A Leap of Faith


School is out, summer here, and I officially have a first grader!

I remember this time last year, we were having to explain to Olive that she would not be going to the first grade. And while we knew she would benefit most from remaining in kindergarten, it didn’t soften the blow. Truthfully, Olive was significantly behind. This didn’t occur to me until it was placed right in front of my face, during our final I.E.P meeting of the year. I remember looking at her level of progress just to find it to be left blank. This was because her academics were so far below the curve, that her progress wasn’t measurable in comparison to the other students. The hardest part of it all, was she was completely aware of this. Olive would ask me why she couldn’t write her name or read. I was heartbroken.

I was determined that this year would be different- and it was. She benefited so much from repeating kindergarten. I think a lot of it had to do with the predictability of it all. She was more aware of the routine in front of her. She was able to focus more on academics and less on unexpected changes. Over the summer she precipitated in a program called ESY. This is different than summer school. The primary focus of ESY is for students to receive their services over the summer, as well as academic help. This was great for Olive. Especially because my main concern was regression. Over spring break and winter break we noticed a regression in her speech. We went from understanding what she was saying completely, to not even understanding 50% of her speech. In addition to that, it took WEEKS for her to get back to routine and for her speech to progress. The ESY was great for consistency, which is key in her function at her highest potential.

I was completely blown away by Olive’s progress this year. I’m talking zero meltdowns or behavioral issues. When I say ‘behavioral issues’ I’m referring to her response to an unexpected change. This can cause her to become overwhelmed, and withdrawn. This can last a few minutes to ultimately set the tone for the entire day. I am very proud to say she’s been “on level’ the entire year from start to finish.

Her speech has taken on tremendously, and her vocabulary seems endless. She can read and write not only her name, but can write sentences. Olive has mastered all of her sight words, and can read books with little or no assistance. But what I treasure most her found sense of confidence. She believes she can do anything- and so do I.

A week ago I received news that my biological father was in the hospital with a brain tumor.

For those of you who don’t know, my father was not in my life. At 30 years old, I had came to terms with the fact I may never ‘meet’ my dad. My whole life felt some what incomplete, not necessarily from the absence of him. More so the lack of family in general. The only people I grew up knowing were immediate family (mother, step dad, and siblings.). I didn’t grow up knowing cousins, aunts, uncles, or even grand parents. By the age of 17 my mother and I had become estranged. In every sense, ‘family’ was a foreign concept to me. Things that feel natural to most, are things I’ve had to work hard at for the best interest of my children. I’ve always struggled with accepting love, had problems with self worth, and things like depression and anxiety are frequent visitors of mine. Once I had children I had to learn to turn off survival mode in order to be genuinely present. So when I received the news, I immediately had to fight all urges to run, ignore my anxiety, and get on a plane. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I essentially was getting on a plane to meet strangers in hopes for some closure. I also had to come to terms with this may be the first and last time I see my father.

When I touched ground, I was greeted by family. Family I had no memory of meeting, but they seemed pleased I came. I still can’t really put into words what it was like seeing him. What I do know is initially it was hard to not cry, and it took me about 20 minutes before I could even really look at him. He was heavily medicated, confused, and seemingly unaware of my presence. It took everything in me to not have a panic attack. I had to take a break. My uncle asked if I wanted to grab dinner, I happily agreed. After refueling on food, drinks, and friendly conversation with some other family members, I found myself feeling strangely comfortable. After dinner, we went to go see my grand mother. I couldn’t believe my eyes, on the wall was a baby picture of me. It was nice to know I wasn’t forgotten, but still felt very bizarre.

The more time I spent, the more time I wish I could stay.

I visited my dad again that night, he was sleeping. I still had yet to touch him, or really say anything. I just stared in silence. After that, I was headed to see my childhood best friend , whom I had not seen since I was 10. She nicely offered me to a place to stay for the night I was in town. Upon seeing her, we immediately picked up where we left off. Even after 20 years, I felt so comfortable and genuinely happy to be there. We talked about everything and anything. It was like I never left. That morning, I went to see my dad one more time before I had to be at the airport. While there, we were visited by the neurologist who then informed us that there would be no biopsy.. the cancer had spread. He told us that chemo or radiation would not give him a better quality of life, and this point our new focus needs to be making him as comfortable as possible. For the first time since I arrived, I started to cry.

I couldn’t help but become upset once seeing his mother cry for her son, only wanting to take him home. His brother and girlfriend who had been by his side during the whole ordeal become visibly upset. It was a lot to take in. Shortly after hearing the news it was time for me to catch my flight. And for the first time I put my arm around him and said, “I am really happy I came, and I am so happy I got to see you.” I then held his hand for a second. Something I’ve avoided because I feared it would make it that much more real. And it did. I crumbled. My uncle asked if I wanted a picture. I politely declined. I don’t want to remember him this way. I walked out of the room and didn’t turn back. While the circumstances weren’t ideal, I was so happy and grateful for the chance to finally lay eyes on my father. My only regret it not making the effort sooner. I can honestly say I came to Maine initially feeling like I was amongst strangers, but I left feeling surrounded by family.