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Monday, January 18, 2016

One Small Blip

Last year, a 13 year old boy in our neighborhood felt he couldn't face living anymore. His death shook our community to the core. I remember the day it happened. I remember hugging my children extra tight that day, and every day since then. I remember talking with my older boys about suicide and about how it's absolutely not ok with me if they ever decide that life is too much. I don't know how parents can go on living with such raw despair in their hearts. My heart goes out to our neighbors who lost their son a year ago. 

I remember a couple nights after the boy's death, his family held a memorial in the small park in our neighborhood. Our house is on a corner. Our street is the only way into and out of our neighborhood. Ben, Jonah, and Alex walked over to the memorial. Ella and Aidan were in bed. I stood on our front porch with my sweater wrapped around me, freezing, but too full of sorrow to move. It was cold and dark when the gathering began. A beautiful snow started wafting down from the heavens. Tears began to prick at my eyes for the pain this family was going through. My tears came faster as I watched the headlights of car after car after car after car pour into our neighborhood, lighting up the falling snow, to honor the memory of this boy. The snow fell softly as every space of curb in our neighborhood was taken up by parked cars. I was awed by the number of people who came to remember this boy and grieve with his family. It seemed unbelievable to me that so many, so many, families came to stand in solidarity with our neighbors.

I kept thinking why can't we show such support to each other when we're alive and well? Why does it take a death to bring a whole community together? Why does it take a tragedy to bring dozens and dozens of cars, streaming in to a neighborhood on a snowy night, to show their support? Why are there meanies and bullies and teasing and torment and struggles? Why can't all kids be kind to each other and support one another? Why can't all grown ups model that behavior? It broke my heart to see this out-pouring of love and support brought together by death. Had this boy known about all the people that had his back? All the neighbors and friends, some of whom I'm sure he didn't even know, who were always there for him in spirit?

Last week, Ben got an award at school for Citizen of the Month. It's a secret- parents of the winners sneak into the back of the cafeteria to watch their children accept their "swag bag" and the principal reads a statement about why the child got the award. 

Despite the fact that Ben came home from school deflated because some of his peers had said he didn't deserve the award, and he conceded that probably only Jonah voted for him and he didn't really deserve the award, I was completely, insanely, over-the-moon proud and happy for Ben and his accomplishments. Ben's face did light up when he said there is always one boy who tells Ben all the time that he thinks Ben is great. That he can tell Ben has had a hard day, but to hang in there. This one boy makes a big impact on Ben. Wouldn't you just love to be this boy's Mama? Wouldn't you just burst at the seams with love and pride for your boy and how kind and wonderful he is out in the world when you're not watching? Wouldn't we all love to have kids like this boy? This Mama should be so proud. Ben has friends, and they always cheer him up, but this particular boy is something special. This boy consistently shows up for Ben, cheering him on during his hard days.

At the little lunch ceremony for the students who were being honored, I was busting with pride. I walked in and sat down in the cafeteria. Ben stood up at his table and waved at me. Then Jonah popped up across from Ben and waved like a maniac- just the way I've taught them. :) I felt my heart swell a million sizes.

I sat in the back of the cafeteria, watching and listening as the principal talked with the whole 8th grade class about the month's behavior reports, what improvements they have made, etc. Some of the faces sitting at those lunch tables I have known for 9 years. Some I don't know at all. They were all so perfectly beautiful- their lanky limbs, braces, and pimples. So perfect. All of this crazy 8th grade stuff is just a moment in the grand scheme of their lives. One small blip on The Radar Screen of Life. 

  The other night as I was tucking Jonah in and rubbing his back, he mumbled "I'm so dumb." I was taken aback-- you never know when your kids will unload their hearts to you, and you never really know what's weighing on their minds. I asked him why he feels that way. He said that even though he's trying his best in school, he's still not getting good grades. He thinks it's because he's dumb.

Whoa. No one calls my smarties "dumb." Not even themselves. I explained to Jonah that he is actually quite brilliant. He's had neuropsychological testing done and the test results confirm that Jonah is very smart. His intellect is not in question; rather, the school being unable to recognize and provide support for Jonah's (sometimes) invisible disabilities is the problem.

Jonah said he is worried about getting through high school, and he's worried he'll never get a job because he doesn't have good grades. I told my little worrier that no job looks at your junior high transcripts to decide whether you are a good candidate. And as far as high school, we'll just take it one step at a time. All Jonah has to do is keep trying his best.

I told Jonah that this week is his IEP meeting, to hear whether the school feels Jonah meets the criteria to receive special education. When I walk out of there WITH Jonah's new, shiny IEP all set up, I guaranteed Jonah that a whole new world will open up. I said just look at Ben! 2 years ago, Ben was a complete mess, academically, emotionally, everything. He got an IEP last year, and his needs at school are being met very well. This year, Ben is thriving. He's doing wonderfully! He's got better grades, his frustration level is down, his aggression is down, he's happier. I told Jonah, just wait. This will happen for you too.

This is a perfect side-by-side test of what happens to kids when you give them the support they need at school, versus what happens if you don't. Sadly, my twins are the guinea pigs. One boy is thriving and one is tanking. It's not easy to be the parent of these little guinea pigs, and to have to sit by while one little guinea pig's self esteem is destroyed. I don't know if it will ever recover. I do know that WHEN Jonah gets the support at school that he has desperately needed for years, he, too, will begin to thrive. This is but a blip on The Radar Screen of Life. This is just preparing Jonah for all the other adventures he will get to experience in his life.

In that cafeteria, waiting for Ben to get his award, I felt my heart energy grow and grow until it filled the whole room and burst like a firework over all those sweet, awkward teenagers. I hope each one of them knows that they are cherished and loved, and that there is nothing more important than them in this world. I hope they know how many people would show up for them on a snowy December night, how many who think they're amazing, how many who adore them...if we showed up for people who were still in this world. If we told people in our lives every day what a gift they are. If we were kind and accepting of everyone.

I won't let my children's blips on The Radar Screen of Life go un-noticed or un-cherished or un-cheered-for. All those little blips add up to a beautiful life. I am honored to be present for my kids' beautiful lives. Be sure to tell your loved ones they are cherished. Be sure to show up for them every day, so you don't end up wishing you'd said, done, been more to them if a heart-wrenching, snowy December night comes your way. Regardless of who people are, what they do, what they stand for, everyone deserves to know, while they are living, how beautiful and perfect and cherished they are. And what a gift to the world we all are.

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