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Gratitude for The Buddha’s Fellow Traveler

August 17, 2010

My cell phone rang around 8 last night, while the boys were getting out of the bathtub. The new director of The Buddha’s lower school apologized for calling so late, saying she wanted to talk to me about his placement for the school year that starts in two weeks. He would be staying with the same teacher, she said. For the third year.

She went on to explain why they arranged this year’s ungraded classrooms the way they did and added that they fully intend to include him in flexible groupings with the next-oldest classroom so that he would get exposure to the older students.

In many ways, it’s fantastic news that he gets to stay with the same nurturing, talented teacher who knows him so well. But the cell phone-to-cell phone connection wasn’t great, and I wasn’t sure what to make of the director’s tone. Did I hear apprehension in her voice as she “broke” the news?

For a second, my stomach dropped. Was she telling me that he NEEDED to stay with this teacher and the younger kids, that he wasn’t ready to move on? To get my bearings, to better understand the implications of what she was saying, I blurted out the first question that popped into my head: “Is he getting separated from Mabel*?”

I’ve known Mabel and her mom since Mabel and The Buddha were both 13 months old. After seeing a listserv post in which Mabel’s mom mentioned she had a 12-month-old at the developmental level of a 9-month-old, I e-mailed her, “I have one of those, too!” It turned out our kids were born just six days apart and each had been described by the same geneticist as having an “unknown dysmorphic syndrome.” We also shared various doctors and therapists and tales of the challenging first year of our first-borns’ lives.

At the tail end of 2 years old, the two kids began their educational careers together, both miraculously accepted to the same small special needs program at an otherwise typical preschool. It seemed these two were meant to travel together.

But the following May, I got the news that Mabel would move ahead with the rest of their class in the fall while The Buddha remained in the youngest grouping for another year. At the time, it hit me pretty hard. “Just great,” I quipped. “My kid is failing preschool.”

Yeah, I know there were 50 kinds of positive ways to look at the situation — and it did end up being a good year for him — but I just kept trying to understand what this meant about The Buddha’s ability to make progress. Sure, I could rationalize that these two had some differences that would make her more likely to succeed in the new class — Mabel was more outgoing, less afraid to try new things, and a bit more physically stable. Beyond those traits, though, these kids seemed strikingly similar. Mabel served as my only benchmark for The Buddha’s version of “normal.” And there she was, leaving him in the dust.

With their 6th birthdays approaching, they came back together as they entered their new special education school. They were traveling together again. Their friendship has blossomed, in its own way. The Buddha often calls Mabel his “very best friend in the whole world,” and it’s been a joy to watch their interactions grow more comfortable and sophisticated over the past couple of years. These two kids are growing up and changing, each with her/his own individual strengths and challenges. Still, I continue to be struck far more by their similarities than by their differences.

So now, as they’re about to turn 8, would she be leaving him in the dust again?

“No,” the school director said. “They’ll still be together.”

Relief washed over me. The Buddha was progressing just as expected. He was staying with his classmates from last year (making it a mixed class of 6- to 8-year-olds), with a focus on enrichment with the slightly older class. It sounded like a good plan to me.

I am grateful. Grateful that he has his wonderful teacher again. Grateful that the school wants to encourage him to socialize with older students. And grateful, most of all, that Mabel will continue to be The Buddha’s fellow traveler on this journey.


Coach’s Query

What fellow travelers are you grateful to have?


*Mabel isn’t her real name. I couldn’t think of a rhyming nickname that didn’t totally give away her real name, so I just made up a whole new name.

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  1. Pascale Brady permalink

    THANK YOU MICHELLE! !!! I love your blog. I think you have real writing talent. You’re good at this! And I spend good moments in your blog’s company (bitter sweet of course … But then again, is there anything else?).

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  1. The Buddha’s Class Placement: Adjusting to a New Reality « Grief, Interrupted

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