While I was considering what to write about for my blog post this week, my son reminded me of his upcoming birthday. That means a homemade cake, something I’ve done every birthday for my kids, probably because it was the only thing I ever wanted while growing up.
Personally, I’m not a fan of bakery cakes because there’s way, way too much sugar in them, and everyone who knows me understands my dislike for sugar in everything. But every year, all I ever got was a bakery cake loaded with tons of sugary icing. Even thinking about it now makes me cringe. I could never eat it and ended up scraping most of that sugary goo off. Every year, I would ask my mother if she could make it homemade, from scratch—but nope. Maybe that’s why I’ll never, ever purchase a bakery cake.
One thing my son hasn’t let me forget is his seventeenth birthday, when I forgot to put sugar in his cake altogether. Forgetting a vital ingredient like sugar! I’m still trying to figure out how I did that. For one, this was pre-COVID, and my kids were all in school, so I was being pulled in so many directions that I wonder now how I managed to accomplish everything I did in a day, in a week, in a month. It was a rollercoaster, raising three teenagers. My eldest, with autism, was also still in school, so I was navigating that system, and unfortunately for my autistic son, his middle school and high school years were spent in a school district that never fully worked co-operatively with his program, with his consultant.
So many districts are deeply entrenched in an archaic way of doing things that doesn’t involve actually working for the best outcome. Creating a problem in a child with autism or special needs, a problem the parent then has to undo, isn’t what’s best for the child. Now, many will argue that’s not true, and schools are doing the best they can. Unfortunately, substandard doesn’t cut it when a child with special needs gets only one shot at a successful future. Did my autistic son ever have a school district that actually worked for him? Eventually, he did, and that’s why he’s doing as well as he his.
An amazing man set the bar so high, going above and beyond in running the school. He was the head administrator, and his wife was the superintendent for the district, and both understood clearly what my son needed, what I was bringing to the table, and what I was putting out financially to bring in a highly skilled consultant from the US who could teach and provide for them, a win-win for everyone. But unfortunately, they retired, and my son had to move on to a different school run by a different administrator. New people came in who were not of the same mindset, and the next seven years saw him being forced to fit into their mold.
He would never again have another support worker who implemented his program. Instead, they created an environment of secrecy, not allowing us to know what was really going on in the school, in his classes. Suddenly, he was scared of things he never had been before, acting oddly in new ways, such as not going to the bathroom at school or sitting off alone by himself, and he began to slip backwards on things he had known inside and out. I would go in only to find that a teacher had ignored him and sat him in a corner, not part of the class. One visit I’ll never forget was at the end of grade eight, when the head of the district’s special needs department went in and found that the support worker had done all my son’s work for him.
No, nothing was ever done about it. In fact, no one would address the issue or talk about it. Then there was the hugging, the incessant need of teachers and some students (girls) to hug, so much so that I had to send in one of my son’s consultants to ask them to stop. As I look back now, I see the time constraints I felt with my two other kids, as well. My daughter loved school, but the teachers were hit or miss for her. My other son was doing an outdoor school program that he excelled in, thrived in, which gave him a skillset he still has today.
At the time of the sugarless cake incident, I was writing In the Stars. I recall that day, scrambling to finish the chapters I was writing, wrapping my son’s birthday gift, and making a chiffon cake from scratch with my laptop right there. Between mixing and adding the ingredients, I would run down the stairs to my desktop computer so I could get in some marketing time before having to leave to pick up all three kids for a nice birthday dinner. I look back to that day now and all those outside demands, when I was being pulled in way too many directions, and I can see how I could somehow forget to add the sugar.
Believe me that it’s important to find the good in everything, so there’s one thing I really do love about the current state of things in this pandemic. This is that so many of the outside demands on my time have disappeared. It feels like that rollercoaster has stopped and given me a moment to get off. This upcoming birthday, much like the Christmas that has just passed, will be spent without all those crazy demands, and that cake without sugar will be something my son will remind me of whenever I’m doing way too much and allowing myself to be pulled in way too many directions.