Monday morning I sat in the gymnasium at the junior high and waited for my Allie B's name to be called so I could watch her walk in front of a group of her peers(cringe) to receive an award at the annual end of the year ceremony.
As I sat down next to a friend another mother of a friend of Allie's slid in front of us. We all sat and watched and waited and even whispered to each other as we caught up on the latest volleyball news for our girls. It didn't take long for the woman in front of us to begin. She went through this and that and this and that and shared with us some things that had her upset. We listened politely, neither of us being very close to this woman, but realizing we would continue running into her for the next 4 years as all of our girls interact and play ball together. I seriously don't know her well, but just enough to be polite and friendly toward her. Since I'm not that familiar with her I didn't know to expect what was to come out of her mouth next.
This is the part where "speechless" comes in to the story. How I wish I knew what to do, to say, or how to behave in these situations! Instead I just sat silent, hurt, stunned, and stinging from the words to be shared.
As I said before I don't know much about this woman other than her children are all very talented, very athletic, and incredibly smart. I also know she is an employ of the school. She's a teacher. Of what I do not know.
She began to complain about her day and to share with us how she had really wanted to take a half day Monday in order to get things ready for her sons graduation activities. A senior picnic, awards ceremony, and baccalaureate. All very acceptable reasons for needing to only work for half a day. I got it. Understood it. Reasonable if you ask me. Then she went on. Its at this point in her sharing that I began to get uncomfortable. As she continued to explain very heatedly why she was denied this half day off from work she got more and more upset. She was very bothered that she had been denied because of the Special Ed students prom. Apparently only one student from the class would not be attending and it was because of this young ladies need for a teacher or supervisor during the school day that this employee of our high school would be required to stay at work. She used the words stupid and ridiculous when describing the parents who had denied the attendance. She used a few other words I won't mention and all the while I can feel my face turning red and my insides shaking. Then she said these words to me, "To top it all off not only do I HAVE to stay and babysit this girl, but she is in a wheel chair and wears diapers and can't even get herself to the bathroom! I have to clean her up all day long because of this stupid prom!"
I sat silent. Speechless. Hurt. But...mostly injured. I couldn't believe that this woman who had stood in the foyer of our home and watched Ashley Kate in her play room while I cleaned her up was saying these words in front of me. To me. I was stunned.
Its been three days since our encounter with this teacher. This woman who receives a paycheck for taking care of our students. I still can't quite understand how I sat silent and said nothing, but I honestly have no idea how to respond in a situation such as this. It is for this exact reason, the fear of Ashley being thought of as a burden and resented because of her disabilities, that we have chosen to keep her out of the system. We understand that many of our friends who teach don't understand our choice. I really do. Ashley could never share with us how her day had gone or what words had been said to her. We would never know if she were made to feel uncomfortable or as a burden or if she were afraid by a caregivers attitude toward her. Although I do not believe in any way that this teacher would EVER harm or intentionally hurt one of her students. In all honesty I just think she wasn't thinking as she vented to us. To me. A parent of a child very similar to the one she was describing.
When we see Ashley Kate we SEE Ashley Kate. We don't see or focus or point out her handicaps. Call us blind, call us naive. We just love her for being her. Even though I know I'm changing diapers all day long and transferring her body, and cleaning up her vomit, and tending to her needs...I still don't give it a second thought. She's just Ash. She's beautiful and funny and amazing and smart and precious. She's Ash.
I'm hopeful that someday I will find the courage and the grace to speak up when I find myself in this situation. Its not the first time. I imagine it won't be the last. Its a hard place to find yourself and while your heart is pounding and your hands are shaking and your eyes are brimming with tears its so very hard to find your voice.
So I sat...speechless.