"The Giving Tree" is one of my favorite children's books. I must have read it a million times to my three older kids over the years, but Spike is just getting into story time so we never read it.
I had mixed feelings when Spike's school announced that the school would be putting on a production of The Giving Tree as a musical. Happy because I love that story and I would get to share it with another one of my children and surprised and worried because his school hasn't had anything like this before and I wondered what it would be like. Let me explain.
While Spike is very verbal and pretty high functioning, at least half of his school's student body is not. He attends a PK-3 all the way through 12th grade special education school. The student's disabilities range from mild learning disorders to kids on the spectrum to blind or deaf and severely physically and mentally disabled children. Please don't get me wrong, the school has been AMAZING for Spike. He has thrived there and made unbelievable progress in just 8 months. I love and appreciate all his teachers and therapists. BUT, the school gives me a migraine every time I'm there. It took me almost a year to get Spike admitted to this school, a year of doctor's visits, testing sessions, numerous applications, recommendations, etc. It was exhausting. So you think I'd be ecstatic when he was finally ready to go. WRONG! On his very first day of school, I had already thrown up twice before I even got in the car to drive him there. At the time he suffered from severe separation anxiety and his anxiety usually triggers mine. My husband was my back up in case, I decided to grab him and make a run for it. As I walked him to the cafeteria where the the students are dropped off, I don't know who was trembling more, me or him. When I stepped inside it seemed extremely chaotic. It was so loud. So many children, in all sizes, shapes and disabilities. In wheelchairs, with canes, on crutches, I could see them struggling to feed themselves, making huge messes, banging on the tables. I watched the aides calmly navigating the aisles attempting to stop this child from smacking himself silly, that child from spinning aimlessly in a circle, or trying to gently pry another screaming child from his mother's tearful embrace. This is where hubby had to physically restrain both Spike and myself as we tried to make a quick getaway. You see I thought that getting Spike in a school where everyone was "special" would make him seem more normal. Even though I thought I had accepted his diagnosis, faced with the reality of this room and these students, I felt like I was kicked in the gut. I thought "My kid doesn't belong here, he's not like these kids". Yes I know how horrible that sounds, but I have to be honest even if it makes me ashamed. My mind quickly ran through alternatives to walking out of here without him. Homeschooling, private school, anything than leave him here. Because if he goes here, than he belongs here. And that hurt me to my soul.
It took a long time and a lot of reassurances from his very nice and patient teacher for me to let go of his hand. He cried all the way to his class. I cried the entire way home. Even though the school has been great for him, I have such anxiety every time I'm there. I can't really explain why, except to say, it feels like finding out he is autistic all over again.
So as my husband and I entered the school cafeteria to see the production, I was very tense to say the least. And I was greeted with pretty much the scene I expected. There were already 3 kids having tantrums in the audience although my own child sat swinging his feet oblivious to everything around him. I felt anxious and I thought this is going to be sad to watch. I thought I'd end up feeling sorry for them. I was in for a big surprise.
They broke my heart wide open. But not with pity, with pride. I loved every minute of it and not just because Spike sang his song adorably (of course) but because, they all put their whole being into every minute of it. The kids with autism who have trouble with eye contact danced their part facing to the stage wings and they did it beautifully and with perfect rhythm. The wheel chair bound child with cerebral palsy said his lines perfectly with a voice output device. Every child there played their part big or small with more joy and enthusiasm than I've ever seen. They got a standing ovation.
On a daily basis these children fight to live beyond people's expectations. They refuse to be bound by other's (myself included) prejudices, doubts, fears and preconceived notions on what they are capable of. I can honestly say I left that morning extremely proud to say, this is my son's school, he does belong here and I'm so lucky that he's just like these kids.