Throughout the three short years I’ve had of working with elementary special needs children, there have been several encounters that brought me to tears of joy. I feel like sharing three of these precious moments with you to let you know just how comforting a child that’s “different” really can be, even when they don’t know what you’re going through.
When Jesse hugged me after I was diagnosed with achronic illnesscalled systemiclupusin April of 2014.
Jesse had a traumatic brain injury. He also had a speech impairment and needed help in many different ways. I loved helping him. The day after I was officially diagnosed, I was sitting at the lunch table with Jesse in the cafeteria and he was playing with orange slices in his mouth. He put one in his mouth, like we all did when we were little to show the other person that our smile was in fact not teeth, but an orange’s skin. I giggled, but the smile didn’t reach my eyes. He looked at me for more than three seconds and said, “Nee hug.” He reached out his arms gesturing me to come to him, but it sounded more like, “Come he, come he.” I scooted towards him and hugged him, feeling like he became the adult and I was all of a sudden a child in desperate need of a hug. I instantly felt like everything was going to be OK. A child’s hug is everything.
Age all of a sudden age didn’t matter when I met David in graduate school. It never really mattered before to me but most the friends I have made in the past are around my age. I noticed him my first term when no one really talked to him and he was usually alone. This term, I was determined to change that. I sat by him. We started chatting about many things: my working with special needs children, our masters program, how we both have no clue what we’re going to do with the degree- things like that. I noticed how he would rarely look me in the eyes. I’ll never forget after I was telling him about working with special needs children he said, “Well I have Aspergers, so that’s why I’m a little weird and I never really know what to say or I have a hard time making eye contact.” He has high functioning Autism. He’s like Adam in the movie, Adam. All I said was, “You’re not weird, David.” From then on we pretty much sat by each other every class, did our first graduate presentation together over people with disabilities, or go to Starbucks to work on projects together. Today we went fishing at my favorite lake here in the Springs. It was hilarious because it was cold when the sun went down and our hands went numb. However, we had a darn good laugh. We pretty much ice fished.
Age isn’t a factor in our friendship. He’s well in his 60’s and everyone knows I’m in my 20’s. He’s the first person here I seem to connect with; he’s just David. Fun, goofy, goes on random tangents (like myself), David. Sometimes he’ll apologize for his long “ramblings” but I don’t mind because he has to sit and listen to mine too. We talk about God, spirituality, fishing, psychology, and what a privilege it is that we are getting higher education and how we wished more students took it more seriously and honored education rather than taking it for granted. We talk a lot about children with autism and tonight we talked about ways to unlock doors (not physically) for these children at Wendy’s (all the way at Woodland Park) with hot chili and cocoa. We must have sat for 2 hours. He says the most peculiar things like, “I want to figure out why your blood cells were going ballistic or maybe they still are, or why you feel the pain you do” or “I wonder why you can’t figure out what you want to do with your life. I guess that’s okay. I mean, I don’t know what I want to do with my life.” I get to ramble on and on to him about how it’s difficult for me to relate to a lot of what my generation finds enjoyable. I go on about how I feel like I’m an 80 year old woman stuck in a 20 something year old body, because of the pain I feel or that all I seem to ever want to do if I’m not outside is play scrabble. Least he thinks I’m funny. He’s pretty blunt and so am I. Two peas in a pod– however that saying goes.
When I think of a good friend, I think of David. Our relationship is very much like Iris Simpkins and Arthur Abbott in the movie The Holiday (check one of my fav scenes atop on the right). When I was driving us around places, I told him, “You’re going to get annoyed of me, because we’re going to hang out a lot more.” His reply was, “Well that would be real swell.”
I don’t know all the reasons why God moved me to my sweet home Colorado, but I like to think it could have been to shed some light in this man’s life (after all that he’s been through and has told me) or maybe it was for him to teach me something. I learn something new from him almost every second- literally. Most the time I’m super honest with him and I’ll tell him, “David, I didn’t follow that.” Repeats self. As we were driving back on highway 24, the moon was so bright I could still see the mountains. I told him to take a photo of the moon between the forest trees. The whole time he was video recording on and off. I came home with 7 videos of me repeating the same thing in every video, “Did ya get it? Oh so pretty.” I was rolling. Dear reader, I hope you have a great Christmas this year. Reach out to someone who maybe lonely- maybe someone different from you, I don’t know just reach out. It could change your life more than you think it will theirs.
This particular season of my life is one I’ll never forget; it was a turning point you could say. I was searching for something I thought I wanted in a career, when all of a sudden something different came along and it was more than I could have asked for. Like serendipity. I think of how God works in His loving and adoring ways . . .He knew how much I needed those little angels in my life as it was also the time I became sick with a disease that started hurting my body. I remember my first couple of months with the children, how I could effortlessly pick them up and put them on a swing or help them get across the monkey bars or chase them on the playground. That quickly changed one morning when all of a sudden I was barely able to get myself out of bed. Around half of the school year left was a struggle for me. I was no longer able to pick them up or run like I used too. The disease spread to most my joint tissues and it killed me that I wasn’t able to give 100% of myself to the children. I became weak and slow. However, I didn’t quit. Each of the children in their own special way taught me something amazing. More than anything, helping others with disabilities brings joy to my soul and peace to my bones.
October 8, 2013
I started working with children with special needs on September 11th. I have since been moved around from the SSN classroom to now the CSD classroom (autistic classroom). I honestly can’t see myself doing anything else for 7 hours a day than helping these children. I absolutely LOVE being in children’s lives. Sure they’ll occasionally kick me, spill food on me, run away from me down the halls, go missing, talk back to me, throw fits or kick walls. . .but they also will laugh with me, run away from me when I’m chasing them on the playground, giggle with screeching delight when I catch them, hug me randomly, cuddle on me when we’re reading, or smile at me when they see me walk in their classroom to pick them up. I could go on.
Just today little “S” and I were working on colors. He would say “graph” when I held up the color gray yesterday so we worked on the color gray together and today he remembered how I was helping him do it! Now when I hold up the color gray he says, “GRAY!” He’s smart. They all are just so smart! Some know all the colors and numbers up to 100 and are fascinated with everything when we hit music class (they’re adorable when they lightly tap the piano– not so much when they’re throwing flutes on the floor or kicking drums heehee!). Some need correction and we are also there for that, but thankfully the whole day isn’t filled with using your mama voiceon them. A lot of the time they just want a good ole fashioned pat on the back. And let’s be real here– the discipline part to these kids is so tough for me. Real tough.
Maybe some days I’ll go home more sore than others from running all day or I’ll become just really exhausted, but I always have this huge smile driving home. I don’t remember the times when any of them were being bad, just the times when they hugged me, laughed with me, or when little “K” asked me to chase her around the whole playground and through the tubes (I paid for that later). She was screaming with delight the whole time and this is enough for me; being with children that are so often misunderstood.
It’s about changing their lives everyday I go to work one little step at a time. If during the whole day I could only get one of the students to behave and sit down quietly in one of their classrooms for more than 30 minutes, that’s enough. My patience shows through the most where I work. It teaches me God’s patience and I am humbled. Wow, God is so patient with us. If this requires patience. . . I sometimes wonder how God does it when He’s waiting for us to turn back to Him when we’ve gone astray? Food for thought.
When recess comes, I become over-protective. If I see teasing you better believe I’ll say something (I only had to do this twice, but I wish bullying never existed) and then I have eyes like a hawk (insert creepy hawk sound). Though I am specifically watching the kids I am in charge of, I see teasing all around and not just with the special needs kids. I help in whatever way I can. I’m not perfect, trust in that, but in my heart it feels like I’m filled with God’s milk and honey everyday from the joy of his beloved little children. As if the moment one of them grabs my hand my veins pump faster with God’s love. It’s like my shot of espresso for the day when one of them starts off my morning with a tight hug– though most mornings one of them is spilling their milk all over their tray or crawling under the cafeteria table!
I don’t know where I’ll be after this job but the one thing I’m sure of is my heart grows more everyday I’m surrounded by God’s little ones. It’s about the children, not me. I am just a vessel spreading the best of God’s love that I can to these children. All I want in life is for God to use me for the betterment of children’s lives and what He wills, all the days of my life. One of the greatest quotes ever was by C.S. Lewis, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.”
I’ve learned in life that sometimes you don’t find your different passions when you’re desperately seeking. Sometimes passion comes and finds you in a place you never knew existed within; this is what I experienced. These children now hold a special place in my heart. I suppose working with special needs children has its tiring and frustrating moments but more than not, it is full of an indescribable joy only you can find out once you’ve worked with them. They insert a new joy into your veins that makes your heart ache even thinking about the day when your time with them will end. They’ve changed my life and I am forever grateful for what they have taught me; and what I will be taught in the future as well.
He was so stoked he touched a stingray!
At one point in time, he flew his hand back in excitement and I just remember water splashing a few people. It was funny.
His smile is so precious!
We were bus buddies.
Being silly because we can!
This was a pajama day. I obviously wore penguins– my favorite.