Courage. To change the things we can.

Dear Danny,
You are fast approaching the end of your 3rd grade year.  It is hard to believe that a few days from now it will all be over; summer will be upon us and 4th grade will loom heavy in the distance.
I wish that this was going to be the story of another spectacular year – a fitting follow up to your best year ever – but 3rd grade was everything we expected it to be, honestly.  The reading was challenging, the content was unfamiliar and the pace was relentless.  The changes were a lot to manage; the expectations were a lot to maintain.
The funny thing about hope is that, as important and wonderful as it can be, it sometimes has a way of clouding over your reality.  Which is why your Dad and I, even knowing the steep challenges facing you from the start, were still somehow surprised to find you free-falling into the valley of a very dark year.
Years like this happen sometimes, Danny.  It is a fact of life.  And years like this demand the most difficult course of action.  They require you to look past the low hanging fruit of what you can easily change and examine the fixed foundations of your situation.
To find what you believe you cannot change…and change it.

It was nearly 3 years ago the last time we were faced with a year like this one.  We caught it a little earlier, attacked it aggressively, and you ended the year strong.  I quit my finance job that December to become a Special Education Teaching Assistant; a decision that reduced nearly every resource in the house to an almost unmanageable state but gave me more time.   Time to invest in you alone and time to invest in your relationship with your brother.  Time to fight about homework and meet teachers after school.

The time was expensive, but important.  The time alone would have been worth every penny but my experience in the classroom yielded some unexpected benefits:  I could not have known just how valuable it would be to stand on both sides of our county’s special education system.  The acronyms, the players, the tests, available accommodations; all of it makes sense to me now.  I have training and skills I could not have gathered left to my own devices behind the desk of my old office job.  These years in the school system taught me the language of your education and turned your father and I into fierce advocates and allies for you.

I traded my life as I knew it for time; I received that and more.  I don’t regret having done it.
I will never regret having done it.
It wasn’t just the content of 3rd grade that was challenging, but the concept. 
The materials are beyond you or, more accurately maybe, beyond your ability to demonstrate proficiency in them.  Nothing is unaffected by your gap in comprehension; there is no longer a preferred subject to hide in or test to feel confident in.  You have hit a wall with your reading and that wall is slowly expanding into the subjects you have always held as strengths; displacing your pride, caging you inside your frustration and making you a prisoner of your own behavior.
This year should have been about fostering independence academically, a springboard to the next level of education.
We spent the whole year running and never caught up.  We celebrated anything that resembled momentum like it was the goal itself.

Outside of school, however, has been as amazing of a year as we have ever seen. You have blossomed socially, in your way, and managed to develop and maintain a some very significant friendships.  We are seeing in you a willingness to examine yourself and your motivations as a result of these relationships and, for the first time in your life, you are starting to make decisions based on how your actions will make someone else feel.  You are beginning to seek ways to accommodate your own needs in a way that allows you to be a part of what your peers are interested in.
Your love is such a gift, Danny.  It is exceptionally precious because, while the emotion comes so easily for you, the action of love requires such labor.  It requires intentional and mindful consideration and planning.  There are people in our world who don’t face half of the challenges that you do – who could pull compassion and kindness from their tool kit at any time – who can’t manage to show their relationships the care that you work to show your entire world every day.
This is so very important, Danny.
Because I assure you that when we first heard the word “Autism” coming up in conversation and we began to worry about what all those scales and spectrums could mean, your future SOL scores or ability to memorize significant European explorers meant absolutely nothing to us.
We wanted to believe that you would find the words to tell us about the beautiful world you see.
We wanted to believe that you would make friends and wake up every morning excited for a new day.
We wanted to believe that you would understand the depth of the love all around you.
We wanted to believe that you would be happy.
 And today, amidst the set backs and the confusion of this exhausting year, we can believe all of those things.
When I left my finance job 3 years ago, I thought I would go to a classroom every day until I retired.  I wanted to be a part of the system that had saved our family; I wanted to give back to a special education program that found my child in the wilderness of his behaviors and drew me the map to reach him.  And…I’ve loved being in the classroom.  More than anything I’ve ever done.
My plan was to assist for as many years as it took to stabilize our family and get my licensure to become a Special Education teacher.
That was my plan.
But at the very root of that plan was a prayer – a prayer that if and when our circumstances required an adjustment I would have the eyes to see it.  That I would have the “wisdom to know the difference”, and not remain complacent simply because I couldn’t bear another change.
So after a year of considering every fork in the road, after months of conversations and contemplation, and after endless hours of “what if”s and “why not”s, your Daddy and I have decided that I will not return to school in the fall.
Ezra will stay enrolled where he attended preschool this year; a program that has brought him so far since his qualification for special education in January, the superlative his teachers awarded him was “most talkative”.
You will move to a school in the town where we live that just happens to be where many of your best friends in the world attend; a school right down the road from where your Daddy teaches, that starts you on the path to end up at his High School in an impossibly short amount of time.
I will invest in the education of my two incredible, unique children in a way I’ve never believed was possible.  I will volunteer, get involved, and use everything I’ve learned over the last 3 years to try and steer your education away from the storms that have threatened to tear you apart over the last year.
We will all sleep more, live slower and, hopefully, find that more often than not we are thriving in our days rather than simply surviving them.Because we have learned that the difference between something that we cannot change and something that we can isn’t always some tangible resource or imaginary benchmark. 

This time it isn’t even wisdom.  It’s courage.
Sketch by my sweet friend Becca.  You can find more of her work here.
May God grant us the courage we need to turn these years into a new foundation for our family.  May we never forget that, as overwhelming as it may feel, this is simply the next thing – not the last thing.  May we trust in the knowledge that our God has a plan, and that we have arrived at this moment only by walking through the doors that He has opened for us.
You have almost survived the year, my sweet boy.  You have been the brave one.


We’ll take it from here.



2 thoughts on “Courage. To change the things we can.

  1. I don't get to spend time with you ever or talk as mothers do about thier children. I dont get to spend time with you in the theater world as I would like. I do get to hear about you from Willis and read your amazing blog and this has always been how I have “known” you. This is where I hear you. You are correct…all our paths are different but I have discovered that courage is required to walk it. Courage everyday to face what we cannot change and so desperately want to. Your strength is born of love and courage and they will need it all the days ahead so feed it and protect it and keep it close. You are doing the right thing …you are doing what is needed …you are a Mother and a wife and you are strong. Stay strong…


  2. As I've said before, you are an incredible writer. Writing well demands seeing the world a different way and making the unfamiliar familiar and making the familiar recognizable. You teach me so much in your writing and you introduce me to your family and your world with such elegant simplicity and honesty. Thank you. These are a chapters in a book that isn't finished. One with a strong ending — though parenting is never quite done.


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