Originally posted on FB, 13 May 2022
• Written by Lesa Quale Ferguson•

I drunkenly got married the summer of my 19th year in Amagansett, Long Island. We returned to college shortly after. Less than a year into married life, a drunk friend of his banged on the door of our flat at 4am to inform me my husband “Emu” (not his real name) needed bailing out of jail. I dressed, ran across downtown Fredonia, NY to collect my last $50 from the ATM, and rushed into the police station.

The charges against him were trespassing, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. He had crawled through the window of his ex-girlfriend’s bedroom, who called the police on him, and then he resisted leaving. As the police officer recounted his offenses, I heard Emu and his buddy singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

The police officer advised that I let them sleep it off and put my bail money to better use.

Stumbling out of the police station, I landed on the steps of the town’s gazebo that morning with my sweaty cash still in hand to decide what to do next. Our relationship had become physically abusive, and now this. That money might have been enough to free my husband, but it wouldn’t free me from him. The sun was just on the horizon, and I couldn’t think what to do with all that hurt, betrayal, and insecurity anchoring me in place.

This happened 35+ years ago. I feel like that again today: the same old overwhelming feeling of hurt, betrayal, and insecurity. The difference now is that it’s not happening to me but to my son at school. This feels worse because people I trusted and admired coordinated to give him the boot by any means necessary, including not providing services, doling out suspensions and punishment, not reporting how others were bullying him, and installing a plan where other children were to “testify” against him. Oh, the list goes on. All the while, I stupidly thought we were working together to reach an accord. I pulled him from in-class instruction. He is working digitally.

Nothing so complicated and conspiratorial happened all those years ago. All I needed to do at the gazebo was figure out how to free myself. I called my mom from a telephone booth. She would send me a plane ticket to Seattle, where she had just moved.

I have yearned to be as solid, resourceful, and loving to my children as my mom was to me at that moment. We are so much alike, yet my confidence flags where hers never did. That naive, deeply insecure, and emotional girl who couldn’t figure out how to overcome her hard times still quakes inside me.

Today, a friend who has kids with special education needs sat with me in the park and listened. She had a binder full of options for our mental health and advocacy and the name of a good lawyer. I wish ours were a one-off story, but ask any parent with a kid with ADHD or special needs; this is all too common.

After much-needed coregulation in the park, I drove to my mom’s to pick up my son. She loaded him into the car with treats and love. I watched her walk back into her house—my strong, resourceful, independent, single mom who can still take on a high-octane 10-year-old. At 80, age still doesn’t seem to stick on her.

As I did that day in Fredonia, I longed to call her to fix it. She has laws, including not talking about hard things in front of her grandchildren, especially with her most vulnerable one.

I wondered how she felt during that early morning phone call so long ago. She was most assuredly as stressed as I am today. She was three thousand miles away. When people or even an institution betrays your kid, it’s brutal for parents. Your kid may be buried in the hurt of the moment, but you, as a parent, see how that hurt may spiral into their future. Knowing my mom, her only thought was, “Sweet Jesus, just get her back here safely to me.”

With my mom’s help, I shed that life stepped into an enriching phase of my young life, including graduating from the University of Washington. Wow, I loved it there.

Betrayers can lock you up in self-doubt, tethered to the past, fearing the unknown. Why share their drunk tank? Bail yourself out or call your mom if she’s that kind of mom.

Here I am in this complicated, broken place. I may not have my mother’s confidence, but I have the wisdom learned in a gazebo: whatever little I have, I can turn it into change.

Since I wrote this, I am pleased to say that Cal is at his own University of Washington, where he is thriving. While I’m relieved and glad we got out of that drunk tank, this doesn’t mean I condone what his previous school did and what schools like that one continue to do to children with IEPs and disabilities. This time of the year, in April and May, many children are flushed from their schools because that school received all their yearly funding for that student, including the extras for their special ed requirements. They start to treat them as a liability. School administrators want these students off their rolls for the following year. They do not offer comparable alternative school options. They whisk them out the door with many suspensions and little in the way of education to fend for themselves.

We hired a lawyer and won placement and a modest settlement. The goal is to find your child a safe place to learn and develop. We were fortunate to locate that kind of school. Many children get shuffled into a deck of schools where their needs go unmet, and they are displaced again.

I don’t have my friend Emily’s thick binder full of resources or wisdom, but I have this bibliography. If your family is experiencing displacement from school due to disability, please call “Parent Network (outside Western NY; they will hook you up with your county’s resources) at (716)332-4170. Emily works there now.

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Lesa Quale Ferguson

Writer + Picture Taker ^ Image-Maker & Design Web-ber #Ma

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