The clock said 2:30. I took a sip of tea and did my best to enjoy the remaining moments of calm before the kids started coming home from school.
Then the phone rang.
A sweet, young voice was on the other end. It was a psychologist from our daughter Lizzy’s school. Usually I panic whenever one of the kids’ schools call.
This time I didn’t ask if all was well with Lizzy. I just said, “You’re calling about the parent intake form. I haven’t sent it in yet, and it’s overdue. Yes?”
I tried to be light in my tone and hoped I would manage to charm her with a joke or two about how much I hate these forms. This has been my M.O. the past 12 years of dealing with various forms like these, and it was my plan to do that now.
I apologized for being two days late. I then told her just how painful it is to answer the same questions every year. I thought I was doing a good job of being the cool and funny special needs mom I fashion myself to be. Then the young voice said something that made my carefully created facade crack.
“I understand how hard it can be Mrs. Radigan.”
All lightness from my voice left me when I asked her, “Do you have a child with special needs?”
She stammered a bit and then said, “No, I do not.”
Before I could even stop myself, I said, “Then you can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be asked to fill out this form every year.”
A part of me regretted what I said. I understood she was only doing her job, and her job couldn’t be easy.
She apologized and explained that although she doesn’t know what it’s like, she’s worked with many families. Then she went on to tell me the importance of the form.
“I know all about the importance of the form. I’ll have it to you by Monday, I’m sorry I was late. Thank you for your call.” This was said in my “all business” voice. Then I hung up the phone.
That’s one person who won’t be singing my praises anytime soon.
I could imagine the young woman reporting the conversation back to Lizzy’s teacher who I figured might say something like, “that doesn’t sound like Kathy.” At least that’s what I hoped she would say.
Tears I had no time for started to fall freely. I gave myself two minutes and then made myself stop. I knew my nine-year-old’s bus would be here soon. I found the form in a box I use for all the things I don’t want to face and set it out on the table so I could fill it out once he got home.
The first question dared me to look at it:
What special strengths, interests, and preferences does your child have?
For parents of children who don’t have the significant issues Lizzy has, this might be easy to answer. For me, it’s impossible.
Lizzy has extensive brain damage but none of the many specialists we’ve seen throughout the years has been able to tell us exactly what it means or how it came to be. We just know it causes my sweet girl so many problems. She also deals with mental illness. Whether this is part of the brain damage or a separate condition is something else we’ll probably never know for sure.
The way I sometimes describe Lizzy’s condition is to compare her to an amazing, high tech computer that has all the bells and whistles you could want. But each time you turn it on, you get another result. Some days it never turns on. Other days it turns on but gives you information that makes no sense. Then there are the days it may work perfectly for an hour or two and shows you just what an amazing machine it is, only to stop working again.
Even this description doesn’t accurately describe all the wonderful things that make up a girl who can light up a room and make the grumpiest person smile.
My daughter’s illness defies explanation and because it does, it makes it so difficult to predict what she’ll be like when she is 21. That is nine years away. Heck, I don’t know what she’ll be like in two minutes. As it stands now, I assume she’ll always need full time care
I work at finishing the form, crying sometimes, getting frustrated at others until I get to one of the last questions:
In which career(s) or specific job(s) has your child expressed an interest?
I write down the same answer I did last year:
Lizzy would like to be a princess. We’re aware that there are limited positions available at this time, but we believe if anyone can pull it off Lizzy can.
Of all the things I had to write down on this form, this is the one statement I truly believe.