Monday, March 12, 2012

Out of Control

It's easy to think we control it all.  It's easy to think when you work hard, or persevere, or have the right connections that you can make things happen.  It feels that way sometimes.  Today, I was reminded in the most difficult of ways, that we are not in control. A friend who was just over at our house on Oscar Sunday, went in for a routine knee surgery a few days ago, and now is pronounced brain dead, leaving behind his wife & soul mate, and his young son- the same age as my firstborn. We are not in control.

I had a very different idea of what I would be writing about today, as I have been navigating the process of finding an elementary school for my boys.  Losing our friend and wrapping my brain around how we can support and comfort his grieving family, gives new perspective to the idea of what we can do and what we actually are in control of. I had a full week of school tours and each one bettered the last.  It is a good problem to have. The school I toured on Tuesday surprised me and impressed me with how accessible the principal was and what a community feel the school had. The school on Thursday knocked my socks off, with the dazzlingly beautiful campus, the amount of parent involvement and the number of friends we have that attend there. The school on Friday blew me away and offered everything I ever imagined for my boys, specifically.  I am resolved. My boys will go to the Friday school. How could God's plan be anything different, right? In light of the sudden passing of a friend, I know that things don't always work out the way we plan...and yet, we must keep moving forward, doing the footwork that is our part.

A little about why I fell so in love with the Friday school: There was a great buzz about this school being a great model of inclusion. This means that the school believes in a community of inclusion, where students of all abilities- from gifted to having special needs- learn in the same classroom and no one is made to stand out as being different. Just writing those words brings pangs of hopefulness and happiness to my heart- not just because I have a child with Special needs, but because I love the idea of my older son learning and playing amongst children of all different abilities.  That he might grow up in a surrounding where there is no negative stereotype, bias, or discrimination.  When I went to school, any children with special needs were shuttled off to their own classroom in the far corner of the school, where you might see a wheelchair pass by, but other than that there was no interaction.  This created an environment of discomfort. Who were these kids? Why were they so different from me?  Were they actually so different from me after all? I never knew.  Their diagnosis were never discussed, never explained, never put into terms that I could understand.  I never saw a balanced side.  I never saw that maybe "that girl" liked to play with Barbies as much as I did, or was a die hard Depeche Mode fan when she got to high school too. When I toured the Friday school, which has a population of 80% typically developing kids to 20% kids with special needs, I saw kids interacting with each other with no bias about the other's needs. I watched 3 girls who seemed to be typically developing, surrounding a girl in a wheelchair, who I guessed might have cerebral palsy. They were laughing and talking like any 4 girls at school might.  I wanted to cry on the spot. This is just so far from what I experienced as a kid, and I wish that I had the ease and comfort level around kids who I saw then as "different".  Even as an adult, I find myself automatically starting to freeze up around anyone with a disability.  I thought that being the parent of a child with special needs would change that, but I guess the years of the fears and uncertainty of the unknown is too ingrained in me to override that first impulse.

The Friday school also offered a slightly different learning style (probably to accommodate the different ability levels). Instead of the typical Kindergarten academic model that I had seen at all of the other schools, the Friday school had the Kindergarten class broken up into 4 groups of 5, each working as a group on a specific task- and each, with it's own teacher, teacher's aide or para professional (usually a staff member undergoing specialized graduate work in child development or education). One station was doing math, while another was working on writing, another worked on pre-reading skills on ipads, while the last was doing some game with patterning problems. I could immediately imagine Christian learning well in an environment like this. The children were engaged and focused and doing impressive work.

I also loved that there was a heavy influence of the arts at the Friday school.  An art lab that made my eyes spin and a choral and music program that was required through the 5th grade.  An outdoor classroom, where the children learn outside instead of in (2 days out of the week!!), and where they perform...wait for it...Shakespeare in "the park"!!!! (Be still my artistic heart.) Cue the heavy sigh of longing. So now we wait.   The school takes entry through a lottery, with the only preference going to siblings of current students and staff members' children first. If we get chosen in the lottery, we will know something by the end of this month.  However, it is also possible that some families chosen in the lottery will accept and then decline later and we could get a call...well, even after Christian might have started at another school. It's possible that I will have to choose another school and move him later.  It's possible that our lottery number won't come up at all this year. If so, we'll try again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that, if necessary.

So, I am out of control.  Earlier this week, I jokingly used the "out of control" context as one where I was being so anxious and frenetic and worried and crazy about this whole school process.  Now, I just simply know that I am not in control of the outcome. In fact, tomorrow is not even guaranteed to us. I called my sweet friend who is needing to make the decision to take her husband off of life support, and we cried.  We just bawled and bawled about the fact that he was such a good guy, such a good Dad, such a good friend. That it is so sudden, so unfair. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen! My sweet friend is worrying about everything from the little things of how the maintenance of the house will be handled, to the big things, like how she will tell her small son that his Father just died? How she is going to be strong for him? Life is not fair. We are not in control. Not of the good things, and not of the bad things.

Nothing snaps you out of the inner brain whirlwind more than the loss of a friend- especially when it is sudden and unexpected. I have said I love you and drive safely and looked just a second longer at each of my boys and my husband in the last few days.  I am grieving for my friend and the path that she has to walk right now.  While she and I met initially through a mutual friend, we became close because of the outreach and support she offered me while I was struggling with Elijah's diagnosis.  Now it is my turn to reach out and offer support for her. 

If I were to close with the one thing that is on my mind: Hug your husband. Hug your kids. Say I love you to the friends that you do. Our time on earth is finite.

Thank you friends, for all that you enrich my life with. Especially, Thank you to Steve: for whose time on earth was spent cherishing the ones he loved. There was never any doubt about the abundance of love he had for his wife and son.  He will be missed and each who knew him is richer for it.