As I wrote about recently, we have pretty much come to the decision that Janey needs to change schools to attend a specialized autism program. It's a hugely tough decision, for us and for her current school, and everyone is working on making sure we are doing the right thing and doing it in the right way. Everyone is working to do the best for Janey, and yet, still, I am very sad.
I am sad because I love her school. I love the people there. It's become a home away from home for me, for the past 14 years. When I drop off Janey, I talk a little with people I've known for many years. I care about them, and truly love some of them. It's a wonderful school. But---I know that isn't what is the most important. The most important thing is that Janey be in a place that can best help her be happy and live up to her potential.
This morning, the sadness hit me very hard. It was "Dress Up in Green" day at her school. Although they can't come out and say it, it's for Saint Patrick's Day. There are many, many Irish families at Janey's school---probably close to half the families, so it's a big day there. I dressed Janey up for it, and thought about how much I enjoy things like that---special dress-up days, field days, the excitement of a school just before Christmas, the days that are a little out of the ordinary. And then I thought about how in an autism school, those days will probably not happen. Kids with autism often don't like changes of routine. They like predictable days, not special days. And I thought about how Janey didn't care a bit about dressing in green. She doesn't know what St. Patrick's Day is. My sadness was just for myself.
However, when we got to the school, there was a special surprise. A bagpipe player was playing for the kids as they entered the school. Janey walked straight over to him and started lightly touching the bagpipe. The sweet player showed her parts of it, and talked to her so kindly. Then he played another song, and the smile on her face was one of her incredible, overwhelmingly wonderful smiles. She held my hand and started to dance. As we walked down to her room, she was as happy as I've ever seen her. And I thought---it is not totally just me that I am sad for. I'm sad that she won't experience the everyday surprises that a "regular" classroom holds. She won't be around other children that are living a more typical childhood. She will be with people that care for her, I know, but there is something given up, too, something hard to define but something important.
This sadness---it doesn't mean we are making the wrong decision, I don't think. But it's very real. I have often thought how one of the biggest joys of being a parent is reliving the parts of your own childhood that were special. When we think back on childhood's special moments, we don't normally think "It was so special that my days were predictable. I have such special memories of regular school days" We think about the time we got a huge bag of candy for Halloween, the classroom parties, the field days and the shows and the bus rides to meets and the snow days and the graduations. At least I do. I want Janey's life to have those moments. I want her to be surprised by bagpipers. That is what is making me sad.