Go Forth, Guinea Pig

Every mama blogger faces the disappointing times when she has so much material, but alas, it’s all related to her teens and tweens and she must shelve her desires for the greater good. (The greater good being the hope to one day meet her grandchildren.)

MicksittingMy oldest is now an adult, a high school graduate. Our relationship, often tumultuous, has given me some material over the years that I have dutifully shelved. I am beyond certain that she also has tons of material to share with her therapist should she ever take me up my offer to employ one to aid in her recovery from life in this, her childhood home.

We call her the guinea pig child. Let’s face it. It’s not like she came with a manual or anything and clearly we’d never done any parenting before, although before she came on the scene we did fashion ourselves parenting experts as most childless couples are wont to do. But really, we did not know what we were doing. Parenting was a grand experiment and she was the unfortunate guinea pig.

I read loads of books and did my best to implement the advice of the expert dujour. Unfortunately, I’m a fast reader and there are a lot of books. Poor kid probably thought she had whiplash from how quickly I changed the rules and my parenting style in those early years. I relaxed as more kids came along. Probably too much.

It can’t have been easy for the child who is a typical first born, type A, organized temperament to be raised by a creative, spontaneous, hippy mom like me. She picked up my slack, a lot. I can’t remember at what age she started taking the lead when we were out in public, but I remember admonishing many times over the years, “Stop leading when you don’t even know where we’re going.” I knew early that she would never be a follower. All we could do was pray without ceasing that she would be a follower of Christ and learn to be a servant leader of others. As the oldest of many, the leader (aka, bossy) part came easy. The servant part required much training over the years.

Until she has her own guinea pig child, she’ll never fully know how much we prayed for her or agonized over every decision related to her growth and development. From schooling choices, to television viewing habits, to diet, to the appropriateness of church youth group (Yes, really. Parents of first borns can be really uptight!).

And, although she was very vocal in her displeasure of many of our parenting choices, I never really knew where she stood in matters of faith or deep things of the heart. While we play, and joke, and tease, and shop, ours is not a relationship of midnight soul baring. Unlike her free-spirited, always wordy mother, this one holds things close to the vest.

knowbyloveAnd so I watched her life.  In her teen years, a picture began to emerge and I began to hope that maybe she’d blossom in spite of us.

Asked what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday and she was very specific. She wanted to get a group of friends together to complete sixteen random acts of kindness she had already written out. And so we went downtown and passed out gloves and sandwiches to the homeless, distributed cups of hot coffee to parking lot attendants, dropped off previously collected donations to the food bank, gave candy to workers waiting at the bus stops, and so much more. It was amazing, exhilarating, and totally outside my comfort zone. Once again, my child was leading me.

When we first brought Bo home from Serbia, Michaela was sixteen. Just two years shy of graduating, we all knew she wouldn’t be living in our home much longer. It would be nice if she cultivated a relationship with her new brother, but she really didn’t have to. He came to us a tough nut to crack, full of behaviors, and difficult to love. He painted with poop at every opportunity, threw food at the dinner table, broke everything he could, and pinched, hit, and kicked.

She dove right in. It wasn’t long before they shared a special bond and she became one of his trusted few.Mick&Bo

So, even though we’ve not talked about this for hours on end, it’s no surprise to me that she has chosen to serve as her life’s work. Specifically, that she is taking a gap year before attending college and leaving instead for a year in Seattle, WA. She will be working with Serve Seattle, a ministry of Urban Missions Institute, which trains young people through hands on internships, Bible study, and coursework for urban ministry. It is a boots on the ground experience and, we believe, will well prepare her for the ministry she feels called to do.

While she will serve in all areas of urban ministry, she has chosen to specifically focus her attention on homelessness, human trafficking, and prison ministry.

Like all missionaries, even those in training must raise their own support. She has been selling off all she owns, and working hard all summer, and still she is coming up short. If you are willing to invest in the future, not just for our girl, but for our world, please give directly to Serve Seattle (tax deductible) here. Be sure and find her name, Michaela Lakes, by clicking the “I would like to support” box so it will fund her training specifically. Or, you can give directly to her gofundme account here.

I look at all the social justice arenas that break my heart for which I feel powerless to make real change, and I am filled with hope. There are young people like my girl with drive, passion,  strength, and smarts who are willing to be led only by the One who matters into the heart of it all to make a difference. Change will be made through them.

mickmeMostly, I am filled with humility and gratitude that He took all our mistakes and failures, covered them with grace and mercy and allowed our daughter to find Him in spite of us. Her presence will be keenly missed in our home. My heart, quite frankly, will be ripped in two when she gets on that plane. But, as true with the last eighteen years, I know with certainty, there is grace for that.

Self Contained Classrooms: The Nursing Home Restraints of 2015

In our recent IEP snafu with Eon, I discussed his case with several people I’m close to who work in school systems. Some of them were very supportive of our push for inclusion and some of them were not. Those that were not met me with great resistance at every turn. All the research I brought up was scoffed at with “real world” examples of inclusion failures and negativity. They attempted to convince me that full-inclusion is an impossible goal, even though so many parents have fought for it successfully before me to the benefit of their children.

In the face of years of research, schools that have successfully implemented inclusion, and other countries that have gone before to mandate inclusion as default, most school systems and staff continue to insist that it’s impossible and will never work. Parents who push for inclusion and demand what is lawfully the education their child deserves are labeled “difficult” and “unrealistic”.

And it all seems so familiar – the resistance to change, the insistence on old ways contrary to all evidence, the negativity.

Suddenly, I remembered. I worked in long term care facilities, nursing homes, during college and all through occupational therapy school. At the time, if a resident had a fall, history of falls, or was at risk of falling, he was restrained in his wheelchair in some way, usually tied in with a posy belt or vest to keep him seated so he would not fall and hurt himself. posybelttieIn the eighties, research became prevalent showing that physical restraints of residents didn’t actually prevent falls as assumed and actually increased injury, as well as decreasing quality of life. At the time, at least 40% of nursing home residents had a physical restraint, although some estimate the numbers to be as high as 70%. In 1987, the Nursing Home Reform Act (OBRA ’87) was passed guaranteeing nursing home residents the right to be free from chemical or physical restraints imposed for the purpose of discipline or convenience.

BUT, in light of the new law, nothing changed. 

Companies/facilities were made aware of the law and most educated their staff on possible alternatives to restraints and restraint reduction. But then when a resident fell, the first response was to tie them down. Because the law was not enforced, any other option was rarely discussed.

In 1990, federal regulations mandated restraint reduction policies in all long term care facilities with enforcement. The uproar was deafening. Even though all caregivers had been educated on alternatives to physical restraints, staff could/would not think outside the box of the way it was always done. Over and over I heard nurse managers and therapists bemoan how this new program would “never work”, “falls are going to increase,” “residents are going to get hurt,” “we don’t have enough staff to watch these people!”

I sat in a meeting and listened when, so ingrained was the old way, no one could come up with any possible alternative to a restraint after a fall. Silence reigned as they “brainstormed” solutions. When someone finally suggested a toileting schedule as the fall had occurred when the resident was taking himself to the bathroom, they were met with a chorus of why that wouldn’t work even as it was documented as the intervention of choice.

But it did work. And twenty-five years later, less than 5% of nursing home residents are restrained with no increase in falls and lower incidence of serious injury. I sit in meetings now after a resident falls and no one even mentions restraint as an intervention. It would never occur to them to do so. In fact, when I recently had a resident for whom a self-releasing belt might have actually been appropriate as a very short-term solution, no one thought to suggest it.

So when school staff members tell me that inclusion “doesn’t work,” I don’t believe them. I know from experience that old ways die hard and change is painfully slow in coming. I know that staff members, no matter how well-meaning, are people, and people don’t like change. The known is comfortable. We always default to the known. The familiar is easier.

But easy is not better.

One of Eon’s special ed teachers was new this year. She admitted that she was taught from an inclusion perspective in college and even did a research paper on it while student teaching last year. This year, one year into her teaching career, she’d already been brainwashed by the system enough to suggest he be taken out of full-inclusion where he was thriving and placed half days in a resource room for next year. Why? Basically, because that’s how they do it at that school.

Thinking outside the box often takes external motivation. Without the feds enforcing the OBRA ’87, nursing home residents would still be tied down. Nursing home administrations and staff didn’t stop that barbaric practice because of the compelling research, or a change of heart. They didn’t stop because of outraged family members. (Families didn’t protest, because they believed the staff knew best. Sound familiar?)

No, they changed their practice only under threat of losing federal funding.

And it begs the question. Is IDEA enough? We have the law on our side, although plenty of school systems are making us prove it by taking us through due process. Is it enough that some of us are willing to fight for our kids on an individual basis? Will we ever see real change this way? Or, twenty-five years from now, will another mom blogger be writing a post on the frustrations of getting her first grader included in general education?

I don’t think it is enough. I don’t think real change will happen until we see legislation and enforcement of legislation (aka, the loss of federal funding) making inclusion the default placement with adjustments from there, if necessary. Money talks and, frankly, it’s the only language school systems are forced to obey.

Please note: I, of all moms, recognize inclusion is not the right setting for every child. My other son, Bo, will start kindergarten next year in a self-contained classroom which is where he will thrive. But, inclusion should start out on the table at the IEP. We shouldn’t have to push to even get it in the room.

Self-contained classrooms, like nursing home restraints, should be the exception, not the rule.