Thursday, July 31, 2008

Attention, Parents:

The superintendent won't be in until Monday. Tomorrow is the Principal's first day back, and I'll finally have the opportunity to speak to him. The advocate said that in every nonverbal child's IEP we should write, "My child won't be able to tell me if there is abuse at school" under parental concerns. So that we have a plan in place. So that we have ammunition farther down the road. "I've been telling you that I'm concerned about this for FOUR YEARS," we can say. What an awful thing, but we're going to add it to his next IEP.

You know. For the next time that this happens.

Anyway, I've done all that I can do for the day. Nina is sleeping soundly, and Niko is jumping on the couch, grinning. I'm tired and worn and fighting off bitterness. I need to remember who we are, and we're more than this. We're not Williams Syndrome. We're not abused children. We are ourselves, and we are strong, and kind. And alive.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Break In The Case, As The School Police Would Say

The school police were extremely fond of saying things like, "Hmm, sounds like this woman knows more than she's telling!" and "Sounds like this teacher is the key!" Life seems to be grand when you're playing Sherlock Holmes. It was equal parts endearing and frustrating.

I called the teacher who witnessed said abuse today, (for she was the key!) and she answered her phone. She had been up in the mountains for the last little while and couldn't get any reception up there. Imagine her surprise when she listened to her voice mail and there were messages from me. The police. The school. Whoever.

Niko's teacher was screaming at him, she said. Not just him, all of the kids. Grabbing them and yanking them around. Saying hateful things. She said you could walk by the classroom and hear the teacher yelling at the top of her lungs. Her aid was very good at keeping Niko away from the teacher, she said, which makes me think that he might have received more of it than the others. The teacher said, "I reported it to the administration last year, but they said that they were handling it and basically told me to mind my own business." She gave me the names of who she talked to.

Well. That puts a whole new slant on things, doesn't it? So apparently the administration was aware of this behavior before this teacher reported it. So how many people knew about this? More importantly, if it was such common knowledge, why didn't the school contact ME? Somebody is screaming at my son, yanking him around, and I blissfully send him to school with the exact same teacher for another year? I'm speaking with the superintendent tomorrow. I find that I have a lot to say.

These are the steps that I have taken, for those of you that might find this information helpful. First I tried to call the principal, but school was out for this month. So I called the district's public concern line (not helpful) who put me in touch with the person higher than her. (Also not helpful.) Then I consulted an attorney, who advised me to take Niko to the hospital to check for signs of abuse. The hospital released that information to the police, but I called Abuse and Neglect Detail anyway to file my own report. I am still waiting to hear back from them, but I was assured that they'll call as soon as they are able. I called DCPS. (Not helpful.) I called the school police, filed a report with them, and tonight I'm filling out an official complaint form that I received from the disabilities advocacy center. The idea, the advocate says, is to create a paper trail. So I am. I also called the region special education department and talked to them, and the school police gave me the name of the superintendent and told me to speak to him directly. So.

No media, and it isn't in my plans. I'd like to resolve this as peacefully as possible. Unless, of course, I find that I need it, and then I won't be afraid to scream buildings down if I need to.

That's only elementary, my dear Watson.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tell It As It Is, Mr. Burke

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
-Edmund Burke

My earlier feeling of elation has left me. I'm just tired.

I filed a report with the school police, as per my advocate's instructions. And soon I have three officers at my door, sweet, bumbling men who can't seem to grasp what I'm telling them. They have questions for me: do I really want to report this? Why don't I have proof? Why did I wait so long to report? They don't think it will be reported as abuse at this time. I don't have enough information. The usual response.

I think that it is simple. Somebody said the words "abuse" "school" and "Niko" in the same sentence. Look into it.

Isn't that all they need to know? You would think so. When did we become so apathetic? It's horrifying.

"Nikolai" Means "Victory of the People"

Finally, somebody with some answers! A member of the advocacy group called me back yesterday, and gave me all of the information that I needed. "Do this, and this and this," she told me. "You talked to the school district on the phone? Then this issue will not even be addressed." Really. I wouldn't have guessed. *sarcasm sarcasm*

So I was on the phone all day. Leaving messages with the school police, the metro police, and the regional special education people. That's what I'll be doing today, too, until I talk to everybody that I need to talk to. Plus people coming over today, and all of that regular life stuff. I wish that sometimes it could sit on the back burner indefinitely, but it can't and that's good, I suppose. It keeps us human.

My friend and I were talking about Niko, who was put on this earth for a couple of reasons. He is to be a catalyst, I think. He can help us make things better. He's here to teach everybody patience and to demonstrate what unconditional love is. I see him doing this every day. Whether he's here to help us or we're here to help him, I don't know. It's most likely both.

Nina learned to wave while I was gone, and she was shy and kind of angry with me when I returned. For about 30 seconds, and then she was in my arms, squirmy and huggy with her pigtails flying in the air like banners. Always like banners.

There's an air of triumph to this family, I just know it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Me. I'm Back.

I got off the mountain late last night, and am readjusting to life in the city. This is a picture that one of the girls drew of me. I really like it. I have a bad habit of sticking out my tongue when people take my picture, apparently, but I can't seem to help myself.
More tomorrow, after a few phone calls.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I did it.

I did not make this decision lightly, but I felt that they had ample time and warning. I called the school today and gave the name of the teachers so that this matter could be fully investigated. And I was severely disappointed. When I again stressed how afraid these teachers were to come forward, the woman said, "That makes me suspicious of these teachers." I said, "No, that makes me suspicious of the school." She thanked me and promptly hung up. So do I feel like the school will investigate this properly? I most certainly do not. They are not my advocate. Their words make me feel like they're gunning for the teachers, and I don't trust them to do a thorough investigation.

I had much more to say, but wasn't given the opportunity. I wanted to tell them that the matter has been reported to the police, and that I have consulted an attorney. If I hear that somehow these teachers are given grief for their report, then I will call down fire from heaven if I have to. I'm going to call the school again after hours and leave a lengthy message, and then send a letter. I have to get all of this finished tonight, because I leave early in the morning.

The most important thing for you to know is that Niko and Nina are happy. They love each other and are fiercely loved by us. I'm moving this forward, but I know that I am doing so with the right spirit. This is all going to turn out for the best.

Some good news is that I'm published again. :) An online zine that I chose because they allow reprints, (I submitted Show Your Bones which was the first piece published in The Vestal Review) and I was charmed by both its enthusiastic name (Shine! A Magazine of Flash!) and its little fluttering butterflies on the first page. I do allow my whimsy to guide me. So look for that in October.
And these heels? Despite it all, I'm still me. :)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

You Let Us Down

Child Protective Services doesn't take cases of teacher abuse. They suggest that we go to the school. Who will be so willing to help us.


I called the teacher who's number I have, and she's not talking to me. I can either give their names to the school and most likely get them fired, or I can let this go. I also called an disabilities advocacy group, and they made me feel worse than ever.

No wonder the teachers were so afraid. There is no help for us.

The Earth's In Orbit

Besides this whole thing with Niko's school, I'm leaving on Tuesday for a week at Girl's Camp. That's right, Girl's Camp. I'm one of two leaders, and we'll have eleven girls. It's frustrating to leave right now, but on the other hand, perhaps it is a good thing. Five days without phones and electronics and distractions. Five days to be with my friend Cindy and these incredibly crazy and amazing girls. I am once again reminded that no matter what I am dealing with personally, life goes on. It's sweet and bitter at the same time. How dare the world continue to orbit while we're in crises? How fortunate that it does.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Brought To Light

I am completely furious. Want to hear why?

I'll tell you why.

Today we spent five and a half hours at the hospital getting Niko examined. Which was a pleasure, as I'm sure you can imagine. They looked for bruises, they checked his body. Since he has a high pain tolerance and can't speak, they did a full skeletal x-ray to see if there are any old broken bones that we didn't know about. Fingers, ribs. It made me want to vomit between my feet. Luckily, there weren't any. And his Happy-Birthday-Broken-Leg is almost entirely healed, so there's some good news.

I had to tell the story over and over. How she had told me last year to keep an eye on my son, and I didn't know what to do, how we looked but saw nothing, how we couldn't switch classes since it was so hard to get him into school in the first place. I am so ashamed about that, the fact that I was given a veiled warning and I didn't act immediately on it. I did my best, but my best wasn't good enough. Apparently. Maybe. I still don't know what happened, and I had to tell them that, too.

They called CPS to see what the status of the case was. And CPS had no record. Why? Because the teachers still haven't reported it. They're busy, they said. The hospital gave me a number and begged me to call and report it myself. Oh, you had better believe that I'm going to report it. And report it and report it to anybody who will listen, if I have to. I am absolutely fuming. I want these teachers to cover themselves. I care about their livelihood and their families, and I know that this district is looking for them. I realize that it would be terrifying to make a report, on a lot of different levels.

But here is where I stand. Without them, we have no case. And why would I protect somebody who will not protect my son? They can be court mandated to share what they know. Would they be protected that way? No. But would I turn them in to make certain that this situation is investigated fully? Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. Of course it is a yes. If they don't report it by tomorrow evening, then I shall, pure and simple. I wish that they hadn't put me in this situation. It makes my heart hurt. But their opportunity was more than ample, and I am a mother first. I am ALWAYS a mother first!

My dear friend was telling me that it makes her cry to think that Niko is the one to bring this thing to light. I absolutely agree. The feeling, it's...indescribable. I could kill. I could literally tear this woman to shreds...if it's true. And perhaps it isn't; perhaps that's why these teachers aren't reporting. But we must act as if it is true, because if it is, then this woman needs to be stopped. I told my friend that I would rather Niko be the one that brings this to light rather than some kid six years down the road. I will fight for my son. He will be protected. I want to protect those that need it, and maybe the things that I'm learning right now will be useful to somebody else some day. Something else that was sickening? In the waiting room room I thought, "Wow, all of these special needs kids." The nurse later said, "I'm sorry you were here so long. We had four other people all come in at the same time, and their circumstances were quite similar."

I remind myself that these things are always brought to light eventually. Do I think that I can change the world?

Why, yes. Yes, I can. You just watch me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Driven By Love and Not Anger

Truth be told, I don't want a lawyer. I don't want to scream, "I'm taking this to the media!" I want this investigated and over and done with. I'm not sure how likely that is, but we'll see. I am, of course, talking to them a little bit later today. We still have a lot to cover.

The advice that I'm getting from everybody is to lawyer up, to get the best lawyer that I can afford. And believe me, sometimes I'm tempted. Because it seems like being sued is the only thing that people can understand. It's all about the money. But I'm not in this for money. I don't care about money. I do care about little kids not being safe in school. By law they're supposed to be there, but somehow they can't or won't take care of their kids. It disgusts me.

The names of the reporters will forever remain anonymous, despite the school district's promise that they could figure it out using yearbooks. They reported it to Child Protective Services, which was the right thing to do. So they told their story, but their names are held in confidence, and the district won't find out who they are. And the investigation will be ran from CPS instead of the school. This is a win for all of us. It's truly the most peaceable course of action that I can think of.

Luke gave me a blessing last night. For those unfamiliar with that, it's something we do in our church where a priesthood holder puts his hands on your head and gives you promises and advice that comes from Heavenly Father. You don't have to be a member of our faith to receive blessings, and they are really just very calming and helpful. My blessing said to channel my love for Niko and have that be my guiding force when talking to people about this. And I really like that, love instead of anger. "Lawyer up" and "Sue the pants off of them" and "Use your anger to really shred that woman on the phone"...that is the advice that I have been given. It's vengeful advice, although it is an extremely desirable route. There is anger. There's a lot of anger, but I have to remember to conduct myself with grace and dignity because anything else might be detrimental to my son. And this is all about him and the other little ones. I'm trying to remind myself that the school shouldn't be my adversary.

Now if I could just remind them of that, as well. I'm quite afraid that they have forgotten.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Round One...Wait, Is This A Fight?

Here's the thing. I call the school because I am horrified beyond belief by the id ea that something has happened to Niko at school. And they didn't make it any easier.

The first woman I talked to sounded almost sarcastic at first. She kept interrupting me with all of these questions. "They didn't say what the abuse was? Where were these women when this conversation took place? What are their names?" Which I understand, but let's be honest. I'm a freakin' WRECK. I wasn't calling in anger, I was calling heartsick. Then it all became a "We need names we need names we need names" thing, to the point that I was afraid there wouldn't be an investigation without me somehow getting all of these names. When I said that, she was all, "No, I'll pass what information I have on, but I really need those names."

I understand that. It's tough to investigate without knowing who is making allegations. But it also had the eerie feel of a witch hunt. I was so angry that the teachers didn't stand up and report my son, but now I think that I can see why.

A few minutes later, a different woman called and asked for their names. I said that I didn't know, that my friend knew them but I didn't. She told me that they needed their names so that they could interview them quickly before they had a chance to get together and come up with...answers.

My son was lost in this. It felt like battle. Why does this school district always feel like battle?? I had to fight to get him admitted. I had to fight for them to accept them in his wheelchair. And now I have to fight for this. Why can't they just say, "Oh, how horrible, we'll look into it immediately"? How about a "Thank you for letting us know your concern?" I feel like I could bash my head against a wall. I'm angry at the thought of abuse, sad, disgusted, and then I feel bad about accusing Niko's teacher because I like her so well. And apologetic. I don't make waves; I smooth them over. That's the kind of person that I am, so this is very hard for me. On the other hand, I'll be hung if I don't stand up for my little boy.

But there is always light in the darkness, and let me tell you about this piece of light. We had the missionaries over for dinner last night, and one of them had found a broken laptop and asked if he could take the keyboard from it. So he shows up and dances it around in front of me. I'm missing 14 keys from my keyboard, for those of you who don't know. The fact that I can type at all is a testament to my strength of will. :P

But he spent an hour picking out keys that fit, and this morning I glued them on. Sure, I have three Alt keys and two C's, but I don't look at the keyboard when I type. I have all of my keys. I no longer have to shift with my right pinkie. I came into my room last night and nearly cried, because this was the kindest thing that anybody could have done for me, and I had needed it, and I truly remembered that we're never simply forgotten.

On Your Mark...

I'm getting my thoughts together before I call the school district. "Hi, remember me? I called two months ago when you wouldn't allow my son to come to school in a wheelchair." This is going to be worse. Much worse.

I'm still so angry that I can hardly see straight, and I'm also very sad and exhausted. But of course I can find the fire to fight for Niko. Of course.

And apparently he's not the only one. This makes me even angrier.

What kind of an environment do we have here, where three teachers all see a child abused and feel that they can't speak up for fear of losing their jobs?! They kept an extra eye on him, and they shouldn't have to do that. They should be able to point and say, "No!" and be protected. And on the other hand, wouldn't it be worth losing your job if it would save children? Little children. Special needs children.

There are no heroes here.

I'm still sick.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Quick. Hide Your Axe. I Could Use It Right Now.

So I just got a telephone call from a friend, who was talking to HER friend, who used to work at Niko's school. And Secret School Friend was telling my friend that I have grounds to sue when it comes to Niko, since they had seen action taken against my son that they would consider abusive. What was it? She wouldn't say. She's not the only one who saw it, but nobody is willing to come forward because they would all lose their jobs. It was a regularly occurring thing, she said. And I can't really report it because I don't have any proof.

Of course I don't have proof. I didn't even know anything was going on. How could I? Niko doesn't speak. He doesn't comprehend things like most of us do. And nobody spoke up on his behalf, so.


I am amazed how detached I feel right now. It's that dead feeling, and I know that in a few minutes I'll get that surge of all-consuming rage. Horror and despair. I just called Luke, and he is livid. I could actually hear him seething on the phone. I'm feeling hate. A lot of hate. I'll have to figure out what I can do. I'm hoping this isn't true. I hoping they burn in Hell.

Please, somebody tell me what I should do.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Music and Rollercoasters, Continued

So what are we doing right now? Listening to John Wayne Gacy, Jr, of course. Niko is cuddled next to me on the couch, his soft cheek resting on my arm. Nina is snoring in her seat by my feet. pretty much perfect right now.

Music and Rollercoasters

"When the revenant came down, we couldn't imagine what it was. In the spirit of three stars, the alien thing that took its form..."

-Sufjan Stevens, "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois"

Niko's favorite song is "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois" from Sufjan Steven's "Come on, Feel the Illinois!" album. Because my son has remarkable taste. We used to play it in his room to help him sleep, and if "UFO" or "John Wayne Gacy, Jr" or "Casimir Pulaski Day" starts playing on our computer, Niko will drop whatever he is doing and come running. His leg is so much stronger, and his limp is better. What a relief. I'll say it again: what a relief. Anyway, the song is in my song queue at the bottom of this page. It's astoundingly beautiful; melancholy and ethereal. My favorite part is the squeak of the piano seat right before he leans forward to play. That's so human. I wrote my first novel to this album. I hear it and think of Niko, and also how lonely I was when I was writing. We had just moved to this awful, awful place, and had no friends. Nobody from the ward, nothing. I felt more included when we lived in Finland, and heavens knows we were alone there! But something good came out of all of that, didn't it? Of course it did. Because that is the way that things work, and it's beautiful.

I'm happy when Niko goes to school, because then I get to focus on Nina. I feel like she never gets the one-on-one time that Niko had with us. Two kids is hard, a permanent balancing act. I don't want to be all, "Niko's school, Niko's hearing, Niko's doctor's appointments." And I don't want to be all, "Nina's roly-poly cuteness, Nina's adorable dresses, Nina's babbling." My parents were sensational at making sure that Riley and I were both equal in everything, especially my mom. She took great pains at it. I don't know if I ever told her how much I appreciated it, but I did. But my kids, you throw the two of them together and they're happy. They like each other. A lot.

I asked Luke yesterday if we could drive to a town 45 minutes away to go play. Well, calling it a town is being generous. It has maybe five buildings and a terrifyingly rickety roller coaster with one of the biggest drops in the world. Pyper and I went on it in November last year, I still didn't have my heart problems under control, and partway through I began laughing maniacally. I mean, it was the craziest laugh that I have ever heard, and it was coming from me! She asked me about it later and I said, "I thought that I was going to die. Just then, I realized that I was still alive." You should see the picture we took after it. Not only had we just split the biggest burrito known to mankind, (delicious!) but we were windblown and both of our eyes were wild. It must have been the lighting, but to me it looked like my pupils were star shaped. I miss her. I wish that she lived next to me and we could do these shenanigans all of the time. Plus she gave me lip stain that looks like a vial of blood. This is why we're friends. :)

Oh, and road trips. I still promise never to tell, Pypes.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The 4th of July

My mom will tell you that I have always loved a parade. And I have always loved fireworks. I have my definite favorites: the explody silver kind that leave traces of themselves in the sky. They're absolutely beautiful.

Having a child with Williams changes all of that. Fireworks are much too loud, and we spend our time huddling in our house cuddling and singing familiar songs at the tops of our lungs to drown everything else out.

Our neighbors here are insane. It was 113 degrees today, and everything is parched and dry. The whooping, hollering, and shooting off fireworks is certainly a death wish, but here we are, celebrating the nation's freedom. And I'm really happy for that. As for us, well. We watched Lupin the Third and I held Niko on my lap and played youtube videos of puppies and kittens. He was extremely tense and his body quivered in anticipation of the noise. But he didn't scream and cry, and that was pretty sweet to us. Luke went to lie down with him now. I anticipate a very bad night.

I ran the video to the mail, hoping to catch a glimpse of some fireworks before I was missed. It smells like war out there. But I was lucky: I caught a glimpse of an explody silver one.


This is the end of an era. You will be missed.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


The psych ward was, of course, the psych ward. Mildly draining, kind of taxing. While I was driving home, I hit a nail and the tire blew. I pulled into a parking lot and dug around in the trunk to find the jack and everything that I needed. I can change a tire, but not quickly, and it's a lot harder in the dark. I was thinking how vulnerable it is to be out there, bent over with your head down while you're concentrating, and just then some guys from the bar next door decided to come over and be friendly. And I don't want to be friendly. I decided to bail on the car and send Luke back to fix it, and I was close enough to home that I decided to just walk it. After a block or so, walking seemed like a waste of time, so I began to run.

This is what I have decided about running, because it's satisfying but not fun. Running isn't so that you can fit into your clothes or keep your muscles strong. Running is to help prepare you for a time when you find yourself stranded in the middle of a dark city, and you need to run home. Going for a run is emergency preparation. And I like it. I like hearing my own breathing in my ears, and feeling how naturally my body moves. We were born to run, and I think that we have forgotten how.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Purpose of Adversity

So I'm going to visit one of the women that I visit teach tonight. She's currently living in a mental health treatment center, and you have to do the whole shebang in order to get in. Know the patient code. Flash your ID. Take off your belt, empty your pockets, nothing sharp in your hair, no stilettos, etc etc. This particular center also houses adolescent male sex offenders in a separate area. Which naturally flashes me back to my old job, and I remember how incredibly draining it was. I'm so glad not to be there anymore. Anyway, I'm going to give her the lesson that I gave to the Young Women on Sunday, about overcoming adversity. I also emailed the bare bones of that lesson to one of my best friends yesterday, because apparently I am the biggest dork in the universe. But I know that adversity makes us stronger and, more importantly, more compassionate. My friend's baby is in the hospital with a major heart problem right now, and I thought, "I understand. I understand, I understand." I think compassion is one of the greatest emotions on earth.

That said, I signed my contract for the short story yesterday. They get first North American Serial rights and exclusivity for a year, plus the right to use excerpts for promotion if they choose. I get $25 and a contributor's copy, and that's enough for me. I get to pull a book off of the shelf and say, "Do you want to hear a story that Mama wrote?" The thought alone makes me smile.

Niko's limp is absolutely obscene. His left foot turns all of the way out, but he's getting stronger, and I'm grateful for it. I can't tell you how his broken leg threw me! "It was gruesome," Luke said, but it was more than that. I'm prepared for the other things. Heart things and artery things and kidney/calcium/hearing/visual/ things. But I had never built up my reserves for something simply snapping. Now I have thought about it. Now I am prepared. I vow never to be thrown like that again.

Nina is a mama's girl. "Ma ma ma mamamma," she cries, crawling toward me and lifting up her arms. She's so beautiful. She's so fearless and lovable. She was worth everything that happened in order to get her here.

I've been working on a new story lately, and I like it. Apparently it's a novel, because I'm writing it in chapters, but it's unlike anything else that I have ever written. The main character is an incredibly sarcastic woman with...well, we'll call it a special "talent", and the two male leads are her legal assistant brother (Thanks, Birgit! I gave him your job!) and an ex-junkie with bland hair and beautiful eyes. It's writing itself, practically, and it's a pleasure to be along for the ride.

Know what I've been thinking about lately? Forgiveness. Repentance and change. People taking horrible things and somehow making them beautiful. I'm discovering how much I really believe in mankind. It's somewhat of a relief, actually.