The following was originally published on my blog, diary of a mom on April 29, 2010. I came across it last night quite by accident while searching for something else entirely.
Over the years my friend, Carrie has been working to convince me that there are no accidents. In this case, I think she's right. This was exactly what I needed to hear.
Perhaps you too?
We went to an artist's gala last night. You see, we travel in those sorts of circles - where gallery openings are nearly passe. Of course, we know the artist, so we had the inside track. That's the way we roll.
The artist's work was on display as part of a temporary installation at our town's integrated preschool entitled, 'Such and Such Elementary School's 1st Graders' Pop-up Bugs.' It was nothing less than stunning work, as you can surely see above.
We were excited to go to the preschool, not just to admire Brooke's multi-media extravaganza (seriously, how good is that painting?) but also because it gave us an excuse to visit her old stomping grounds. The preschool was the first place that understood her. The first place that TAUGHT her. The first place that reached out and taught US. It holds - and will forever hold- a very special place in our hearts.
As soon as we walked in the door, Brooke made a bee-line for her old classroom. The one that she stayed in for nearly two years. The one where she learned to approach other kids. The one where she learned to play with dolls and dress up like a princess. The one where she learned to jump. The one where they awarded her The Most Caring Friend Award. The one where they loved her and cared for her and most of all SAW her. The one I start to cry just writing about.
Katie touched my hand as we walked into the room. "Mama, you OK?" she asked. I nodded quietly.
I looked around the room and it all rushed back. The uncertainty, the doubt, the fear. I swear I could still smell the fear.
Brooke began to name the kids that had been in her class as she paced around the rug, walking from one child's place marker to the next. She stopped on a red one. "What color is my name?" she asked.
"Your name's not here anymore, sweetheart," Luau said.
She bolted outside into the hallway. "Where's my cubby?" she asked.
"You don't have a cubby here now, honey," I said. "You have a locker at your new school."
She went back into the room and wandered around.
I looked at the wall of pictures, remembering that each child had a laminated photo that they used throughout the day. Brooke's aide used to carry hers around to each station in the room and stick it by its velcro to the wall. Her day was narrated by this avatar of sorts, helping to create visual structure for her - helping her to understand where she was and where she needed to be.
I stared at the sea of beautiful little faces on the wall. I knew that by definition, more than half of them had special needs. That's the makeup of the class. I tried to pick them out.
At first glance, there wasn't much to see. To the untrained eye it were just a group of fresh-faced, wide-eyed little does. But we know what to look for, don't we? Closer inspection revealed the nuances - the slight and not so slight differences. One little girl was smiling brightly for the camera while the next looked straight through its lens. One little boy was obviously stifling a giggle while the next wore a vacant and nearly melancholy expression. One girl mugged for the camera, scrunching up her nose while the next had a gentle sway to her slack lower lip.
Which parents, I wondered, come in here every day and drop their heart off at the door? Which parents wonder if their child will ever speak, ever play, ever laugh like the ones in those other pictures? Which parents want to shake the teachers every morning and say, 'DO SOMETHING! PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO SOMETHING. HELP US.'? Which parents wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat wondering what the future holds?
I was one of those parents. I know. My little girl wore the same distant expression as the little boy in the picture. I remember her photo. The one on the wall back then. She looked so small in it. So far away. Pictures were hard then.
We found markers and let Brooke leave a note for the class on the white board. She wrote,
"HI EVRYONE. LOVE, BROOKE."
I wanted to leave a note too. To tell the parents of those kids, "It will be OK. It's not always easy. But it's OK."
I wanted to tell them that there are people who have walked the path ahead of them and not just survived, but flourished. I wanted them to see the comment that I got yesterday - the one that wrapped hope in understanding and made my heart feel lighter.
She'll be all right and so will you. My son used to come out with random, yet deeply thought statements like your daughter's all the time. Drove me crazy - I knew there was fullness of thought, of feeling - so much going on in that brain of his - but I didn't know how to access it, how to get him to communicate it, could never find the key. But over the years a beautiful mind has unfolded, and you know what - it's all right. Hang in there.
I wanted to tell them my little girl can read. That she can dress herself. That she has playdates. That she's talking. And talking and talking and talking. That she's starting to overcome fears and find words for emotions. That she's OK. That we're OK. That we're getting the hang of it. That they will too.
Maybe I'll go back and leave something on the white board.
"HI EVRYONE. LOVE, JESS."
Jess can be found at diary of a mom where she writes about life with her daughters - Katie, a neuro-typical nine and a half year-old and Brooke, a seven and a half year-old who has autism - her husband Luau, and their latest addition, Winston the dog.