Saturday, September 19, 2009

The purplest

I keep thinking about Barbara Joosse's book I Love You The Purplest. In it, two brothers ask their mother which one she loves the most. She explains that she loves one of them the reddest and the other the bluest. Together, she loves them the purplest.

Why has that been on my mind?

Well, today is Bud's tenth birthday. Ten years old. A decade. He understands the significance of this milestone. Last night as we cuddled before bed, he asked me if I'd still cuddle with a ten-year-old. (I assured him I would.) This morning when he woke up, he was surprised to find that he still had his nine-year-old voice.

But this story really starts two days ago, when I picked Bud up early from school to take him to a doctor's appointment for medication management. On the agenda: a discussion about altering the timing of his mid-day medication in hopes of easing what has been a bumpy transition to fourth grade. Though the transition this year has not been as difficult as it's been in some other years, it has been marked by Bud's resistance to being in the classroom. It's clear to me that he likes his teacher, Ms. Walker, and the paraprofessional who works with him, Mrs. Nee. He likes the children in his class. He likes being in school. But, I think this is the year when the developmental gap between Bud and his peers has felt daunting to him. Though the atmosphere in his classroom is wonderful, the rest of it - the language, the concepts, the higher-level academic focus - has all been confusing for him. Even during down-time, his peers are all High School Musical, and he's all Clifford the Big Red Dog. It has been easier for him to choose to spend his time in the nest he's created in Special Ed with the team who is familiar, predictable, and comfortable.

And so, as Bud left school early on Thursday, Ms. Walker seized the opportunity, scrapped her plan for social studies, and pulled the rest of the class together for a little impromptu planning session. Most of the children in the classroom have known Bud for a long time, though some of them have never been in his class before. Ms. Walker told them that Bud was reaching a milestone this weekend - double digits, the marking of his first decade. She reminded them how hard it can be for Bud to manage things like birthday parties and she asked them how, as a group, they might help him celebrate in a way that would be comfortable for him.

They spent the rest of the afternoon putting their plan together.

On Friday, Bud arrived at school to find that his classmates, Ms. Walker, Mrs. Nee, and the whole staff in Special Ed were wearing purple, Bud's favorite color, in his honor. A little later, Bud's friends presented him a book they'd made. The book is purple, of course, and it features a two-page spread of each person in his class - each child, his teacher, and his para. The first page has the person's picture and name, to help Bud get to know the people he doesn't know as well. And the second page has a birthday message - in purple ink on purple paper - to Bud from that person.

As a class, they had brainstormed a list of things that make Bud special, so there are a lot of reoccurring themes on the pages of the purple book - you bring joy to our class, you always do your best, you are creative. But there are unique messages in there as well: "I like being your friend because you are funny, cool, and a good dancer;" "the songs you sing are great;" "I think you'r specal becase you'r joks are hulareaes." Two of the children, Travis and Kelly, wrote "you are one of my best friends."

While Bud was engaged in something else, Kelly showed Ms. Walker a CD she'd brought in and together they snuck to the classroom's CD player to cue up a track. They turned the volume up slowly and watched for Bud's reaction as Dierks Bentley's "Every Mile A Memory" filled the room. Bud raised his head, smiled, and started singing along:

"Texas stars in a purple night,
Not seein' 'em with you, baby, oh they never do look right..."

Bud's classmates from last year smiled in recognition. His new classmates listened to him, then spoke up in appreciation - "Hey! He really can sing!"

Then they sang to him - but knowing that a cacophony of fourth grade voices might be overwhelming for him, this rendition of Happy Birthday was delivered in a loud whisper. And according to Ms. Walker, it was the rockin'-est loud whisper she'd ever heard. And then, finally, it was time to eat the cupcakes Bud had brought in, and he even got to bring the extras down to his friends in Special Ed.

The magic didn't end with the celebration, though. It spilled over into the rest of the day. During math, the other children worked on complicated math tables that were beyond Bud's grasp, but Bud sat at a desk with Mrs. Nee and created a different kind of math table. One by one, the children approached Bud's desk, where Bud greeted them by name, and asked "Which do you like better: cats, dogs, or birds?" Each child gave a response (and sometimes an explanation), which Bud tallied, as the other child left to tap another friend to join Bud.

The children in the class also worked together to help Bud complete a fill-in-the-blanks poem about himself, offering up their suggestions for how to complete each thought. The poem, which Ms. Walker printed out for me in purple ink, goes like this:

BUD

Who is fast, funny, caring, and cool

Who finds happiness in quiet, country music, and computers

Who needs attention, Mom, and friends

Who is afraid of "boo," thunderstorms, and sudden loud noises

Who would like to play guitar, hang out with Dierks Bentley, and go on a hike

Who likes to wear purple crocs, his dino vest, and earplugs

BUD

The class commemorated the day with a group photo, which Ms. Walker printed and pasted on the last page of the purple book. It's quite an image - a sea of purple, in shades from pale lavender to deep violet; teachers and support staff framing and scaffolding around the back and edges; the middle swarming with beaming children; and, in the center, Bud, his old friend Kelly leaning in by his side, and his new friend Kallyn standing behind him, her hands gently but firmly on his shoulders, making him feel centered, and making him feel safe.

If you looked at the picture, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out which child was celebrating a birthday. The smiles are wide from edge to edge - wide despite the fact that Ms. Walker had been frank with the children: this was not to be the standard procedure for celebrating birthdays this year. This time was different - because in this class, in this school, ""fairness" does not equal "sameness." Fairness means making sure that every person gets what she needs to succeed, and so, by definition, to be fair, sometimes we must have different rules for different people.

And the children, because they are a product of this educational environment, don't just get it - they celebrate it. They celebrate it because they know that in a school in which helping a classmate get comfortable and feel included is just as important as social studies, they can be certain that every person matters. And if every person matters, then they matter.

The children in that classroom know that they are loved. Some of them feel loved the reddest. Some of them feel loved the bluest. And when they come together in that classroom, they create the purplest community they could ever hope to find.

61 comments:

Christine said...

In a world where some people get voted out of the classroom for their differences, these children and those educators should also be celebrated!!!

It is a tough year for some of our most loved blog friends and their stories have been resting heavily with me this week. Your post reminds me that there are, indeed, just as many reasons to have hope for the acceptance of our very special children.

Thanks for this post.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Oh ... my ... word.

I am speechless at this post, which I could barely read through my tears.

If all educators could have a fraction of the special qualities that Bud's teachers and students brought to the classroom for him, on such a special day, then we would have a much better world, indeed.

Those kids learned more than their academic lessons that day, and I'm betting that they will remember this for a long, long time to come.

Bud continues to teach us all how to be better people. And so do you.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Oh ... one more thing. Happy Birthday, Bud!

ghkcole said...

Please can I move next door, send my kids to that school, work there, and wear purple? Hhhhhappppy birthday. I really live this story, and am crying.

Stimey said...

Oh my god, you have made me cry wonderful, happy tears. So amazingly wonderful. Happy Birthday, Bud!

Karianna said...

YES! Awesome, super-awesome! Happy Birthday Bud.

My favorite: "Fairness means making sure that every person gets what she needs to succeed, and so, by definition, to be fair, sometimes we must have different rules for different people." LOVE IT.

What a fabulous story.

Kristine said...

Wow! Absolute, positively and completely wow!

What a wonderful experience; for Bud and all his classmates!

Navi said...

Fourth grade is hard. I remember having to tell my now 6th grade daughter to play with the boys, because the girls didn't want to play games involving magic or fighting.... (luckily, although her interests didn't match the girls, they did match the boys)

It's amazing how that teacher and students included him so well. Beautiful story.

Ange said...

Now that's what school should be like - community (or the future of community). Happy birthday Bud.

Robin said...

You made me cry!
Happy happy birthday to Bud- he has a wonderful mom, family, friends and teachers.
His school sounds like a marvelous environment. <3

Club 166 said...

What a beautiful, uplifting story.

Happy Birthday, Bud!!!

Joe

*m* said...

This is the kind of story that restores my faith in humanity.

Happy 10th, Bud!

Jordan said...

This is what I wish for all kids - it's so beautiful. Totally made me cry this morning. Happy 10th birthday, Bud, you wonderful, lucky boy!

Eileen said...

Wow, I am bawling over here! How wonderful!!!

cathyklein said...

Wow! Just, wow!

Happy Birthday, Bud. We love you!

KAL said...

This is just the most wonderful thing ever. Wow, just amazing! Happy Birthday Bud!!

jesswilson said...

i'm so grateful to jordan for posting this on facebook.

thank god for the ms walkers and ms nees .. the kellys and the kallyns .. the communities that come together with love and compassion to truly include and celebrate our incredible children.

thank you for sharing this ... it's a precious gift.

Christa said...

Happy Double Digits Birthday to Bud!

This sounds like the model of what an inclusive classroom should be. Kudos to the wonderful teacher for understanding that fairness isn't sameness. The rest of the children are learning that, too, and they will be more compassionate adults because of it.

Niksmom said...

I had just been musing to myself that I missed your blog posts. Then...WHAM! Got me right in the heart (and the tear ducts),

I'm so happy that his class celebrated Bud and not just his birthday! What a beautiful and extraordinary gift. This will stay with me, for sure.

Please give your ten year old a hug from Niksmom? And tell his teachers that they've touched so many hearts beyond yours and Bud's.

Susan Etlinger said...

Happy Birthday Bud!!!

[Can't stop crying. This is just the best.]

Claudine said...

What a beautiful story!

Deven Black said...

I am so happy for Bud and his classmates who are making their world the way the rest of it should be. I hope their sense of caring and community stays with them all their lives.

My high-achieving son had the privilege of being in an inclusion class for 3rd and 4th grades. He is unusually tall and has always enjoyed this difference. He immediately connected to and bonded with the other "different" kids in the class. He is not a high school sophomore and still refers to those years as his best school experience.

amysheridan said...

That is beautiful! I found this post through Two Hands and a Flashlight. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful purple filled story. Your family is very lucky to have such a supportive school!

Mom of Kid with APD said...

What a beautiful experience! I cried reading it. Mrs. Walker should be commended for her ability to bring such an amazing experience into the classroom. Seems to me everybody benefited, not just Bud. There is something about loving people just as they are that really warms all souls. Thank you for giving me hope. Happy birthday, Bud!

DBcongress said...

Happy Birthday, Bud! That is one of my favorite lyrics by Dierks, too! Texas stars in a purple night!" See the DBC blog--we all wish our DB Congressman Bud a very happy birthday!
~Ronna
DB Congress Chair

Carol said...

What a special teacher! What a special kid! What a special class! Wow! This story made me cry.

Chris and Erin said...

It is moments like you describe that help show how smart, kind, and well-brought-up many children are. What a great group of kids! Happy 10th Birthday Bud!
-Erin

Hoosier Girl said...

I am a special ed. teacher in Indiana. This post really made me feel special.

Happy Birthday to your boy.

J.

goodfountain said...

What a special class, teacher, and most of all special boy - Bud! Happy Birthday.

Ironically, I read this this morning and then this afternoon at HPB there was the book I Love You The Purplest. So of course I had to buy it.

michaeledlavitch said...

Hi. I am a Middle School Math Teacher and I created a NCTM recognized free online math games site: HoodaMath.com

Rachel said...

What a truly loving, insightful, welcoming group of people! I was just floored as I read this piece. Just when I was starting to feel completely old and cynical about human beings, I stumble onto your blog and find this amazing story.

Happy 10th Birthday, Bud! You clearly have a gift for bringing out the best in people!

JoyMama said...

Happy birthday, Bud!

Y'know, Marla Cilley (otherwise known as FlyLady) has an expression for the kind of tears I'm crying right now. She calls it "great big purple puddles."

How fitting...

kirsten said...

At this point I almost want to say 'You're making this up, right?'

Right?

Because that is nearly unbelievable. You have a truly exceptional situation there.

Happy belated to Bud - cheers for another great year.

gretchen said...

Fairness does not equal sameness. Amen.

Something made me choose Dierks for my commute this morning. Now I know what it was.

We love you guys.

Pia said...

My son is 2 1/2 years old, language delayed, mild autism diagnosis just made a couple of days ago. Aside from the obvious course of denial we are in, and the extreme variety of emotions I have, a post like yours lifts me up and gives me hope. Hope for our little man in the big bad world.

Alex Bettencourt said...

I am so happy to hear that there are still some golden little hearts out there. It is really hard helping young ones manage medications.

Luckily we have met a lot of moms who have found relief with our text message medication reminders at RememberItNow!

But anyway, that is for those with children who have cell phones. I applaud this classroom and your son's peers. This was a great read. :)

VAB said...

Thanks for letting me read that!

Anonymous said...

Hi there!

Although I can't remember how I first came across your blog, I have been following the adventures that you and Bud have for quite some time now. I often wonder about him, and can relate to many of the stories that you tell as I also have a son with PDD. I know that everyone is unique, with their own srengths and areas of need, but it is sometimes good to hear about similarities to help me remember that we are not alone in this, even though sometimes it feels that way.

There have been many times that your stories of Bud's triumphs and social successes have left me feeling proud of him, despite the fact that I have never met him. Often, reading your stories gives me hope-hope that as my son gets older and moves through life, he will be able to have wonderful, enriching experiences, and meet those people who care enough to show their support in a variety of ways. This post was such an amazing story of how Bud's classmates pulled together to give him an experience that would work for him. They demonstrated friendship and understanding which I wish was present in more situations today. I so appreciate that Bud's teacher approached the issue of fairness and sameness, as that is so important to address at a young age. I hope that my son will also be able to build such great relationships and be able to really feel like he belongs. Thank you for sharing this, and for inspiring hope! Best wishes to you and you son!

-Bayley
bayleylg@gmail.com

mumkeepingsane said...

Well, gee. Make me cry why don't you. That's fantastic. Patrick goes to a great school that really does their best to meet his needs...but I have to say, what bud's class did was extraordinary.
Happy Birthday, Bud.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a wonderful story! There are tears in my eyes. Happy, Happy 10th Birthday Bud!!

Jewel

K said...

oh my how marvelous- this sounds like such a great classroom - Do I and he have the same birthday ( 19th)

karen d said...

Beautiful beautiful beautiful. THAT is what inclusion should be like for all our kids. I'm so happy Bud has such an excellent placement. My heart swells. xoxo

Daisy said...

I have a lump in my throat. This is wonderful.

kjoeleet said...

I've been missing your posts, though I can respect why you've scaled back.
Oh my, this one was worth the wait.
Third grade was the tough one for my own PDD-NOS son - he's the same age as Bud. We're hoping for better year in the fourth grade, and so far, it has been. I'm glad Bud has also found a place where people are willing to love and accept who he is, as he figures out just exactly what that means, for himself. You and Bud are so blessed to have such a fantastic teacher/class/school, and to have each other. Thank you so much for sharing this.

pixiemama said...

Happy double digits a week late, Bud!

What a sweet group of friends!

xo

Moi ;) said...

Wow - this teacher is just amazing, heartwarming, fabulous....how can you get this woman the recognition she deserves? To make an example so that other teachers might be inspired to approach all our kids the same way?

How lucky Bud is this school year! Happy belated birthday to him!
(Can you believe it, my Bug is going to be *17* next month...OMG...)

kyra said...

WONDERFUL!! oh my god, so BEAUTIFUL!!! i love this!!

many huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY blessings to bud from our whole household.

xxxx

autisable said...

Please touch base, we'd like to syndicate your blog on Autisable.com.

Keen said...

I was completely overwhelmed by this post. I have one, and possibly two, boys who are on the spectrum. The story Christine mentioned, about people voting others out of their classroom for their differences, chilled me to the bone. This story gives me such hope.

Happy, happy birthday to Bud!

David said...

Happy Birthday Bud!

Thanks for another wonderful post. Negotiating our differences is a huge part of growing up, and it sounds like Ms. Walker is doing a pretty spectacular job. As the kids get older, the differences get bigger, and yet our hearts all have the same needs. That never changes.

melissa said...

This is beautiful. This is what every parent with a special needs child hopes for. Congratulations on a school community that cares.

Alicia (aka Dr. Mom) said...

This is amazing!! I love the definition of "fairness" and im committing it to memory.
happy birthday to your little boy!! :) All the best!

cathy said...

How did I miss this last month? What an awesome teacher Bud has, and what a great thing his classmates did. Nice post, and happy belated birthday to Bud!

Clay said...

Wow, that sounds terrific! What a different story from what we've been hearing lately, from other schools.

shon82573 (Shonda) said...

OK you and Bud have had me in tears all evening... I started w/the blog about meeting Dierks and now this one-- WOW.

I'm the lucky mom of a toddler who due to a virus his birth mother had-- is hard of hearing, has vision problems and is fighting w/sensory issues... so although he's not on spectrum I totally get how difficult it is when they aren't 'typical'... your blogs have made my heart happy!!!! I can't wait to read more--

Love to Bud-- and prayers of strength to mom!!!

Shonda (Adam's momma and DBC rep from Kentucky)

Anonymous said...

This post was a great way for me to start the day... Thank you!

The Muser (aka Beautiful Mama) said...

wow--just wow--what a fabulous school. It makes me so glad and hopeful to know this sort of place exists.

blackknightsbrood said...

The purplest part of your post whooshed me straight back to high school. We were told in church, Boys are Blue
Girls are Pink
There will be no PURPLING.

Hadn't thought of it for YEARS.

Cathleen said...

This is the ABSOLUTE BEST BIRTHDAY I've EVER heard of!!! How cool is it that your son has a fabulous school that treats him so respectfully! These kids will NEVER forget Bud!

Marla Miller said...

As the grandmother of a child coping with autism, I cried! If all children could have this kind of atmosphere, no mater what their differences might be, the world would be an incredible place for all! God bless you and Bud and all that are a part of his life!:)

Taylor Becker said...

This story was very heart warming. As a future teacher, I strive to help meet every child's special needs, whatever they may be. I am so touched that Mrs. Walker noticed all of the special things that Bud loved and enjoyed, and created a truly special day for all of his needs. Between his favorite color, his favorite song, personal messages, singing in a low volume, and overall having a day of learning dedicated to him. I am glad he was able to celebrate with his friends in special ed, as well as his friends in his general ed classroom. This takes inclusion to a whole new level.
Thank you for sharing this story. This has inspired me even more to be a teacher that goes the extra mile for each individual student.