It was a cool February evening, and Jack was running around shirtless, ignoring the Super Bowl festivities in the living room. It was also the day after his birthday. The boy remembered what happened two years earlier when he turned eight: snow fell on the valley. The angels had gifted him a white blanket of wonder that had lasted several days. It was a present we haven’t yet matched. They set the bar too high.
Still, he seemed grateful enough with his new Monster’s University read-along book and CD, and was meandering to and fro in front of the game, flapping his socks at anything he found interesting.
The doorbell rang.
“Oh good, you’re here,” the familiar lady said when we greeted her. She waved for her husband to come over. He carried something large in his arms. A white chest.
“Jack, Mrs. E. brought a present for you,” we called.
“You brought him snow?!?” Sara and I exclaimed.
I’ve got a friend from Papua New Guinea who, in joyful moments, used to say, “If I was a dog, you should see my tail.” It’s one of my favorite of his many native phrases. Dogs smile with their entire body. And Jackson, in moments of exultation, does the same.
You should have seen his face erupt in awe. You should have seen him jumping up and down flapping the snow at humming-bird speed. You should have seen him sprinting zig-zags around the house in barely containable laughter.
“Jack, are you happy about the snow?”
He could only answer with red faced giggles; the kind where you run out of breath and have to gasp for more air. It went on for days.
That gift encapsulated the beauty and care of the fantastic Mrs. E. She taught our boy for the past four years, working with him one on one through endless hours of math and music, reading and recess, but her gentle care for him never stopped at the 2:30 bell. She never accepted Jack’s rebuffs, and oh, does he rebuff! Our boy has perfected the use of the A-card. He often hides his capabilities from his teachers, pretending not to know the answers. Mrs. E. never accepted that. Rather, she would text us late into the evening, asking questions, probing for new ways to challenge him. To break through to him.
And break through she did.
Jack knows how to add and subtract now. He knows how to put sounds together to read words. There are a host of lessons—academic and social—that our boy has learned only because Mrs. E. cared enough to look past his protests and apply the right amount of pressure.
Why has he responded so well to her? Part of it, I’m sure, was sheer personality. She’s impossible not to like. Her spirit is both fun and gentle, and kids like him pick up on that more easily than the rest of us. But it can’t be that simple. Lots of people have great personalities. Only a precious few can “get through” to individuals the way that Mrs. E. did.
No, I think it was this: she laughed with him. She took fun pictures of him on field trips and sent them to us so he could look at them later. She sent him videos of her and her husband with Lightning McQueen on their vacation to Disney Land. She delighted in him.
Rather, she chose to delight in him. And he could tell.
Of course, she’s not alone. All of Jack’s teachers and aides have been terrific. The whole school has shown extraordinary kindness to him, and the administration has prepared the entire student body to understand some of the mysteries of autism. The other kids greet him every day in the hallway, and they celebrate when a rare word escapes his lips. It’s a beautiful culture the staff has created, and one which makes us rest a little easier in our son’s future. He will have people looking out for him as long as he lives in this town.
He will have to move forward, however, without his beloved Mrs. E., who retired earlier this spring due to health issues. Her absence has been felt by all of us. Jack has regressed these last months. Most of his language has gone away again, and we’re running a battery of neurology tests to figure out why. It’s not her fault, of course. Jack’s regression began before she left. But he misses her. School hasn’t been the same for him. Not by a long shot. She was more than a teacher.
Some will argue, “why should we be so impressed by someone who simply cares our kids? Shouldn’t we all be doing this?” And yeah, of course we should all care. Of course we should all take a special interest in people, especially those with special needs. But what of those who know go beyond what they merely ought to do? To call that type of care “pedestrian” is a great insult.
We should never shrug at the devotion of those who love with extravagance.
We can’t all deliver chests of snow to our young friends who crave it on their birthdays. But perhaps we can aim to love at least one person in the same way. And the only way to do that is to learn the delights of those we aim to love.
That is why Mrs. E. succeeded. Indeed, that is how all of our greatest special needs therapists and teachers break through to our children. And that effort is worthy of a standing ovation.
Thank you, Mrs. E. For everything.