This past weekend I had to the privilege of speaking at a fundraiser for Rhema’s special education school. It’s not easy to put into words what this school means to us… I blubbered through it! But really it’s my thank you letter to her amazing teachers, clinicians and therapists.
One of the biggest questions special needs parents wrestle with is “Is it Enough?” Is my daughter in the right academic environment? Is my son getting all of the therapy he needs? Should we try XYZ treatment? Is he being challenged? Are we making progress? Will she have what she needs to make it in this world when I am gone? Is it enough?
We are a military family, and right around the time the school opened (Rhema had been receiving therapy there for years), it was time for us to move to a new duty station. My husband was scheduled to deploy. At the time the Army had something called the Stability Transition Team – it was a 15-month deployment that involved operating with a small team “outside the wire” to train and counsel Iraqi police/border patrol. It was a dangerous and unpopular job – so much so that incentives were offered to deploying soldiers who would do this mission. One incentive was getting to choose where you live. You guessed it. Brandon agreed to take the job in exchange for our family getting to stay here for another year so that Rhema could benefit from some of the best schooling and medical services in the country. When he returned over a year later, we fought all the way up to the Surgeon General of the Army to be able to stay here. We won another 2 years.
Now our time is up again. And again Rhema’s dad will deploy for a year – hopefully this is the last time – so that we can stay here and Rhema can attend this beloved school.
I want you to know how grateful we are for you, how much we depend on you, how much your work and care impacts our entire family. I want you to know that we will go to great lengths just so our children can learn, thrive, be who they are, and enjoy life to the fullest. Thank you, thank you for your life-changing work.
I believe other parents will agree with me: At the end of the day, no matter how good or hard, we can take a deep breath knowing that our children had the best chance that day to learn and grow. Every day you help me answer Yes to the question of “Is It Enough.”
At school our daughter has learned to button her shirt, to request cheese using the communication app on her iPad, to put her shoes on the right feet, to wait, to ride a bike, to use the toilet, to fold clothes, to swim and ice skate, to make eye contact, to write her name, to say hi. And the list goes on and on.
Her teachers have endured massive amounts of snot, pee, poop, puke, tears, scratches, bites, hair-pulls, grabs. And that’s all just from my kid. And yet their passion, commitment, creativity and belief in our children’s ability to excel never wavers.
Some memories that are treasured in my heart:
Tim following us home from school one day just so he could help me get Rhema out of the car, Courtney and Kate’s gentle, patient ways with her, Corrie’s hand on her back at the swimming pool, Amanda E. soaking wet at the pool because she gave up her own towel for Rhema, Jill touring schools with me in DC when we thought we’d have to move there, Katelyn putting her hand on my shoulder and saying, “You’re going to get through this, Jeneil” after Rhema had an epic, tear-jerking meltdown in the parking lot, Amy M. and Chelsea coming to Rhema’s Special Olympics gymnastics class on a Saturday just to help, Heather teaching her to trace letters and then write her name. These are just some of the moments I hold on to.
And the amazing thing is these are just the moments I’ve seen. I know that my daughter’s day is filled with countless acts of kindness and ordinary miracles made possible by the people in this room who teach her.
The other day I came home and Rhema was standing in the corner in the kitchen. From a distance I could tell it one of those times when she was so present, so engaged. She had this beautiful eye contact and I was so happy to see her.
I said, “Hi Rhema!”
She said, “Hi, hi”.
I said “How are you?”
She said “Gu-! Gu-!”
And I thought my daughter and I, we just had a conversation. Once I was told her brain was spiking and seizing 58 times a minute.
And just the other day we had a conversation. What a gift. What a miracle. And it’s because of you. Your hard work and her hard work.
On the Law of the Gift, Cardinal Dolan said, “We are at our best, we act most in concert with what our maker intends, when we give away in love to another…” (Thanks for the quote, Emily!)
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.