look what I found
In my cabinet sits a carefully labeled bowl, a sticky note in Riley’s tight hand perched on its rosy scalloped edge. Riley’s Bowl of Game Choices, it says, or some such thing. Below it, another bowl with another sticky note, something like Games We Have Already Played. As she gets older, Riley imposes her own structure over things, and this is something her brother appreciates more than most.
I peek at them through the doorway, gathering up the way he stands on his tiptoes, so happy that it flows right out of his moving hands while she plucks a single bright yellow slip from the bowl of choices. Those hands, they float and jerk and fly madly in anticipation.
“Racko,” she reads carefully.
“Check! We are having Racko,” he trills in his rich, full voice, as though making an announcement. I love that voice. I never get tired of hearing him speak. When for so long they say nothing, every word becomes a treasure. And when for so long they live apart right in the midst of together, every true connection is a find. Maybe the moment seems small, but to me, it feels immense.
“Yes, Adam,” Riley answers, “we are playing Racko.” She tilts her head, appraising him, and together they walk to the cabinet to pull out the game box. This has become their favorite thing to do, the thing she picks when I tell her, This is time to do something you enjoy, because you need some time for those things too. This is time for laughter, time without stress or fear. She calls up through the ceiling, where her voice blends with the music Adam breathes like air, and he always runs down, machine-gun legs against the stairs. They have become a comfort to each other, and this moves me to give thanks. To have a companion, a friend, who understands the way you’re put together, that’s a grace. My children have found safe harbor, moored together.
I stand in the doorway, my hand gripping the grooved frame, gathering up peace until it covers me. This companionable ease is something Adam learned at school—a small, desperately needed place where there is no weird. The children at Dynamic-–the first charter school of its kind in our state, a school for middle and high school students with disabilities–understand each other uniquely, so much so that the older, more articulate students have been known to advocate aloud for their younger peers, interpreting when language becomes a barrier. In the last six months at Dynamic, Adam has shown more rapid social growth then I have ever seen in him before, and I know those gains have come because of the safe, comfortable influence of friends who understand how he ticks, who don’t see him as other, who appreciate all his idiosyncratic seams as the interesting elements of his personality. And I smile, thinking, just look what God has done.
Now, watching my children together, the way Riley breathes without trembling, I pray silently for the longevity of this school, for her ability to join Adam there next year. She could use some of the peace that has settled over her brother. I have been told that there’s just no right fit for her in traditional high school, that as the crowds and the overwhelming sensory quagmire and the language-heavy grading and the quick pace of the curriculum pile more and more stress on her shoulders, my only option is to choose between her anxiety and her future. I sigh, tightening my grip on the door frame. Riley laughs, telling Adam it’s his turn, gesturing toward the box. She made the A/B honor roll last quarter, and yet, they say that the only way to guard her against the anxiety she now feels over school is to choose not to let her pursue an academic diploma. No. There’s another option. Dynamic. Our exceptional children need more schools like this one. We must insist on their potential. See, I’ve gathered progress and possibility in these arms, and I’m not ready to let it fall.
Adam reaches up and flicks Riley’s ear with his fingers, his smile a wide, contented curve, and once again, I give thanks. Thank you for giving my son a place to grow, for showing me this. Adam hasn’t always been so ready to interact, even with Riley.
He used to argue about playing games with us, first a “no,” and then continual questions about when he could be finished or how many rounds of whatever we would insist that he play. We endured many family nights ruined by his complaint, simply because we cared enough to insist that he work at engaging. He loved us, loved being near us, but didn’t care to interact or just didn’t know how.
I remember the way Adam’s protests once drove Riley to tears, the way she would clasp her hands over her ears as though his words flew in like barbs and hung there, stinging. “I don’t like it when you complain,” she would say, the words awash with pain. So many times, the last energy we had floated away on her grief. So now, watching them play—he with his arm sometimes casually thrown around her shoulders, his ruffled head bobbing near her cheek–it stops me still and fills my eyes and reminds me how to breathe. Slow down now; See; Gather up what God has given.
Last week, Adam stayed home from school one day because he was ill, finally accepting my insistance that today he just couldn’t go—It’s time to go, he’d said. Dad’s truck. School. And in the hours when I just had to cook or clean or fold, he found that bowl with the sticky note perched on its scalloped edge and played game after game alone. But it wasn’t the same. The papers snaked across the carpet, a bright yellow line, as though he couldn’t quite make them travel to the other bowl without her. When I walked through the room, he lifted his eyes and said, “Where’s Riley?”
“At school. You know Riley’s at school.”
“Be right back,” he said, turning his attention back to the game, the line of yellow slips. “What’s your favorite time?” Or, in other words, when will she be home? He lamented being at home without her, he who used to be so lone. This is an immeasurable gift, a new and glinting joy.
And so, I give thanks, gathering up the moment and carrying it away with me, leaving my space in the doorway, lest my children catch a glimpse of me and contrive to be something other than the beautiful they are right now.
How can it be that a school that serves such an important need, a place where our children are growing so much, could be under threat of closure? Well, we’re doing a revolutionary thing, and no one in the establishment likes a revolution. Read about this amazing place and a concept that works, and consider helping us stay open. Will you lend us your voice, your prayers, your resources? We know God can provide what’s needed, that He may even use some of you to do it, but even if He doesn’t, we will never be able to praise Him loudly enough. We trust God, in this and all else.