To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~ Lewis B. Smedes
Dear Miss P,
I have been carrying the following for six years. It’s time to let it go.
You don’t deserve my ire. I know that. I’ve always known that. In fact, knowing that is what makes it so damned hard.
If you didn’t love my kids, if you weren’t so sweet and bubbly every time we bump into you, it would be so much easier to just resent the crap out of you and leave it at that.
But you are. So I can’t.
But still, the anger simmers just below the surface whenever and wherever I see you.
So I plaster on a half-assed facsimile of the smile that I know that you deserve from me. And I ask how you are. Because I know that I should. And I ask how the kids are doing. And how the job is going. Because I know that it’s the right thing to do. And I prompt Brooke to say hello. And that’s the hardest part.
Because for six years I’ve needed to come out and say this to you.
And for six years I haven’t even trusted myself to try.
I know that you did what you did from a place of love. I know that you adored my children and only wanted what was right for them. I know you saw me hurting and you wanted to reach out and make it better. And as I type these words I know how true they are and just by finally wrenching letters into words I see my own folly. I know – I’ve always known – that you meant well.
But, Miss P, you cost us time. Precious, precious time. And no matter how wrong I know it is, I haven’t been able to let that go.
Because when I finally came out and said the words – when I came to the preschool where you had taught Katie and where you still taught in the classroom next to Brooke’s and I told the teachers there – the ones who, like you, loved my girl with everything they had but who DID NOT HAVE THE TOOLS TO REACH HER NO LESS TEACH HER that we were having her evaluated, that the mythical, mystical, terrifying word Autism was on the table, that we were scared to death and trying desperately to figure out what was happening, how to manage, where to go, what the hell to do, you called me at home – something you’d never done before – and you tried to tell me not to worry, that everything was fine.
“Oh, Jess,” you said, your voice thick and heavy with concern, “you don’t really believe that, do you? Oh, honey, don’t be ridiculous.”
Ridiculous – that’s what you said. And I know, I know you meant well when you went on to say that all my baby needed was “a little extra attention and she’d be fine.”
Miss P, with all due respect, you had NO IDEA what she needed. For the love of God, you weren’t even teaching her. You never had. You had taught her sister, but you didn’t teach HER. So you weren’t in the classroom to see her sitting with her back to the circle at circle time. You weren’t there to see her chasing cobwebs in the corners at playtime. You weren’t there to see her running around the perimeter of the room at line-up time. You weren’t there when a mom stopped me in the hallway and said, “She’s so cute. Does she speak? I’ve never heard her say anything.” You weren’t there in our home to see her – or us – completely and utterly lost.
I know there are parents out there who cry Fire! in a crowded theater. I’m sure there are parents who think their typical, shy girl is something far more than shy or that their delightfully energetic son is desperately out of control. But for every one of them, there are hundreds more like me – moms who have agonized for weeks and months of endless nights obsessing over differences that simply can’t be explained away anymore – fears, challenges, a wholly unrecognizable developmental trajectory. Moms who are terrified. Moms who feels like just saying the words out loud, “Something’s not right” is a dramatic and unforgivable betrayal of their sacred responsibility to defend and protect the children they brought into this world. Moms who are dying inside because they finally have no other choice but to to say the words, “WE NEED HELP.”
And when they finally do, to be told that they’re being ridiculous, even in the most gentle way by the most loving teacher they’ve ever met is simply too much to bear.
Do you remember when the evaluator from the public schools came in? She saw it all. Our girl, back to the circle, stimming in the corner, lost. A little girl without a single discernible play skill. A little girl with no novel language. It broke my heart that no one from the school had told us what was happening. That no one had reached into our shocking pink haze of denial to show us what we so desperately needed to see. Had someone – anyone – her teachers, the preschool directors, YOU, come to us – we could have gotten help so much earlier. We wouldn’t have missed the deadline for Early Intervention. We wouldn’t have sacrificed that precious, precious time.
I’ve always wondered what we missed.
What could have been different.
I know it’s not fair to put that on you. The time lost is not your fault. You weren’t even in her classroom after all. But you see, you called me at home. You told me that you KNEW. You told me that she just needed “a little extra attention” and then “everything would be fine.” So you put yourself there. If you could tell me I was being ridiculous, you could have told me that I wasn’t.
Six years later – writing this in rapid fire, holding my breath lest I lose my conviction and scrap it completely – I have come to realize that my anger at you has been misdirected all along. It’s not you that I’m angry at.
I’m angry at myself because I never told you any of this. Because for six years I’ve been a coward. Because I never had the courage to go back to you. To ask if we could talk. To tell you what to look for. To make it right by making it better for someone else.
The time that I have accused you of squandering is time that *I* have squandered.
How many children like mine have passed through your classroom in those six years undetected?
Six years I’ve carried this.
I think it’s time for us to get together, Miss P. If you’re willing to listen, there are some things I’d really like to tell you. Like how to look for the early warning signs of autism and where to go to get help. And why talking a terrified mom off the ledge because you feel for her is not always the best way to help her – or her child.
Most of all, I’d like to talk because I think it’s high time that I forgive us both.