It’s not in my nature to tout the accomplishments of my kids. It’s way more fun to write about how they open cereal boxes like a pack of wolves and how that takes me to places of insanity I can barely handle. I’ll step out of my comfort zone because sometimes your child does something you want to shout from the rooftops. Recently, my oldest was promoted to high school and my twins were promoted to middle school. Note I did not say they graduated because you don’t “graduate” from a school you had no choice whether to attend. “Kids! Listen up! You don’t get a trophy for showing up in life! Everyone is NOT a winner! Some people are complete tools!”
I am in denial about not having any children in elementary school anymore. I’m clearly not mature or old enough to have a child in high school. While I am excited for each of my children, it is no secret that my son, Devlin, has additional challenges his sisters do not. Dev has a panoply of diagnoses including autism, ADHD, and a lifelong seizure disorder. Social interactions, fine motor skills, reading comprehension and flexibility are very challenging for him.
The Captain Elementary community (part of the Clayton School District) embraced Devlin immediately. I remember vividly the first Popsicles on the Playground event when Devlin and his twin sister were in first grade. As soon as it got dark, Devlin, a known eloper, disappeared from sight. In the fastest game of adult (Hide and) Seek ever, dozens of teachers and parents scattered to locate him. Principal Dougherty found him at the kindergarten playground, unscathed and unfazed by the parental panic. The first time Devlin attended school choir practice we spent the entire hour trying to convince him to stay in the room. It took weeks for him to stand in the bleachers, and longer still to finally sing. Large spaces and crowds of people overwhelm him. He also doesn’t like to be singled out for attention.
Luckily, Devlin shared his birthday with his sister whose popularity provided a built-in cache of friends we could pretend were also Devlin’s friends. Teachers and the school nurse kept him safe when he had seizures at school. Special School District and General Education teachers, as well as his dedicated full-time aide, spent untold hours figuring out how to teach him the way he needed to learn. And learn he has. In addition to academic progress, he has a group of boys he plays with and classmate, Valentino, is his best friend.
So, back to why I’m writing this post: As part of fifth Grade Promotion, each fifth grader took the stage in front of hundreds of parents and teachers to make a brief speech. Despite my obvious bias, Devlin’s speech transcended all the other speeches. I felt the affection of the entire school community as he spoke. The pride of the parents who have seen me wrestle Devlin to the sidewalk when he threw tantrums. The happiness of the teachers who will miss their special moments with him. We all felt united in that moment. We were all invested in that beautiful moment.
I’m left with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, but also a little sadness. Gratitude that others see the utter joy that is Devlin. That there are such an abundance of resources to assist children with special needs. That the children and parents and teachers who interact with Devlin feel a shared delight in his accomplishments. Unfortunately, there are still some people, relatives even, who choose to see Devlin’s eccentricities as a lack of discipline or bad parenting. The people who know him best know better. I also realize how very fortunate we are, and conversely how some parents will never receive the services their children deserve. I wish every parent of a special needs child could have the experience we have had with their school. Each child is such a precious gift. (Suck it, people who can’t believe I typed such a cliche. Sometimes they resonate.)
Tears of joy (for me). I know that had to feel awesome. I love the picture of Devlin with his teacher – he looks so open. For me, I treasure my best night with Devlin our time together in general. Jen, you’ve done a really great job with your children!