Heather came to live with me as a foster child in 2005. I was 23 years old, and had been working in residential schools and groups homes for a few years. I was burned out, and knew it would only get worse as time went by. So, some genius part of my brain decided that providing foster care for kids with special needs was a brilliant idea. For the most part, it was. But not in the ways I expected. The visions that I had in my head are so embarrassingly naive that I won’t even put them on paper.
9 years and 7 other foster children later, Heather is still with me. She is different, I am different. But I am 100% certain that she has taught me more than I have taught her. I have taught her how to say words more clearly. I have taught her how to do a better job brushing her teeth. I have taught her how to NOT hit people in public, or spank old ladies bottoms in the grocery store. I have taught her how to look both ways in the street, and how to hold my hand, because after looking, she still books it straight into the path of oncoming vehicles. I have taught her to tell me BEFORE she tries to “help” with the laundry, because whatever she’s thinking of doing, it’s most likely NOT helpful at all.
None of these things are unimportant…. but they are not anything like the things she has taught me.
We are beautiful. We are, every one of us. It doesn’t matter what the magazine cover says, or the billboard, or the women on TV. Heather doesn’t fit any of those “ideals.” And yet, she looks in every single mirror and says, “Cute, cute” or signs “beautiful”. Because she’s ever-observant, she even turns around and checks out her behind. I have no idea where she got that. Ahem. She asks for make-up, and a little bit of loose powder and lip gloss is all she needs to look even more beautiful.
If she recognizes that she doesn’t look like that magazine cover, she doesn’t let it affect her view of herself. She believes she’s beautiful. And she is. And it gets me thinking that our views perhaps (definitely) rely too much on what we see and hear, and not enough on who we already are. We are beautiful. In different ways, but beautiful none-the-less.
Forgiving and forgetting.
She’s got a great memory- she remembers the dance her grandmother taught her when she was 5. She remembers that one time we took a left to get ice cream in some random place, and insists on going “leeeeft” every time we pass that road. But she doesn’t remember the time(s) I yelled at her because I was having a bad day. She doesn’t remember the time my sister accidentally elbowed her in the face. She doesn’t remember the time I didn’t take her to the playground and we had a huge argument about it.
There have been too many times when I have acted badly, selfishly, ickily… but all she remembers is that I love her. That I’ll wake her up every morning, and send her off to school. That if she asks for a hug, I’ll give her one. That if she wants to sit on my lap with all 19 years of herself, I’ll slide over on the couch to make room.
Some people might argue that she doesn’t have the capacity to remember things, but I think she chooses (whether consciously or not) to forget the bad and remember the good, because it benefits her and makes life more pleasant. Why can’t I realize that forgiving and forgetting benefits me? That it makes life more pleasant?
Excitement and Joy.
This girl gets excited about anything. She finds joy in things that I find ridiculous. The other day, we were driving to school, and she took a HUGE breath, and squealed in delight…..as we passed a garbage truck. “ooooooh garbage!!!!!!!” A garbage truck. She is thrilled when we pass a CVS. If I buy her a new notebook (not even a Five Star), she will thank me for hours. She loves MACK trucks, and will tell me the color of every single one we pass. “Big orange truck”, complete with hand motions showing me exactly how big the truck is.
I, on the other hand, don’t give a hoot about the big truck. In fact, it’s in my way. The garbage? I have to drag that to the end of the driveway, and frankly, it’s annoying. Granted, not many people enjoy taking out the trash, but the point is that we can all make more of an effort to find excitement in life. To find joy in the little things. To overlook and overcome the feeling of dread at the day-to-day tasks that we all face, and find some joy in something, somewhere, somehow. I gotta say, the ear-to-ear grin on her face sorta makes me like the garbage truck!
We do a lot of teaching as parents, teachers, and providers of kids with special needs…. But when we stop to think about it, we do an awful lot of learning too. There’s joy to be found in that. And in garbage trucks!