I find it remarkable – the way the world works.
Yesterday, we had Catherine’s annual IEP meeting. Yes, another one. After the meeting, Brian and I stopped to grab a quick lunch before we headed home. I saw an elderly lady come into Panera using a white cane with a red tip. I always pay close attention to a blind person using a cane, so I stared. I wondered if the women she was with thought me rude, but I couldn’t help myself.
We sat down at a booth, and I watched the woman walk unassisted to her table behind her lunch companions. “I wonder if she’s really blind,” I thought. What I mean by that is that I wondered if she were in total darkness. Sometimes people who are legally blind use a cane so the public will be patient with them. I get that. It’s actually pretty rare to be totally blind and have no light perception (NLP), which is Catherine’s situation as far as we know.
Throughout lunch, Brian and I talked about the people at the IEP and what we thought of the meeting. I kept feeling compelled to talk with this woman, though. It was as if a magnet was drawing me to her, and I couldn’t ignore it. Finally, as we got up to leave, I asked Brian if he’d mind. I think he thinks I’m a little unusual when I start a conversation of depth with a complete stranger.
Tentatively, I approached. “Ladies, may I interrupt you?” They looked up with inquisitive eyes. Even the blind woman looked right at me. “I have a six-year-old daughter who is blind, and I’ve been so impressed watching you get around independently with your cane, and I just wanted to come over and say, ‘Hi.'”
“Oh my goodness!” one exclaimed. “Of course you may.”
“I guess I just like seeing blind people out and about living a normal life. It gives me a bit of hope,” I said.
“Is your daughter walking?” one asked.
“No, she also has cerebral palsy. But I still like seeing independent blind people.”
“Well, I probably give this lady way too much help,” one of the friends said. “I’m not going to tell you how old she is, but she still lives independently.” They all laughed and the blind woman looked right at me and said with a smile, “I’m 90 years old.”
“Wow! I thought you were closer to 70.” And I did. She proceeded to tell me she had macular degeneration, and I asked her if she could see a form of me. She shook her head no and told me her vision gets worse over time. She told me she could make out a little light sometimes, but would eventually be in total darkness. And she lives by herself. I was more than impressed; I was inspired.
The woman who cared for her too much asked me, “Do you think your daughter will walk?”
“Well,” I took a deep breath, “a mother’s hope is eternal, but I just came from a school meeting, where I’m sure they would tell you no.”
“Where does she go to school?” she asked.
No one has ever heard of Delrey in conversations like this, but I politely said, “Delrey.”
“Oh, I know that school!”
“You do?” I said surprised.
“Of course. Years ago, I was a PT in Anne Arundel County Special Education. And I don’t know what you met about, but I bet I’m on your side.” She literally moved her body as if she were moving to “my side.”
How does the world work like this? But more, why do I keep meeting people who let me know in their underground ways that I’m doing the right thing to dig in so hard with the County? I’m just thankful they appear.
She is one of several people I’ve run into casually who has said something that makes me know in my bones that every second we spend preparing for these meetings is worth it – even if it keeps me up until 3 AM as it did this weekend. We’re not just preparing for Catherine, but for all the other kids who don’t have someone fighting as hard for them. For every time AACPS has to work a little harder not to give a kid what they need, they have to think a little more about what they are doing. And those people who casually tell me to fight, or to keep going because they know what really goes on in there, or even to sue, get their message back to AACPS through parents who argue and present their positions in hopes that it will change.
And maybe it will. Yesterday, we had some small victories. The best part was that the County took off an objective they had last year because Catherine met it. Did you hear that? Catherine made progress and met an objective. She consistently appropriately expressed pleasure or displeasure at various stimuli. Yeah! I literally made the room applaud for her!
We still have another meeting scheduled to finish the contract (an IEP is a contract with the state), but there may be some reason for a tiny ray of hope in a system that is horribly flawed. I can’t rest on hope, though. We have to listen to Catherine’s attorney, prepare well and go in fighting on another day. I bet I’ll see the blind woman and her PT friend in my mind – inspiring me to press on.