Cat in the Hat

It was another snow day on Friday. In this case, calls for a blizzard were unwarranted: the flurries stopped at around 10 am. It was sunny and gorgeous, but since the forecast had been so ominous I had already let Jamie take the minivan with four wheel drive to work. I was left at home with the kids and Jamie’s sports car, which was useless since, a, I can’t drive stick and b, even if I could, there was no way two car seats could fit in there. I was happy to be home. I had a lot on my to-do list. Wednesday night, I’d gone to a last minute Town Hall style meeting with Josh Starr, the Superintendant for Stamford Public Schools. Starr is proposing some draconian measures to the special education budget, including slashing 12 special education teachers. The room was filled with irate parents, and Starr seemed out of touch with how to deal with them: “I don’t understand you people,” he said at one point. “One thing rubs you the wrong way and you’re off hiring advocates and attorneys.”

It was one of my first experiences dealing with the Stamford public school system, and it was pretty damn depressing. There was a lot I wanted to do. Email each and every one of the Board of Education members. Call the mothers of other special needs kids I knew in Stamford to get their opinions. Call the advocate Jamie and I had consulted with when we were just starting the process of transitioning Johanna from Birth to Three into the public school system.

But Johanna had other ideas. “No,” she said, banging on my computer keys and tugging on my arm. “No. Book.” She was carrying her new favorite, Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.

I looked down at her, surprised. Usually she’s happy to sit in the playroom and do her own thing, singing songs and reading books, while Teddy’s crazy glued to my leg. “In a minute, Jo Jo,” I said. “Mommy’s busy.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No. Book,” she said, thrusting it at me. “Read. Cat hat. Cat hat,” she said again, even more insistent. “Ma ma. Book. Cat. Hat.”

 It was the closest she’s ever come to a full sentence.

So I stopped what I was doing. I turned off my computer, and let my daughter lead me by the hand to the playroom. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading the “Cat in the Hat”, “Where the Wild Things Are”, and the whole “Llama Llama” series. We sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus” and “Old McDonald” and I was impressed by how many words of each song she actually knew. I thought about the week before, when I’d brought her to the Stamford preschool for some of her evaluations, and how nervous I’d been leaving her in the room with the speech pathologist and special education teacher, both of whom she’d only met once before. They walked out with her 45 minutes later. The speech pathologist looked at me quizzically. “Does she usually hit herself?” she asked and I stood there stunned while she told me that mid way through the testing process Johanna grabbed a toy dinosaur and began banging herself with it on the head.

We have more evaluations scheduled for this week. I don’t want to think about them, to wonder about the stress my daughter feels when she has strangers sit with her in a room with clipboards and pencils administering a battery of tests. I don’t want to think about the other parents I saw at the special education meeting earlier this week, their faces lined with anxiety that dragged their jowls down like old age. “I was never the sort of parent who thought she’d be confrontational and racing to call an attorney,” one auburn haired ponytailed woman told Starr after he issued his comment. “But after just a couple years of dealing with this system I’m becoming that way.” I don’t want to think about the possibility that a year from now, I might feel like that too.

 So on Friday, at least for a few hours, I didn’t. We listened to Music Together CDs and dressed poor Ivry up in a cowboy hat and a bandana and I watched my daughter, wearing her ballet clothes, wander around the playroom doing some Martha Graham-esque version of the Nutcracker with play dishtowels that were doubling as scarves.

This week, I will do everything on my to-do list for Johanna. I will email the entire Board of Education and outline my opposition to Starr’s proposed budget cuts. I will read the Wright’s Law Special Education Law and Advocacy textbook that has been sitting on our coffee table now for weeks. I will review my IEP goals for Johanna and make sure that they are reasonable—but still challenging. I will bring Johanna to her evaluations and insist that if she starts showing any signs of stress again, the testing stop and she be brought to me immediately. I will call other local moms who also have children with special needs, for advice and support.

 But I don’t regret last Friday, when I was able to forget about it all for a few hours and delight in my pink tutu clad daughter. I didn’t worry about the numbers she scored on standardized tests and what they meant and whether they really reflect her true abilities and potential.

 If only there could be more afternoons like that.