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A Place to Belong

October 20, 2012

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mary turned three last week. My sweet little baby girl is now a full-fledged preschooler. She had her first day of school on her birthday.

I brought her to school with my heart in my throat. This has to work. I was just praying that we had made the right choice for her – that this school would be different. That she could succeed here. That she could be happy here.

We brought her into the school, and set her down. She immediately let go of my hand and made for the fish tank in the common area. She started exploring her new space. Her new teacher called her over, signing introductions to her new classmates. She approached them, as I chatted with her behavioral team who had also come to observe and assist with this transition. With very little urging, she followed her class into the classroom and took her place at the table. I let the breath escape my lungs. She belongs here. She looks so comfortable here.

She did great the first day. She had a few bumps in the road the following days – a minor choking incident, a display of frustrated aggression towards her behavioral aid, but all in all, a very good first few days.

So now, she has just finished her first full week at school. She loves it. She smiles as we arrive. At her old school, she usually bolted for the door. Here she eagerly escapes my grasp to dance around her new space, check out the fish tank, and head over to her classroom and her new friends.

I’ve been watching her navigate her new space. I’ve been watching the other children with her. I’ve been observing how the staff interact with her. We picked this school for the simple reason that they are adept at total communication. Now I see how it is so much more than that to Mary.

There is a peacefulness here. There is no excessive chatter, as the staff and students sign to each other. Many of them speak as well, but not all. Mary is never pressured to speak here. There is no forceful insistence on speech – instead any form of communication is accepted, cherished and celebrated. She happily navigates through her iPad, or quietly signs “more” (the one clumsy sign that she has recovered since she lost her expressive language).

Today she even attended the homecoming pep rally. Having been to pep rallies when I was in high school, I was concerned that the noise would be a problem for her. I watched nervously from the hallway of the gym. What I saw was incredible. Friends, teachers, alumni, all signing happily to each other – a beautiful tight-nit community. Oh how I want that for my girl. The mascot leading the audience in a signed chant. It wasn’t silent, but it was enjoyably quiet, and fun. Mary sat happily through the entire rally.

Yesterday, we went on a field trip to a farm that is owned by the school’s former principal. It was perfect. She was never hurried. She was encouraged to sit and examine the pumpkin vines, just as she likes to. She skipped the corn maze, preferring instead to sit amongst the stalks, watching the wind blow through them. She was amazed. She was happy. She was not only allowed, but encouraged to take in the full sensory experience, as one teacher quietly approached her and offered her an ear of corn to touch and explore. Her silence is honored here.

Her old school prized itself on being able to get deaf children to speak, but I wonder how much information she could really take in. The ASL combined with the spoken language seems to help Mary understand more of what is being said – she misses less information. This new school also encourages a total sensory experience to facilitate learning. They encourage my daughter without pressuring her. They celebrate her instead of trying to change or fix her.

And with all of that – all of the acceptance and encouragement – she has started babbling at home this week. Not clear speech, but new sounds, a conversational inflection in her voice. There is a new confidence about her. There is something happening with her that I just have not seen in her before. I can’t know yet if this will be a permanent school for Mary. But for right now, for this moment in time, I am so hopeful. It looks so much like my baby girl has found a place where she can belong, and a community there that cherishes her. I don’t think I can or even need to tell you what that means – It’s everything.

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The following is an excerpt from a post by Jess at Diary of a Mom. I invite you to click over and read the post in its entirety.

Hopes and Dreams

*

“Hopes and Dreams,” it said on top of the page. Brooke’s first grade teacher had sent it home for us to fill it out before meeting with her.

What are your hopes and dreams for your child’s academic learning this year?

The question should have been innocent enough, but the blank page taunted me. Come on, Jess. What are your hopes for your daughter? Whatcha got, kid? What are your dreams? Write us a story. Make it good.

I chose my words with care. The dam was threatening to burst. I chose the following:

“To keep pace with her peers and to acquire all of the tools that she will need to succeed in second grade and beyond.”

Sounded reasonable, I thought. It wasn’t even half the story.

Please, God, PLEASE let all of the supports that we have in place for her make this possible. Because honestly, right now, right in this moment, I can’t imagine how this can be possible.………….
What are some other things that you would like me to know about your child?

Ha! How much time do you have?

“She is sweet and loving and far brighter than she may first appear given her difficulty with language. She loves people and desperately, if not somewhat awkwardly seeks attention and interaction.”

That she defies categorization.

That she can’t possibly be lassoed with words on a page.

That she has exploded through any and all perceived limitations since the day that she was born.

That she will touch you.

That she will crawl inside your soul and you will never be the same.

That in her six and a half years on this planet, she has already taught me far more than I will ever teach her.

That she outshines the brightest stars in the heavens.

That her laughter heals my soul.

That I love her with every fiber of my being.

That my heart is in my mouth every time that she walks out into the world and out of my reach.

That there’s not a single damned thing on this earth that I would not do for her.

That I implore you to look out for my girl.

.

You’ve got my heart there, lady. Please protect her.

In the meantime, I’ll be here.

Hanging on to hope.

.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2012 6:24 pm

    So happy for, Mary, what a wonderful story to hear!

  2. Life&Ink permalink
    October 24, 2012 2:35 am

    Oh yippee! There is nothing more heartwarming, more want-to-shout-from-the-roof-tops than hearing about a child being happy and accepted in their surroundings. May you continue to experience such wonderfulness. Soak it in mom. And, GO MARY!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  3. November 22, 2012 3:55 am

    I am so glad that Mary gets the quiet that she needs now and that the teachers have let up on her brain a bit! I’m sure she needs the dream time to process everything! I betcha she will catch on to the sounds of communication! I hope so! I pray she will!
    Ever since I heard of the term a few years ago, I have wondered if I was “high-functioning autistic” because it would explain so much of what has challenged me all of my life from childhood through the present. Well, after reading methodically through many of your posts from day one, and then skipping ahead to the present, and this particular post in particular, I went and found the autism test online – and I scored 33, which qualifies me, I guess.
    Oh my gosh the interaction that people are constantly requiring of our brains is so exhausting … but if I get my alone time and my daydream time (as a very intelligent adult that nobody would suspect has a mental challenge in the world) then I can pass for normal and be totally & genuinely perceptive and empathetic. Plus, God helps me compensate for EVERYTHING I can’t do on my own.
    And I am just celebrating the peace that Mary gets to have at her new school! I hope she gets to stay there! I hope God helps her measure-up enough in society to make it just fine. I betcha she’s really intelligent, and sooner or later she is going to catch on and have a happy, happy life. God sure blessed her with a dang good Mommy!
    Here’s a blog I wrote several years ago. The first one in which I ever admitted or hinted at some of the challenges of being me. I pretended it was fiction. The setting was fiction. The problem was not: http://lurasgrandchild.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/lost-in-the-scenery/
    (The blog is dated September of this year, but I copied it over from another blog site. I really did write it quite a few years ago.) Hope my words are encouraging to you! Sarah

    • December 4, 2012 11:21 pm

      Sarah-
      I am so humbled that my posts have touched you. I am sorry for not responding earlier – things have been…. Well…. Crazed. 😉 Just that time of year, I guess! But I wanted to thank you for stopping by and for your kind words. I am so happy for you that you are discovering more about yourself through my daughter’s journey. Peace and blessings to you this holiday season. I look forward to reading more of your stories. Thank you.

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