Friday, June 27, 2014

Water Problems

"Mamma, we have a problem!" Ethan yelled to me through the screen door.

That's always a great thing to hear on the first day of summer vacation, when your child has been outside for a while playing with the hose without direct supervision.

"What's wrong?" I asked, trying not to sound too weary. We had 10 weeks of summer vacation to go, after all.

"I didn't know it would get stuck," he replied. I headed out onto the deck and looked. The hose that Ethan was supposed to be filling a big bin with was instead poking out of a hole in the ground in front of the swing set. And yes, several hard tugs proved it was, indeed, stuck.

"Ethan, you were NOT supposed to be doing this out here!" Never mind weary, I was mad. I'd told him: no more digging holes, no more mud after the fiasco a few days before. There were holes everywhere and the muck was inches deep. Our yard was beginning to look like some sort of training course for a Tough Mudder race.

"Well, I wanted to do the hot and the cold mixed together, but you didn't want me to do THAT either," he said indignantly. "This was the only thing I wanted to do."

The hot and the cold is Ethan's recent and other new quirky water play idea. He likes to run the cold hose on the hot deck and feel the temperature change to warm. As the deck is right next to area still soggy with mud, I'd nixed the idea.

This is the crux of the problem. Lack of ideas. When Anna was little, water play was simple. Fill up the kiddie pool and throw some toys in. Same for the water table. Or set up the sprinkler and have her run through it.

If we were to make an investment in a pool or some kind of elaborate water slide, Ethan would be golden. He loves to swim; he loves zipping down the slide at his grandparents' house again and again. When he did have one of those kiddie pools, Ethan liked to play in it for about 10 minutes in the "typical" way. His favorite part, however, was the filling and draining the water out. SO, he'd get really motivated to help fill the pool with the hose, play briefly, and open the plug and let it all out.

"Mamma!" I don't know how many times I heard Anna call over various summers. "He's letting the water out again!"

Same for the water table. I'd fill it up for him and put some toys inside. Ten minutes I'd come back and it'd be empty. He'd opened the plugs up and drained everything out. Now the plugs are lost, so the water table is useless, although Ethan probably would enjoy watching it fill and drain simultaneously.

If I turn on the sprinkle he'll jump through it about four times and then want to pick it up and spray it everywhere as if it's a hose. And especially, right now, if it'll make mud.

In the past, I'd attempt to model all kinds of play ideas for Ethan. Look! We can bring the little people into the water table and pretend they're in a swimming pool! We can pretend the pool has little fishes swimming in it, and boats sailing! We can run races through the sprinkler!

Over time I've learned that these ideas rarely carry over. If Ethan didn't invent it, he's rarely interested in playing it. There are times he'll come up with a really cool game that I'd never have thought of. But often he heads into water play with a singular purpose: to carry out whatever the current obsession is.

But now, for the first time, I could almost sense frustration in his voice. It was mostly because I didn't like him playing either game he wanted to play. But there was something else, something when he added, "This was all I could think of to do!" There seemed to be a tiny part of him that wished he could be interested in doing something else, of coming up with a different idea.

"Ethan, does your mind get 'stuck' sometimes, and you only want to do one thing?" I asked. We'd never talked like this before.

"Yeah," he acknowledged. I gave him a quick hug. "Maybe we need to talk about some ideas together, and think of some other things you can do." I thought of looking online for zany ideas, although I also remembered that we hadn't had much success in the past. I felt compassion rather than annoyance. Why did it take so long for me to realize that these obsessions come with the wiring of his brain, that he's not purposely avoiding new games just to be contrary?

Sometimes I tell myself I should just let go and be the cool, carefree mom that lets my kids dance in the rain, stomp in puddles, and slather themselves in mud. Or lets Ethan fill and drain pools to his heart's content. Maybe I should just chill. It's not like our backyard is winning any awards anyway. But then I remember that while we can do those things sometimes as a special kind of treat, allowing them every day will only encourage the obsession. Then Ethan will want to create mud havens at other people's houses, or drain every kiddie pool he sees. He'll be even less open to trying something new, if I only encourage the old standbys.

For now he's not playing with the hose again for a very long time. We had to wait for Dan to come home to dig it out of the muck. But it's a delicate balance as always, between letting him be who he is and giving him the tools he needs to thrive in this world.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kindergarten: A Look Back

The sun's up but the house is blessedly quiet. School vacation is here...a sweet, light breeze is blowing through the kids are sleeping with visions of trips to Maine, s'mores and fireflies dancing in their heads.

But before we plunge headfirst into summer, I have to briefly look back at kindergarten for Ethan. I want to make sure I don't forget to savor the gift that was his first year spent all day at school.

If someone had told me when he entered preschool at three, into the ABA program in a self-contained autism classroom, where he'd be by kindergarten, I don't want to say I wouldn't have believed them. But I would've felt very, very grateful.

I still do. There were some worries, heading into this year. Primarily, I was concerned about Ethan having to spend an entire day doing school work with only a half-hour recess. I also wasn't sure how he'd do following directions and staying focused in class. That was one reason I argued to have him at least share a paraprofessional, heading into the year.

He surpassed my expectations. We finished the year with no para, with Ethan hopping out of the car and walking into school on his own and working independently in class. I have to say it: I underestimated him.

Then there was reading and math. Just as with Anna, the way Ethan picked up reading just blew me away. Both kids couldn't read one day, and within a few weeks were reading sentences. This always amazes me. I kind of had a hunch Ethan would do well in math but struggle with reading. He actually finished the year with higher scores in reading, although his math scores were great, too. The way that kid can calculate in his head amazes me. I figure he'll probably helping Anna in math before you know it. This already infuriates her, as math is a constant struggle for Anna (me too!). As always, I try to tell her there are areas that don't come naturally to Ethan, either.

Like creativity. How many times have I tried to tell Anna that while her brain is brimming with new ideas, with games to create and crafts to try, and stories to write and scenarios for her dolls, while Ethan "plays" it's usually copying something he's seen before? Writing brief stories this year was a distinct challenge for him. So was drawing pictures. He constantly needs to be stretched to expand his mind, slow down, and not just slap down the same ideas over and over. Thinking more abstractly is a challenge as well.

He's done with OT but his handwriting will never win any awards. I hoping in the screen-driven world we live in that's not going to matter much. He's still trying to figure out tying his shoes. It'll come, eventually.

He did "burn out" on school as he always does, in the spring. When he gets tired of working, he gets silly, and there were some behavioral issues as the year drew to a close (the boy loves to climb, but scaling the urinals in the boy's bathroom probably wasn't the best idea).

Of course the social struggles are still there. He's not going to be the kid surrounded by a gaggle of friends. Interaction is an effort, especially with those outside of his little group of closest friends. When he is motivated to talk, it's often all about him, what he likes, whatever his latest obsession is. But he's learning. I love to see his earnest attempts at making conversation (at home, we'll hear, "So daddy, how was business today?").

One of my greatest frustrations is the way other people often don't realize Ethan isn't ignoring them. It's that he spends a great deal of time in the world of his head. You have to work to pull him out. He's also slower to transition from one topic to another, so when you're trying to ask him something, and he appears to purposely not be listening, really he's just thinking about something else. He hasn't even heard your question. I see this happen with other kids all of the time. And I can see how this is really going to annoy people, the older he gets.

But here we are, 180 or so days later, and despite some minor blips, I can only feel immensely thankful for the year that just went by. I credit first his teacher, for doing her best to make learning fun in this age of Common Core and limited time for kids to run outside or to actually play. She also always knew the little things to do to help make a big difference for Ethan (like the coloring chart that showed steps to creating pictures with a lot of detail).

And I credit Ethan, for proving many of my worries wrong. I know it's our job as parents to look for potential pitfalls as we plan for the year ahead. But there's nothing more satisfying than when our kids humble us. I don't like to think that I underestimated him but rather that he rose to the occasion that was full-day kindergarten. I have no idea what first grade, or the years ahead, hold. But I hope he continues to surprise us.

I can't help but remember something silly, but maybe it's not so silly. Back when Ethan was first diagnosed, one day we were having Chinese food. When we got to the fortune cookies, I stopped. Is it weird to pray that God would speak through a fortune cookie? I prayed, let this one be a message for Ethan. When I opened it up, this is what I read: Your success will astonish everyone.

And indeed, already, he has.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I almost hate to write this, because most of the day was so perfectly lovely.

I mean that with all of my heart. There we were at Ethan's school. Second to last day. We walked in his kindergarten classroom to little blue plastic chairs set up for all the parents and family members. The kids sat, squirmed and squiggled excitedly, wearing hats they'd made. Mrs. B. got everyone's attention and the show began.

When all was said and done, we'd relished as the nearly 20 five- and six-year-olds sang three songs, recited a poem, read and acted out "The Three Little Pigs," and (this had to be the highlight) danced and shook their bodies around to "What Does the Fox Say?," "Happy," and "Despicable Me."

Watching Ethan dance to the music with the rest of his classmates was priceless. So was witnessing him act (with two other boys) in the role of the Big Bad Wolf. He even used a mean wolf voice. The kid sounded downright menacing.

I wanted to laugh at the sheer cuteness of the kids, to wrap up their innocence in a way so that it would never leave, to cry at the sweetness when a little girl threw her arms unabashedly around her teacher and gave the kind of hug that allows little room to breathe.

The performance ended with certificates for each student, popsicles for kids and adults alike, and an impromptu conga line that involved a good chunk of the class.

What I'm about to write can't diminish all of that. I loved it. I love Ethan's teacher. I'm so proud of him and how well he's coped this year. I love of all of those other little faces. There is something so precious about this age. Having an older child reminds me that these days are fleeting indeed.

That was what I wanted to think about, to sit with, as we walked away from the school, as I was climbing back into the car. Then I saw one of the special ed. teachers. She and another had come into the classroom to watch the kids. I'd seen their smiles and applause. Their faces had shined with pride not unlike a parents'.

"Wasn't that great?" she said, all smiles. I agreed. She continued. "He did so well. And you wouldn't know. You wouldn't even be able to distinguish him from any of the other kids." I politely nodded. Maybe she wanted me to further comment, but I couldn't find any words. I felt as if I were a balloon with a slow leak. "Yeah," I managed with a weak smile, then rummaged through my things. She went on her way.

You couldn't distinguish him from the other kids.

Is that what we were working toward here? Was that the end goal? To make my child blend in; that he not exhibit behaviors that call attention to the fact that he is, in fact, different?

I was proud that Ethan had held his own in the class. That he participated. That he was having fun. That he had learned so much over the past nine months. I was grinning and clapping because he had worked hard. That he was overcoming his anxiety and shyness and doing things out of his comfort zone.

I wasn't marveling that he looked like a regular kid; that maybe his diagnosis wasn't apparent to anyone.

I don't think they realize, when they talk sometimes. I don't think they understand the false hopes they build, the expectations they raise when they tell parents what they think they want to hear. There is a very big difference between not looking typical and not being typical. Modifying a child's behaviors, working to squelch more obvious signs of autism leaves you with just an autistic child who can adapt in public. It doesn't leave you with a typical child.

Ethan can read like the other kids and sing and do the hand motions and even carry on conversations but it doesn't mean he doesn't prefer the inner world of his mind and that people really tire him out after a bit and sometimes he takes comfort in the quiet sameness of patterns and numbers.

When, I wondered, did blending in become the truest marker of success?

I realized then why that one little exchange with the teacher had struck an especially deep nerve. It was because I've always been one pulled by the teasing security that comes from not standing out from anyone else. Don't rock the boat. Wear what everyone is wearing. Behave. Don't ever offend. Fade safely into the background. I would've fit in really well in the group-think 1950s, I'm sure.

Blending in felt so comfortable. Over the course of many years, I began to realize that finding solace in not being an individual is a sure sign of insecurity. And then I'd remember messages I'd heard at church...those verses about God's people being peculiar. Yeah, that's the word used. Peculiar. Strange. Odd. Unusual. While I've always hated sticking out, being a person of faith is supposed to mean being very much set apart. It's an extension of who I am; of who I choose to be.

There is nothing very brave or noteworthy about being exactly like everyone else. And emulating everyone around me is somehow acknowledging that I don't have anything to offer...

...that he doesn't have anything in him that's wonderful, in the way he's set apart.

I refuse to believe that.

And so I will let that comment roll off my shoulders rather than linger. I know what she was trying to say. She was impressed with how well Ethan has adjusted. I am too.

I also know that he will always be different. That we can't just play a game of keeping up appearances. Any of us. We were made for more than that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Less is More

We went out as a family to eat for Father's Day. This is big news at our house these days. Starting a business means Dan is working long hours and money is sometimes tight. Sometimes we've done take-out but since Chloe was born in January we had yet to all go out somewhere.

Dan picked this dingy Italian place in the center of town, and I almost had to laugh since I had promised not to nag because it was his choice. Several slightly intoxicated older people were seated in metal chairs outside, rambling loudly as we headed through the doors. Inside the place was empty and smelled of smoke. I was reminded of several friends' houses in childhood, where the shades were always drawn, ashtrays brimmed with cigarette butts, and soap operas blared from the TV.

The food came and the sauce tasted as if it'd come straight from a jar (I'm picky that way, thanks to my Italian grandmother's legendary sauce recipe). The waitress was barely attentive and we had to ask for bread. Yet as we sat there chewing away, Ethan got the biggest grin on his face. "I love this place!" he announced. "I love eating dinner with my family!"

When I was a kid, we didn't have much money. I didn't do summer camp or gymnastics or dance. We rarely went out to eat unless my grandmother took us to McDonalds the next town over. If we went to the movies we never got popcorn or candy, although the smell of the popcorn and butter used to leave me salivating. I never felt that deprived, though (except for the day my grandmother clucked about how sad it was that we weren't going to Disney World the way our cousins were). Still, we had vacations in Maine. I had my Cabbage Patch kids. Life was pretty good.

Once I became I supposed grown-up and started making some money I realized how much I liked spending it. Dan, who came from a similar background, did the same. No, we didn't care about splurging on clothes (just look at us -- it's still obvious!) or decorating our home, but we really, really liked to travel, and we really, really liked eating out. And I liked books. Lots of books. So we did a lot of that, the first years we were married. And when the kids came along, we kept it up. While we haven't yet done the Disney thing, there were trips to indoor waterparks and New York and Boston and theme parks. There was the Bronx Zoo and the aquariums and fairs and festivals.

And none of these things were bad. We had fun. I'm just not sure how much we appreciated our little adventures.

When I was growing up, I thought rich people were shallow while simultaneously envying them. It's taken me more than 20 years to realize that people who are well-off are unfairly swept into the same pile in the exact way a more snobbish type might make assumptions about poor people.

I've learned to see people first, not their spotless house that dwarfs mine; not their exotic vacations or the rocks they wear on their hands.

At the same time more recently I've learned that while being financially comfortable is not a terrible thing, there are very real pitfalls. They point back to that word, comfortable. We all want that kind of lifestyle. We all want our kids to not feel deprived. Yet there seems to be a slippery slope that leads from comfortable to ungrateful. Ungrateful doesn't always mean a sulky attitude or a spoiled demeanor. I think sometimes it's just when we lose that sense of wonder and thankfulness. It's when a meal becomes just another time out and we start bickering on where to go or getting snide when the service is too slow. Sometimes it means, simply, boredom.

It's like that old song by Dave Matthews that sometimes runs through my head (It's a typical situation/In these typical times/Too many choices...). Less can be more. Fewer nights out, fewer trips to Six Flags, fewer goodies purchased on the fly at Target can be very good indeed. The leaner times are well worth it if it means seeing my little boy's eyes light up in a smelly little restaurant just at the treat of eating some gooey pizza while sitting next to dad. Infinitely worth it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Boy Next Door

Look outside our home on any given afternoon, and there's a good chance you'll see Ethan standing at the old white picket fence that marks the border between our house and the one next door. You'll see him standing...looking...waiting. He's ready to play.

About three years ago our neighbors, who have an older son now in middle school, adopted a little boy from Russia who's about a year younger than Ethan. At first Ethan had no interest in him whatsoever. After a while I'd see him steal glances sometimes when he'd be outside, but then winter would come, we wouldn't see him for months, and the little guy, who I'll call "A.," would be forgotten.

Then Ethan started really getting into basketball, and the neighbors have a basketball hoop (never mind a really cool swing in their backyard), and all bets were off. Ethan started to ask if he could go over there to play. Or he'd invite A. over to our side.

Watching them play from the start has been really sweet and just a tiny bit sad. Sad because there are times I see how completely focused Ethan can be on his own wants, on his needs or interests, and I know that in time this can grow tiresome. There aren't too many kids who will ALWAYS play what the other child wants to play. But much more than that their playtime brings smiles to my heart. I love listening to their chatter. I love looking next door and seeing them hanging from the branches of trees. And yes, they play a LOT of basketball. Or at least Ethan and the big brother do, while A. looks on.

Of course, as with many of Ethan's interests, playing with his neighbor has morphed into a bit of an obsession. This is why often, when he comes home after school, the first thing he does is hop out of the car and head over towards the vicinity of the fence to watch for A., even though Ethan knows he doesn't get home from preschool until after 4:30 (he also leaves for preschool at 7:50 a.m., Ethan has informed me, in case anyone's wondering).

Ethan will stand there at the fence, and if I encourage him to go play somewhere else (and attempt to explain that it's kind of rude to sit there and stare), he will somehow find a way to get back to the fence within minutes. He'll offer random reports on activity within the house, despite my pleadings not to ("I think they're making dinner now!" "Someone just turned off a light upstairs!"). If A.'s parents or grandparents (one lives with them, and two are currently visiting from out of the country) head into the backyard, this is especially unnerving. This is when I'll discreetly (outright) beg him to do something else. I imagine trying to sit out on my deck and read a book in the summer shade while two big six-year-old eyes are constantly trained on me.

A.'s parents are so sweet and understanding about Ethan, I could hug them. I'm sure it helps that the mom is a special needs teacher in a nearby town. They don't bat an eye at Ethan and his constant presence. They'll do their best to chat with him if A. doesn't feel like playing outside. One time A.'s dad even invited him over to practice baseball. Another time, on the day of a huge family party, they asked Ethan along to play softball over the hill at the school.

Side note: That invitation involved one of my most mortifying moments of the year. Ethan came inside saying that A's dad "wanted to talk to me." I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was because he'd done something wrong like not playing nicely with A., and as I was stressed and in the midst of nursing a screaming baby I blurted out "What does he want?!" Of course Mr. Literal had to open the back door and yell over to him, "She wants to know what you want?!" What he wanted was just to ask if Ethan could go with them to play. Thanks, Ethe.

Lately we haven't seen A. outside as much. Ethan misses him. I'm not sure if it's the busyness of the year, or if he's found interest in other indoor activities, or that he's a bit tired of playing with Ethan. Oh, I hope that's not it. I hope and pray not, because, despite the one-sided interaction and the obsession with his basketball hoop, Ethan genuinely likes his little friend. And that is a such a beautiful six-letter word. Friend.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nothing Is Impossible

My love affair with the piano started young. We had an old one in our house. I have no idea where we got it. I loved playing and singing. I loved making up songs. There are pictures of me at two and three years old, singing into a toy microphone, or banging on the keys.

When I was a bit older, my parents gave the piano away. They gave it to the pastor of one of several dysfunctional churches we attended when I was young, a man who basically guilted them into giving it to his family.

I missed the piano. In time I even wondered, Would I have followed a path in music if we had kept it? but over the years and even as an adult I always enjoyed sitting down at a simple electronic keyboard (Dan's gift, way early in our marriage) and figuring out songs. I'm no prodigy but I can find simple melodies and harmonies quickly by ear. And so recently when Ethan announced he loved a song from church called "Nothing is Impossible" and I asked if he wanted to figure it out on the piano, I watched intently. I could see the wheels in his head turning. I started singing:

Through you I can do anything
I can do all things

I am living by faith
Nothing is impossible

It took him a few tries. I showed him when he got stuck. But he was doing it! He was so focused on the keys he never saw the look on my face. He wouldn't have understood, anyway. He wouldn't have understood my sheer joy at being able to share playing music by ear with my son. He wouldn't have understood that four years ago, we would not have known if this was possible. Never mind the playing -- even that he would be able to use the words to ask to play. When your son is not-yet-two and you get an autism diagnosis, you just don't know.

The leader of our worship team heard about Ethan's love for the song and kindly offered to put it on the set list the next time our group sang at church. I had no idea, until he shared at rehearsal, that he had a similar story about the same song. He told us about singing that song at church several years before, and looking over at his adopted daughter, who has some special needs and was really struggling with reading and writing at the time; about seeing her singing the song with all her might with outstretched arms. He told about his fears and worries ebbing away as he realize God had things under control; and about the sweet little love notes his reading and writing daughter sends him today. Like Ethan, she has come so far.

On Sunday, he told that story from the stage. On Sunday, we sang this song that no one knew a little six-year-old had asked for:

I'm not gonna live by what I see
I'm not gonna live by what I feel

Deep down I know that you're here with me
I know that you can do anything

When I sing a song like this, I have to admit the cynic tries to have its say. Oh really? it sneers. God can do anything? He sure didn't heal your friend, the one that just lost her fight with cancer.

And I think I know now that it's okay to ask such questions, but it's all about where I choose to fix my gaze.

Close your eyes and stretch out your hands, Chris the worship leader was saying. What if we choose, what if we ask for, a little more faith?

I believe, I believe
I believe I believe in you

We sang softly yet with all of our hearts. I thought about seeing through the lens of belief. Sometimes, I think, the impossible could mean witnessing one of those actual, Biblical-style miracles. Who am I to say God couldn't heal someone?

Sometimes, "I can do anything" can mean going through the fiercest of battles with unshakeable faith and a peace and a strength only God could give.

Or maybe, I thought as I sang, the impossible is that I'm still here after all these years and singing and believing, that I haven't shut the door on God and on church, after many years of seeing all sorts of ridiculous things done by Christians purportedly in the name of God. Like that long-ago pastor who shamed the piano out of us. He may have taken the piano, but he could never take the music away.

The rest of the day, I saw. I saw that nothing is impossible when I looked down at my four-month-old precious gift that we never anticipated we'd have.

I saw nothing is impossible when we gathered with relatives we thought we'd lost due to a heartbreaking rift in the family that spans back 20 years.

God didn't say He'd tie everything up for us neatly into perfect packages. But everything is possible.

Tucking Ethan into bed, he was smiling about his song.

"I believe, I believe," I sang to him and stopped. "Ethan? What does it mean, to believe God?"

"To trust Him," he answered. He didn't even have to think about it. Then he rolled over on the pillow, and began to fall asleep.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The (Big) Little Things

Every morning when I drop Ethan off for school, we have the same routine.

We've come a long way from the first days of school, when I would walk him through the front doors and deliver him to a paraprofessional (he no longer needs). After a few months I'd walk him halfway to the school's entrance, then just part of the way, and now we've graduated to me just pulling the car over, sending love and goodbyes, and watching him race on his own to get inside.

For the past month or so, Mrs. O. has been out there on the sidewalk greeting the drop-off kids each morning. Mrs. O. knows Ethan well; she's another paraprofessional who was there back at the other school from the first day Ethan came through the doors as a three-year-old.

Every morning, she holds out her arm so Ethan can slap her a high-five as he runs by. Every day, he waits for it. Every day, when he sees her there, the grin widens across his face. She's always ready for him, with a smile and a comment I can't hear from the distance.

I know she knows. I know she knows this kind of routine, this friendly ritual, is exactly what a kid like Ethan needs to start his day.

His own classroom teacher, Mrs. B., came trudging through the rain last week to watch Ethan's t-ball game. I'm not quite sure why they were playing in the deluge, but the kids were having a blast. Mrs. B. stood under her umbrella and cheered on Ethan and another boy from his class. He became simultaneously shy and happy when he saw her. In the car as we attempted to dry out and lick ice cream cones he coyly announced how glad he was that his teacher had come to see him.

Last week Ethan was looking at some of the ribbons Anna has won and was lamenting he didn't have one. I'd told him he'd win a ribbon at some point, but that didn't cheer him up much.

The very next afternoon after school Ethan came running up to me with a trophy in his hands. "Look what I have!" he exclaimed, bursting with excitement. Apparently his gym teacher, Mr. C., has a special trophy he "customizes" for kids to take home for a few days if they've really impressed him during class. Ethan's basketball obsession has paid off -- the way he tells it, he threw a ball over the back of the basketball backboard and got it in, leaving his teacher stunned.

As Ethan sat in the back, kissing his trophy, bursting with pride, I wished I could have taken his teachers and enveloped them in a bear hug.

For a moment, I remembered my own favorite teacher memory. Summer after fifth grade. I was moving away, and my friend held a going-away pool party. The festivities were just getting started when I saw her. My teacher, my favorite teacher ever (and still to this day), Mrs. Paul, the one who inspired me in both writing and music, had come. She came to a party for me. During the summer, when she didn't have to. Every time I think of the moment, I still smile.

Sometimes they may have no idea. Teachers may not realize the big impact they are making with the smallest (or sometimes not so small) gesture. This year they have made my little boy want to jump out of the car and run into school. They haven't heaped on false praise, yet have done their unique part to help him see that he is special, and cared for during the six or so hours he is there.

With every high-five and makeshift trophy, they are making precious memories. And so, to each one, I say, with all my heart, thank you.