“Look, Mom!” Wil widened his smile. A thick cord of wire ran through every braces bracket attached to the top row of Wil’s teeth. Then I noticed one of the brackets hung suspended over the jagged edges of an emerging adult tooth. Wil had just lost the baby tooth that previously held the bracket in place.
Wil reached down to the coffee table and carefully picked up a little white tooth. He cupped both hands and presented the tooth to me, as if in offering.
Though Wil is 14 years old, every missing tooth is as exciting as the first — and it has nothing to do with the Tooth Fairy. When Wil lost his first tooth, I showed him how to put it under his pillow. When he awoke he exclaimed, “Shiny coins!” Then, “Where’s my tooth?” My explanation that the Tooth Fairy took his tooth in exchange for the shiny coins was not a fair deal to Wil. He wanted his tooth back. Fortunately the Tooth Fairy was still orbiting the area and made a return visit.
Wil is entering high school this fall. I was recently asked by a mother whose daughter with Down syndrome is years younger than Wil: “How did you decide that Wil should receive a Certificate of Completion rather than a high school diploma? And when did you know?”
When Wil was a baby I would have answered emphatically, “Wil is getting a high school diploma! Wil will have full inclusion in school and take college courses.”
As Wil grew in age, I learned step-by-step with him. In his Kindergarten year alone, his teachers and I made multiple changes to his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in determining the right balance for Wil between the general education classroom and the resource room. Wil excelled learning with his peers in the general education classroom in some subjects, but he also learned math best in the resource room. Though I had linear plans for Wil, they took many detours as I learned by experience what best fit his needs.
By Wil’s middle school years, I knew without a doubt that the Certificate of Completion was Wil’s best option. I was not saddened by this fact, as my earlier self might have been. Living experience-by-experience with Wil, the loss of earlier dreams also created openings for new growth. But I could not know or appreciate what that new emergence of growth looked like until I gained a widened perspective over time.
A friend, whose daughter with Down syndrome is the same age as Wil, recently shared colleges she investigated that have classes adapted for our kids. There are multiple life skills as entrance requirements. She has implemented those very skills into her daughter’s IEP which I think is brilliant. Because of this conversation, I’m going to look into the same options for Wil; I still hold college course plans for him. That said, my friend and I also have multiple alternate goals in mind understanding the flexibility required along this journey.
It’s vital to be educated, to have goals and plans. I value my bond with friends with whom I openly share experiences and learn from. Even so equipped, there will always be unexpected suspensions in time that appear devoid of answers. Linear plans change no matter how tightly bound. There are no fairies that place shiny solutions under my pillow, or that orbit back to deliver what I once believed lost. I have felt the depth of challenge in each of those spaces, but I now hold an underlying excitement with each one — from the first up to Wil’s entrance to high school and beyond. Not because I anticipate smooth transitions; rather I know, with each step forward I gain a widened perspective that reveals each jagged edge as an offering of new growth.