The sky was leaden as I drove to pick up the child. After a particularly long day at work, the thought of an even longer evening ahead was not enticing. The gravel crunching beneath my wheels tells me I’ve arrived. I hate that gravel: My heels sink into it – all my shoes bear the marks. I turn off the car and just sit there. The day was so hectic, but suddenly I wish it wasn’t over yet. I wish it were 8 a.m. again. Hurry now, deep breath, I’ll be late. Mrs. Larremore needs to go home, too.
Mrs. Larremore is a large and pleasant lady. Her garrulous, scolding love for her charges reminds me of the nanny in Gone with the Wind, in a polyester pantsuit instead of red petticoat. Her pleasant disposition never waivers. She and Mrs. Barrett are the ‘special education’ wing (one classroom at my daughter’s preschool). They both adore Dawn. In this catchall room of ‘exceptional’ children, Dawn is at the top of the class. She has learning disabilities, dyslexia, early childhood schizophrenia and is hyperkinetic in the extreme. It’s an awesome string of diagnoses, but Dawn can walk and talk (she usually runs). To the uneducated eye, she appears normal. The other children in her class are not so fortunate. Sean is autistic, lives in his own world and neither sees nor speaks to anyone. There is a Mary with Down Syndrome. At eight-years-old she can neither talk nor walk and still wears diapers.
It’s 5:30and all the moms have come and gone. I crunch across the graveled drive, mount the stairs and turn the worn brass knob on that old familiar door. The hall echoes the sound of my heels. Here and there a locker slams, a child shouts. I know the path well: down the far hall to the very back, last door on the right ‘Special Ed’ says the sign on the door.
Special Education is for ‘exceptional children’. Exceptional is a polite term for every kind of child with problems that encompasses the mild to the severe.
I take a deep breath. Smiling, I turn the knob and walk in. There she is. What a beautiful child. Her hair a spun profusion of copper curls. Her eyes are dark and flashing stars. Her smile makes you wonder what she’s up to. My heart hurts inside me. She looks so normal. Is it possible to love a child so much it hurts. My friends and family say I love her too much. The voices echo in my mind – so unkind. “You’re holding her back”, they say. “Put her away,” they say. “You need a life of your own,” they say. It’s like the lyrics to a song they’ve all rehearsed, and they sing it over and over again. They don’t understand; she’s special. She talks to God and flowers and butterflies and on rainy days she puts stray ‘roly-poly’ bugs back in the grass, so they don’t get stepped on. She is special - my Dawn.
But tonight, I am so tired. All day I work and all night there’s Dawn. Some nights I would just like peace and quiet and solitude. That, I would not have until 10 or 11 tonight. A hyperkinetic child begins running at daybreak (mentally and physically) and only stops when exhaustion is reached and she sleeps. Her day is one headlong rush of frenetic activity. The mind cannot focus but a moment on any given thing. Dawn is such a child. There is no peace or rest or solitude with such as she around. By the time she falls into exhausted sleep, I too am exhausted. And, I too sleep.
Sometimes, I find solitude within; I block out everything and everyone around me - even her. She doesn’t understand. How can she. I love here - I hate her.
Dawn turns and sees me across the room. I drop my purse in time to catch her as she hurls herself into my arms. “Hi, Mom, Hi Mom,” begins a rush of conversation that will only end when she falls into exhausted sleep sometime tonight.
“Hi kiddo, how’s my punkin today?”
“Fine - Linda hit me and I hit her back and we gotta frog and he got loose and Mrs. Barrett jumped on the chair, and..., and..., and...” we echoed down the hall - the child’s soliloquy, my heels and an occasional uh-huh from me.
The ride home was one long sentence for Dawn. Fortunately, she seemed content with an occasional uh-huh, and I retreated to a quiet corner of my mind.
Home, and just in time. The clouds had just begun to dump the weatherman’s 20% on us. We ran into the apartment and Dawn ran to the window. “Can I go out, Mom, please? It’s a warm rain not a cold rain. Can I? Mom? Please?”
No is on my lips, but I’m not ready for that battle yet. I look at her. She is like a colt champing at the bit, in need of a good run. Maybe it will tire her out sooner. Maybe it will make the evening smoother. Maybe. So, I say, “Yes, go change clothes.” I do the same and run to the kitchen to put leftovers in a low oven. All the while Dawn runs back and forth from the kitchen to the door urging my haste. Finally, hand in hand, we’re off. Umbrella was for appearances sake, we’d find the biggest puddles and jump in the middle to see how high they’d splash. Dawn ran ahead – always in a hurry, the incessant chatter had subsided. She’d lift her face to the heavy clouds and open her mouth and then look at me and say, “Look, Mom, God’s giving me a drink.”
“Not to mention a bath.” I’d say, taking her hand as we rounded the bend back towards home. The sky had darkened; the rain was no longer warm.
A hot shower and a dry gown later, I started a roaring fire. Supper was a bowl of leftover casserole, crusty bread with butter, a cup of tea for me and cocoa for Dawn. We ate off trays by the hearth warming ourselves outside and in.
Before I knew it, it’s past 8 o’clock. “Bedtime kiddo.
“No. I don’t want to go to bed. I’m not sleepy.
“I know you don’t want to go, but it’s bedtime just the same. Let’s go.”
“Well, I won’t sleep. I won’t; I’ll scream; I want to stay up. I want...I want...I want...” and so it began. Same song, one thousandth verse.
“No, Dawn, it’s late Dawn. You know the rules, Dawn. We talked about them with Dr. Wilson. Time out Dawn, you must go to your room.” I tried hard to follow the psychologist’s suggestions. I schooled my voice and made it even and calm. “Come on Dawn. I’ll tuck you in and read you a story.”
She broke away, ran to her room and slammed the door. I could hear each glass figurine as it shattered against the wall. I can’t go in. The psychologist said her room is hers, and so I stay outside and listen. In the past I paddled, took privileges, yelled, and physically held her still, all to no avail. His way is no better, but no worse except for the mess I will have to clean up sooner or later.
I’d like to leave and go for a walk or a drive, but I cannot because she cannot. I would like to run away, but I must stay. Gentle bonds like bands of steel bar my way.
I sit by the fire and meditate on the flames. I focus on them and nothing else - clear my mind - block out the sounds - nothing exists but the flames. It’s so late and I am so weary. Every day it is the same with no end in sight. She is only 5 years old.
Suddenly, I become aware again - startled by the silence. It’s so quiet, now. God, the time - it’s 11:30. I tiptoe to her room and quietly open the door. What a mess. All her little glass menagerie lies shattered, shards of glass are everywhere. Not a single thing is left hanging on the walls or in the closet. And there in the middle of it all, curled into a little ball, one unbroken porcelain doll - my Dawn.
“Dear God, please explain this to me. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Don’t you see? There’s been a mistake. Please, God, do you hear me?”
They’re right I guess. She doesn’t seem to be getting any better no matter what I try. I must do something before sanity leaves me. But she’s so small, nearly six, all arms and legs and copper curls. How can I send her away? She’s too little to have to leave her Mom. I’m all she has. “Dear God, what did I do wrong? I tried so hard to do everything right?
“No one’s to blame - some kids are just that way,” they say. “It’s a nice place - she’ll be okay,” they say. “There are cottages to live in and house parents and everything,” they say.
“House parents? I’m her parent. What can they do that I can’t do?”
“But, they’ll help her,” they say, “they’re professionals.
They told me many things more: that I’m too close to her to help her and I only hinder her by doing too much; that I have to work and I can see her every weekend and holidays, too. Deep down inside, I know they’re right, but still I fight.
I dropped her off today, bag and baggage, holly hobby doll and all, teddy bear, and roller skates and more. I climbed back into my car and drove away – alone now, don’t have to rush home now. For so long there were so many had to’s. Now there are none. I don’t have to anymore. Odd feeling inside, kind of empty. I’ve no rudder anymore. I drove for hours and walked in the mall more hours still. Odd, no child to lose now, I’ve already lost her.
Finally, I arrive home. Home? It’s so quiet. I can’t remember it ever being so quiet.
It’s so cold. I start a fire on the hearth - it’s still cold. I put some coffee on and pour a glass of cognac and sit by the window. The dusk gray is suddenly lit like day. The silence is rent by a clap of thunder. There’s the rain, without and within. She looks back at me from the gilt frame on the mantel. I see those dark bright eyes and impish smile, and I remember another rainy day and her words echo in my mind. “Mom, it’s a warm rain.”..and poetry comes with the rain.