Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The yang to my yin

Something about mothering a child with special needs has turned this formerly peace-loving Taurean non-aggressive Sheep into a fighter! Ok, not really a fighter in the physical sense, but definitely more assertive, direct, and less tolerant of people's crap.

Will's class was recently befriended by a class of 3rd graders who come in a couple of times a week to play with the special needs pre-K class. Nate and I are so supportive of this program because Will responds so well to it, but also because it is teaching a new generation of kids to be accepting and understanding of children with special needs. I am not sure why they chose 3rd graders to focus on... perhaps this is the age right before the age of the Mean Girl? Elementary school teachers, please, elaborate and educate me.

On Valentine's Day, Will came home with a bag full of Valentines from his 8 year old lovelies. Most were your typical run of the mill $1.99 for 32 Toy Story valentines. One was handwritten on a piece of notebook paper. I thought it might be love.

I was wrong.

The heart-covered note read:

Dear Will,

Hi Will, Happy Valentine's Day. I'm very sorry about you and the others. I sent them a card too, to tell them sorry about all they had.

Sincerely, your friend

PS - I am very very very very sorry.

I know that the author is 8. I know that the author meant no harm. I know that it is entirely possible that I am over-reacting. But something about that note made me sad and really angry at the same time.

I know that Will has special needs. I know that Will's life is going to be a perpetual uphill battle with new challenges each day. I know that in the grand scheme of life, this is a drop in the bucket. I know that when we walk through the grocery store, kids will stare because they want to ask what's wrong with Will. I know that those same kid's parents will stare because we embody their fears. Some will smile. Some will stare. It is how I react that sets the tone. I know all of this.

I also know that we work very hard to create a safe haven in our home. One that is free of stares and fearful looks. And something about this note felt like the outside world wrapping its sinewy pervasive weeds around my happy garden.

My immediate response was to email Will's teacher. Ask her why had she allowed this to happen. Ask if they had even bothered to screen the Valentines before sending them home with the kids. Surely other parents had found the same note and were feeling the same way we had. I had all sorts of fighting type of responses ready to go. Snappy come backs. Statistics. Prejudice. Laws. I was ready.

And then, to my good year of the Rabbit fortune, my cool, calm, collected Leo Snake yang walked into the kitchen and asked me what was wrong. I handed him the note. He read it with a studious look.

"The author clearly doesn't understand the point of the program. She might need some more guidance."

WHAT?!?! No anger? No "mama bear claws," as Julie so accurately put it years ago when going through a similar type of experience with her son Jack? That's it? He was so calm that I was silent. Disarmed. I had been yanged.

We talked at length about how we wanted to be positive about our response to this note. We didn't want to let it go without making mention of it to Will's teacher, but we also didn't want to blow it up to the point that they cancelled the program. It's a fine line. Will and his classmates get a lot out of their interactions with older, typically-developing kids.

In the end, we wrote a letter to Will's teacher, explaining that we thought some additional guidance might be needed for the 3rd graders. The Valentine note made us realize that the author really couldn't see past Will's disability. She felt like she needed to say sorry (repeatedly) rather than simply wish him a happy Valentine's Day. The point of the program is to look past the disability and see that just because these pre-K kids can't walk or talk doesn't mean that they aren't kids too.

The letter goes with Will to school tomorrow. I am hopeful that the response is positive. We went through 3 edits before arriving at the final product. Both yin (me) and yang (Nate) edited. Hopefully it isn't misunderstood. And hopefully I can learn a bit from my husband and find a better balance between passive and aggressive. For Will's sake, I want to be the best advocate I can be.

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