To all of you – teachers, aides, therapists, administrators, cafeteria crew, and other support staff:
I’m not sure if parents are typically sad at the end of a school year. My guess is that the reactions are unique to each individual and the details of that particular year. But in our case, sadness is the best description of how we feel as Deni’s time with you comes to a close.
By now most of you are familiar with Deni’s background and the general circumstances that brought him to our family in November. Just six weeks after coming home to a completely new life, Deni started preschool, so it’s safe to say that you have played a major role in his adjustment. I remember picking him up after his first day and his teacher telling me he seemed overwhelmed – understandably. Since that day in January, though, he has continued to gain confidence and adapt so well that we increased his time with you from three half days to four and eventually to five.
We’ve been so happy with Deni’s experience since he started at the beginning of the semester, but something changed a few months ago. Over the weekend Deni took off – he started walking independently. It was a huge accomplishment for him, and we were so proud. When we came to school that Monday morning, I helped him get to the lobby door and then let him go. As we entered the building, one of you happened to be coming down the stairs and Deni walked toward you on his own. Your reaction to him was so genuine and so invested. Your pride was obvious. We redirected Deni to the cafeteria, and as he walked to his spot across the room for breakfast, you told every teacher we passed, “Look at Deni!”
That experience made it abundantly clear why Deni loved school so much – it’s because he was seen and loved. Some of Deni’s needs are unique to his background and medical conditions. But in a lot of ways, it seems like he just craves what we all do. In fact, it’s pretty remarkable to watch how people thrive when they are really seen and really loved.
Whether or not you intended to, you have honored the image of God in our son. You have taken the time to get to know him as an individual and have celebrated him for who he is. I’ve never gotten the impression that he has been categorized solely by what he can or cannot do; instead, he has been seen as a unique person, treated with such dignity, and recognized for the special ways he enhances a place just by being in it.
You have set an example that’s worth following. Not everyone does the same kind of work you do or has the same opportunity to invest so deeply in so many lives at any given time. But we can all follow you in pausing to really see people for who they are – all with their own sacred stories. We can refuse to rush to judgment or to write off those who don’t fit the molds we’ve created. And we can all show up, day after day, to do the same tasks that may seem small, knowing that if we choose to really love people along the way, we may look back and realize those seemingly menial things turned out to be pretty big after all.
Thanks to all of you for greeting Deni as he made his way across the cafeteria each morning, even if he wasn’t in your class. Thank you for the pictures and videos you shared throughout the day. Thank you for the notes you sent home, the meals you prepared specially, the milestones you celebrated, the diapers you changed, the therapy you provided, and so much more. I don’t know if those things felt significant in the moment, but there seemed to be genuine love behind it all, and on his last day of preschool that feels like a really big deal to us.
So thank you for teaching Deni this semester, and in the process for teaching me too. I know we’ll both be better off because of it.