pulling the wagon

Bach gave us God’s Word. Mozart gave us God’s laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s fire. God gave us music that we might pray without words.

 ~ author unknown

Last year, I was walking down the hall of Brooke’s integrated preschool after a team meeting. I was hurrying off to work when I nearly bumped into a mom taking her daughter to class.

She was pulling her in a wagon that contained far more than just the little girl. She had what appeared to be some kind of breathing apparatus, its various tubes snaking out of the wagon in different directions. Whatever space would have been left was filled with a coat, a scarf, mittens and a backpack.

As they passed, a mitten fell out of the overstuffed wagon. Without a moment’s hesitation, the mom, whom I had never met, asked me to grab the stray mitten. She didn’t stop moving or wait for me to catch up, but continued on her way and nonchalantly added, “Just throw it in the wagon. Thanks.”

Of course I did what she had asked, and she went about her business without looking my way again.

It was a small interaction; surely one that she never gave a second thought to. But that tiny moment of grace is still with me four seasons later. The ease with which she had solicited my help took me back. I was in awe of the way she had approached a total stranger and without a second thought, asked for a hand when she needed it. Surely, there was a huge lesson in this for me.

Ever since childhood, I have been annoyingly independent. “I do it myself,” I told my parents as they offered guidance and assistance. I have always been bound and determined to take care of myself. To this day I remain hell bent on ‘doing it myself.’ I can just see my husband’s smirk as he reads this. Yuck it up, babe.

But once in a while, the wagon spills over. Sometimes, we all need a hand.

Like her older sister, Brooke loves music. When she sees a live band, she makes her way into the middle of it. She stands in the center of the instruments. She comes alive with the sounds and the vibrations. When she hears singing, she joins in, whether or not she knows the words.

Katie has been singing in our children’s choir for a little over a year now. She loves it. She loves the singing. She loves performing for the congregation. She loves being with the other kids. She sings the songs in the car and Brooke sings along.

I cannot think of a better way for Brooke to feel like a part of our congregation than by singing with the choir.

It won’t be easy. There’s a lot going on. The choir director is ambitious. She likes to choreograph movement and orchestrate complicated arrangements. The littler kids tend to get confused. Even Katie doesn’t always remember what part she’s supposed to be singing or where she’s supposed to be standing at any given time. It can be loud. It can be chaotic. It can be confusing and unpredictable.

But Brooke wants to sing. So sing she will. I brought her to her first rehearsal last week.

She needed breaks – a lot of them. She cried out a couple of times when she was overwhelmed. We walked the halls. We got fresh air. We came back.

She walked up to kids, got a little too close and said, “What’s your name?” over and over again, often while they were singing. Not one of them ever answered her.

She covered her ears when they blew a train whistle that will be part of the song. One little boy looked over at her with a furrowed brow.

When we left, I asked if she liked singing with the other kids. “Yes I did.”

I asked if she’d like to do it again. “Yes I would.”

I turned the question on its head and asked it seven ways to Sunday. No matter how I phrased it, the answer remained the same. She wants to do it again.

The choir director sent the following e-mail today.

I would like everyone to come a bit earlier this week. Jess will be talking to the kids for the first 5-10 minutes about Brooke, our newest choir member.  Jess will explain a little bit about who Brooke is and why her behavior is sometimes different than the other choir members. She feels it would be easier for everyone if they knew a little bit about what to expect.

This isn’t a wagon that I can pull alone.

I am so glad that the mom at the preschool helped to show me that I don’t have to.

11 thoughts on “pulling the wagon

  1. Just like you, I loathe asking for help – great about giving it, terrible at receiving it. Having a special needs child has been so good for me b/c it’s humbled me. More times than not, I need help. And I need a lot of it. And it’s o.k.
    I hope Brooke has a wonderful time singing in the choir!

  2. This is awesome! I love it. I applaud you. There is NO REASON that Brooke should be excluded from doing something she wants to do. I think of it as an IEP for Choir.

    Not too long ago Chee asked me to teach her how to play songs on the piano. I don’t know how to play piano (but we do have a piano). I asked her if she wanted to take piano lessons and she was exuberant in her affirmative. For a month, she was consistent in her desire to play piano. She started lessons last week. She practices every day. Hmmm, I think I need to blog about this.

  3. Lady, wow. I wonder how many times I’ve commented “wow” to your posts.

    I would love it if you would share with us what you share with them. A template of sorts. Do you read Gretchen’s blog? She just wrote an open letter to the other families at the pumpkin patch. Very nicely done.gretsblog.blogspot.com

    I know what you mean with asking “seven ways to Sunday” if she wanted to sing with the choir again. In my mind, as I’m rephrasing and rephrasing and rephrasing to be sure that Foster truly understands what I’m asking, I’m always wishing I could – just once! – experience things as he does, to know how it feels to him on the inside while it’s looking so difficult on the outside.


  4. M-

    stupid pride?
    how about well earned pride?
    how about, ‘look what i have accomplished despite what might have been construed as some pretty big challenges?’
    how about, ‘and i’m pretty damn proud of that’
    just a thought

  5. Jess, you are an amazing writer.

    That lovely quote, mitten anecdote, and Brooke choir story, woven into a seamless whole, teaching a lesson and simultaneously just letting us know what’s going on with you & yours.

    I stand in awe.

    Your upcoming work with director & choir to make it possible for Brooke to participate reminds me of an opposite situation when I was in children’s choir with a girl who had epilepsy. She had a big seizure at rehearsal once, and then another one on stage during a performance (as the choreographed group stepped back, suddenly there she was in front of us all on the stage convulsing.) It was scary for everyone, and they never did explain it well. You’re doing this RIGHT.

  6. big deep breathing.
    whatever I can do to share in the pulling of the wagon…
    p.s. I completely concur with JoyMama on your giftedness with story and words.

  7. the impulse to do it alone…this gets back to what we were discussing ealier: disclosure.

    to me, this is what disclosure boils down to, asking for help. i don’t know why it’s so hard for me. it shouldn’t feel like a bitter pill, but it does. i’m not sure why that’s the case. (actually i do: it’s stupid pride…but i like to pretend that it’s something more subtle, nuanced. if I say “discordant identity issues”…yes, that feels better than “stupid pride”. anyway).

    so the choir siutation: it’s a perfect example of disclosure and the way it can lead to others becoming more inclusive (i.e. the choir director explaining her differences to everyone)…asking for help, making things easier.

    it’s kind of a beautiful thing…and the fact that it’s a beautiful thing, it makes me feel so frustrated. even reading about acts of disclosure…it elicits my stupid pr…i mean, discordant identity issues.

    the wagon…it’s a challenging concept…the kind that i am needing, so thank you.

  8. Jess, I’ve been reading your blog for quite a few months now. I feel like I’m looking into a window watching you grow. You have devoted so much to Brooke and your family and I applaud you. A few entries ago, you remarked about stepping back and looking at Brooke and all that she is accomplishing. That to me is so important. When things get you bogged down, don’t forget to draw strength from all that she is and what she brings to those around her. As for asking for help, it is a learned experience. Albeit, one that reaps its own benefits. Years ago, I was in a situation where I found I couldn’t do it alone; it just wasn’t possible to be all to everyone. When I did reach out, I found the response was unbelievable. People were more than willing to help, they even grouped together to find out how they could help me from all directions. There are good people out there. As for teaching others about who Brooke is, that seems to be your underlying mission and one you do so well. Spread the word and do your thing girl!!! Thinking of you, remembering our past and hoping to be in the area soon (our oldest is hoping to go to school in your city- I promise to visit.) Helene

  9. and a good thought

    that’s the challenge…switching out the stupid pride (the thinking that i have to do everything myself…that help/disclosure is a negative)…with the kind that you’re describing.

    better living through jess-like thinkery

  10. I remember that little “me do it” girl so well. Now you’ve really put on your “big girl pants” because as parents we always know when to swallow our pride and ask for help we need for our little ones. I continue to remain in awe of you. I remain so proud of you.

  11. My Gay and I refer to this as “Mother Courage” – the Brecht play of the cart mother pulling her wagon through the 30 years war, and of course, tragedy ensuing.

    I feel like Mother Courage alot.

    And apparently, you do, too.

    I think we all do.

    It’s a very valuable talent, this asking for help. Perhaps I will try it.

    You’ll let me know how it works for you?

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