Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Play

Oscar is graduating from fifth grade TOMORROW and I'm hell-bent on writing about these days, these last days of Oscar at his elementary school.  Every time someone mentions graduation, tears pool on my lashes, my throat tingles and I feel my inner core start to dissolve.  

Pictures won’t be enough to capture and savor these precious moments.  So, this week, while I was frantically trying to find a special tie for Oscar to wear (preferably a giraffe tie), a dress for me to wear (wait till you see!), while I attended his last publishing party, helped him gather materials for Monday’s fourth grade vs fifth grade egg drop contest, and assembled pictures for his graduation tribute poster, I also did attend my writing group, compelled to write, to get these moments down.  Here’s what I wrote about the fifth grade play at last week’s writing group: 

Two weeks ago you performed in the fifth grade class play – three (three!) one-and-a-half-hour shows with countless transitions on and off the stage. Seven speaking lines!  I knew you played the bumble bee – I’d taken your black sweatshirt and wrapped the body with wide strips of yellow duct tape while you stood with your arms straight out to the sides and turned slowly so I could keep your stripes straight. I’d stolen one of Ruby’s headbands and twisted black and yellow pipe cleaners around it and glued a black pompom on the ends to make your antennae.  I’d practiced your lines with you over and over - at the baseball games, in the car on the way to school, and at the breakfast table - until you could say them without stumbling.  I figured you’d been assigned that part because the buzzing would mask your stuttering, which I thought was brilliant.  I didn’t know though that there were other animals in the play.  I thought you were the token one – that you’d been relegated to this role because you love animals and because it was all you could really manage. The entertaining side show -- a show I would thoroughly enjoy!

But I didn’t know that you also played a student and had many other non-speaking gestures and transitions to manage.  I didn’t know that you would hastily sit down when the “teacher” came on stage and snapped you all to attention. I didn't know you would keep your head down and pretend to scribble in your journal as if in writing class. I didn’t know that when you came back on stage as the bumble bee that you’d flap your hands down low next to your hips to imitate your wings. I didn’t know that your friends would gently touch your arm to prompt you if didn’t jump in right away with your line.  I didn’t know that you really could act!

I sat in my seat in the third row at that first show on Friday night and watched you walk onto the stage in that first scene.  I put my hand to my forehead to press away the tears of joy, just the way you did last month, after that marathon IEP, when I finally told you that you’d been accepted to that awesome school* for the Fall and that Daddy and I would do our very best to send you there for middle school.  (You were so confused by those happy tears – you’d only ever cried when you were sad and we stood there on the corner hugging, me crying too then.) 

On Friday, I pressed and pressed, just like you did, but I felt the tears prick at the corners of my eyes anyway, just the way they did at that musical performance back in kindergarten. Do you remember that performance? There you stood, up on the stage with your classmates.  Up on stage with your classmates! There was no adult helping you.  You mostly faced the audience.  Sometimes you sang!

Someone took a photo of Daddy and me watching that kindergarten you and I saw that photo this week while making your graduation poster.  Our eyes are shining, our cheeks are flushed, and our faces are lined with those wrinkles that appear when you are smiling through tears and trying not to sob. 

Over the years at this amazing school I’ve gotten used to you reaching farther than I thought possible.  I really didn’t think you could surprise me with the play. But you did, walking onto the stage like that on that Friday night.  Sure I noticed how you immediately scanned the audience, looking to see who was there and where we were sitting.  Integrating all that information is hard for you but you did it quickly and then switched back into your student role. “Middle School! What’ll it be like? What’ll it be like?” you sang with the rest of the “students”, clapping your hands and moving confidently across the stage to your next spot.

I looked around the audience then. Daddy smiled and wiped away a tear.  Somebody gently touched my shoulder. Someone else nodded to me with a smile.  I wasn’t the only one noticing how far you’ve come.  And then the tears flowed harder.  Just look at you!

* a small non-public school for kids with learning disabilities where all the therapies and structures are integrated into the curriculum and food security is already in place!

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Walk

A few Saturdays ago we held our 11th Annual Walking for PWS event in Northern California.  Oscar was only 18 months old when we held that first walk and I remember how Paul carried him on his shoulders for most of the two mile loop around the Berkeley Marina. (I remember thinking it was good trunk work for Oscar to hold himself upright like that -oh how we start to think like therapists when all we do is take our kids to therapy.)

In the years that followed Oscar was eventually able to walk the entire 1.75 mile loop, and then, later ride his bike.  The Walk became a way to keep track of those hard-fought milestones and we celebrated with our PWS community, as well as our friends and family that joined us, that Oscar was able to do just a little more each year.

This year though marked a different milestone.  Oscar's class is graduating from 5th grade next week and moving on to different middle schools.  So, at the urging of Oscar's teacher and the director of our school, I invited all of Oscar's classmates and their families to join us for The Walk.  I hesitated to extend a group invitation like that because, as I keep saying, these teachers, families and their children, our dear friends now, have been "walking with us" for years already -- including and accommodating Oscar, keeping him safe, urging him to join games, listening patiently through mind-boggling stuttering, inviting him to watch a basketball game or go to the movies.  They admonish me for thanking them.  They just don't see it that way.

Nearly 50 people walked for Oscar this year at our new location - Crissy Field in San Francisco. Over half the class was there with their families, along with two families from Ruby's class, three teachers and the school's director.  We made t-shirts with the 5th grade class picture on the back for all to wear.  It was almost too much -- that sea of people wearing "Walking for Oscar" shirts on that clear blue sky day in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. All those people there, for Oscar, for us! I felt my body tighten, not wanting to sink into the moment lest I melt into a puddle of tears. 

Our group was asked to lead off the walk.  I wish I could post the picture of Oscar with his friends and Ruby with hers pausing under the green and white balloon arch that marks the start of the walk but I didn't ask everyone's permission.  I wish I could post the picture of Oscar heading off down the path sandwiched between two pals.  It would show his proud shoulders (but not the slight bounce in his step as he walked off.)

I wish I could share the picture of Ruby and the two boys from her class as they wandered slightly ahead, chatting amicably, looking older than their 7 years.  When Ruby heard that Oscar was inviting his class to come and support him, she wanted to ask the 1st graders to come and support her too.  I sent an email explaining PWS to her class, realizing as I did so that I hadn't really ever taken a moment to formally educate all of those families about PWS and what that means for Ruby as a sibling.  I've been feeding them tidbits for two years now, not wanting to burden them either I guess.  I was so glad Ruby was open to sharing, and mostly that she asked for support too.

I wish too that I could post pictures of the elaborate face painting, our group with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, the kids playing chase on the banks of the amphitheater, the teachers chatting and remarking on the day.  I'll hold this day always in my bank of memories from these amazing six years.

Here, though, are a few pictures I think I can post: