Lessons from the teachers at the side of the highway

This weekend we took a trip to my husband’s family’s summer house. On the long trip there and back, we were saluted by beautiful lupines, a dramatic wildflower often found on the roadside in these parts.lupines

As the miles passed, the car seemed to shrink claustriphobically and the GPS estimated our journey home to be increasing rather than decreasing. The dog decided just then to begin wailing at the injustice of it all, my son nervously laughed at the dog’s distressing barks, and my daughter crying at my son’s laughter. Eventually we pulled over so we could all get some air on the side of the road. We reached sensory saturation and were all really stressed. Crispy is how I often describe that feeling. Of being made so brittle by the trigger of stress that one small touch and you’d shatter into a million pieces.

My daughter returned with a handful of lupines and gave them to me as a generous gift. In a moment I was transported back to my wedding day, when the lupines that my mother and grandmother picked graced the tables in the little village hall. It was a welcome liberation from the moment.

I can’t say the rest of the ride was any better though. The dog slept a bit but picked up his howling for the last 20 minutes of the ride. It felt like an eternity and the crispiness was right there with us again. The lupines flopped sadly and I put them in a small vase at the kitchen sink last night with little hope for their recovery, but too grateful to toss them in the compost.

This morning they were at alert once more. I thanked my daughter at breakfast. “Just for you, mom, right from the side of the highway.” She is getting ironic now that she is 10.

Speaking of lupines: Nancy Jay Crumbine, poet and minister who I had the pleasure of hearing preach just once but whose words have stayed with me in the form of her book I purchased from her in the church lobby after her guest sermon has also got a thing for lupines. Or more accurately, they have moved her spirit just as they did mine.

“The lupines have returned,” she writes. “How can we go about our business as if nothing extraordinary has happened? And yet, to really take it in, how can we proceed?… I am daring that many of us have such moments, not wanting to love one more thing, not being able to bear the thought of so much life so freely given, the colors too bright, the bird songs too dear, the debt for being alive too great, the dread of dying too alive.”

“Every June I ask the lupine to teach me, once again, how simply to stand still, bearing witness, being grateful, moving only as the wind suggests,” Nancy writes. Yes, please teach me.

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Thanking our village

I just spent the morning dipping Oreos for teachers and helpers, which is apparently now my signature teacher gift. (Can something be “signature” after only two times?) It got me thinking back to last year’s post, which is still completely relevant for my frame of mind today:

My friend, who is also the mother of my daughter’s classmate, asked me a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to join in on a group holiday gift card for their teacher, thus setting off my annual tailspin of panic on how to appropriately gift the many folks who care for and about my kids.

While I absolutely can’t begrudge my daughter’s regular ed teacher the $15 worth of Target goodies she would have gotten if I participated, I had to decline. Or more precisely, my wallet and my sense of fairness did. If I can’t do it for everyone, I shouldn’t do it for anyone.

I’m not going to whine about how expensive it is to give gifts to all the people who work directly with my son: the six behavior therapists, the special ed teacher, special ed director, BCBA, two clinical directors, school nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and his beloved bus driver. Having a lot of people to thank is a good problem. Most kids receive too few services. That’s not the case for us. But it does make me feel like a cheapskate.

It’s not just the awkward feeling of inadequacy around my limited gifting capabilities that is uncomfortable at this time of year. This deep revealing of obligation is unsettling. I am starkly reminded of my son’s vulnerabilities and how dependent he is on so many other people to get through life.

I too am dependent: on our education consultant, the special education administration, the lawyer, the financial planner, the school committee members, the other special ed parents in our district, the special needs parents who advocate and change policy we couldn’t live without, the agency professionals, the doctors, the nurses, the front desk folks who make sure we have referrals and prescriptions, the pharmacists, the diaper delivery man, the transportation coordinator, the newsletter writers, the conference planners, the breakout session presenters, the support group coordinators, the bloggers, the friends, the family members, the neighbors. Even you, dear reader, on whose community I have come to rely to get through this unexpected life. I am dependent. I cannot do this alone, because he cannot do this alone.

To be honest, part of me resents that dependence. We live in a culture in which independence is strength, independence is freedom. The ideal American life is free of obligation, of reciprocity, of dependence. As I have come to learn, that freedom is an illusion. A delusion even.

So this year, the kids and I have been whipping up batches of chocolate-covered Oreos as token gifts for the school personnel. (Luckily we are able to make them slightly faster than we can eat them.) Three a piece, decorated with sprinkles, in a cellophane bag with a candy cane. Even my daughter’s teacher will get some.

It’s not enough. But it will have to do. I am getting comfortable with being indebted.

To the rest of you, I say simply thank you. I hope I get to say it in person, maybe even with a hug. But if not, please know that I know that I couldn’t do it without you.

It’s all still true: the dependence, the latent desire to be free of dependence, the acceptance of it, the appreciation of it, and of you. Thanks!

Oreos for my village

My friend, who is also the mother of my daughter’s classmate, asked me a couple of weeks ago if I wanted to join in on a group holiday gift card for their teacher, thus setting off my annual tailspin of panic on how to appropriately gift the many folks who care for and about my kids.

While I absolutely can’t begrudge my daughter’s regular ed teacher the $15 worth of Target goodies she would have gotten if I participated, I had to decline. Or more precisely, my wallet and my sense of fairness did. If I can’t do it for everyone, I shouldn’t do it for anyone.

I’m not going to whine about how expensive it is to give gifts to all the people who work directly with my son: the six behavior therapists, the special ed teacher, special ed director, BCBA, two clinical directors, school nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and his beloved bus driver. Having a lot of people to thank is a good problem. Most kids receive too few services. That’s not the case for us. But it does make me feel like a cheapskate.

It’s not just the awkward feeling of inadequacy around my limited gifting capabilities that is uncomfortable at this time of year. This deep revealing of obligation is unsettling. I am starkly reminded of my son’s vulnerabilities and how dependent he is on so many other people to get through life.

I too am dependent: on our education consultant, the special education administration, the lawyer, the financial planner, the school committee members, the other special ed parents in our district, the special needs parents who advocate and change policy we couldn’t live without, the agency professionals, the doctors, the nurses, the front desk folks who make sure we have referrals and prescriptions, the pharmacists, the diaper delivery man, the transportation coordinator, the newsletter writers, the conference planners, the breakout session presenters, the support group coordinators, the bloggers, the friends, the family members, the neighbors. Even you, dear reader, on whose community I have come to rely to get through this unexpected life. I am dependent. I cannot do this alone, because he cannot do this alone.

To be honest, part of me resents that dependence. We live in a culture in which independence is strength, independence is freedom. The ideal American life is free of obligation, of reciprocity, of dependence. As I have come to learn, that freedom is an illusion. A delusion even.

So this year, the kids and I have been whipping up batches of chocolate-covered Oreos as token gifts for the school personnel. (Luckily we are able to make them slightly faster than we can eat them.) Three a piece, decorated with sprinkles, in a cellophane bag with a candy cane. Even my daughter’s teacher will get some.

It’s not enough. But it will have to do. I am getting comfortable with being indebted.

To the rest of you, I say simply thank you. I hope I get to say it in person, maybe even with a hug. But if not, please know that I know that I couldn’t do it without you.