This is a bittersweet day in my home, as my family will be taking a final trip to a place that has become very comfortable and familiar to us. It is a place that we have gone to celebrate my son and his accomplishments, discussed plans for his future, and shared what we loved about him the most. There were more difficult times as well, as we had conversations that were fraught with emotion and made me stop to consider what his future might be, and how we could make it better. Is the location for these deep, profoundly emotional conversations our church, a therapist’s or doctor’s office, a restaurant or social setting? No, actually it’s none of those. It’s the conference room at my son’s elementary school, where we have met consistently for his IEP.
I want to be clear about a few things. First, this is absolutely not his last IEP meeting. He is merely graduating up to middle school next year, where he will be absorbed into the school’s life skills program. It will also not be the last time he will see his classmates, some of the therapists and staff. But this day will be the last time that this particular group of people will meet in this particular room to talk about one child that is most important to me: my own son. While I have no particular attachment to the building or the room itself, I do find myself being sentimental about all of the events that took place there: meetings and discussions, samples of his work, the occasional video clip of him in the classroom.
In this place where so many conversations about my son took place, I find those conversations to be the piece of these experiences I hold onto the most, and how they have morphed and changed over time. From the early days, when my son was a Kindergartener, my wife and I were still in shock that our child could even be in school at all. Fast forward a few years to more intensive conversations about his ability to speak or read, and how our private therapy team would lobby the school staff for him to do more or try something else.
As I consider the final meeting today, I wonder what this last conversation will be like: a celebration of his great work and accomplishments? Or will the discussion be tinged with the reminder that there is so much he still has not mastered or cannot do. If I am truthful, I have seen true miracles of God come through my child, with the things he is now capable of, including increased speech and eye contact, and improvements in both his gross and fine motor skills. I have marveled at his ability to navigate stairs and hallways more independently, find and put things away in his locker, sit with attention at his work table and attend better to each task.
I also think about the amount of people that have crossed our family’s path over the years. Are there any typical families that have the experience of so many “specialists” in their child’s life? Sure, he has had the normal amount of classroom teachers in his mainstream classes, but he has also had life skills and special education teachers and aides. I reflect on all of the therapists from the school and our own private team that have all shared a seat at that table: some have been with us for years, some were only with us a short time, never to be seen again. Some of these folks became very close to my family; some who no longer work with our child still care for him very much. So many have come and gone that I know being in that room will elicit a strange nostalgia for me, as the voices of all those who have shared a place at that table will be echoing in my memory.
I am writing the ending to this piece after the meeting was over. The afternoon played out as it had so many times before. We went to the main office and checked in with secretaries, and waited in the lobby for the members of our team to get there. We stepped into the conference room for the last time. I actually took out my phone to get a quick couple of pictures of the room. Once everyone got settled, we did the familiar round of introductions. Some faces were familiar, some were very new, specifically the lead teacher for his life skills program next year. We reviewed his goals, which he had met in part. We discussed future goals: some we had serious disagreement with, but overall our concerns we met, as they always were. We discussed the setup for summer school at his new middle school, shared the last comments we felt on our hearts, and wrapped the meeting in that room one last time.
I stood up slowly, and took in that space one last time, grabbed a couple more pictures and said goodbye to therapists I would see many more times, and other therapists and teachers I’d never see again. I waited as my wife finished some conversations. One last quick time, I reviewed the highlight reel in my head of all these meetings here, but more specifically, the hopes and dreams I brought into this room. I thought about all of the hopes that came true, and all of the ones that just had not and wondered, ‘Was God here all of those times, every time I prayed for healing and the possibility that the next meeting would be the last?’ A recent memory popped in my head, of my son going on an open house tour of his middle school a few months back, and how excited and truthfully independent he was navigating that night. My son was not defined by the way any of the meetings here began or ended; he was like any child, moving on from this school, from this stage of his life, and his parents were moving on from this room. I knew then that God had heard us, because He gave us a child like any other, one who had just graduated fifth grade, and whose identity could never be confined to that old conference room.
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