Finals week–finals week–finals week, it read on my calendar like a news ticker rolling past me at every glance. I don’t think as a student I thought about it nearly as much as I did a parent. Ever since the boys started high school I’ve always calendared it so I’d be available to help with whatever they might need.
This semester was different though. It was the last finals week, unless one of them decides to get a graduate degree. A thought I can barely wrap my head around because learning has never come easy for them. The picture that many have of autistics is that they’re geniuses and some are, but not my kids. Like many of their autistic peers their lives are marked by a great unevenness in ability. This is what makes a formal education tough because “school systems” are designed to serve learners in the middle and they tend to be off the charts on one end or the other.
For example, Chase started high school reading at a fourth grade level. This made passing his required math class, that was language-based, impossible. He didn’t have the prerequisite skills. But he could write a beautiful story with a perfect narrative arc incorporating any literary device he was assigned. Hyperbole, he’s a master of it but ask him to spell it and you run into problem.
He had to take that math class twice and at the same time grind it out in a reading intervention program. How he went to school everyday with such a positive attitude I don’t know? It was nothing short of tedious and grueling.
This is just one clip from the highlight reel for his school career and his big brother’s story is similar. All this to say, the last finals week was an emotional rollercoaster. It felt like we were in the home stretch of the Boston Marathon with the finish line in sight. I found myself choking up with emotion anytime someone would ask me how they were. The night they’d officially finished I found myself standing in my kitchen crying into the spaghetti sauce.
“Way to go bud–I’m so proud of you.”
The kid who always has a million things to say was somewhat speechless. He stood there for a minute and finally said,
“I can’t believe I did it.”
“I have something for you,” he said.
Knowing what it was I closed my eyes to keep from crying more. He took my hand and put a penny in it.
“Your last college penny from me,” he said. “I found it when I was talking to that lady that works in the café. She was congratulating me.”
“Do you remember her name?” I asked.
“How could I forget that,” he said with a laugh.
With the Penny-penny in my hand I paused and thanked God for His hand at work in this 18 year journey. Every word I whispered felt inadequate to express my gratitude.
A friend called later that night and the waterworks continued. Like others have, she made a point to say, “Their success is your success. You should be so proud.”
“Their success is OUR success,” I said reframing her comment.
She deflected and I insisted not because I’m humble. I’ll shamelessly brag about lots of things in my life but this one I can’t. I simply know I was just one member of Team Luke and Chase. Sure, I may have called a lot of the plays but I never had to take the ball into the end zone. The boys had to do that and they did with a whole host of key players outside of their parents and inner circle.
This is why I find myself crying more than the average mom. The difference between the neuro-typical kid and the not so typical kids is all about “volume”. Special ed kids simply require a bigger team. Your kid never just has one teacher for a class. They have a teacher plus a whole group of other folks with specialized skills.
For years I kept track of every name and could count the number of players on the team. My Christmas card list could tell you the number of fans cheering us on. But by middle school these lists had grown so long I just couldn’t keep track. If I’m honest at times I’ve resented the entourage required. It’s not always fun to have so many people “involved” in your life. They all have their personalities and opinions and sometimes there’s some friction.
But, the flipside of this Penny-penny and all the school pennies along the way is the constant reminder that success happens in a community of believers. Not necessarily people who share your same religious beliefs but people who believe in your potential. “Individual” achievement is a misnomer. You can’t do it alone. Believing in yourself will only take you so far but others believing in you and investing will take you around the world.
This is why I try never to waste the opportunity to say thank you. It’s taken a village just like this next season in their lives will. Success is never achieved alone and likewise failure isn’t either. Friends, please keep believing with us. We’re not done yet–new frontiers await.