As we are
For the past several years, I would hear of our school district’s art program called Reflections. Students submit their expressions of art in everything from painting to literature to photography. Every time I’d see the flyer, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of sadness. It seemed like that was for other people’s children. Now, I must admit that I am not nearly involved enough in school activities. I always thought of myself as one of those PTA moms, but haven’t done much to be involved. Our schools are wonderful about integrating the special needs students in with the general student body, but at times it’s still hard not to feel isolated from others when you have a child with autism or any special need. Despite all the support, there still feels like a boundary there at times. Some of these kids aren’t able to physically do things that the other children can do, like play sports, or pass notes (well, I guess it’s texting nowadays isn’t it?) or even play a simple game on the playground with the other kids. Think about how limited social activities can be when you can’t speak or tell your body what to do!
This year, when I opened Emma’s backpack and saw the flyer, I sort of had the same reaction I usually do. I was just about to toss it, when I looked down and noticed the literature category, which included poems! Suddenly, I got pretty excited at the thought. I ran right over to Emma with the keyboard …
But Emma didn’t have the same reaction initially. When I asked her if she wanted to enter a poem, she spelled out no. But she couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, tell me why. Anytime in the next several days, when I’d ask her about it, she’d seem annoyed.
Emma: quit asking about the poem
It made me think of all the times when I was little that I was too shy to participate. If you ask my mom, she’d say it was a constant battle. I always felt inadequate. I wanted so badly to express myself, but was terrified of failure. I still am! I began to wonder whether Emma felt that same sense of fear. She doesn’t usually seem afraid of anything, but this might be a little different – sharing her writing with the whole school!
When Emma did finally agree to type a poem – I suppose because I kept hounding her – I was so elated. But when it came time to ask the school about it, I was nervous that maybe Emma’s unconventional method of communication might not be deemed acceptable. I still have to facilitate her arm somewhat and she still can’t type out for anyone but me. To my relief, I got enormous support from the school and began to fill out the paperwork. This was a first for us – the very first contest Emma had ever entered!
The poem was to be based around a theme, this year’s being Together we can! In addition, she was also required to give an artist statement, explaining how she thought her poem related to the theme. I knew that whatever Emma came up with would be wonderful, but this was the first time she’d ever worked around a theme, not to mention describe how it relates! That sounded really hard!
As I was reading over Emma’s poem yesterday, I entered a kind of reflection of my own as I thought of a conversation I had with a friend of mine. Her son was in Emma’s class at one time and he is nonverbal as well. Last year she’d told me that she submitted something for her son for Reflections – a piece of artwork. I thought this was wonderful! It made me wonder why I never had. I thought of her again today and saw even more beauty in what she did to include him. I took out the iPad while Emma and I sat under our maple tree on a blanket in the yard.
Me: “Emma, every year when Reflections came out, did you want to be a part of it?”
Me: “So, even though you couldn’t tell me, you still wanted to send something in?”
One of the first things Emma ever spelled out for me was I yearn to tell you that I belong. I think it’s easy to fight our own battle to succeed, trying so, so hard not to fail. Maybe we take for granted our ability to just belong – being a participant in this thing called life. And how beautiful it is when we can experience it together!
Me: “Is there anything that you’d like to share on the blog – any encouraging words for parents that are reading it?.”
Emma: tell everyone to reassure their kids that they are quite artistic and applaud their talents even though they might not be able to express themselves
take them seriously
Once again, I am touched by her words – I learn so much from them. And her poem is so special. I think it fits the theme beautifully: Together we can. Every time I read it, I choke up. Emma always had a love for trees. Ever since she was young, I would see her literally hugging tree trunks. I adore her imagery.
It reasons that reassuring each other about our place in the immigration of our world treats artists inside all of us. The tree is a metaphor for our time here on earth.