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With Caroline

A few weeks ago Andy and I attended the spring parent/teacher conference with Charlotte's Kindergarten teacher. We sat in little chairs and talked about Charlotte's progress throughout the course of her first year: the number of sight words she now knows, her math fluency, her ability to follow instructions, and her success at interacting with her peers. We learned that she is not a chatter box like she is at home. We learned that she likes to build things and prefers math to writing and reading. Actually we, as trained historians, reveled in that particular fact. The teacher encouraged us to keep reading and working on sight words throughout the summer, told us Charlotte was a pleasure to have in class, and that she wished her well moving into first grade. It was a Kindergarten spring parent/teacher conference like those had by millions of other parents and teachers. And we know not to take this for granted because, while millions of parents are told their child was a pleasure and is doing very well socially and academically, not all parents are told this. We have been those parents.

The girls both have had the same Kindergarten teacher. I love this teacher and was ecstatic when we found out Charlotte would be in her class. This teacher is special to us, as are several of the staff at the elementary school. Four years ago, we sat in those same little chairs, with the same amazing Kindergarten teacher, who talked with us about Caro's social and academic challenges. She was the first person to use the phrase, "looking for the missing pieces of the puzzle" to describe Caroline. She was the first person to share with us that she knew something was not typical for Caroline, something Andy and I had felt in our guts for a long time. Something we'd talked about, in hushed and frustrated tones, to friends and family who did not understand. I don't blame them because you have to go there to know there. I don't blame them but I do thank her teacher. She, along with a few other educators, helped us along the journey of finding out what the missing pieces were in Caroline's puzzle. They helped us connect the dots. They helped us build the missing pieces for and with Caroline, so that she could be the socially and academically successful child that she is today.

We don't take an easy Kindergarten parent/teacher conference for granted because we know what it is like to have hard conversations with teachers. We know what it is like when you can't check off the box that your kid is good in school, good at sports, has friends, plays with others. Will be ok. Will be great. We don't check off the box that we met the teacher once- at the parent teacher conference.

We check off the box that we have many meetings, with many teachers; a room full of teachers. We check off the box that it takes a village. We check off the box that says the teachers, and PT, OT, speech teacher know our home number. They know where our home is. They have eaten dinner with us, several times, and they help us build those missing pieces. We check off the box that our kid struggles in school, and has a hard time making friends, and had to learn how to play with others. However, we do check off that box that she will be ok. She will be great. We check off these boxes because,alongside us, others care about our child.

I'm so, so very thankful about the support we receive from the educators and from Springbrook, the non-profit that provides community (and home) support to Caroline and to us as a family. I call the Springbrook team our angels. Andy gets uncomfortable in IEP meetings because I get emotional and sometimes cry, when trying to thank the teaching staff. I wonder, as Caro gets older, will others be as supportive as the people we have in our life now? Who will be there for her if she needs someone?

Back to the parent/teacher conference for Charlotte. While the teacher talked about Charlotte's progress, she shared with us her test scores and samples of her work. One particular piece of work was her journal for the year. The teacher showed us how Charlotte's letter development and sentence building improved over the last 9 months. Each entry covered activities of the weekend, and we chuckled to read Charlotte's interpretation of each weekend's events, highlighted by drawings of us.

On the front cover of the journal, the teacher had placed a sticky note with two words. The teacher directed to us to the note, mentioning she'd picked up on how Charlotte used these two particular words in nearly every journal entry: with Caroline.

Went to the park with Caroline.

Sledded with Caroline.

Ate ice cream with Caroline.

Went ice skating with Caroline.

Watched a movie with Caroline.

That evening, I shared with Charlotte that I'd read her journal when visiting her teacher that day. I asked her about mentioning Caroline in every entry. She, in typical Charlotte fashion (aka, has an answer for everything) said, "Well, yeah. She's my sister.

You see, she's her sister. Charlotte makes it sound so simple. But, those of us with a sibling know that it's not that simple. Yes, we are raised by the same people and share many mutual experiences. Yet, just because you are siblings does not mean that you are going to be there for each other. It's not always meant to be. Sometimes siblings just don't click, or worse, they have hurt that goes too deep to heal. Sometimes blood can be bad blood.

As the parent of siblings, I can only hope that Caroline and Charlotte will be a support for one another. I hope they share laughs like they do now. I hope they enjoy one another's company. I hope they offer one another a shoulder to cry on. I hope they are each other's champions. I hope they have a bond that goes deeper than me and Andy.

Sometimes I say to Charlotte, "You know, Char. You need to make sure you take care of your sister. You need to be her friend." Charlotte, whom I forget just turned six, replies, "But, she's the big sister. I'm the little sister. She needs to take care of me." While Charlotte knows Caroline is different (Char recently got very mad at me for trying to get her to pronounce "non neurotypical"- I know, I'm a mean mommy), she's still too young to always demonstrate compassion. Sometimes, she is jealous. Sometimes, she acts out to get the attention she feels she is lacking. Sometimes, she takes advantage of Caroline. Other times, she amazes me with her kindness and sensitivity and the speed at which she defends, teaches, and guides Caroline.

Right now, Caroline has a wonderful circle of people enveloping her. As members of that circle, we witness to what makes a special needs person so special. While in a different way, one that is uniquely her, Charlotte is special, too. My final hope is that many of the tales Charlotte records in her journal entries throughout her life are, "with Caroline."

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