love, jess

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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.”

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31 thoughts on “love, jess

  1. Jess – I remember that FEAR. It’s so pungent and tangible. In fact, sometimes it is so overpowering to me, I can’t even return to the class Jack went to in pre-school even though these things did happen for him. It was just so dark. Maybe I should try again and kick the fear in the butt. :) Thanks!

  2. “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.”

    Hoping and praying for this some day for my guy.

  3. Oh, you definitely should!

    Yesterday I was at Trader Joe’s and saw a darling mother with her darling daughter. The mother was so tender and present for her daughter, it stood out! Then I noticed the toddler had cochlear implants. Simply? The mother got it. She got the preciousness of that child. She had already been transformed by that girl, in a way that takes many of us years, if not lifetimes.

    Not really sure how this relates to your post, but just had to share.

    love.

  4. The painting is gorgeous!

    And, with Joy moving from her warm wonderful special-needs-integrated daycare into kindergarten in the fall… I need these reminders about things being OK. Thank you.

  5. I remember those feelings and I get to go through them all over again in July when my youngest starts the special needs preschool. You would think I would be an old pro at this since I have a 9 year old on the spectrum but nope same old feelings, stress, fears, and most of all love for my sweet amazing special little girl. God sent these special little wonders to us to make us appreciate the little things in life, and for that I am grateful. A rainbow has never been so beautiful to me, the first spring bloom, a blanket of untouched snow early in the morning, my daughter being able to wear both new shoes instead of an old one and a new one, my 9 year old being able to have a “real” friendship, and my 7 year old being able to understand and deal with her sisters better then most adults could ever do, for all of this I am so profoundly grateful.

  6. Hi Jess,
    I got a note from your daughter on my desk — it made my day! Multi-colored, too! Thank her for me for the note! How wonderful to read all the progress she has made! We all miss her!

  7. You leave your note on the white board almost every single day. It’s here. For the hundreds and thousands of us who read and who find so much hope and inspiration in your story and your journey with your girls and your family.

    It’s here. And it means so much more than you can possibly imagine.

  8. How do you know? How do you always know what I need to hear, to read, to witness on any given day?

    I’m in the process of moving my sweet Shea from her current school (and my whole family to a new city, but that’s beside the point) to a whole new world: Franklin, TN. Tomorrow will be our first day walking into a new school, a new classroom, a new accent!, and see what makes sense for her and us come September. Something tells me I’ll be thinking of your post when I walk in there tomorrow. Thanks for the boost of confidence and your keen sense of timing!

  9. The teachers, the teachers, the teachers, they are the “gods” for those little people. They are the “gods” for they, along with the parents, tease out the future for those babies, our babies.
    HI JESS, LOVE DAD…

  10. Pingback: Friday Favorites — Musings of a Marfan Mom

  11. I love this. I do. The Roc’s preschool teacher will forever hold a place in my heart. I don’t know if she even knows how tightly I held myself during the 1.5 years she was with him. She taught him sooo much, I get choked up thinking about her. I’ve tried to convey to her what it was like, but I cannot find the words. I love that Brooke left a note!

  12. Oh no…. I should know better than to read your blog at the begining of my day. Today- of ALL days- when I have my boy’s IEP meeting.

    I love your writing but now I have to go reglue myself.

    I remember that fear TOO well. On IEP days it comes flooding back to me like a tsunami. I’m just trying to tread water but I will carry your “Hi” with me as a reminder of how far we’ve come.
    I need it today, more than any other day.
    Wish me luck…

      • (((Jess))) I am the first parent in the history of the school to secure summer services for my son! Meeting was a mixed bag though- while I have every service I want, now we may have a dyslexia problem to overcome. Two steps forward…. 1.75 steps back I guess. Just gonna focus on the .25 step of progress. Glass half full and all that. Thank you, dear friend I’ve never met…. I SO appreciate your love and support. Even when those meetings go well in the end, spending two hours focusing on the negatives with my son sucks the life out of me. Back to positivity for another year!

        Wishing you a joyous weekend with your beautiful family!

  13. My son went to that preschool, too, and we had the same experience when we went back for an art exhibit. Today’s post once again brought me to tears and reminds me of how much I have to be grateful for. Thank you for sharing. You are an amazing writer.

  14. Once again, you hit the nail right on the head. I remember the fear all too well. While I still sometimes wake up in horror in the middle of the night (what is it about those hours? there is some sharpness that’s absent during the day), nowadays I can see through the blur and muster some strength to move on. We saw Brooke’s art at the preschool and it’s gorgeous.

  15. I’m glad that I brought a little lightness to your heart. Thank you for lightening my heart so many times- you allow me to journey back to my younger, terrified self and somehow give her a long overdue hug.

    Do you know the Mary Oliver poem “The Journey”? It is not about raising children, but there is a line that captures what I wanted for my son- to find his own voice and stride deeper and deeper into the world and save his own life. My son is finally learning to find his voice and stride; I wish the same for your daughter.

  16. I love her artistic vision! Piper is perseverating on bugs at the moment. She checked out a book called “you can be a woman etomologist” from the library. We just found out that we are moving schools and that is happening next September. I will book mark this post for re-reading. I think I will need it. love.

  17. This is our 2nd year of integrated preschool. The special ed teacher will always be our savior. We were hopeless, scared, and lost. I frequently tell her she not only gave me my son back, she gave me hope, she rescued my family.
    Next year is full-day, mainstreamed Kindergarten. I’m afraid they won’t understand my son, I’m afraid of what may come – but I’m trying to trust and have faith.

    Thank you for reaching out to us who are still here in the fear.

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