I have been surprised to find many times, instead of me teaching my kids, it’s my kids teaching me.
When Matthias was in first grade, David’s 1st-3rd grade special needs class would walk over to Matthias’ classroom for reading time, language arts and special projects. Mainstreaming created a space for students with special needs to learn beside their typical peers. In this environment every child benefits and grows.
While Steve and I love mainstreaming and having special needs kids working with typical peers, we were concerned for Matthias. He had just begun first grade and was adjusting to a full day at school. We didn’t want him to have to explain why his brother had only two fingers on his left hand or why his brother couldn’t speak with words. We didn’t want Matthias to feel he was in the spotlight. We wanted Matthias to have his own space at school. We explained our concerns to David’s teacher and we all agreed it would be best to have David work on skills such as kicking a ball or sorting colored blocks, while the other special needs student mainstreamed into Matthias’ classroom.
A couple months into the school year, David was playing in the small playground next to the larger playground. Matthias spotted David and his aide over on the little playground.
“Oh my gosh!” Matthias yelled as he ran over to the chain link fence separating the two playgrounds.
“David, DAVID! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” he yelled, waving and calling to David.
As David and his aide made their way toward the Matthias, Matthias turned and called his friends over.
“You guys, come here! Quick! I want you to meet my brother.” Matthias said.
Matthias was joined at the chain link fence by three or four friends. On the other side of the fence stood David and his aide.
“This is my brother!” Matthias said with pride. “When David was in my mom’s tummy his instructions got mixed up. That is why he only has two fingers on his left hand. That is why he is so small. That is why he can’t talk. But isn’t he AWESOME?!”
Matthias’ friends nodded with smiles.
“Bye David!” they all yelled as they ran back to their game.
When I arrived at the school that afternoon David’s aide recounted the whole story to me. I could feel the lump in my throat as she described how excited Matthias was to see David and introduce him to his friends.
I felt tears filling up my eyes as I realized I didn’t need to worry about Matthias. I didn’t need to create a safe place where he could be himself without having to explain about his brother with special needs. Not only was Matthias capable of explaining David’s special needs to his peers, he was proud of his brother. He loved his brother. He wanted to be near his brother. Matthias is better because of David and David is better because of Matthias.
We need each other. Together we have stability. Together we are stronger.
Family is messy and imperfect. Family is the foundation that keeps us on solid ground. Family is love. And love is everything.
Matthias has taught me so much about what it means to LOVE with your whole heart.
These two are better together.