Perspective, Part II

I try my best to tell the whole story on absgab and not sugarcoat things. I have lots of moms with special needs kids who read (they never comment, but they do read) and I feel like I owe it to them to tell the truth. Being transparent about the pain in our lives is not easy for me. That may come as a surprise to you, but it really isn't. As a good Southerner, there are just some things I have a hard time revealing. As my grandmother, Tot, always said, "If you can't say anything nice, just don't say anything at all." Probably good advice to follow, but it doesn't make for very truthful writing.

I have a tendency to end all of my posts on a high note. Part of that tendency is due to the fact that I simply don't remember the hard moments as well as I remember the happy ones. The other part is because I truly believe all of Virginia's suffering will be made right one day. As I process what she goes through daily, I try to view things through the promise of eternity, the ultimate happy ending.

All of these factors working together lead me to omit things from my writing that seem too sad or messy to reveal. A good friend called me out on that the other day.

She pointed out that I did not tell the whole story about Virginia's class musical. She is correct. In the interest of not hurting feelings or ruffling feathers, I did not tell the whole story. But I think that was the wrong decision.

So... in the interest of honesty and for the sake of my readers who have special needs kids, I will tell the whole story. If integrating your child into school has not been simple, you are not alone.


The week before Sissy's kindergarten musical, Findley and I were at school for a different class function. After it was over, we were standing next to Virginia and telling her what a good job she had done. We were in the presence of all of her peers and their parents.

A mother approached me and with no hesitation whatsoever, she asked, "What is wrong with her?"

Virginia absolutely heard every word, as did several of her friends.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I was at a total loss for words. As I stood there, stammering for some type of appropriate response, this mother went on.

"What is wrong with her neck? It turns funny. And why can't she talk?"

I was speechless, absolutely amazed that a human being could ask such questions in front of Virginia. Findley, however, was not. He stepped right in front of Virginia in order to protect her from the stares of this viper and looked the woman straight in the eyes.

"Nothing is wrong with her," he said, in a tone that clearly put an end to the conversation. The woman looked shocked and turned to walk away. "But something is clearly wrong with her," Findley mumbled to me under his breath. I hope she heard him.

That story has nothing to do with the kindergarten musical except that it created much anxiety in me about the possibility of Virginia's feelings being hurt when she was out in public. I knew this woman was the rare bird, but it was still extremely painful. I wanted to protect Virginia from the likes of her, not stick her on stage for everyone to mock. This incident was still fresh in my mind as Findley and I took our seats for the musical about a week later.

Now for the part that is hard for me to tell.

All of the students took their places on the risers, and Virginia was right next to them in her wheelchair. They sang six songs. During each one, roughly one-sixth of the children came forward for a special role while the rest stayed in the bleachers and continued singing. During one number, the kids who came forward played the xylophone. During another, they did a dance routine. Virginia was very happy during the songs when she was a member of the chorus. As I wrote in my earlier post, she was smiling and laughing the whole time.

The last song was 'Under the Sea' from the musical The Little Mermaid. Twelve kids came forward and all grabbed the edge of a blue parachute (think elementary school gym class) with lots of fish-shaped stuffed animals in the center of it. Virginia's aid wheeled her out to the center of the stage, and then left her. She was a good ten feet from her peers and the parachute.

As the chorus sang the familiar words, the children holding the parachute began walking in a circle, raising and lowering the parachute so that the fish in the middle jumped up and down like popcorn. I was watching Virginia the whole time, wondering how they were going to include her in all of this. I could tell she was anxious, as I would have been as a five year old, alone, in front of about three hundred people.

I was about to learn a hard lesson. This was their attempt at including her. I kept watching Virginia. She looked crestfallen, abandoned, and sad. Honestly, if Virginia hadn't cared that she was being left out, I wouldn't have either. But she did.

Virginia is a smart girl. To wheel her out in front of everyone only to have her not be a part was humiliating and wrong. It would have been much better if they had left her in the bleachers with the rest of her friends, happy and feeling like she was contributing. I am not naive. I know it is hard to make a place for her. But if you can't figure out a way for her to be included, don't drag her out in front of everyone with nothing to do just so you can say you tried.

As I sat there, anger boiling up inside of me (as it was in Findley, too, I might add), things got worse. The children got so excited with the parachute exercise that they accidentally launched some of the stuffed animals into the air and they hit Virginia in the face. It was almost too much for me to bear.

I hurt for her. I was putting my insecure, five-year-old self in her shoes and I wanted to die. I also realized at that moment that no one at school had put themselves in her shoes, or her role in the musical would have looked very different.

Somehow I made it to the end without running up on the stage and wrapping my arms around her, but it was hard. Aside from when Virginia was born, that school musical was the biggest injustice I have ever witnessed personally. My heart broke for her and I was angry that the individuals I had trusted to make her feel special at school had failed so miserably and embarrassed her in such a public setting.


So now you know the whole story and can probably understand a little bit better why I cried the whole way home. But Findley was right- Virginia was happy for all of the performance except 'Under the Sea.' She forgave quickly afterwards and was smiling again during the pictures. But since she can't talk, it is hard for me to ever know exactly how something affects her.

I called the principal as soon as I got home, and before I could even tell her why I was calling, she apologized.

"That was totally inappropriate," she said. "I hadn't seen it until today and I am so sorry. It was hurtful to Virginia, we all saw that. I realize we have lost your trust and I am just so sorry."

I appreciated her apology very much, but in light of the humiliation Virginia had just been through, it didn't seem like enough. It just didn't seem like enough.