It takes a village
My heart sank. I knew it, I thought, cursing myself inside. Of course. I knew that elementary school graduations were a big deal. I’d seen the pictures of other kids dressed up and had heard it mentioned many times that it was a big deal. So as I approached the ceremony and looked at the graduating sixth graders all decked out in dresses and dress pants and heals – and then I reflected that Emma was among them in worn sneakers and jeans – panic rose up in my throat. What had I done!??
I saw her younger classmates from the autism program in the audience and the smiles and glances of the many aides. There was a reassurance in their eyes, and I could hardly understand why. WHY?!!.
Why didn’t I get this right?! I looked out in the sea of unfamiliar, well-dressed parents, cameras in hand. OH no!!! The camera! And I didn’t even have my phone! I could feel the sinking feeling seeping down further into a dark pit. My eyes began to feel heavy and I pulled my sunglasses down. I wanted to cry and the ceremony hadn’t even started. Why didn’t I bother to take this seriously? I should have known. I should have been on it like all these other parents! Why were they so together? I think I remembered an email about it. My mind was racing, my eyes were scanning for Emma in the group of eager, fidgety sixth graders up front. I saw Kellie, the wonderful aide who hangs with Emma much throughout the day, but I couldn’t see Emma, who I was sure was beside her.
I was never going to forgive myself for this – it would be one of the many things that I’d reflect on in anguish for years to come. The worst part about it wasn’t that Emma would look bad in her casual clothes or that I wouldn’t get a great picture of her. The worst part, was that she would stand out once again and possibly suffer more embarrassment. Here she was in a group of her peers at school – with the whole of the gen ed graduating sixth graders – and she would stick out among a group that she’d love nothing more than to fit in with. She was probably thinking that her mom really dropped the ball on this one and would’ve loved to tell me so before she left for school that morning, but she couldn’t. I would have to apologize profusely later and hope that I wouldn’t hear too much despair in her words as she typed them out. She’s been through much worse, but still…
And then I saw her.
I suppose there were a lot of parents who cried that day, but maybe none more so than me. And it certainly wasn’t because I felt this to be some treasured milestone in the life of my daughter. It was because when I saw her, she looked beautiful! She had a long, velvety black dress that fit her thin frame perfectly. She had an elegantly draped cropped white sweater and headband that suited her perfectly with her hair done up. She even had sandals on that blended in with the ensemble. I was completely overwhelmed with relief and gratitude and a tender feeling that just kind of swept over me.
Someone was there for her when I wasn’t. Someone took care of her when I didn’t.
I didn’t have the urge to feel the shame of my parental inadequacies. I didn’t care in that moment to beat myself up for what I did or didn’t do. I simply felt my current state of panic dissolve and the only feeling that remained was the warm fuzzy feeling like someone had wrapped me in a soft cozy blanket and picked me up.
You see, I sometimes really do believe that I’m doing it alone. I think that I am the one. The only one who is ever going to make any difference in my children’s lives. “If I don’t, who will?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this. Even as I write this, I still hear that voice and I believe it to be true. But is it? That morning as I watched Emma keep her body calm enough to approach the stage in front of her peers, I realized that it isn’t true at all. I realized that for their whole lives, there will be others. There always have been and there always will be. I just have to cling to that hope and remember to trust and rest. God has and will continue to care for them because they are his; and I truly believe that he will always bring people into their lives who will help to do what I cannot.
I cried all over the teachers and couldn’t stop thanking them and so great was my joy and the love I felt in my heart, that I didn’t have any room left to feel like a horrible parent. And they cried, too. They are going to miss her so much. It turns out they happened to have the dress to give Emma anyway and the shoes belonged to one of the aides. And someone was there with a camera, too! I tried to explain what it meant to me, but words fell short.
How could I explain that for a moment, I saw a bigger picture of my child’s life and the future seemed to be full of people who cared for her, and it overflowed with the goodness of God.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has been there in big and small ways for us all – my parents who are second parents to my kids and all our family who is always there for us, my amazing friends, tireless teachers, church buddies who always seek to fill a need …bus drivers who are incredibly nice and even help work on speech.. Michelle – wherever she is, the most amazing flight attendant who literally saved us last summer when we endured one insane five hour flight (you deserve your own post and I’m convinced that you might actually be an angel), and even all you perfect strangers who have gone out of your way to help us or just brighten our day with a word or smile. You are treasured more than you’ll ever know.
None of us do it alone.