“Wil, I miss you,” popped up in the chat box from Sarah Stommen. Virtual school started back up again a week from last Friday. Wil kicked off his virtual schedule full of steam, but by Thursday the task of getting him in front of the computer was a feat. Sarah saw the look on Wil’s face at the beginning of their virtual social studies class and knew he needed some encouragement.
When I pointed out Sarah’s message to Wil, he quickly turned his attention to the chat box, read the message for himself and a wide smile crossed his face. He then remembered he didn’t want to be there and turned his head to the side.
“Hey Wil,” Ms. Kastel, their social studies teacher said, “where is your dog?” Sarah was holding her dog, Maizie. Wil usually loves to share his pets along with his classmates, but he shook his head. I ran to pick up Oreo, as he was sleeping in the sun near us. I placed Oreo in Wil’s lap but he refused to share our cat with his classmates, too. Ms. Kastel then asked Wil a few questions about subjects he enjoys discussing, like country music (she’s fostered a love for Johnny Cash in him). Ms. Kastel has a knack for pulling Wil out of his stuck feelings, but on this day, he was determined to stay stuck.
That same afternoon, Wil’s friend, Lila Harvey, sent Wil a “snap” through Elizabeth’s Snapchat (Elizabeth shares her Snapchat with Wil). Lila knew he’d been having a tough time with virtual school and wanted to cheer him up.
When Wil was a baby, and his diagnosis fresh, I reached out to support groups and read books. I was in a battle against the “wouldn’t be’s.” How could I prevent Wil from falling behind? What did I need to do? I signed him up for all the therapies. Though these therapies were places of growth and strength for Wil, they became those places for me too. When Wil was only months old, his occupational therapist laid him on a blanket and dangled a toy above him. The goal was for Wil to develop the strength the reach across the centerline of his body. I never knew such details existed. I never knew such heights of joy as I watched every inch of progress Wil made on his way to reaching that toy. Every new reach, every new grasp, every new step, every new word, every new milestone was celebrated. I found myself celebrating not because I believed Wil wouldn’t; I celebrated because he did.
It’s easy to say these 14 years later that Wil deserves loving friends and teachers. And he does. Yet I remember well the “wouldn’t be’s.” I remember well the process of growth, strength and joy that shifted my focus in a new direction. So when I celebrate friends like Sarah and Lila and teachers like Ms. Kastel for who they are and what they do, it’s not because I believe that they wouldn’t. I celebrate them because they do.