Their father tackled the purchasing and packing of school supplies with all the care he has learned managing medical equipment. Lunches have been carefully packed, the jar of formula and Duocal no less lovingly prepared than the neatly sliced peanut butter sandwich. After five years, the boys are finally going to head off to school together.
Sam, lying in a ball on the floor this morning, confessed that he felt nervous about attending kindergarten at a big school. As Jack unhooked himself matter-of-factly from his AirVo and reached for a fresh HME, he told his brother not to worry, he’d help him learn how to go to a big school. I’m with Sam on this one- I feel nervous, too. I worry about the educational machine swallowing them whole. I fear that Sam will be encouraged to be unremarkable. I fear that Jack will be treated as someone who needs to be handled like glass.
For a long time, we fought for a specialized environment for Jack, and Delaware School for the Deaf was the perfect place for him. At our first meeting last week with his new teachers, the educational diagnostician, and school nurse, we could feel the apprehension in this new cast of characters. Jack and Sam’s bright, newly constructed public school has an excellent reputation, but this team didn’t enter teaching because they were called to the challenges and delicate dance of managing special needs children. Now the fight shifts and we are working to ensure that Jack is treated just like every other kid in the room (despite the nurse that will trundle along behind him like a shadow throughout his school days). It is an odd, off-balance feeling.
This morning, crouched down at the school threshold, I delivered them to their new world with the last fierce squeeze of early childhood- one arm around each little boy. “Learn lots, have fun, be respectful.” I straightened, now a lone figure on the sidewalk rather than the hulking, bunched shape of three that I had been for a time. I watched their heads join the rivulets of black, brown, and blond crowns bobbing and weaving through the doors. Small, bright pebbles in the sand which runs through one’s fingers. I was reminded of these lines, which I murmur like a prayer:
“Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t have by now
whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do. With a pencil and two
Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and
grapes he is on his way, there is nothing
more we can do for him. Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.”
From: “The summer-camp bus pulls away from the curb” by Sharon Olds
I’m so proud of these two. They’ve both seen love in abundance, and rules and chores, too. They both have been asked from the start to contribute to the good of the whole, whether that means foregoing the ice cream to avoid hospitalization, or whether that means getting dropped off at a friend’s house at short notice due to a sibling’s need to be seen urgently at the hospital. These two have ridden roller coasters together- literal and figurative. They’ve weathered storms and they bear the marks, some seen and some unseen. Jack bears the “Survivor Signs” of his scars and differences. Sam bears a certain unyielding suspicion that he might not be getting as much attention or resources as he deserves. Both of these are the realities that they must carry. They are young, but they are no different from everyone else, now- and yet they are so vitally, uniquely their own.
Who will be the one who picks up these pebbles from the sand- so undifferentiated now within this strange, new, mainstream, and holds each of them up this way, that way, and marvels at the facets and tiny, rich worlds within each, polishing and coaxing them to brightness?
There is nothing more we can do for them except trust in them and believe in them. They have each other. And tucked away within each is all the strength and love that they will need.