They’re tucked towards the back of the modest sized campus; four portable classrooms in the left corner, dedicated to the special
education students that comprise a healthy chunk of the overall student population at the school.
At any given time you can see these K-6th graders walking around campus, assisted by an aide or teacher, making their way to the playground or the lunch tables or speech therapy. At any given time you can sneak a peak at their sweet, determined faces as they work so very hard to master new skills and practice old ones.
They are every bit as worthy and valuable as the other students, and yet, they’re the last ones to get picked during games; the first ones to get picked on at recess.
I’m not telling you this to garner pity or sympathy.
I’m telling you this because it’s TRUE.
The other day my best friend’s son informed me of the way things play out at his school:
“You know Auntie Jo, not everyone at my school is very nice.”
“Why not honey?”
“Well, a lot of the kids say things about the special needs kids like, ‘Those handicappers are aliens’, then laugh at them.”
“How old are these kids?”
I introduce myself to a fellow PTA parent.
She seems nice enough.
She asks me what grade my child is in.
“Fourth,” I say. I point to the portable classrooms in the distance. “He’s in the special education program here. His name is Andrew.”
Is it just me, or did her eyes just glaze over?
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” she says.
It’s that “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” that tells me I’m doing the right thing.
I’ve been active at Ian’s private school since he started preschool. Partly because I taught Kindergarten there for a while, but partly because it was so easy. I didn’t have to explain myself. I didn’t have to trail blaze. I didn’t have to make waves or advocate. I signed up for potluck dishes and dutifully came early to help set up. I had a list of crap I had to accomplish and I accomplished it, right beside the other volunteer mothers. There’s no special education program here. Like I said. It’s easy.
But The PTA? That’s an entirely different beast. Who are these moms? They don’t know me. They don’t know my kid. He’s in the back portables, stranded on his own little island. I don’t belong with these PTA parents. They don’t get it. Why should I go out of my way to volunteer for a bunch of kids who if given the chance would probably pick on my son anyway?
I don’t belong.
Why even bother?
I expect others to just embrace my child and his classmates, but when push comes to shove I want it to just appear, to come out of nowhere, so that I don’t have to roll up my sleeves and do the dirty work.
If I don’t belong, then neither does my son, and
I can do this. I can join the PTA. I can voice my frustrations but also choose to be part of the solution.
My life is not defined by IEP meetings. I can fund-raise with the best of them, and when it’s time to allocate the funds, I can raise my hand and say “BUT WHAT ABOUT OUR KIDS? THE ONES IN THE BACK PORTABLES?”
I’m done whining and waiting.
I’m ready for change.
I’m pouring snacks into cupcake liners, 134 of them to be exact. Another mom pours the juice.
And then I wait, my heart gently thumping out of my chest.
Minutes later, they begin to line up.
They grab a drink and I hand them a snack.
I make eye contact with as many of them as possible.
I want to know them.
I want them to know me.
I want them to know my son.
I want them to see Andrew on the playground and say “Hey! There’s Andrew Ashline! Let’s go say hi!”
So much better than
“Those handicappers are aliens”
I gag a little.
Most of them are the same age as my Andrew.
He will rely on them someday.
To see him as a valuable member of society.
To honor him as a fellow human being.
To vote for causes that will assist him in his life.
To protect him from the people who will choose to point and laugh and disregard him.
To open doors for him instead of shutting them in his face.
To pick him, instead of pick on him.
To TRAIL BLAZE on his behalf.
I hand them their snacks and I think, “Yes, you will know me, and I will know you, and I will help you know my son and together we can change the world because a world where 2nd graders think that people with special needs are aliens is a world that is not good enough for any of us.”
I leave campus later that morning
careful not to let Andrew see me because if he catches a glimpse of his mama, he’ll never want to let me out of his sight.
The school looks a little different then it did when I first arrived.
I look around and I think, “If I can prevent just one child, just one parent, from thinking less of my child, then I will be the best damn volunteer anyone has ever seen.”
And that is why
I finally joined