The binder - FamilyEducation

The binder

May 04,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I was almost halfway to T.'s school yesterday morning when I realized that I had left The Binder at home.

I needed The Binder for L.'s big IEP/transition meeting later that afternoon. The day would be a busy one: after taking T. in I would race downtown to work for a day of meetings and workshops, then head back across town to pick up T. early, then back downtown again to meet L. and Scott in time for the meeting. We were running late already, but I had to turn around--I needed The Binder.

When we attended our first IEP meeting, the summer before L. started 2nd grade, L.'s resource teacher gave us a pice of advice: find a huge binder, and keep every single thing related to L. and school and IEP meetings and evaluations inside it. Bring it to every meeting. The amount of paperwork generated by the IEP process rivals that of purchasing a home, she told us. 

And she was right. I bought a huge black binder and into it we collected every piece of information we could. I have a love/hate relationship with the thing. I hate that the binder risks defining L.; that it contains evaluations and reports detailing L.'s challenges; that the stress and heartache is there on paper, in the form of numbers and goals unmet. But I also love that it contains evaluations and reports detailing just how bright and funny and exceptional L. is, as if I didn't already know these things. But there they are, in the binder--concrete proof.

Sometimes I imagine throwing the whole thing away--into a lake, preferably, with a cinder block tied to it; or I imagine packing it into a big box. I imagine giving it to L. some day, when he's a grow-up. Do what you want with this, I'll tell him, and I wonder what he'll decide. 

Back at that very first IEP meeting the summer before second grade, L.'s resource teacher also told us this: before you know it you'll be signing papers at his transition to middle school meeting--it goes fast, she said. I remember laughing a little inside. I couldn't imagine L. being in 5th grade, or even comprehend the move to middle school. It seemed so far away, so incomprehensible. I couldn't foresee what a roller coaster the next few years would be, or how difficult things would get. We felt so in the dark already, how could things get darker? 

I used to think I'd be sad about the final IEP meeting. I'd feel scared that we were being cut loose and, even though I knew we'd replace those meetings with middle school ones, I'm never good with endings. But yesterday's IEP/transition meeting took a record 2 1/2 hours and by the second hour my eyes were glazed, and I was so done with it all. Scott was, too. I could tell by the hunch in his shoulders. Done with that small resource room; done with sitting in hard, tiny metal elementary school chairs while I watched teachers checking tiny boxes. I was done with trying to fit all the goals and dreams we have for L. into one impossibly small box on a page among many. I will always, all our lives, be exceedingly grateful to that team of teachers who guided and held up our son over the years, but I'm ready to cut the moorings loose. We're all so ready for the new beginning and promise that is a new school, a new year, a new chapter in all our lives.

And maybe a new binder, too.