Isabella’s first request for her graduation from the Banyan School was Aunt Joan and Uncle Donald’s attendance. Since her grandparents are no longer with us, Isabella (and the rest of the family) has looked to my father’s brother and his wife as our wise elders. It’s a reminder of the importance of the generational connection. I was lucky enough to have four grandparents until I was 16. My paternal grandfather passed away only seven years before his son, my father. He was a vital force in the lives of all 12 of his grandchildren.
The graduation went off without a hitch. Each graduate was seranaded with words from the director or the principal of the school. What stuck out for me was that Isabella was the only student referred to as queen, as in Queen Isabella. Yay, that’s my girl! She and her sister Victoria both have names that once belonged to queens. So, why not think of yourself as one. I had no idea that Isabella’s school thought of her the way that we, her family, do.
Today marks the fourth time that Isabella has gone off on her own unexpectedly. The first was probably the most serious. She was just four years old and had just learned to use the bathroom. She was with my sister at a street fair. Yes, a street fair — every parent’s nightmare locus for a missing child, perhaps only second to a mall. (Isabella became lost there once several years back while on my watch.) At the street fair, she was looking for a bathrrom. After jumping up onto vendors’ tables and screaming her name, I found Isabella crying in a one of those stinky portable bathrooms. She was wet and very frightened. That was the only time she had any fear when she separated from the adults that accompanied her.
The mall incident was typical. Isabella saw something that she liked in a store, so she went in to check it out. After my panic subsided, I figured which store she would like and found her immediately. She wasn’t gone long enough for me to involve mall cops. The time before today happened while she was scootering. My husband took her out scootering for exercise. They both scootered. Isabella, who once was not able to master the coordination required, has become quite proficient and fast. At some point, she scootered ahead of her father. The police got involved. She was missing for over an hour. She had scootered to the location that was planned. It required no street crossing, but was far from the start point.
Today, was a very different. After occupational therapy each Thursday, Isabella takes the elevator down four floors and meets me in the car. We drive home. This time, her father was picking her up. He wasn’t there after she got outside. She wasn’t there when he arrived. My husband called me. I was out with my older daughter. I called the police and ran home to get my car keys.
Isabella’s school backpack wsa on the kitchen sofa. For a moment, I couldn’t understand how it got there if she was dropped off at occupational theraoy immediately after school. I called her name, she answered and came downstairs. What happened? No one was there to pick her up, so she walked home. Other than walking to the mailbox and grocer around the corner from our home, Isabella has walked no where in our town. This place is really far from our house. I only drive there, espically on very hot days like today.
This means that she had to pass the home of her speech therapist, which is close to our home, requiring her to cross three streets. Today, she crossed many more streets (I do not want to count). We had been considering allowing her to walk home alone from speech. I guess she’s ready.
Because we have teenagers and because we live in metropolitan NY, our children have friends of all races, religions, and ethnicities. As a family, we have attended several bar and bat mitzvahs over the past years. The functions following the ceremonies have ranged from somewhat basic (none were at home parties, however) to affairs to remember (more like weddings).
What had the most impact for me was not the high-end table service and wonderful food at one event in particular. It was the bat mitzvahs of two girls from Isabella’s class that really got me. Okay, have you ever been to a bar or bat mitzvah? Learning those prayers…and in Yiddish, oy! This is no easy task for any 13-year-old. Throw in a language-based learning disability and you’ve got , well, a possible insurmountable task.
Both girls got through the prayers fine, though I have no ability to critique them. They both sounded sufficiently Jewish and holy to me. What was really truly amazing was what they said in plain English. One girl, aptly named Rebecca, was feted by her mother who told Rebecca they she learned more from her than anything else in life. Yes, I understand that. If you follow the path that your children lay, you will learn about the deeper meaning of life.
The other girl named Nina was incredible. Though neither of her parents had a mitzvah (her father is an Irish Catholic), Nina insisted on taking Hebrew classes. This child has serious fortitude and ambition. Of course, her parents obliged. The speech. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I can’t. I was crying too much. She got up to that podium and said how she knows that things are more difficult for her. Simply recognizing this is huge. Most of our kids do not moan about their challenges. (Recall, Isabella never asks why she and her twin attend different schools.)
On top of this, Nina talked about her mother’s breast cancer…and that she was happy that it was gone. Oh my God, just shoot me! To round out the afternoon, a boy with special needs with whom Nina is acquainted seranded her on the French horn playing a Beatles song. Yes, we had fun at Phoebe’s bat mitzvah, but her talk didn’t particularly move me. Rebecca and Nina’s celebrations left me feeling that our children — the one with special needs — had much to offer the world. I experienced watching their parents follow the paths that each of the girls set. It doesn’t get better than that.
It’s the annual Feast at Isabella’s school and she thought it would be a good idea to have a gluten-free treat for her class. Well, probably really for her, but she’s a generous soul. So we embarked upon the baking. Per usual, my kitchen does not have all the necessary ingredients. No butter. Isabella offered to go around the corner to buy the butter. She has never gone to the store. It involved crossing a street.
She asked how much butter cost. Do not know, but it must be less than five bucks. Off she went. I looked at the clock. And she was back. With the butter. She ran into Rose. She told me that she spoke to Rose, but not for too long because she didn’t want me to think that she didn’t remember the way home. Good job. I can now put away the vodka.
We are making gluten-free lemon cupcakes that uses chestnut flour. They will be topped with coconut icing. Remember the lemon coconut cake from Entenmann’s? I do. (That was from my childhood, way before my gluten-free living.) The cupcakes are from a mix. Not my usual way of baking. But these are really, really good. I’m sure all the kids will love them.
Isabella did a great job creaming the butter and sugar. It can take a while with a hand mixer. I didn’t feel like lugging out my Kitchen Aide. The box lists water to make the batter, but doesn’t include water in the instructions. I added it, of course, because the batter was like cement without it. We used silicone cupcake holders. I love these. No more paper. Saving the planet one cupcake at a time. Oh, that would be a nice tagline.
Throughout the baking process, we have tuned into Glee on hulu. Thanks to my 15-year-old musical-lover (how did that happen with a mother who is a die hard Pink Floyd fan?), I am now addicted to this show. High school was never this interesting and fun. I find myself laughing out load…alone. That is always a good thing. Does anyone else else notice the uncanny resemblance between Mr. Shuester and Justin Timberlake? The hair, the moves, the voice, the bod. They’re the same. Reminds of Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. Did you ever see them in the same room together?
Okay, the coconut icing smells like dirty socks. It’s too old and unappetizing. Are the cupcakes okay without icing? Kids usually want the super sugary part. What to do? We found a box of Cherrybrook Kitchen icing. Fabulous! Success!
My mother had a talent that few possess today. She could find a meal — a delicious meal — in anyone’s kitchen. This included the kitchen’s of owners who proclaimed, “There’s nothing to eat for dinner.” This trait is termed resourcefulness and probably extended to other areas of her life. She certainly used it as a New York City school teacher with limited resources. Sorta like Maria in The Sound of Music without the use of curtain fabric for clothing. Children with special needs do this everyday, all day. Without all the requisite skills for a task, these children figure out how to get the job done. As adults watching them struggle, we need to suppress the urge to reach out and help. Learning by doing. Learning by failing. Learning through experience. Now that’s learning. The end product may not be conventional but we’ve learned something, probably a lot more, along the way. And it’s so much sweeter.