We had arrived at school early for Brooke’s parent-teacher (and aide) conference. But for a few staff members preparing for the open, the halls were deserted. Luau, Katie and I stood by as Brooke began her morning locker routine. She sat on the floor, opened her backpack and took out her folder. After three years of practice, she can do it all by herself.
Luau and I spotted the school custodian down the hall and both waved. Luau shouted, “Good morning, Mr E!” We were all smiles as he walked by with a friendly hello.
He was five feet past us when I heard the first one. A deep, gravelly, “Babe,” that came out of nowhere. I looked at Luau, wondering if I’d finally lost it, but he had the same look on his face. We shrugged.
With the next one, there was no question. Once again, all he said was, “Babe.” This time Katie chuckled. Luau and I again looked at each other, searching for an explanation. There was no one else in the hallway.
Every five feet or so, he said it again. He was walking down the hall saying, “Babe. Babe. Babe.”
With a laugh, I yelled down to him, “Um, Mr E? You OK over there?”
He didn’t turn around, but yelled over his shoulder, “Listen!”
And then he did it again.”Babe.”
Um, I’m listening, Mr E, I thought. But I’m lost.
As if reading my mind, he said it again. “Listen!”
So I did. And the next time he said, “Babe,” I heard it. The tiny response that had been there each and every time. Into her locker, Brooke had said, “Bee.”
Three or four more times, before finally disappearing around the corner, Mr E said, “Babe.” And each and every time, Brooke said, “Bee.” Apparently, they had a thing.
Luau and I stood in the hallway, slack-jawed. Katie was giggling.
“Brooke, honey,” I asked. “Do you and Mr E do that every time you see each other?”
She never stopped doing what she was doing, but answered my question with a quiet, “Yeah.”
I talk a lot about awareness. I talk about compassion and understanding and inclusion. I talk about seeing people – really stopping and SEEING people. I talk about reaching out and making connections. They are big, overwhelming, life-changing concepts. That sometimes have the simplest execution.
This man has found a way to connect with my girl. A silly little routine. A single word, split in half. A script. Heaven knows how it may have gotten started. It is nonsensical at best. But through its repetition, my girl is seen. With one word, she is told that another adult is there. That school is safe and that she is OK.
Last year, I nominated our school’s receptionist for a town-wide special education award. Some folks scratched their heads when I did. She’s not a teacher, after all. But truthfully, it couldn’t have been more obvious to me that she deserved the award.
Since day one, her office has been a safe haven for Brooke. When her aides give her the option of choosing her own incentive reward, she inevitably sets her sights on a trip to Ms F’s office. Ms F keeps figurines on her shelf and calls them by the names that Brooke has given them. She lets her rearrange them according to the plan in her head. She keeps paper and crayons at a small table in the corner of the office – just in case. And she celebrates her achievements. She talks to me about Brooke’s progress – always remembering how far she’s come. She points out the fact that Brooke speaks TO her now – that she no longer marches right in (most of the time), but instead (usually) remembers a greeting. She makes the school a welcoming place for a little girl who can have an awfully hard time there. Her office is a sanctuary. When all else fails, there’s always Ms F.
I watch these people in my daughter’s world – Mr E, Ms F, Ms J, Ms K, among so many others- and I am, quite simply, overwhelmed with gratitude. From the grandest gestures to the smallest, most mundane routines, they are acknowledging and caring for my girl in ways I never could have imagined.
Thank you so very much to each and every one of these angels.