This is the thirteenth installment of the story of our journey with Maura…
When we were “planning” our fourth child (I say “planning” because unbeknownst to us, Maura was already making herself home in my uterus), Josh and I had this loose plan for the future. We’d have that fourth child just as we hit thirty, which meant all our kids would be at least in college by the time we hit our late 40’s, and then we could buy an RV and drive all around the place, stopping at their colleges to harass them and take them out for dinner, then exploring some more.
Eventually that dream had to be slightly altered. Instead of just the two of us, we’d need an RV for three.
I guess that helped plant a seed, that revision of our future plans. A seed of “Why wait?’
Most people plan for life as empty nesters – our nest was never going to be truly empty.
We’re okay with that. We have new plans for that. But one thought leads to another, and coupled with the going to the funeral of a college friend, I suddenly had this “Life is short, why wait?” moment.
I remember it clearly. We had taken the kids to the bookstore. I wandered into the coffee table book section, and there was a book on beautiful sights in Ireland. I went through it, grinning over “Ooo, I’ve been there!” while showing one of the kids.
And it hit me.
I always talked about “Wouldn’t it be fun to move to someplace like Ireland?” Josh would talk about wanting to live in Europe for a little bit. But always, the idea would be too much change for me to process. It just seemed scary.
Until that moment.
I literally hunted down Josh in the bookstore and blurted out “Let’s move to Ireland.”
He gaped at me a bit – I’d been so resistant to the idea. He said “Really? Are you sure?”
“Why not? Life’s short anyway.”
A few months later he called to let me know he got the job offer in Ireland. He said “Are you sure about this?”
“No. But I know I’ll kick myself if we don’t do this.”
And that’s how we ended up in Ireland.
I know it was absolutely mad to move four kids to a new country. Especially when the one has special needs. But my way of thinking had changed since having Maura. Life plans were shot out the window and new plans were kind of hard to make.
We were never going to be able to do this without Maura – so why not just do it now?
We’re very lucky – Maura is a great traveler, can adjust well to new places, and doesn’t have many medical issues – meaning we don’t have to worry about special equipment or dietary needs. We just have to make sure that bottle of seizure meds gets through security and the iPad is charged.
The thing is, you can’t explain “Okay, we’re moving.” to the girl. She doesn’t understand the concept. She understands how you pack up, go away for a bit, then go back home. So the first week or so after we landed in Ireland, she was fine. But then she started dragging about suitcases and wearing her backpack asking “Plane? Home?”
I did feel a bit horrible then. We had uprooted her from a community that knew and doted on her, and I couldn’t explain why. I worried about what school we’d place her in. I worried about finding doctors and specialists. I just worried a lot.
When you confront someone in Ireland with a problem, they will pause, then say “Don’t worry, it’ll work out.” And the thing is, it did work out.
It started with when the movers came with all our stuff. I had packed up the kids bedding – pillows, blankets, sheets – as a whole set each, in a box. The movers put the girls beds together right away, and I made up the girls beds. Maura walked into her room, saw her bed made, and exclaimed “My BED! Oooohhhh!” and flopped on it.
She stopped asking for “home” after that. This became home.
In the meantime, we were running out of seizure meds, so I called up a local GP’s clinic to get an appointment. I sort of went blindly in choosing the clinic, and got a great one. Eventually we went to a neurologist who was just lovely and impressed with all Maura could do, and who took interest in her.
Schools were tougher, just because schools in Dublin are a bit tricky to get into. We went to talk to one principal, who was fine with taking Sean and Miriam, but he admitted that he didn’t have enough resources there to take on Maura. After two and a half years of being promised the moon and stars by our old special education director only to receive less than the minimum, this man’s honesty was actually refreshing. And he didn’t leave us hanging, he offered to set us up with someone who could help us.
She’s the one who sent us to Maura’s current school.
I’ll be honest – the first time I went into this school, I was overwhelmed. There were children of all ages, with different disabilities. Most of the time, as Americans, we see one, maybe two children with special needs – if any at all. Most people aren’t confronted with a whole school of special needs children.
I guess there’s this idea that if you have a child with special needs, you instantly are an expert on all special needs. Or that you’re suddenly an expert on being with people with special needs. The truth is, we’re still human. We can say the wrong thing. We don’t know how to ask questions at times. We do have more empathy, but in a way, it’s almost as if we’re under more pressure to be the correct role model, there’s less leeway if you stick your foot in your mouth. You’re supposed to be instantly comfortable with everything.
The truth is, it only means you’re good with your own special needs kid.
It was all overwhelming to me. It was this great big picture of “Wow, your kid really IS disabled.” Even though I knew she was disabled, had fought for two years to get people to take her disabilities seriously, had read the psychologist’s report on the IQ testing, and embraced the fact that she’d live with us forever if need be. I was fourteen shades of accepting, and still, the idea of a special school wasn’t easy. It took a second visit there, with the principal giving us the full tour after hours, that I became more comfortable with sending Maura there.
There was one catch – Maura didn’t have the right emergency medication. The staff wasn’t trained on that particular med. They would set us up with a doctor’s appointment through their charity to get assessed and prescriptions, but it might be a couple weeks. Also, bussing was going to take a few weeks to organize as well.
The only way Maura would be able to start school was if we took the train in and I hung out nearby.
I was okay with that. Maura was desperate to go to school someplace. Anyplace. She had a backpack and her own uniform (because everyone else wore uniforms, why shouldn’t she? Sure, her new school didn’t have uniforms, but that’s not the point…)
So we took the Luas (aka the light rail train in Dublin) down to the one stop every morning, then walked the rest of the way. I’d deposit her with an aide, then head to the one local coffee shop to write or read Facebook or a book. Then I’d collect Maura and we’d head back home. We did this for almost four weeks. Ironically, the next fall, the school moved to our side of town almost. I could walk there in fifteen minutes.
Such is my life.
The one thing I noticed after moving here was how everyone seemed to just accept Maura for who she was. As the movers hauled boxes in, Maura danced around excitedly, ran up to one, babbled something incoherent and then took off again. I said “Yeah, she has special needs…”
He just shrugged and said “Eh, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
It was different. When I said the same thing in the states, that she had special needs, most of the time I’d get “oh, I’m sorry.” Here – “nothing wrong with that.” I mentioned this once while out with some women, and one explained how it’s probably because in Ireland, most people have a family member with special needs. They don’t just see a weird child – they see their cousin, niece, brother or godchild. There is an acceptance towards these children like nothing else I’ve experienced. I hope to spread that experience. We need more of that.
So despite all the worry and fretting and being patted down by the TSA, moving Maura to Ireland went relatively smoothly, thanks to a lot of helpful people in the school system here. It was all so very different than what I had just left behind in one sense. We had gotten really lucky, and we were grateful.
Psstt….want to help out Maura’s school? I’m fundraising for it – there’s a handy dandy paypal button to the side if you want to use it 😉