Thursday, January 07, 2016

Old friends

I started writing this blog in 2005, the year Bud started Kindergarten. In the early years, I wrote a lot about his experience at school. Our school district uses an inclusion model, and so throughout elementary school, Bud was the only autistic child in his classes. Though inclusion is not the right model for every child, it was wonderful for Bud - and, as I wrote frequently in those years, it was also wonderful for his non-autistic classmates.

Throughout his elementary school years, I often wrote about those classmates - always using pseudonyms and removing identifying information. Some of them made reappearances from year to year. But one of them stood out from all the others and appeared on the pages of this blog again and again and again: Kelly.

Kelly and Bud met in first grade, when my anxiety about sending Bud off into the hands of strangers for a full day was at an all-time high. They bonded immediately. I cringe now when I read my posts from that year and see how flippant I was about the bond they were building. I considered it puppy love, failing to recognize that these two, even at six years old, were already savvy enough to be doing the work they needed to do to build the solid foundation for a lasting friendship.

The summer after first grade, when, unbeknownst to Kelly, Bud's world was being rocked by his father and me separating and then divorcing, Kelly reached out to Bud - a friend, touching base and connecting.

In second grade, it was an interaction with Kelly that made Bud concerned that his friend was upset with him, until he learned that it was not as serious as he'd believed. It was Kelly who sought him out on a class field trip, and Kelly who prompted me to write, "Inclusive education recognizes that it takes a village to raise a child. It recognizes that Kelly and Tom and the other children in the class are an important part of the village that is raising Bud. And - more to the point - it recognizes that Bud is an important part of the village that is raising Kelly and Tom and the other children in the class. They need each other, and they know it."

Kelly sent Bud off for the summer before third grade with another letter, and while she didn't appear much on the blog that year (as there were not many blog posts written that year), she reemerged with a vengeance in fourth grade, when she was part of the magical class that started the year helping Bud celebrate his tenth birthday (with Kelly writing a note that said "You are one of my best friends") and ended the year so committed to understanding Bud that they prompted the Hairdryer Kid series.

After that series, aware that Bud's peers knew about my blog and knew it was about him, I wrote sparingly about school, but despite her absence from the blog, Kelly continued to be a major player in Bud's world. As they transitioned to middle school - a much larger school, with a greater number of children - Bud and Kelly saw each other less frequently. We still looked for Kelly and her family, though, at every orientation session and every open house - the friendly faces in the crowd, the ones always quick to greet us and always happy to see us. Several years into middle school, Kelly's mom contacted me. Kelly had witnessed an interaction between Bud and another person at school that hadn't seemed right to her, and they wanted to pass the information on to me. It didn't seem right to me either, and thanks to Kelly, I was able to intervene before the problem got any worse.

At the end of eighth grade, when Kelly and the rest of Bud's peers prepared to transition to high school, we made the decision to have Bud spend a year doing some sideways growth (another story for another time, since it's worthy of its own blog post). Bud did spend some time at the high school that year, though, and virtually every time he did, among the questions asked (by me) and answered (by him) were, "Did you see any kids you know? Did you see Kelly?"

This past summer, as Bud prepared to transition to the high school full time, and as I kick-started the blog again, Kelly sent me an email, congratulating me on my marriage and letting me know that she missed seeing Bud. She wanted me to know how much of an impact he'd had on her and on how she sees the world. She wrote, "I've learned so much from him without him even knowing."

A short time later, Kelly transferred to a different school, so even though they would have been in different grades anyway, they no longer had the opportunity to even run into each other in the hallway. And then, a few weeks ago, I got an email from Kelly's mom. Kelly's sixteenth birthday was coming up, and she wondered if we could come.

Bud is typically not much of a party guy, so I didn't want to answer on his behalf. Later that day, I asked him about, and without hesitation, without missing a beat, he answered, "Oh, sure! I would love to!"

So, last week, Bud and I headed out one evening to Kelly's house for her birthday party. I thought we'd probably be there briefly, but, as is so often the case, my assumption was wrong. Bud was delighted to be there. And Kelly was delighted to have us there. Her mom decided to surprise her and didn't tell her we were coming, and when she opened the door and saw us, she said, "I think I'm going to cry!"

It was a wonderful evening. Bud made comfortable conversation with Kelly and her other guests. He met her pet rabbit. We ate dinner and snacks and took pictures, and marveled at the beautiful cakes, cookies, and cupcakes that Kelly's mom had made - with hand-detailed images of Kelly's favorite characters from Japanese animation. And after we'd been there for a bit, I listened to the music playing in the background and realized that at some point, with no fanfare or announcement made, Kelly had changed the soundtrack from her own favorite music, Nirvana, to Bud's favorite music, Dierks Bentley.

Later, as we drove home from the party, I thought about how far these two have come. For ten years, from six to sixteen, they have stood by each other, each allowing the other to become exactly who they are, free from judgment, free from expectation, and brimming with appreciation and support. That is exactly what friendship is supposed to be.

May the next ten years be filled with more of the same for both of them.


Bibi Coyne said...

We're a couple of years behind you on our trek through public school, which is probably the most basic reason among a million reasons I've followed your blog with a feeling of connection. I am so happy you have a Kelly in your lives. I am so happy for Bud. Thanks for dropping us a note of good news.

Sophia Philo said...

I am glad you are blogging more often. This is a wonderful entry, so authentic and beautifully crafted. Those of us with differently abled children live parallel lives to the "normals" (a word my own sixteen year old sometimes uses for those without disabilities), and yet, blogs like this normalize difference so seamlessly that they help everyone else to understand: NORMAL IS A FICTION. Thank you for this wonderful entry! It brought tears to my eyes, not least because it is, first and foremost, a universal story of friendship.

Daisy said...

I have a lump in my throat. What a wonderful young woman!

Nancy Mehlem said...

So happy for you, Buddy and Kelly. Thanks for taking the time to share this very important observation.

Geoz said...

Bud and Kelly are lucky to have that kind of friendship. Mutual respect is such a rare thing.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful story.

Unknown said...

This is a beautiful story.

Barb said...

This is a very beautiful story......My son, now 9, was diagnosed 2 years ago with Aspergers.....still trying to get some issues resolved.

Children with special needs said...

This is very inspiring and beautiful story. I love hearing stories like this.
Thanks for sharing your observations.

Mom said...

This is so beautiful story... Your observation is very important and thanks for that.

Granny Nanny said...

Thanks for this story. It gives us all hope.

Tiffany Dozier said...

My youngest son started kindergarten this year, he is on the spectrum and in a general ed environment with para support. Your story high-lighted following your son's path through school and I honor that. His two older brothers are on the spectrum also, but spend more time in the Autism Resource Center, being mainstreamed for different classes. I was wary about my youngest spending the full day in general ed but he is doing well. Thank-you for the positive story.

Meredith said...

I pray for my Henry to have a "Kelly" every year. He's in kindergarten now (inclusive) and doing remarkably well, but there are always thoughts of the future lingering in the back of my mind.

Thank you for sharing Bud's story. I found you years ago through the hairdryer series.

David Graham said...

I really enjoyed reading this story. I was a part of Best Buddies all throughout high school and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I was able to see amazing friendships blossom between peers who would normally never interact with one another. It really gave people an opportunity to grow and meet very genuine and caring people. I am now a teacher candidate at Illinois State University majoring in Deaf and hard of hearing studies. So I guess you could say inclusion has had a very impact on my life.