When Gideon was seven months old or so he saw his first full-size horse. He had already met my miniature guy but there is a world of difference between him and a saddle horse who is at least 15 hands tall. Even though the bigger horse was not doing anything even remotely threatening, he was only looking over the pasture fence, for a moment Gideon was totally freaked out. He moved to hide behind my chair and then stopped as though he realized that he would be leaving me to face the big scary monster by myself if he hid. He planted himself squarely between me and the horse and barked, in that single moment he grew up.
Donald Trump as President of the United States scares me for more reasons than I can adequately articulate. The people he’s putting in his cabinet have little or no concept of what it is to struggle for basic human dignity. Even more frightening, I read some of the things that they have said in an interview and I realize that they have absolutely no empathy. Trump is considering dismantling the federal Department of Education, leaving the governance of schools entirely up to the state. In theory, this does not sound so bad until you realize that Texas is considering a bill which would put a cap on the number of special needs students who could receive services through the school system. in case you don’t have a special needs student in your life let me explain what this means. Right now there is a federal law that says special needs children must be educated in an environment as close to that of their nondisabled peers as possible, to this end, public schools must provide services and accommodations which allow the student to fulfill their academic potential as much as possible. To use examples from my own experience, I saw a speech pathologist several times a week during elementary school to help correct and mild impairment. The school paid for this because it would help me communicate more effectively with my teachers and classmates. I also saw an occupational therapist, they gave me modified utensils so that I could eat my lunch with a minimum of assistance from an adult. The same occupational therapist tried to teach me cursive handwriting when my classmates learning it, with adapted pencils and special paper and when that didn’t work it was the occupational therapist who insisted that I have a computer to write the answers to my spelling tests, so the dictating to my aide would not interfere with my classmates taking the test. In high school that computer became a portable battery powered word processor called an Alphasmart, a tool that I enjoyed using so much that I recently looked up the company and bought one for myself as an adult.
The bill the Texas legislature is trying to pass would mean that once they reach a specific quota of students the school system would then deny services to any other special needs child because quota had already been filled. Pres. Donald Trump scares me and there is still a huge part of me who wants to run as fast as I can to Canada, stick my fingers in my ears and hum,”not my problem anymore.” The criteria for moving to Canada is not something that is accomplished overnight and my boyfriend has a good reason to want to stay.Besides that, Trump and people like him are always going to be my problem. I am a special needs adult, I bear a responsibility to the children and young people growing up with the same label to make sure they have the same opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have and to make the system better where I can.
So much like my Golden, I will stand in the breach and face the thing that scares me most, because behind me there are those who cannot defend themselves, even some who cannot comprehend that the danger is there at all. I will hold the line, today, tomorrow, for as long as necessary, because I became an adult when I wasn’t looking and now it is my turn. To President-elect Tromp, “not my children, not today, not ever.”
When your caregiver in college says that no one else will take care of you except her do you like your sister has been telling you for months, fire her. It will save you a ton of issues later. When Janet Norman tells you there is no safety plan for disabled students in case of fire other then to inform the firefighters where you are when they get there do not yell. Get a lawyer. When the math teacher gives you hell because your caregiver wasn’t there to get you up in time to get to class in a rental chair do not cry. When the math tutor disabled student services set up for you doesn’t show file a complaint call Nathan, he’s probably better at it anyway. Tell him not to go kayaking that weekend. When he comes back tell him to go see a doctor.
When the math teacher who is been giving you hell all semester tells you (loud enough for the whole class to hear) that you failed just like she knew you would, do not cry tell her to go hell and then when she brings you in front of the Dean of your college tell him the hell she put you through. When you find out that one of your previous teachers informed a current teacher that you are a slacker do not cry. Go to the head of department and file a complaint against her for slander. Somewhere before the end of your argumentative writing class thank Prof. Brown for his younger and patience. Later apologized to Dr. Peterson because you could not give him your best effort. Tell The social work teacher you see in the elevator every week that her smile that her smile and bright clothing always make your day better. When Janet Norman to you that you cannot have a service dog in training on campus with you, get a lawyer. When she says awful things about your mother get a lawyer. You are an adult run the only way they can make you feel smaller and if you let them
Though I have never taught in a public, private, or charter school I consider myself a teacher. I teach a tiny piece of Biology every time in a retail store or a restaurant asks me, “what’s wrong with you?” My answer varies slightly depending on the age of the child but is usually something to the effect of “my brain and my legs don’t communicate well and, it’s like talking to someone who has a funny accent, they don’t always understand each other so sometimes my links do what I ask and sometimes they don’t.” I sometimes end up gently criticizing the parent for discouraging the child from asking me that question, if they don’t ask how will they ever know?
I have taught people how to bow and curtsy and in the process imparted a little History. I started teaching English As a Second Language almost by accident when a Turkish friend of mine asked me to help him improve his English and I have even though I still don’t think it is nearly as bad as he thinks it is. I have taught children to weave and adults to dye. I helped my math note taker with her Business Law class. I have raised my voice when others would prefer I kept silent. I have spoken up rather than allow myself to be condescended to. I swear when others would whisper and whisper when others might swear. If you see me do either do not assume I am inarticulate. I call it like I see it no matter who you are, school board official, telemarketer, police officer or random neighborhood resident it doesn’t matter. You have been warned, ignorance is not a viable excuse.
You ask me what I take a cure for this condition, I have, the answer is not a simple yes or no. Yes, assuming I could afford any treatment that comes along I would take it but not for the sake of being “normal”. Normal is a societal construct and therefore its meaning is fluid. Any treatments would be divine to lesson the physical stress of my loved ones. I have also been asked if I regret being born the way I am. I am sad that I have never ran to hug any member of my family or been able to jump into the arms of a significant other. It means that I will probably not be the one to teach my children to ride a bike. It will not be the me who teaches them to drive a car or write in cursive..
I will teach them; double Dutch jump rope, at least have to turn the ropes without tangling with them. I will teach them the military phonetic alphabet and the languages I know. If they are inclined to learn cooking I will teach them drop biscuits, twice baked potato casserole and chocolate chip cookies. I will introduce them to Play-Doh and sidewalk chalk and checkers. I will show them how to blow soap bubbles.
You ask me if I regret being born this way. I regret it a little less every day because even though I have no academic degree in education I have been, am and will be a teacher and my disability gives me a unique perspective. It is annoying to knock things over and spill things, I really wish my handwriting was legible all the time and personal hygiene would be a lot easier to manage. That being said if I had the opportunity to go back and be born as an able-bodied child I wouldn’t take it. For all of its frustrations and annoyances I believe I am a better person for my past and my unique experiences.
The last day of class is always the longest. Most of the students tremble visibly with the effort to stay on task for that last hour. The tension is palpable because now after a whole semester they are almost basking in the light at the end of what has been for some of them, the dark and gloomy tunnel of a chemistry lab. There are no careless spills, all workspaces are neat, tidy and dry, a definite change in the first few weeks when two of the tables had to be removed because of permanent acid damage. Fortunately no one was hurt and the offending students were removed from the class.The day after the incident would probably stay forever etched in the remaining students minds. The teacher, someone usually known for their eloquent explanation, kindness and laughter was brusque and gravely serious. The fact that a chemistry lab was never to be used as a playground was drilled into their heads even more thoroughly than it had been on the first day of class and that was possible The worst part was that there was never a raised voice, only an extreme sense of disappointment. Classes continued fairly normally after that but everyone showed new levels of concentration and attentiveness to detail so that on the last day of class there was not even a speck of dust to be found out of place. When the bell rang everyone gathered their backpacks and shook the professor’s hand as they left. Not a single one of them was the same person who had walked through that door at the beginning of the semester and maybe that is the whole point of school.
Even though this is a writer’s blog fiction rarely finds its way here despite the fact that I would characterize myself as a fiction writer mostly because I find it difficult to write in a short story format which is what blogs lend themselves to. I have never taken a chemistry class and my entire life largely because I might be the one who spilled acid on the table because of my disability. The basic setting of the story and a few of the keywords were provided by StorySpinner.com I would recommend that as an excellent tool to fight off the dreaded writer’s block.
My mother went to a nondenominational Christian private school all the way through high school. One of the classes she took was Bible History with focus less on theology and more on what could be historically verified. The teacher was Mr. Conn Hamlett and I have yet to find a teacher anywhere that could best him as a storyteller. I never had the good fortune to to attend any of his classes while he was still teaching some might wonder how I can hold that opinion. My mom has told me the stories he related to them in class since I was seven years old. One of my favorites was about an old man Mr. Hamlet used to deliver groceries to as a teenager. The gentleman’s house did not have indoor plumbing so there was an outhouse in the backyard. He also owned a goat which he kept in the backyard which he would irritate by leaning out of the kitchen window and rapping it on the head with a fishing pole. The goat got its revenge one day when the old man had gone out to the outhouse. Every time he would try to leave the outhouse the goat would ram the outhouse. If I remember the story correctly he was stuck there for at least an hour and even then the goat chased him back to the house. Another time Mr. Hamlet brought the man his groceries only to find him frantically taking down the wallpaper, when Mr. Hamlett asked what he was doing the man replied, ” there are Communist in the wallpaper.” Mr. Hamlet quietly sat down the groceries and left.
Mr. Hamlett retired from teaching at Goodpasture Christian School at the end of 2006 school year, at which point alumni from several of the classes he taught including my mother’s held a retirement party of sorts called “Mr. Hamlett’s Last Class” to inaugurate a scholarship fund in his name. I had the good fortune to participate in it during which I finally met this man who I have spent my entire life caring about. Angie (my best girl) even insisted on going with us because I had told her the stories that mom told me. When mom explained how far from his classroom the stories he told had traveled I think you could have knocked him over with a feather. I think it is always a teachers greatest hope that they be remembered fondly by people they have taught but to find themselves greeted with joy for their teaching by people they never actually taught themselves must be a little surprising.
I have been told many times that I should be a teacher and part of the reason I’ve never done it is because I have never felt equal to living up to the standards which he unknowingly set. Everybody should be so lucky as to have a teacher whether academic or otherwise of his caliber in their life at some point. Anybody who wishes to find out more about the scholarship fund can find it here. I have not been a fan of theology based schooling but I will always support teachers whose primary purpose is to make a difference in their students lives no matter the forum in which they teach.
Sometimes you really can’t say enough. I can say that without your help it is very likely I wouldn’t have graduated high school with a regular diploma. I can say that you taught me to self advocate, how to work within the disabled student system without letting it steam roll me and get away with things it shouldn’t, well before I actually had to in college, that was invaluable. You taught me to weave and even fixed a loom so that it was “handicap accessible.” That loom saved my sanity when I was in the hospital for a month. You made time for me and took me out just because. You cooked for me. We ate a sackful of hamburgers and talked until 2 A.M. I can write all of this and more and still not begin to say what you meant to my life. When the screaming and crying stopped all I was left with was an awful headache, a suddenly empty stomach,and shock. Now that the shock is wearing thin., I am left with….space. A void. I’m not going to ask why you left now, you always did things on your own timetable and heck with what others expected. Some people say that when you die you get to see yourself from the view of the people whose lives you influenced whether it was positive or negative you feel the emotional impact. I hope so because you’ve done me at least a lifetime worth of good. By the way you don’t have to worry so much, I’m ok . I have a good man who doesn’t give a damn about my chair or anything else related to my disability The universe didn’t just break the mold when they made you Nathan, they used a different wheel. You are always loved.
I may have mentioned (a lot) that my high school experience was not all that I wished it had been.One of the things I really liked both of my junior and senior proms I had a boyfriend who I did not deserve and it was due in large part to him that both of those events are good memories. This story is not about him though. In my senior year there was a young man who I’ve shared several classes with and who unlike everyone else usually said hi to me every morning and smiled at me. We were by no means good friends but because he was in show choir and the general chorus and show choir always did one show together at Christmas we were on friendly speaking terms. The evening, while memorable for the decorations and lights was equally memorable for its awkwardness. That night I discovered how goldfish must feel in a fishbowl. The rest of the kids there seem to think that the fact that my boyfriend and I (who was also in a wheelchair) were there was something of a novel oddity. I think I heard at least one person term the way in which we danced “cute” I had to restrain the urge to punch that person.
In one of the lulls when we decided to sit down and snack I heard someone call my name and turned around to find the guy who I shared economics class and sometimes the stage with holding a camera, other than my boyfriend I think he was the only person who called me beautiful that night. He took our picture and even complimented me the next morning despite the fact that I was no longer wearing makeup and a gown and gloves. Several people talked to me the night of our prom and even more talked about me, but very few talked to me the next Monday when I was back in jeans and a T-shirt.
Fast-forward (almost) 10 years. Good authority has it that he has become she in the intervening years, no this does not surprise me it was fairly obvious which side of the fence he was on in high school. I have made the decision to attend my ten-year high school reunion if at all possible, a thing that I swore I would never do the second I walked offstage with my diploma. I will go because she deserves all the support I can give her if she decides to show up. I would like to think my classmates and I are grown-up enough not to harass someone for lifestyle choices but honestly I’m not sure, we are talking about the South after all. All I know is that if the situation hits the fan I will be there to defend her in any way I have to. I owe her for the moral support I got from him in high school. The song Just The Way You Are is now in my head, in a way it fits. One of the things I learned in school, choir kids stick together no matter what.