When we moved to Missouri in 2002, my kids were little. So our only requirement for a house? A BIG backyard. Growing up in the woods, I needed trees and I needed space in our suburban yard. My husband found it for me. A huge backyard on a cul-de-sac. Five mature trees made the backyard somewhat secluded. He knew I would love it and put a contract on it within minutes. He was right.. it was perfect for us.
Well God was looking out for us that day. We were looking at our children’s immediate need.. but God? He was planning for their future. So while I was looking for trees for tree swings, a wide open space to play baseball and a shaded place for a playset… God found us a perfect village. He put us right by the perfect friends for my family. Close to my husband’s Missouri family. And he chose the perfect school for my children.
My son is a sweet, lovable boy with a face full of freckles, beautiful blue eyes and the most contagious smile. When you take your first glance at this tall attractive boy? You do NOT see Special Needs. You see a teenage boy. You do not see that he didn’t talk until he was 3. You cannot see that he was diagnosed with Autism at 4. And you cannot see that he was diagnosed with Bipolar at 6. When we bought a house with a backyard full of trees? I didn’t see it either. But God knew our future.. and He planned for us. He provided the perfect place for my boy to grow.
Why was a school so important a part of my kid’s future?
I wholeheartedly believe that the whole village impacts a child as they grow up and mature. The village is a child’s family, their church, their friends .. AND their school. When a child has Special Needs? That school makes up the large part of their future.
You see.. No mother can do everything on her own. But a mother with a special needs child.. she HAS to trust the school to provide the things she cannot. I had to trust the school to take care of my child and provide him a safe environment. I had to trust the Special Education director to get him the therapies my son needed. I had to trust the IEP team to develop the best plan for my son’s school year. And I had to TRUST the teachers to push my son toward success. Yup, I said PUSH. I don’t want my son to SURVIVE school… I really want him to excel at school. You may think that is a lofty set of goals for Special Needs.. It MAY be.. I may aim too high.. But I would rather aim too high and settle slightly.. then to not aim high enough. My son is amazing. He is artistic. He is smart. He is a hard worker.. and my son wants to go to college. But he is a child.. children will choose the easier path if you let them. So I refuse to let him.
This school that God picked for my family? They wanted everything that I wanted for my son. The “village” we found at Henderson Elementary? Principals, Assistant Principals, Special Education Director, Paraprofessionals, Teachers, Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and even the Librarian. THAT village of amazing people? They became our family for those 6 years.. and beyond. When my son had successes, no matter how small.. they celebrated with me. When I had fun stories to tell.. they were the ones who laughed with me. When my son was being stubborn, they were the ones who planned WITH me on how to turn it around. When my son was unstable, they helped develop a plan to keep himself and others safe. When I had to cry? They were the ones crying with me. But the most amazing thing for me? When the days were long.. and rough.. and there was NO hope shining from those beautiful blue eyes.. These amazing ladies were STILL there rooting for my son to succeed. No matter how bad the days were..they were the ones who met my son each morning with a smile and forgiveness in their hearts.
Some of those days were really bad.
Bipolar doesn’t sound that terrible. But it is a terrible disease. It is also known as Manic Depression. Basically with this mood disorder? Your body doesn’t make the right amount of the hormones you use to control your emotions. Not enough serotonin and you feel depressed. Too much serotonin and you feel euphoric. Too much adrenaline and you feel scared/aggressive. I could go on.. but I think you can see the trend. With Autism there are triggers.. too hot.. too cold.. too loud.. too frustrated.. too .. anything. With Bipolar? Other than the seasons, we can find no pattern.
When my amazing son starts to cry those big crocodile tears because his brain is telling him he is overwhelmingly sad? My motherly instinct is to hold him and protect him. When my son wants to laugh at the world because his brain is telling him he is elated? My instinct is to laugh along. When my son wants to hurt himself? Stab himself with a pencil? Pull out his hair? Punch his head because his brain is too confused for him to think clearly? I want to step in and protect him… and then cry. But Bipolar is there for Life.. So Life must go on.
This “village” that God provided for me? For us all? They were there will us every step of the way. Cheering for us.. handing out smiles.. encouraging… (keeping straight faces).. Why did they? I have no idea!! But I am so grateful. Because without them? We wouldn’t be where we are. Because of their help and their determination? My son has learned that Life has to go on no matter WHAT your brain is telling you. They helped him with coping strategies.. and they never made my son feel like there was anything wrong with him.
Because of the acceptance of this amazing group of professionals? My son was accepted as a valuable part of the “village” by everyone. (I could write a book on how we all took part in this awesome feat.. and I probably will…)
This amazing accepting “village” was great for more than just the children with Special Needs. My daughter who absolutely loves to learn and loves school.. this school that God picked for us, provided something for her as well. Because the school valued her brother as a part of its village.. No matter what… She learned to accept her brother without question. But more than that.. I think it gave all kids a strong feeling of security. If a child with an obvious disability can be accepted for who he is .. and loved because of it? How can a child with a small insecurity NOT feel safer? The students at this school turned into a wonderful group of kids.
So imagine my distress, when God sent us home to Michigan?
I love Michigan. It’s beautiful! It has trees … and lakes.. and rivers.. and trees… did I mention trees? I didn’t realize how much I loved this home state of mine until we moved away. And Michigan also holds the majority of my family. Oh.. we wanted to move home with a passion.
But I was worried.
If we moved schools.. how would my kids live without this amazing village that God had given us all? How would we survive without it? So I dove into research. Websites, school review sites, anecdotal review sites, phone calls to school, joining online support groups to get advice… and yet nothing. I finally knew the area we wanted to end up in.. but there were still 10 school to choose from. So more phone calls and house tours. We narrowed our search finally to 5 houses.. Each in a different school district. I set up tours.. and I prepared for the whisper of the Still Small Voice of God to lead my way.
What I got was a roar. I almost cried.. (okay I cry a lot).. This school that God led us to? From the moment the Special Education director called me ahead of time.. to the secretary asking how she could help me.. to the amazing tour I received from the principal.. and every person I met along the way… Every thing was a roar from God that this was it!! This was the new village He had planned for us… And who was I to argue?
This week I dropped off my son to school. He walked independently through the front doors and headed to the locker he independently opens. He independently headed to a meeting he had with his teachers.
You see? My son still hits sometimes. This week he hit one of his BIGGEST fans. His brain told him he was scared or frustrated or angry or something.. and it was so overwhelming he punched one of our favorite people in this new village. Then he cried. And so did I.. I am crying again as I type this. This amazing person doesn’t just want my son to exist.. she wants him to be amazing.. she wants him to be the BEST he can be… so she pushes him to excel. Unfortunately that puts her on the front lines of the battle. She has encouraged him to be independent, successful.. and most importantly.. My son is so proud of who he has become. Then when he snapped? Since she was on the front lines, she got hurt. That hurts my heart every time I think about it. But what makes me stop in absolute AWE. This amazing lady who was hit by my adult sized boy? She forgave him immediately. “Seven times seventy,” she says is their motto. That is absolutely amazing .. and it is hard to do. Even though she forgave him immediately, she is still hurt.
I would like to point out that forgiving is a lot different than accepting. I do not accept that my son HAS to hit.. and neither do any of his teachers. Forgiveness means you try harder next time to do it differently. That is what I teach my son. We always try again. And the next time we try ..we WILL do it better.
Through her pain (both physically and mentally), the teacher my son hit is standing with the rest of the team to make a plan, so that we can try to prevent it from happening again. This plan isn’t to not push him as hard to succeed. It is a plan to help him deal with the confusing messages his disease sends him. To help him move toward a successful (and non aggressive) high school career.. To help him move toward being an independent hard working adult.
So today? Today I am thankful that God has brought this amazing lady into our lives. Yet this amazing lady is only ONE of the amazing professionals at this small school in the country. Every person my son has come into contact with has made a huge impact on his life. So today I am ALSO extremely thankful God has provided another amazing village for my kids to grow up in.
When I watched my son walk through those doors, to head to that meeting on his own. A meeting to talk about how to turn the next bad day around to make it better.. on his own? YUP.. I was crying again. Because he couldn’t be that independent, confident or determined young man without the “villages” that God has given us. I could never have done it on my own… and to tell you the truth.. I wouldn’t want to try.
At the end of the school year, I always look for the perfect thank you gifts. How do you tell someone thank you for going to the front lines of battle everyday .. just so your son can be the best that he can possibly be.. A gift card? A coffee mug? What I really wish was to give them a trip to Egypt .. or a day at the spa. But I can’t afford that AND stay home to be available for those bad days. So I settle for a heartfelt card and home made cookies. Is it enough? NOPE.. But while I am praying that my son grows in control every day.. I also pray that God will Bless each and every person that has come to care for my children. That He will keep each and everyone of them in His Glorious hands and protect them.
So in the End? In the End all I can do is pray for a whole village.