I called home from work yesterday, checking in on the girls. Neither has had an easy time as the school year has wound down.
Brooke has been orbiting the heart of capital A autism land – regressing dramatically at home as the seasons change and the demands of unstructured, end-of-year days take their toll on her.
Katie has been struggling too. Stressed by her sister’s very presence these days, her fuse has shortened at home. More and more time is spent in her room, escaping into her world of books. On top of everything else, she’s been grappling with some serious disappointment. A friendship she valued has fizzled pretty spectacularly in recent days – a victim to the fickle whim of fourth grade girls.
So I was calling to see if everyone was OK.
While Brooke was willing to pick up the phone only to play out a favorite script, her sister was eager to talk about the day. One story stood out above the others.
There is a pre-verbal fifth grader in the girls’ school who Katie has talked about over the years. She’d come home with a story here or there about seeing him out on the playground or exchanging (prompted) greetings in the hallway.
One day she came home nearly jumping out of her skin with excitement. “Mama,” she’d said breathlessly, “Guess what? J said, ‘Hi’ to me to today! It was UNPROMPTED, Mama! No one helped him AT ALL! I mean, his aide was there, but she had NOTHING to do with it! It was so amazing! He totally SAID, ‘Hi!'”
I wasn’t sure if she was more proud at his accomplishment, or amazed that she was the one upon which he had bestowed the honor.
Yesterday, she told me, J’s aide had come to her classroom and called her out of class and into the hall. Once there, she found J standing with his mother. She handed Katie a small brown bag, in which she would later find a pencil decorated with smiley faces, an eraser and a party-favor style game of tic-tac-toe.
She was ecstatic.
“Mama,” she said, “it was the nicest thing EVER. J’s mom gave me the bag and said, ‘We just wanted to thank you for being such a good friend to J.”
“Oh, honey,” I said. “That’s incredible.”
My voice cracked. It took everything I had to hold back tears.
I am so proud of my girl. My girl who gets it. Who understands and celebrates the value in every human being she meets.
But so too, I was simply overwhelmed with empathy for J’s mom.
Never more than this time of year – this time when one child’s report card comes home in a special envelope – every single page bearing the words, “Progress Reports are required to be sent to parents as least as often as parents are informed of their nondisabled children’s progress.”
This time when IEPs are fine-tuned and our babies’ challenges sit at the fore of our minds.
This time when comparisons are inevitable, assessments are necessary and gaping holes in development are more stark than ever.
This time when kids like mine are sliding down regression’s slippery slope thanks to longer days and routines that evaporate into the wind.
This time when their differences are just so painfully obvious.
As proud as I was of my girl, I just couldn’t get past the image of J’s mom, holding that bag. Handing my girl a trove of small treasures imbued with gratitude – for a little girl who had simply played with her son.
I pictured all of us. You, me, anyone and everyone who loves a child who struggles to connect.
We’re ALL holding that bag.