Many of you have asked for “tissue warnings” on my more emotional posts. This, my friends, is not one of those. Well, unless you’re a happy crier, like me. If you are, then consider yourself warned.

Oh, and one other thing. It’s long. I’m sorry about that. I tried to make it shorter, but I couldn’t. I’d like to think it’s worth the time.


In our school district, students in the fourth grade are invited to join the instrumental music program.

Brooke is a musical kid. Unlike her mom, she has damn near perfect pitch. Also unlike her mom, she sings like an angel.

Luau grew up playing the flute. Well. He also plays the piano, a little guitar and can essentially pick up anything that makes a sound and create music with it.

Throughout her childhood, he has quietly taught Katie to play just about anything too. They started with the piano. He didn’t just teach her how to play it, he taught her to listen to it too so that, given enough time, she can now, like her Dad, figure out how to play just about any song by ear. Same for the flute, which he was thrilled was her instrument of choice when fourth grade came around.

We wanted Brooke to have the same opportunity. There was just something in the way that she sings and the way that she listens to music (loudly, from inside it), that compelled us to ensure that she had a chance to explore how it’s made.

So we tried. We really, really tried. We had a music teacher (one who she already knew and loved) come to the house once a week. He brought anything in which she expressed an interest – a guitar, a violin, a recorder, a flute. He let her touch them and play (with) them. When she honed in on the violin, he tried to show her how to use a bow.

There were moments of magic. Moments when it looked like .. maybe .. just maybe .. but we finally had to acknowledge that it just wasn’t working. She finally just shut down and we decided that pushing wasn’t the answer.

Brooke is in fourth grade. At the beginning of the school year, the kids learned about the instrumental music program. They were encouraged to choose an instrument that appealed to them – that they would like to learn how to play. Somehow I hadn’t considered that she would choose something, but she did.

Now, please come a little closer, because this next part isn’t something that I want to say too loudly.

When I heard that Brooke had declared that she wanted to play the clarinet, I panicked.

I know, not cool. But the whole traveling instrument petting zoo just hadn’t worked. And it had pretty spectacularly not worked. And that was one-on-one. At home. So how the hell was it going to work in school? In a band room full of discordant sounds – and Jesus, do you know how much my kid hates discord? There’s a reason she tells me not to sing in front of her – off-key just ain’t okay to her discerning ear. Have you heard fourth graders play a bunch of musical instruments? Together? All at once? Off-key doesn’t even begin.

So I panicked.

But, see, when I did, I forgot something. Something really big. I forgot that if we believe in our kids – really, really, REALLY believe in our kids, that hard things – even really, really, REALLY hard things – are possible.

And I forgot something else. I forgot that the WE in this story isn’t just us parents. I forgot that other people have skin in this game too. That, if we’re really, really lucky, then other people have FAITH in our kids too and BELIEVE in what they can do and will be damned if anything will stand in the way of them being able to TRY.

But see, the cool thing about having a whole team of people who care about your kid is that even when you forget, they’re still there carrying the flag. Kinda like a faith safety net. (This is when my friend Jeneil would pull out some scripture about faith safety nets and say something like, “Even when we forget, He doesn’t.”)

But well, that’s what happened. While I was panicking, Brooke’s aide, Ms J, was plotting.

She was talking to the music teacher and the instrumental teacher. She was making the team bigger. And the new teammates got together and decided that to make this work, Ms J would need a clarinet too. So they dug one up so that SHE could learn alongside Brooke so that she could help to teach her.

Can you imagine?

So to recap, while I was panicking, Ms J was believing.

Once she had it all in place, once she had worked out the logistics of what she BELIEVED was possible, she told us that Brooke wanted to learn to play the clarinet. And that she could.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Getting HER a clarinet? Who does that? But I was still afraid for my girl. A damned clarinet? For the love of Pete, why a clarinet? Have you ever tried to play one? She faces so much frustration every day, did it really makes sense to set her up for more?

But I didn’t say any of it out loud. It was in motion and my girl wanted to try.

I thanked Ms J up and down. She didn’t seem to understand why. I told her that I was grateful that she wasn’t balking at the challenge. She said, “Jess, she’s INTERESTED IN THIS. Why would I ever balk at something she’s interested in?”

Yeah, she actually said that. I know.

So Luau too Brooke to the local music store and they rented a clarinet. As soon as they came home, she wanted to put it together and give it a try. Luau did his best to show her how it worked – where to put her mouth, how to hold her lips, how to breathe, where her hands needed to be (just to hold on, not play notes on it.)

I watched her body tense up. I wondered again if we were doing the right thing.

Coordination disorder. Profound motor planning challenges. Needs intensive fine and gross motor therapies.

This was the kid who was frozen solid on playground equipment. Who couldn’t jump off a one-inch matt. Who couldn’t hold a crayon when she was four.

A God damned clarinet?

I stayed quiet and watched.

She tried. She asked Luau for help. She made one small sound but couldn’t replicate it. She grew more tense and more frustrated and more anxious. She yelled.

We told her that learning to play the clarinet would not be easy. That it would, in fact, be hard. Even really hard. But we reminded her that she can do hard things. Even really hard things.

We told her that it was time to put it away for the day and that she could try again at school.

I was afraid.


Yesterday, I had the following conversation with Ms J. For ease of reading, she’ll be PINK and I’ll be GREEN.

So proud of your daughter she made a sound with the clarinet. She said I can’t do it I said yes you can try again. she tried again and then surprised herself when the sound came out. 😉

Aaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!! That’s AWESOME!!!! Thank you SO much for encouraging her. I just .. Oh man. Thank you!!!!!!

Her being able to face and get through her fear made my day.

So beyond awesome!!!!!

I almost fell off the chair I was so proud lol

Ha!!! I would too. Was she psyched??

She WILL do this!!!! I have faith.

And that’s why she will. Because you know she can.

Ya I think the sound startled her because I think she thought it wasnt going to happen. Then she smiled when I obnoxiously yelped and said “See I told you you could do it I’m so proud!”

We kept talking about it all day and how it might be tough but just like other things that were tough for her that she was able to accomplish she will do it.

That’s so awesome. I can’t wait to ask her about it tonight!!! Thank you x a million!!!!!

You don’t have to thank me. I love watching her succeed. It is a pleasure to me. It makes everything worth it to see her accomplish things that others may not think she can.

I adore you, lady. She’s a lucky lucky kid.

No, I’m the lucky one.

All right woman, you’re already in the will, ok? Lol

I say that because I get to see her accomplish what she does. And I get to see the smile on her face when she does something she never thought she could do.

I know. And I say what I did because it’s completely awesome that you treasure that. And because I thank God every day that you are there with her, believing in her and pushing her and loving her. EVERY DAY.

I have to tell you it is so hard sometimes controlling my emotions when she works on something so hard and then is able to do it. Sometimes I have to hold back tears I’m so proud. Lol I’m such a baby.

Nope. You’re an awesome teacher taking pride in your joint accomplishment. That’s the way it’s supposed to be!!!

I’m so tempted to ask if I can share this whole damn conversation on my blog so that parents can see what’s possible when the people in their kids lives believe in them. Cause it’s just so friggin awesome. And I know so many people just don’t have [people like you in their kid’s lives]. Or believe that they (you!) exist.

I have to say she works WAY harder than I do.

She works harder than all of us!!!

You can.

Really??? You don’t mind?? Cause I’d so love to do that.

You can. I don’t mind. Cause it will give parents faith and sometimes you need that.

Yes!!!! Thank you!!!!


“ … it will give parents faith and sometimes you need that.”

I forgot.

She didn’t.

The thing that sometimes, in the middle of the day-to-day, is easiest to lose. The thing that in the day-to-day, we really need the most.


Thank you, Ms J.

Thank you.

Ed note: This is why I advocate for Special Education funding. Because EVERY child should have a Ms J in their lives.

49 thoughts on “faith

  1. Wow, wow, wow! I’m sending this to my boy’s super awesome clarinet teacher (why clarinet, sweetheart? Because that’s what Squidward plays), who has taken that child from two lessons spent on getting around the weird taste of the reed all the way into his first recital. Music is powerful!

  2. I’d say “Ms J for president!” but then she’d be dealing with a lot of useless crap every day and not out there changing the world, which she is already doing incredibly well.

    God bless you Ms. J! I wish there were a million of you.

  3. DOAM I have said for years, “Faith not fear” and your blog proves why I believe and say this statement over and over. Great job Ms. J and of course, Brooke!

  4. I didn’t have my tissues ready.. so awesome… I can only hope that my son’s aide will be just as close to what he needs – and while he’s not autistic.. he does have special needs that make him struggle in some way.. I love this soo much.. yay Brooke! and kudos to Ms. J

  5. Yes! Yes! Yes!!! We could ALL use a Ms.J in our kids lives…in ours! How amazing! How wonderful for Brooke. I’m SO happy, for ALL of you right now!
    Cymbie too, has a natural inclination for music. She comes by it honestly. My ex-husband played bass, guitar, keyboard, and sang. i went to college for Musical Theatre. So yeah, the kids makes up tunes on her little keyboard. She found an octave all on her own. She (like Brooke) has a beautiful singing voice.
    We’re still trying to figure out the best way to harness her talents for music. Still not sure how. Also need to find the money to do so…but no doubt, we will.
    I’m smiling from ear to ear for Brooke. She has already accomplished so much just by expressing that she WANTS to do it! By TRYING, and even better SUCCEEDING! Amazing. You are blessed to have such a wonderful team of people around her. Just, WOW!

  6. I LOVE IT!!! My husband’s a band director, and I used to be… and guess what I play? We both kinda jumped up and down to see our world meet yours in another way. Ryan (7, autistic) is my sweet little drummer, and my husband brings a drum with a practice pad to every home football game. Ryan gets to stand there and play along with the big kids (ie the high school drumline) every home game! Those drumline kids are so great to him. So thankful for this outlet for our guy. And praying that it becomes a great outlet for Brooke! SOunds like she’s doing great so far!

  7. That is awesome!

    I started playing saxophone in fourth grade, so I have a soft spot for elementary school woodwinds in particular.

  8. Oh my gosh. How do I love this? Let me count the ways… Thank you, Ms. J. And thank you, Brooke, for reminding us that “I can’t” will never get us as far as “I can,” and “I will.”

  9. Thanks for the warning. I have tears streaming down my face….it is awesome when our kids have people in all aspects of their life who believe in them…and teachers like this? Ah-may-zing. Yes, every child should have a Ms. j!

  10. We can get so used to buffering the blow by all the things that can be a challenge and not end successfully with our kids. When someone else keeps going full steam and says “let’s try this next” or “why not” I’m reminded of how much i love our ever-expanding team/family 🙂

  11. What a aonderful asset MsJ is to Brooke and you. I’ve read many of your blogs but may have missed who MsJ is? Is she a parapro at school with Brooke, public, private? Why I do I ask? I am always searching for how to help my 9 yr old daughter, who is Brooke’s doppleganger. Thank you for sharing your and Btooke’s life with me.

    • Nicole, She is a behaviorally trained 1:1 aide who works w Brooke in the public school. We are incredibly blessed to have her.

  12. Wow!!! My Jay is in 6th grade and was required to take some type of music. I was so worried and originally put him in chorus thinking it would be better then the chaos of strings or band. But Jay surprised me and insisted on taking Strings and he chose the standing bass the biggest, loudest deepest strings instrument there is. I was so worried. First off he would need to stand the entire time to play it and well as you know that in itself can be a problem. Then there was the whole coordination thing like you mentioned with Brooke. I contacted the teacher and spoke with her shared my concerns my worries. She smiled, patted me on the back and said, “I don’t care if it takes him all year to learn to play one song. If that is what it takes that is what it takes. I just want him to love music and to know that anything is possible, including playing the standing bass. And if he needs a little extra attention then I will give him it! Don’t worry mama I got his back!” Jay loves his string class and you know what… He just may have a knack for it. Twinkle twinkle never sounded so good!!! Faith and knowing someone else has our kids back… That is all any of us can hope for!

  13. WOW oh wow…Yes I cried…that is so great. I actually have been trying to set Jim up with music therapy…It has been hard to find someone, and even harder to find someone Jim connects with. This story is just what I need to keep pushing.

  14. Many happy tears! She is going to be amazing at this! And you are so blessed to have Ms J!
    MY baby girl got an aide this year in kindergarten……she seems great but I get zero communication from her! I don’t get how the person who spends ALL Day with my girl…is not allowed to tell me anything? Is Ms J a TA or an Aide?

    • She’s a behaviorally trained aide. And for the record, we put communication (method, frequency and content) into her IEP every year. That way it’s agreed upon ahead of time, expectations (on both sides!) are clear and it’s in writing. 😉

      • Thank you – I was just about to ask if Ms. J was a “teacher-teacher” or a parapro. I have experience in special education and behavioral psychology, and I am hoping to work as an aide after I graduate next year. It’s so encouraging to hear how much of an impact they can make for a child!

  15. Thank you for this. I just had a (mild) argument with my son’s school where I told them they were underestimating him and that I needed them to believe he could do more, show them more. I am profoundly grateful for the people, including you, who continue to teach me that he will only get as far as we believe he can.

  16. That is some happy music making indeed! Brooke rocks and Ms. J rocks. Hoping for many more clarinet squeaks in your future…and that one day the squeaks will be identifiable notes. It’s going to happen!

  17. Ah Jess. I had the exact reaction when my E decided to play trumpet. Panic. This was a kid who wasn’t able to blow out his birthday candles for years and years and years and he wanted to blow a trumpet? The first person I called was his former OT, who immediately encouraged it, saying she thought it would do wonders for his self-regulation. Faith. And as I’ve mentioned in the past, he has an amazing band director who didn’t bat an eyelash when I mentioned E’s IEP and ASD and my fears that this would be an extraordinarily difficult undertaking for him. He said kids on the spectrum often do very well in band and that he looked forward to having him join the band family. Faith.

    Fast forward a couple years. E is now playing in three bands in school –symphonic (which is the most advanced), jazz and percussion ensemble. (He decided to learn percussion this summer solely because he thought the kids in that group would be nice kids to play music with!) The band director was so right when he called their group a family. It gives E a place where he feels like he fits in. He’s made friends. Real, actual friends. And he’s never been more happy or doing as well academically. I’ll add that I know he still has to work at least 10x as hard as the typical kid to keep up but his determination never falters. Just yesterday one of the teachers said she loves how he is always smiling at rehearsals, seemingly always so grateful for the opportunity to play.

    I probably overuse this word but it feels miraculous. I hope that Brooke’s experience is as fulfilling as E’s has been so far. There’s nothing better than when they find their bliss and follow wherever the music takes them.

  18. Very awesome. And jealous. Our school district won’t let me talk to Andrew’s aide (para-professional). “All communication has to go through a qualified professional”. Is this something I should challenge?

    • Completely up to you. But I think my question would be “Why is the person who is spending the most time with my child not considered a qualified professional?”

      It’s baffling to me (and scares me in terms of transparency) that there’s so often such a concerted effort to keep us from communicating directly with the people who work with our kids every day.

      That said, you may well be able to get the information that you need from others, like the classroom teacher or a case manager, so I guess it’s not always necessary to speak with the aide.

      Again, remember (I said this on another comment above) that you can write into your child’s IEP what you agree upon in terms of mode, frequency and content of communication so that expectation and accountability are clear.

      Hope that helps!

      • Thanks to you we did write into this year’s IEP monthly meetings with his case manager and SLP (for Social Thinking updates). His case manager last year didn’t mind the notebook that the aide and I used to communicate through, so I didn’t even think about it this year. Enter new case manager and sudden enforcement of rules (but it is the same aide-who is great and I feel bad I can’t talk to her). We have a new director of SE in the district, so I may just ask her to expand on the reasoning. She came to a SEPTA meeting when she first arrived and people peppered her with questions. She was baffled by some of the things parents had been told. I guess I’m figuring out that our pretty great school district that we haven’t had any conflicts with, can always use some improving and maybe I’ll step out of my comfort zone to help. Thanks again for the encouragement and wonderful stories.

  19. What a wonderful thing to have caring people in our child’s lives. I have been lucky enough to have that for most of Hunter’s school life and even luckier now that in his Adult Transition Class he has the most wonderful, sweetest and caring teacher ever. Hunter just seems to blossom when he knows how much people care for him.

  20. that’s encouraging. i pulled my son out of school last year to homeschool him b/c the team working with him in public school really couldn’t care less. there were one or two genuinely invested teachers, but most were collecting a check. to put it in perspective, his main resource teacher, the woman i spoke with daily via email, the woman i met with religiously every six weeks for 3 years, the woman i tracked down in her classroom and in the hallways, the woman who worked with my son for 3 years didn’t recognize me last week. in a town of 3000 with maybe 15 kids under her care, she didn’t know who i was. she knows her principal and her superiors, though. she puts on quite a show for them.

    we’ve got my son just about caught up academically and i’m certain he’ll be able to reenter school next year. i’ve become quite negative about public special needs educators b/c of our experience. but maybe he’ll get a good teacher, someone who cares about what they’re doing. someone who is a teacher innately and not just as a career choice.

    • Oh man. I’m so sorry. Those people exist in every district, ours included. But so too I’m convinced that people like Ms J exist everywhere too. The hard part can be finding them, but once you do, well … it only takes one, doesn’t it?


  21. My kind of teacher and I had a whole school full of them when I was working. They are the angels that make lives better and richer for all kids…. It also takes parents who are open to the teacher’s touch for their children.
    This is a great story, it’s teachers like Mrs. J that make the great schools great.
    Love you,

  22. What a wonderful story!

    My son, age 11, has autism. He hates it when I [try] to sing in front of him – when he was little he would say “no sing!” in what can only be described as a horrified and pleading tone. He is in 6th grade now and has to suffer through a vocal music class (earplugs help!). Surprisingly, though, he’s been playing the cello since 4th grade and does fine with all that discordance. He would love to take up the trombone, as well, but one instrument at a time for now! Our Ms. J was named Mr. Sibley. Lincoln Public Schools (Nebraska) is excellent when it comes to supporting kids with autism. I recognize how lucky we are!

  23. I’m not a commenter, I just don’t. But I have to say that I’m so proud of your girl! Just as proud, more proud that you know. Today my daughter started playing Twinkle Twinkle on the violin. The girl they said would be a vegetable, they used those words. She isn’t, she walks. She’s autistic, i can take autism and all the other problems, but today she played the violin. I blogged about it today, I welled up when I read because your daughter succeeded too, It’s not a little success, it’s huge, and I’m so proud of our girls!

  24. I love this! What is your policy on sharing certain statements you make in your blogs? So many times, I read one or two sentences, that I would love to share with my parents (I provide child care), that I think would help them, and don’t know if you would approve. I would happily give you full credit for any/all that I share?

    • verna, thank you. you are always welcome to share with credit and a link to the original post. thanks for asking!

  25. I dunno, but I have been following for months and well she just seems to be making amazing strides and for me….. I am just whooping it up for all of you… 🙂

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