox in the extreme–because though you know your child is not like everyone else–and you have the paperwork and occasionally the prescriptions to prove it–you want him treated as if he were.  And as you seek out accommodations to help your child be successful, as a parent you are acutely aware that doing so may very likely set him apart.

The path before you is unknown:  Though there have been students with stories similar to your child’s, there is no one exactly like your child.  So, you listen.  You take notes.  And often you take the suggestions of the dedicated professionals whose judgment you have to trust.  They’ve been there before–with someone else’s son or daughter.  You believe they know, that they have the foresight you lack, so you listen–even if the suggestions contradict your own parental instincts.

But there comes a point in a parent of a special education student’s life when you have to silence the advice of the professionals, look into your child’s eyes and heart, and remind yourself that more than anyone you know your child–what he needs at this moment–and that there exists an unassailable connection that gives you the power you may have thought eluded you.

So, you forge a new path for your child–perhaps not the suggested path but the one in your heart and in your mind you believe to be best.

And you hold your breath and hope as you embark on this road less travelled you are doing the right thing.

A Father’s Day Letter to My Three Sons

Dear Oscar, Edgar, and August,

It’s Father’s Day.  And while I know you are many years from fatherhood yourselves—if, in fact, it is something you ever choose for yourselves—I want to take a moment today to tell you about your father, what makes him great, and why he is worthy of your emulation.

You are all so young, and you may not remember the specifics of his day-to-day interactions with you.  The memories you will hold onto will be flashes, snippets of experience; and when you each walk away from your childhoods it will be with less the individual stories of time spent with your father and more a sense of him—who he is and what he means to you.

And though it is my fervent hope that one day you will take the time to read the volumes of words I have already written to you here and those I will continue to write to you here and elsewhere, if you read anything, please read this.

There are many different ways to father, to be a father.  Some are taciturn, but they are strong and you always know they’re there; some may not be as physically present as they might like to be because economic necessity dictates they work long hours to provide for their families; others are just as silly as their children and are the constant go-to playmate of their own children and everyone else’s.

Father's Day 2013Your father, first, is a kind man.  He is smart, he is devoted, and he puts your needs above his own—something he instinctively did with the arrival of you, Oscar, our first son.  After meeting you at the hospital when you were just hours-old, he called his mother, your grandmother, and asked: “Mom, how can I have just met someone and already be ready to give my life for this person?”

He is funny—his voices, not to mention the nicknames he comes up with for each of you, are legendary.  He makes you laugh.  He is a master of deflection and knows when and how to turn childhood irritability into a robust round of belly laughs.

His love of music and the premium he puts on education and on travel flow through nearly every experience of your childhood—whether he is writing a song for you to perform in a recital (and taking the stage by your side) or planning our latest family adventure—large or small—he knows what music can do for the soul and what education and travel mean to your futures.

Your father is also responsible and has a work ethic beyond compare.  He is someone you can count on.  If he says he is going to be at your concert, he will be; and on the rare occasions when he can’t, he will explain to you why and come up with a plan for you to spend time together.

He also has the power to say “I’m sorry” and mean it; he is a gentleman to everyone he meets, and he treats me, your mother, with the utmost respect.  He is genuine, honest, and, perhaps most significantly, he’s here—every day, without exception.  He gets up early, works hard, and comes home every night—with an ear and a heart ready to hear all about the day’s events, about your accomplishments and the things that concern you.

He is your father—and in my estimation, he is the father the likes of which every child deserves.

Of course, I cannot and would not tell you you must or should become a father, and I certainly cannot tell you what kind of father to be; but what I can say is no matter where your life’s journey takes you, remember your father–who he is and what he stands for–and take his goodness into every aspect of what you do.

When you are given the gift of a good father, it is the least you can do.

All my love,

Mom

Worth Listening To

IMG_0450He’ll be four a week from today, and he is a force with which to be reckoned.  He is bold, he is quick, he is loud, and he is very, very loving.

And until this point most of the posts I have written about him have pertained to his relationships with others—his family and his birthmother particularly.

As a parent, and perhaps as a parent who is also a writer on the constant prowl for inspiration, I listen exceedingly carefully to every word my children utter.  I often will post on Facebook the sardonic quips that come out of my oldest son Oscar’s mouth; and Edgar’s revelations about himself and his world have moved me to compose with a vehemence previously unknown to me.

But August is young; and while he is painfully funny and sharp as the proverbial tack, he is still only three.  I believe children are truly our wisest teachers; but toddlers tend to instruct more with their deeds than with their words.

Today, however, a switch was flipped.  As we sat having lunch together to celebrate the end of his first year of preschool, four people tucked themselves into the booth next to ours—two women and two children.  The children and the toys they had in tow caught his attention first.  But then he turned his gaze to the two women.

“Mommy, those kids have two mommies.  That is so cool.”

He went back to chomping on his chicken nuggets without missing a beat, not realizing the simultaneous simplicity and profundity of what he had just said.  Surreptitious eavesdropping revealed that the two women were actually sisters, but his words hung in the air—near my ears and around my heart.

Whether August’s perspicacity is the result of the time and place into which he was born, his natural inclinations, parenting, or a combination of any and all of the above, I looked at him and realized unequivocally the strength of his voice—a loud and powerful voice that I now see has the potential to contribute to the changes and shifts so desperately needed in our world.