Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reality Check? Good.

I've never made it out of Maya's school without crying at least once.  In other posts I have mentioned why.

I love Maya's new school.  It is just such a happy, fun relaxed place.  My experience with Dutch schools is that they are relaxed but also tense, all that conforming to rules nonsense and so on.

Today Maya's school had an Easter party and they invited parents to join and asked us each to make something to eat for the kids for lunch.  In typical Dutch fashion they didn't organize it more than that, so what happened when I showed up this morning at  8.30? After a traumatic incident involving me, a venti latte and a power hungry city bus driver where said driver wouldn't let me on the bus with my coffee - even after I told him I would become homicidal without it, he didn't budge but a 60ish year old woman did try to give me her seat), all these Dutchies (and immigrants like me, because remember special education in the Netherlands is just another way in free Dutch society to weed out all us immigrants) send tiny little containers of food, barely enough to feed one person and people sent stuff like bags of hamburger buns, but no hamburgers.  Tons of bread but with nothing on it.  The thoughtful ones sent butter. Butter!  And there were tons of sweets, 5 different cakes, cookies, brownies, store bought cookies.  And the ones that sent actual food (I baked cookies but at least they were baked) sent the strangest stuff.  I mean this is an elementary school, full of kids with special needs - HELLO food peculiarities.  This was just some of the selection of "goodies" for the kids:

-Tossed salad
-Pasta salad with basil, parsley and peppers (good try with the pasta but what kid eats green stuff?)
-cold Asian noodles
-potato salad
Someone sent something which looked a little like fried chicken (Honorable Mention)

The grand prize really goes to the person that sent 8 hard boiled eggs (unpeeled).  I thought maybe I found another Jew in the school and they thought it was a Seder.  Not a chocolate duck or egg to be had.

Someone needs to teach the Dutch how to throw a covered dish thing.  Pronto!

Seriously about 30 parents dropped off food this morning and there wasn't enough (which tells you how small the portions were) so they had to go out and buy food.  What did they buy?  Baguette (when already there was enough bread to feed a small nation), quiche with broccoli and spinach and fallafel.  Now I like fallafel and granted there may be kids who eat it that a lot especially in and around Amsterdam but Maya would rather eat the dirt off her shoe and the fallafel in her class was untouched so I am quite certain it was everywhere else too.  Although thank G-d for egg lady, because Maya scarfed down a few.

Really, someone needs to teach these people how to feed kids?  No wonder there are so many special needs kids with learning disabilities in the Netherlands?  They are so hungry that they can't concentrate on learning.

I suggested to the teachers that maybe next year they want to try to do it more structured to make sure they get enough food, like asking people to make food for a certain amount and that people A-L will make something sweet and M-Z something savory and give suggestions.  The whole room stopped what they were doing and it got dead silent, half of them looked at me like I had just discovered kryptonite and the other half like I had no earthly idea what I was talking about, of course they know how to throw a party.  I hate to sound snotty but I am a foodie, but this party was looking more like what happens when I clean out my fridge.

At that point I decided to shut up as I was probably winning no friends at school and I thought if I said one more word they would make me organize this thing next year.

I have totally digressed.  This was supposed to be a poignant post about Maya's school but I just got off on a roll there and couldn't help myself.  As my grandmother used to say you have to take the bitter with the sweet.

Anyway as I was saying about 300 words ago, I have never once been at Maya's school where I didn't have to fight back tears.  Being there is a reality check of sorts.  Although I really love the school, it is a little emotional to see face to face that your child's peers are children with downs' syndrome and mild to severe mental handicaps (what is the right word now, I hate using the word 'mentally challenged').  As sweet as those kids are, this is just not what you dream of when you have kids and part of that always hits me when I am at the school.  And of course today was no different.

What I love about this school is how involved they are and how every single teacher and person that works there knows every single kid, their name, what class they are in and the kids get loads of attention there.  A lot of hugs and kisses are doled out to these kids (the Dutch are typically big on handshakes) and those that need to do things differently get the chance to, they roll with the punches.  I am telling you, after 3 years of my daughter being enrolled in Dutch schools, it is very unDutch.  During the first part of the party the kids went to a puppet show.  There were quite a few parents there but most of the kids' parents were not there, there wasn't one teacher or staff member in that little auditorium without one or two kids' on their laps.  In the playground when the kids played, the teachers didn't just stand in the background drinking coffee like they did at Maya's last school, they were playing along with the kids, helping on and off bikes and trikes, drawing with chalk on the sidewalks.  And sure, parents are around so they want to give a good impression but it wasn't forced at all, it looked completely natural.  Like any other day.  You don't get that warmth between student and teacher from only pouring it on when the parents are around.  

My near-tears moment came at the end of the puppet show.  One of the classes, a class with kids with IQ's under 40 put on a little "show" for everyone else.  They got up with their teachers and had homemade maracas made from painted plastic bottles with rice inside and they danced to Earth, Wind and Fire's "September."  Every one of those kids was up there, moving the best way they could, many clumsy and most totally off-beat with the music and shaking their little maracas.  The best part was their smiles, they were so happy and free up there and proud of themselves.  And the other beautiful thing was how the other kids cheered them on, when they were done all the other kids just exploded in applause for them.  On the way home I asked Maya a little about it, did she know they were going to dance and she said, "yes, they practiced every day in the gymnasium and mommy, dancing is hard for them."  Whatever that school is or isn't doing, they are helping those kids to feel good about themselves and to have compassion for others.  As a mom, maybe the level is low, but I am not sure Maya would necessarily get that in such totality at another school.

On top of that I had coffee earlier in the day with Maya's teacher who said she is really doing great.  She is totally in the rhythm of the class, doing well, participating in activities and trying to play with the other kids.  She reassured me that academically she seems to be doing well and that they feel she will make strides and they see that her ability to focus is growing each day as she gets more confident.  We will have a meeting with them to discuss her individual educational plan but have now agreed to do that at the beginning of June and then we will do it for the end of this school year and hte next school year so that it is one fluid plan.  I asked about whether or not they felt Maya would need additional therapy.  They said she has been evaluated by the school psychiatrist, the speech therapist and the physical therapist.  They do think physical therapy is indicated  and will arrange that to start in June to work on her fine motor skills but that for now they don't see any other real concrete need for therapy, including speech therapy.  The therapists will be at the meeting so we can ask some more specific questions then.

And in the 5 weeks she has been at this school she is just blossoming.  She is taking step after step forward.  Yesterday she was riding her bicycle for the first time, take a look here if you haven't seen it already on Facebook.  Maybe being some kind of bigger fish in a smaller pond is helping her feel more confident and ready to take chances.  I do think she feels less pressure and she is not constantly being told what she is not doing, but being cheered on by what she is doing.  And she is learning things I am not even aware of (note to self:  pay better attention).  Today during the party she was out in the playground riding trikes (so I can see how she learned to pedal and steer) and she kept going past me saying stuff that I didn't really understand.  She zipped by me once and I thought I heard her say "I am doing allegro" and then the next time saying "I am doing adagio".  The next time she stopped by me and I asked her if that was what she said.  And I asked her what did she mean.  And she said that in her music class they ride bikes and trikes to learn about how fast music is.  So I asked her teacher about it and indeed Maya didn't make it up, they are learning music tempos through riding bikes.  They learn it and outside they come and the teacher puts a piece of music on and they need to recognize the tempo and ride their bikes that way.  Who knew?

Now if only I could get through one visit at Maya's school without my mascara running.

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