The often elusive, but always sought after concept:  Happiness.

Websters says that Happiness is defined as aa state of well-being and contentmentjoy. b : a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

That seems so incredibly oversimplified.  Is that even a good definition?  Yes, my boys love semantics, but let’s face it – so do I.  So….

I don’t think of ‘happiness’ as a state of ‘contentment’.  I might actually argue that happiness and contentment are at odds with each other.  Where happiness says ‘this is awesome’ contentment says ‘this will do’.  Then there is ‘joy’, which seems to be better suited to ‘elation’ than ‘happiness’, and ‘pleasurable’ seems to imply something physical, not emotional. 

So I am struggling with the idea of happiness these days. 

Oh, did I give you the wrong idea?  It isn’t a lack of happiness that has me questioning the concept, and delving into this random existentialist conversation about an intangible ideal, it is the opposite:  I’m happy.  Gabe is happy.  Nick is happy.  Matt is happy.

And somehow that’s kind of confusing.

When I think about happiness it conjures thoughts of my sons, my life, my marriage, and of course, the future.  Because when anyone asks you what you want for your kids, the answer is ‘happiness’.  When my husband and I agreed to be divorced, it was, essentially, because we weren't ‘happy’. 

How can so many things be so precariously balanced on a single abstract concept?

I’ve always thought about my sons' happiness.  Ok, maybe not in a present tense, but definitely in a future tense – I want them to have whatever it is out of life that makes them happy.  Truly, completely, happy.

But I never spent any time thinking about my own future.  My own happiness.  Was I living what I wanted for their lives?  Would they watch my example of how to live a 'happy' life, and be able to emulate it?  Simply: No.  But that changed when I separated.  I was forced to confront those ideals, and build around my own happiness.

Driving into the Unknown

I didn’t cry when my boys started kindergarten.  Not when Gabe did, not when Nick did, and even last week when I dropped Matthew off for his first day – with the knowledge that it was going to be a struggle – no tears.

But when I put Gabe on the short bus this morning, I couldn’t help it.  Tears just started pouring down my face as they pulled away with my 4th grader. 

Today I cried with the acceptance that my son is not only different and has special needs, but he always will.  Another part of the grieving process, I suppose, as each time I accept something else, another something seems to be lost. 

It might sound confusing, right?  That I haven't accepted that Gabe would always have special needs, but the reality is that we all start off with the idea that we are going to 'therapy' our kids to the point of mainstreaming.  Or at least I did...but each year I get closer to the realization it isn't going to happen.  Today, I actually got it.

Gabe has been 'mainstreamed' his whole academic career.  So far.  Kindergarten was a struggle – with ‘only’ a SPD diagnosis, we had no IEP, and no 504 in place, but his teacher was great and I truly believed things would turn around as he got older.  Then first grade came with a 504 full of sensory accommodations, and a teacher that was the wrong fit, and I pulled him to homeschool for the end of the year.  I was still thinking (hoping) he would 'get better' or 'grow out' of some of his issues, but he began struggling academically and socially.  We decided to have him repeat first grade.  His second time in first grade was good, with a great fit teacher, and a spring diagnosis of Autism and Bipolar Disorder that allowed for an IEP.  My theory that things would get better seemed to be fading... Second grade came, and a new IEP that included learning support in addition to services, via pull out in the resource room, yet still he struggled.  I was feeling less optimistic.  By spring, we pulled him out in favor of a private school (after an inpatient psychiatric hospital stay) that would be less stressful, less kids, more learning support, and good for his self esteem.  Third grade continued at the private school, where *every* kid there has something going on, and Gabe fit right in. But I was increasingly less optimistic about his future prognosis, as learning had become so laborious for him, and socially and emotionally he seemed to be regressing, or at least not progressing.

That brings us to now. 

I wrote about how the evaluation process and placement process went this summer, and I am convinced we have chosen the best option. Truly.  But that placement is, for the first time, truly a 'special needs' program all day in a public school.  I have public school scars and so does Gabe.

Friday we toured the school, just Gabe and I, went through the classroom, met other kids, went through the routine, lunch, cafeteria and recess….and I felt a tinge of panic brewing.

Brewing about the reality that my son was going to be in an enclosed learning environment, worried about how he would react, and especially how other kids would treat him….

And he was worried too.  Worried that he would be teased on the bus again.  Worried about lunch and who he would sit with.  Worried about how loud the cafeteria would be, or how busy the playground would be.  Everyone there reassured him – the teachers, the aids, the therapists, and of course, me.  But, we all know that kids can be cruel (we also know there are angels among them), so it is hard to be 100% about how he will be treated.  And we all know that a child’s self esteem is paramount.

So today, when he got on the short bus, for the first time in his life, I watched him  pull away, exuberantly waving to me, clutching his Pok√©mon backpack which held his beloved stuffed squirrel, Chucknut, and driving off into the unknown…and...

… the tears just fell …

I Need an Easy Button

This is going down in history as one of the most emotionally exhausting weeks of my life.  The only thing I can come up with off the top of my head that immediately trumps it is the week Gabe was in the Inpatient Psychiatric Hospital.  So, yeah, this has been a long week.

Let’s start last Friday, where I sat through a three hour meeting going over the results from the 15 or so assessments that Gabriel had through the school district over the summer.  No ‘shocking’ news, nothing we weren’t actually aware of, but let me tell you that watching page, after page, after PAGE of testing results showing him at the LESS than first percentile in virtually everything (he scored 1.5 – 2.0 deviations below average on EVERY.THING.) is a version of heart wrenching insanity that encompasses your very being.  Add sitting there with the (soon-to-be) ex-husband, and the feeling is like submerging yourself in a bathtub of cold water right before dropping the hairdryer in.  Electrifyingly terrible.

And that was just Friday.  Keep reading, it just keeps going.

The weekend was a mix of frantic shopping, including a 30 minute wait to get our feet measured just to find out the store didn’t have the boys’ shoe sizes in stock, and then having to explain to the clerk that Matthew really wasn’t interested in the *other* shoes she has, because he would ONLY wear the Commander Cody light up Star Wars shoes that he picked out.  Only.  It also included a giant angry growling/screaming fit that Gabriel started in Gap Kids that forced me escort all three of them, like wild cats in a mouse trap, out of the shop, and directly out of the mall.  Which sounds like an awesome solution, if you don’t take into consideration that Matthew spied some ridiculously expensive toy store on the way in (with an Angry Birds display no less), and was INSISTING that we were shopping which meant to him: New Legos.  Which I refused to buy.  Clearly he wasn't happy.  And frankly, neither was I.

So, change of plans.  After dropping the boys off at McDonald’s with my parents, I rushed to Old Navy and did the shopping without them.  At least they have new (and clean!) clothes to wear.

That day was followed by Monday where I scoured every nook and cranny of Target, two Fred Meyers and The Rack looking for a suitable backpack for Matt, while coming up empty, and stocking up on socks and other such nonsense like tissues, baby wipes and Ziploc bags which are apparently ‘school supplies’ now.