I could hear the sound of the school bus approaching. This time of day is always an adventure. What are the girls going to say about their school day? Will I only hear about the food they ate? Or about what happened during recess? Or will they tell me something new and exciting? The girls slowly walked up to the porch. I wasn’t prepared for what I heard.
Hope: There’s hot dog buns in my backpack.
Mikayla: I hurt my butt at school.
I laughed so hard I nearly fell off the bench I was sitting on. I didn’t expect to hear either of those things. When I finally composed myself I asked Mikayla what happened. She said “I fell off the slide and landed in the weeds. It hurt” I told her I was sorry and asked if she was alright. She said “I’m ok.” So I moved on to Hope and asked her why she had hot dog buns in her backpack. She didn’t know. Sure enough there were hot dog buns in her backpack. I unzipped Mikayla’s backpack and found a loaf of bread. What in the world? I had a slight moment of panic. The thought that perhaps my girls were kleptomaniacs was racing through my mind. I took Mikayla’s folder out of her backpack and began to read about her day. There was a note that said a local organization had donated the bread to send home with the kids. I moved on to Hope’s folder and found a note from her aide explaining the hot dog buns were from the same organization. That’s good to know. The next time I find food in their backpacks I won’t panic.
All evening Mikayla complained about her butt hurting. We were getting ready for bed and Hope looked over at Mikayla and said “The neck doctor fixed my neck. The butt doctor can fix your butt!” And then she giggled. The girls clinical psychologist has labeled Hope as a slapstick comedienne. Yep. That’s pretty accurate. I don’t remember the last time I laughed that hard. I had trouble falling asleep because I kept cracking up. The next day we went out to celebrate Brynna’s birthday. As we drove by a McDonald’s Mikayla said “Sprite makes my butt feel better.” Nice try, sister. Now drink your water. Laughter filled our van. Maybe we have two slapstick comediennes on our hands. Interesting.
On the Friday before Labor Day the girls were very anxious when they got home. They were told there would be no school on Monday. They kept asking over and over again “No school on Monday? No school on Monday?” Yes, there is no school on Monday. When the girls get anxious they talk nonstop. When the girls talk nonstop I get anxious. After about 48 hours of listening to nonstop talking I was getting pretty edgy. And I didn’t have any chocolate hidden in my closet. This is not going to be good. It was bedtime and Hope was going on and on about something. I said “Hope, you have to stop talking!” She looked at me with her little, sweet face and she said “I don’t want to stop talking.” Then she continued what she was saying without missing a beat. Ok. That was obviously not my best parenting moment. If I had consumed a little bit of chocolate my response probably would’ve been much better.
I can’t help but think about how far they’ve come. Mikayla and Hope have expressive and receptive language disorder as well as language processing disorder. I used to wonder if I would ever be able to have a conversation with them. Or if they would ever talk in complete sentences. And I’m now seeing both of those things happen. Mikayla said “I hurt my butt at school.” Just a few years ago she would’ve said “hurt butt”. Hope said “I don’t want to stop talking.” Not long ago she would’ve said “don’t want to”. There was a time when we were trying to get them to say three word sentences. And on this beautiful, sunny day in 2017 my girls walk up to the front porch and say “There’s hot dog buns in my backpack.” and “I hurt my butt at school.” Those are both huge sentences. Years of speech therapy brought us to this day. I’m not proud of the moment when I told Hope to stop talking. But yet that moment makes me smile. My girls can talk until they completely wear me out. And it’s a miracle.
Mikayla and Hope went to our local public school for the first time last year. The team of people who helped them was fantastic. I was thrilled with the amount of independence the girls gained. Yet I had this nagging feeling that our girls weren’t in the right school. They didn’t go to P.E. class because all of us were afraid they would get hurt. It was obvious they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the regular ed. kids in any of the sports they played. They didn’t go to music class because it was mostly technical information and testing that they couldn’t understand. The nagging feeling that our girls needed to be in a different school just wouldn’t go away.
Last February I sent an email to the girls speech therapist at school. I told her I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the girls weren’t in the right school. She immediately contacted the special ed. coordinator. Within 2 hours they had set up a meeting to discuss how we should proceed with next year. I knew what was happening was going to be hard. We live in a small rural community. The only option other than our local public school was a school for kids with special needs that was nearly an hour away from our home. I wasn’t sure how the girls would handle going to school that far away. I wasn’t sure how I would handle them going to school that far away.
At the meeting we discussed the girls progress and what would be best for them for next year. We talked about the new school and how they focus on life skills as well as academics. The new school would give them opportunities that our local school simply could not give them. They told me the decision was totally up to me and my husband. They would help us however they could to make sure our girls get the education that is best for them. Brett and I talked a lot about what we should do. We decided it was best to try the new school. I went to the IEP meeting in April and the plans were made for the next school year. Mikayla would be in the junior high classroom. Hope would be in the intermediate classroom. They felt it would be best to separate the girls to help alleviate the behavior problems. It had been a tough year with them in the same classroom sharing an aide. They were constantly irritating each other and competing with each other. I was thrilled with the idea of putting them in different classrooms. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
August rolled around and I got nervous. Really, really nervous. I don’t know a single person at this school. It’s so far away. Are the girls going to be able to handle a full day plus 2 hours of riding the bus? This is going to be hard. What if it doesn’t work out? Then what do we do?
The first day of school finally arrived. Mikayla and Hope were totally fine. New school? No big deal. Let’s do this.
The girls were smiling when they got off the bus. They didn’t tell me much about the day. They basically told me what they ate for breakfast and lunch. But they were happy and that was all that mattered. This school year is going to be amazing. They will be able to participate in P.E. class, school sports and Special Olympics. It will be a whole new world for them. It was definitely a hard decision for our family. But sometimes the hardest decisions can turn out to be the best decisions. I’m confident this is one of the best decisions we’ve ever made for Mikayla and Hope.
The girls are nearing the end of their first year in public school. There’s been a lot of trial and error to find what works best for them. But overall I’ve been amazed at how well they’ve done with the transition into school. They’ve gained a great deal of independence. The girls carry their own meal trays. They’ve learned how to maneuver through the building and they can find the restrooms, cafeteria, nurse’s office, and therapy rooms without any help. They call the speech therapists on the phone and tell them they’re on the way to speech. I’m thrilled with how much they’ve learned to do in just one school year.
I didn’t think the girls would handle the school bus well because of their sensory issues. So I’ve spent most of the year driving them to school. I was just sure the noise of the bus would upset them and make them miserable. But a couple of months ago we decided to try the bus and see how it went. The special ed. coordinator made arrangements for the girls to have a practice ride on the bus. They stood on the sidewalk and watched the bus pull up to the school. They were taught to wait until the bus driver motioned for them to cross. They showed the girls where their seats would be. They had their name above the seat so they would be able to easily find it. They took a bus ride around town and then they were dropped off at the same entrance the bus would pull up to each morning. I’m so thankful for our school system. They went above and beyond what I expected. They took the time to prepare the girls for what was going to happen when they rode the bus.
The girls were all smiles and super excited as we waited at the end of the driveway for the bus to pick them up and take them to school. I was a little nervous about it. A practice round on an empty bus is a little different from getting on a bus full of kids and a lot of noise. The bus pulled up and I reminded the girls to wait for the bus driver to motion for them to cross the street. They watched her and crossed after she told them to. They seemed a little hesitant about this new experience. They walked very slowly as they crossed the street. They kept turning around to see if I was still there. At the end of the school day the first thing I heard was “The bus was fun. Want to ride the bus again tomorrow.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought they would hate it because of the noise. What do I know?
The girls are in a self-contained classroom and they share an aide. They are constantly competing for the aide’s attention. Hope hates it when Mikayla’s getting the attention. And Mikayla hates it when Hope’s getting the attention. I can’t say I blame them. They have to sit beside each other all day long. Everywhere Hope goes Mikayla is there. Everywhere Mikayla goes Hope is there. And they get really tired of it. When my sisters and I went to school we got off the bus and they went to their classes and I went to mine. And we didn’t see each other until we got back on the bus. If my sisters and I would’ve had to sit by each other all day we wouldn’t have been very happy. It’s a beautiful thing for siblings to go to school and be able to get away from each other. It didn’t seem fair that Mikayla and Hope didn’t have that option. As the year has went on Mikayla and Hope’s frustration with each other has escalated. But what can we do? There isn’t any way to separate them. They’re the same age and this is the only classroom they can be in.
One of their therapists approached me with an idea. Would it be possible for one of the girls to come in the morning and the other one to come in the afternoon? We thought about it and decided to give it a try. The week after Easter we started the new schedule. I decided that Mikayla should keep going in the morning because she doesn’t like her routine messed up. So she rides the bus to school, eats breakfast, and then has her day by herself. I bring Hope at 11:30, she eats lunch, has her school day by herself, and rides the bus home. It’s been so good for them. It’s not easy being a twin. They feel like they’re always one of two. But now they get their own individual time at school and it’s made all the difference in the world.
The girls have made some academic progress this year. But what’s most important is that they gain life skills and independence. They’re learning to be independent of me. And they’re also learning to be independent of each other. Yesterday I walked Mikayla to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus. She turned around and said “Mommy, you need to go in the house.” Yes I do. You need to learn to go out into the world without me and I need to go in the house. You don’t need me as much as you used to. And I love it. But even though I’m in the house please know that I’ll be peeking out the window to make sure that you’re ok. And that will never change.
As I pulled up to the school to pick the girls up I immediately noticed that Hope’s neck was crooked. What in the world happened? She was fine when I put her on the school bus this morning. At 8:40 she was in the nurse’s office with a compress on her neck. She told them that mommy knew about her stiff neck. And she was laughing about her head being crooked so they didn’t call me. She told me her elbow hurt before she got on the bus. Elbow. Neck. Pretty much the same thing.
I could tell she was in a lot of pain. She cringed as I helped her change her shirt. I told Brett that I knew what it was but I couldn’t fix it. He asked me what it was. I told him that it’s called acute torticollis. He seemed rather impressed with my knowledge and that I had just diagnosed our child. Hey, I worked for a chiropractor 20 years ago. I still remember stuff.
I called the chiropractor and made an appointment. Brett took Hope to the appointment and I stayed home with Mikayla. When he got home he said “You were right. The doctor said it’s whatever that word was that you said it was.” The doctor had massaged and stretched the muscles in her neck and she had handled it very well. Her neck was still crooked. It was going to take some time for her to return to normal.
That evening I went to my parent-teacher conference at Mikayla and Hope’s school. As soon as I sat down their teacher asked me how Hope was. I told her that Brett had taken her to the chiropractor but she was still about the same. She said that the girls aide had put her hand on Hope’s shoulder when she was helping her with her work. Hope looked up at her and said “Do it again and I’ll hit you!” I laughed myself silly over that story. And the aide and teacher had a good laugh over it too.
Now obviously I don’t want my girls hitting their aide. But that isn’t really the point of this story. There are a couple of huge successes wrapped up in Hope’s sentence. First, she did an excellent job communicating her feelings. I’ve spent years wondering what she was thinking and feeling. At this exact moment in time there was no question what she was thinking or feeling. She was feeling pain and she didn’t want to be touched. She clearly told those around her that they needed to not touch her. The second success is that she showed self-control. She didn’t swat the aide’s hand to let her know that she needed to not touch her. She chose to use words and she kept her hands to herself. This is great progress. Now we just need to work on using nicer words. “Please don’t touch me. It hurts.” is more polite than “Do it again and I’ll hit you!” It’s not as funny but it is polite.
Each little step of progress is important. Each little step takes time. Sometimes the little steps make us cry. And sometimes they make us laugh. I’m thankful for those moments of laughter. I’m thankful for people who choose to laugh with me. And I’m thankful for little girls who teach me that those seemingly small moments in life are actually big moments.
Last week Mikayla and Hope’s school had open house. The girls got to meet their teacher and put their school supplies in their desks. They were all smiles and were excited about starting school.
The next morning I woke them up for the first day of school. The morning went very smoothly except for one major obstacle. They wouldn’t eat their breakfast. They don’t like to eat when they first wake up. I asked them repeatedly to eat some cereal but neither one of them would eat. So I threw a breakfast bar in each of their backpacks for when their stomachs started growling. Before we left I snapped a first day of 5th grade picture.
On the way to school I gave them a first day of school pep talk. Don’t fight with each other. Do what the teacher says. And I had one final instruction for Hopey. Please try really, really hard to not burp at school. But if you do burp remember to say “excuse me”. As we neared the school my heart started pounding and my mind started racing. I hope they like school. I hope they behave. What if the change is too much for them? What am I gonna do if this doesn’t work out?
I walked the girls up to the school and we met their aide. The girls made me hug and kiss them more than once. They seemed a little unsure about what was happening. But they were smiling as they entered the building and they were still smiling when I picked them up 3 hours later. I asked them how their day was. Hope proudly announced “I didn’t burp at school!” I was one proud momma. She remembered what I said. She exhibited self-control. And she was proud of her accomplishment. I didn’t get any other information out of them about the first day of school. But I was relieved when they asked if they could go back to school the next day.
They both received a “good job” and a smiley face on their first math paper. They’ve learned that stars are good and X’s are bad. If you get too many X’s you have to stay inside while your sister gets to play on the playground. The little sweetheart learned from her mistake and didn’t get as many X’s the next day. They’ve been in school for a week. They’ve had some good days and a few not so good days. I still can’t get them to eat breakfast. But overall the transition from home school to public school has went better than I expected it to. I believe that 5th grade is going to be a good year.
I can’t believe summer vacation is almost over. Mikayla and Hope start school next week. The last few months have been filled with preparations. I took the girls for their school physicals and their shots. All of their school supplies are in their backpacks ready for the first day of school. We’ve done everything that the school requires but a few extra preparations were necessary for our girls to start school.
The speech therapists asked if the girls could have a few therapy sessions over the summer. This would help familiarize the girls with their therapists and their classroom. It was a brilliant idea. We started therapy a couple of weeks ago. I met the therapists at the same door the girls will enter on each school day. They had 45 minutes of therapy and then I pulled up to the door to pick them up. Hope hopped in the van and Mikayla started to get in the van. But she turned around and walked up to her therapist and timidly leaned in for a hug. And then she said “I love you.” Hope jumped out of the van and told her therapist “I love you”.
The second week of therapy the girls met their aide who will be helping them in their classroom. She wanted to get to know the girls before the first day of school. I pulled up to the door and their aide was standing and waiting for them. This was like a dress rehearsal for what will happen on the first day of school. The girls practiced jumping out of the van quickly so we won’t hold up the line of parents dropping their kids off. After spending two days with their aide the girls told her they love her.
The girls will be going to school a half day. We will add more time to their day when we feel they are ready. Since they’ve never been to school we thought it was best to start slowly. They will go to P.E. one day a week and they will also participate in music class. Our local school has been outstanding. They want to do everything that they can do to help our girls succeed. I’m sad to see the summer end but yet I look forward to this school year with anticipation. Because this year has the potential to bring many changes to our life. At the end of this school year I’ll smile as I think about how they’ve grown. I’ll celebrate their academic successes. I’ll be thankful for new friends and new experiences. And my heart will be at peace as I see how they’ve learned to function in the world without me by their side.