CB and Pink's parades both fell on Friday, staggered just a bit but with little time to spare in between.
Pink's school's Parade Day is quite a spectacle, orchestrated magnificently down to the last detail. The police are secured to direct traffic and facilitate parking at satellite locations complete with shuttle buses. It's guestimated that anywhere from 1,200- 1,500 parents and grandparents are in attendance. There is a DJ mixing ghoulish tunes and the parade itself goes off without a hitch like a finely oiled machine. Moms and Dads arrive in their work attire, taking time to see their preschoolers, first, second, and third graders proudly parade in their perfectly adorable costumes on the black top of the front parking lot. You need to arrive a good 45 minutes to 1 hour early just to contend with traffic and get both a good parking and viewing "spot."
Then there is CB's self-contained school for children on the Autistic Spectrum. Despite the fact that CB is 15 years old and technically in the 10th grade (if she were in a regular school) the developmental ages of the kids here means Halloween continues to be celebrated in the classroom much like you'd see in an elementary school. The exposure to the holidays does help these kids who are often stressed, confused or apathetic about the holidays. Or, like in CB's case, have no knowledge that any one day is more or less special than the next. Though her class was only watching the younger kids in the parade this year, they still had a party and parents were invited.
This year is the first year CB's class has a room mother. In fact, I'm not sure there are many room mothers in her entire school... contrasting significantly with the "competition" for the coveted prize of room mother at Pink's school. CB's new room mother is full of warmth and enthusiasm. She sent home a lovely note introducing herself and we exchanged several emails regarding her ideas for the Halloween party. The last flyer she sent home asking for party donations promised to make this year the best Halloween ever for our kids! I adored this woman before I even met her. You could just tell how much she loved and valued these kids and how invested she was in being a great room mother.
When I arrived with Tink and Rella to CB's class party the room mother, K, was on the floor joyfully assembling gigantic buckets full of goodies for each of the 11 students. Her son stood behind her smiling happily, rubbing her hair repetitively, humming and giggling loudly. His happiness at her presence filled the entire room. She had embellished each child's name on their halloween buckets and had them filled with treats and sensory items with thoughtful detail. The table was filled with food that she, staff, and other parents had sent in... a TON of goodies! The staff, almost as many as there are students, were all dressed as Dominoes and were cheerful and busy and caring with the kids.
CB is in the most "involved" classroom at this school - many children are in wheelchairs, non-verbal,and needing a lot of staff assistance. While CB is ambulatory, independence is not her strong suit nor are self care behaviors. In addition, I got to see first hand how aggressive she can be in school as she almost ripped the ponytail off an aide's head because she didn't want to decorate a pumpkin.
I stayed longer than I expected because everything was so nice and I always enjoy talking with Miss Heather, the teacher. Yet I really had to go. I start saying my goodbyes and thanking K for such an amazing party. I'm carrying a huge bucket that I know she shopped for and put together despite being a mom of a special needs child... despite having a busy life. The teacher handed me a giant pot of mums decorated with a cute little scarecrow. She said to me "These are from K, she picked them all out herself for the parents, and since you are the only parent who came...." her voice trailed off.
I looked at a row of pots lined up on the floor by the door; purchased and decorated with thought and care by someone who loves her son so fiercely despite the challenges their relationship may hold. Put together by someone who wanted to give other mothers a little cheer, a little unexpected surprise because she knows what it's like to be a mom. It was then that I suddenly realized what I had passively noticed, but not truly processed: I was the only other parent who showed up. Aside from K, I was the only parent here. I swallowed the urge to cry.
Turning to K I thanked her for the amazing party, the beautiful mums, the thoughtful goodie bags, and all her planning and help. In turn, with a broad smile, she thanked me for all MY help. To this I replied "Oh my gosh, I just sent in cheese curls and cookies! I didn't do ANYthing!"
She looked at me and said, with tears suddenly filling her eyes in a voice that caught in her throat "You're here." At that moment I think I heard the sound of my own heart completely breaking in two. Breaking for K, who had worked so hard to make such a nice day for the kids and to alleviate the burden on the teachers; for the teachers who give so much of themselves and tried to encourage parental attendance; and mostly for the kids. Kids that the world often forgets about. Kids that are easy to ignore. I knew this is why K's voice cracked and she swelled with emotion. She wasn't let down for herself, she was let down for the kids. I looked around at them, faces streaked with cupcake icing, being so appreciated by K and the staff. I was full of love, gratitude, unbridled joy, and also grief, regret, and guilt.
A swell of shame formed in the pit of my belly. I wasn't ready to pat myself on the back for being present. Truth be told, I almost didn't show today. I too have missed a fair share of CB's events over the years, not so much when she was younger, but definitely since she's become older. I was half-tempted not to come to this... figuring she wouldn't have noticed my absence because... well... she just doesn't. Figuring it would make my day more hectic and might make me late for Pink's crazy parade. CB wouldn't notice anyway.... Not the way Pink or Tink would if they scanned a crowd and didn't find me there. I would never let Pink or Tink down. Nothing would keep me from their events. But CB? I have rationalized that it doesn't matter to her and the reality is, it probably doesn't. But the reality is also this - when I DO come? Her smile lights up the room.
I fought off the tears as I drove to Pink's elementary school, as I walked a quarter mile in a line of other parents and grandparents and fought for a spot lining the parade route. As I watched the parents taking photos and videos of their children with bright happy faces, the juxtaposition of these two contrasting events put me in a surreal fog. I found my own 6 year old daughter, walking stoically and a bit embarrassed until she heard me yelling her name in the crowd and her face cracked open wide with a smile and a wave. It mattered that I was there. It mattered, to both of them. Something I can't ever let myself forget.
I fought back the tears when I arrived home and placed the mums on my porch, admiring how cheery, full and fragrant they were. I fought back the tears when I opened a special goodie bag given to CB from K's son. Enclosed in the goodie bag was a note that K wrote as if she were speaking in the voice of her son, if he could talk and say these things. In the letter, she introduced her son to us all, sharing his likes and sharing his personality. It closed with him hoping they would all become friends this year. I just about lost it.
In this simple gesture, K reached out to each one of us, reminding us all not to forget the kids that sit in that classroom, that sit in their own worlds, often forgotten. Reminding me that every child is beautiful, relevant, loved and valued. Reminding me that sometimes all I need to do is show up, be present, be here in each moment; and that when I am, my heart will stretch itself so wide it will ache....and in that aching, it just might heal.