As a mom, of course my own children have changed me. I am definitely a different person because they are here. I love my kids all the time, and most of the time I like them too…especially now, during the teen years, but that is a story for another day. This particular blog really isn’t about my own kiddos though. In this blog I’m talking about my other kids. The kids that I’ve spent 20+ years with. The kids that have challenged me…and changed me. I choose to dedicate this blog to all the kids out there that are fighting against the odds with both grace and goofiness, spirit and hope, determination and grit….and above all love. You see, I’m a special education teacher/consultant/advocate—whatever you want to call me…. and these are the stories about my kids.
“Aunt Mabel looks different”. My mom’s sister was born in the 1930’s, well before special education law went into effect. A child that was born at home, after a long delivery on my grandmother’s part. A child that, due to reasons I’m really not sure about, was born mentally retarded. I understand that the doctor told my grandmother to just put her in an institution. She wouldn’t amount to anything. My grandmother refused and my Aunt Mabel went on to live a happy life. A simple life by a lot of people’s standards…but, it suited her fine. She brought a lot of joy to her family in her own way, and when she passed away a few years ago, in her 70’s, a hole was left in the hearts of those who loved her. Although my aunt wasn’t my student, she was my first understanding of “special education” and I learned a lot from her.
At the beginning of my senior year of high school I had almost enough credits to graduate. I was able to take a couple classes in the morning and by ten o’clock I was on my way to the elementary school next door to complete my independent study at their special education preschool. It was a good year. That was the year I met Joey. Joey was non-verbal, in a wheelchair, and he had seizures. He was the ripe old age of five, but he was full of personality. Those who think that you have to talk to communicate have never met this little guy. He laughed and smiled…and it was contagious. Joey taught me a lot about laughter that year. He also taught me about having a servant’s heart. He depended on me to move him from his chair to the floor–and to do that gently. He taught me how to deal with pain. Joey had a major seizure one day, unfortunately he bit his tongue–hard. I know it hurt, and I was helpless to do anything. His jaws were locked down and there was not much to do until the seizure was over. I learned to put myself in his place, and think about how I would want to be treated…even if I didn’t have the words.
That same year I met Carrie. A precocious two and a half year old. Grand-daughter to my former 3rd grade teacher. Carrie was a petite powerhouse, with almost white,blond hair and a million dollar smile. She could have you wrapped around her little finger in no time flat. She was talented that way. Carrie also had brain trauma and limpness on one side of her body….from being in a car accident as a infant. She had been born perfectly “normal”. Everything worked. Everything was good….until that fateful day that changed her young life. Carrie taught me that, but by the grace of God, I could have had the same thing happen to me. Traumatic brain injury could happen to any of us. It only takes one bad accident to change everything. Every time I saw Carrie, I didn’t feel sorry for her, because she didn’t feel sorry herself. She kept smiling and learned to figure out how to do things on her own–even if it was difficult. A lesson for all of us.
In my first two years as a “professional”, I met Luke, Malisha, Shonda, Jeffrey and Todd. Brent, Michael, Daniel and Travis among others. We all lived in a small town in the mountains of East Tennessee…..and we were going to the Olympics! It was an exciting time. The day of the trip was cool and overcast. We just prayed that it didn’t rain! The troop was ready to go. We were bringing “the heat” to this little get together! I couldn’t have been more proud. Each of the students participated. Even if they didn’t place, they put their entire heart into it….and they were brave in the attempt. So many times, those of us that are able bodied, think to ourselves, ” I can’t do this or that”. I think we probably miss a lot of opportunities because we are too scared to just do it. The courage and tenacity of my students was what made my students special….not their mental or physical disabilities. My kids taught me to press on, past the obstacles. Go, go, go and don’t look back. Keep running. You can’t win the race if you don’t try.
Tomorrow I will be continuing my story from the year 1992….come join me for some more lessons from the heart.