Monday, January 10, 2011

My Little Friend


 Sometimes, bad things happen to others that you care about that really puts your own problems in perspective. Is the two and a half pounds I lost a big deal when someone is fighting for their life? A child, no less? My daughter, Shelbey, moved here to Phoenix from Branson, Mo. where she was working and singing, to accept a position as a music teacher at an elementary school. Of course, I enjoyed having her here, with me and our other two children. After she started her new job at the school, at her urging, I accepted a job as an classroom individual aid for a little boy with Downs Syndrome.

     During the interview with the Principal, she took me to the Special Needs classroom I’d be working in, and we peeked in the door window. She pointed to Scotty sitting under his desk sucking on his finger. She told me I would need a firm hand and a lot of discipline as had been having a terrible time getting along with the last couple of aids they had hired for him and eventually they had quit.

     When I was introduced to Scotty he just looked up at me with his little brown eyes, sort of wrinkled his forehead, then his eyes darted off in another direction and he went back to sucking his finger. I looked around the room. I had never been with any special needs children before, say nothing of a room full or ten or twelve. I expected to feel scared or uncomfortable but I didn’t. The first time I saw how unpredictable they could be with their emotions I was like, “Hey I have a lot in common with these kids”! They are just like any other kids, they just have areas where they need some assistance and I’m good at assistance!

     My first few days with Scotty he was really wary of me. He had some shut downs and behavior I didn’t understand because he didn’t talk, but I tried to. I surely didn’t use a firm hand and I surely didn’t use a lot of discipline. I used reasoning and genuine “I want to make your life a better place“. Only one time he hit me, and I just looked him in the eye and said, “Hey you and me are friends. We don’t hit friends. I don’t hit you and you don’t hit me”. Two big tears rolled down his face and he hugged me.

      Every morning I would get him off the bus, and by day four he smiled when he saw me there to get him and reached out to take my hand, that warmed my insides on a chilly morning! His teacher always had a packet of work for the students to do first thing in the morning called “sign ins.” Students practiced writing their name, address phone numbers, a little math, matching and letters etc. The first few days he sat under the desk, sucking his finger and I coaxed to no avail. One day, I just moved my chair over to help another student and he got right up and moved a different chair beside his desk for me to come back over. Every day after that one time, as soon as he got his backpack hung up he’d get me a chair and put it by his desk!

     I used humor to diffuse his temper tantrums, (so much for the firm hand), and the reward might be chance to listen to a song on my I pod, ( he loved Laurie Berkner songs), to get him to let go of the swing set pole and come in from recess. To help him with his math problems I would put dots beside the numbers in the equations for him to count. For example ::4 + 2: = ?. One morning, I had a quick meeting with his teacher, and was over at her desk and he was working on his sign in alone. I was astounded when I came to his desk to see he had dotted all his own math problems! I felt so proud to have taught him that!

     During art class instructions he didn’t understand, he’d get restless. Giving him the finger massages I'd give my own kids during church,  I’d take his hand and massage each one,  and then playfully wiggle each finger one at a time when I was done. He’d always smile at the wiggle part! After a week or two of my famous massages,  if I didn’t take the initiative to do his hand massage,  he’d give me his hand!

      We both packed our lunches so I’d bring him something in my lunch I knew he’d like, such as a pickle or fresh orange slices from my tree. That boy loved to eat! During assemblies that were too loud I’d always cover his ears because loud noises bothered him.  I had him try to address everyone we ran into to encourage him to talk. Before long regular classroom teachers, janitors and front desk personel were stopping us in and saying what a changed kid he was! He and I had a bond that I really needed in my tough times and he really needed for somebody to try and understand him.

     His parents are some of the most wonderful people I know. They love their son more than anything and have fought for him and given him the most normal life they could.  He’s taken karate, hiked South Mountain and every year he looks forward to a convoy, when he can ride in his Dads’ Wal-Mart truck to benefit Special Olympics. He’s even been zip lining in Mexico! How many of you can say that?
After getting to know his parents I see why he’s grown up to be such a special caring young man. He has his Dad’s sense of humor, and his Mom’s loving spirit. He’s has the best parents any child could have. 

     I don’t work with Scott anymore, he’s in junior high now.  I have kept up with his family and see Scotty several times a year.  Earlier this week, his parents let us know he has leukemia and a blood infection besides. He is in the hospital and very sick. Since that news, I feel a little shell shocked honestly. My losing weight and thinking of my own life went to the back burner. Although I’m still on my plan for myself too, his well being is in my mind constantly.

     I went to see Scotty yesterday. As sick he is, he put his hand out waved it back and forth and said, “Miss Pam”! That fragile, painridden, swollen, little boy laying in that bed changed my life and I’m better because of him, and all those kids in that room for that matter. What a blessing they were for me. Help me pray for a positive outcome for Scotty and for his parents.

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