school days

When I was a kid my parents never allowed us to cuss or say “shut up” or “hate” or “spastic” or “retard”. Even as a youngster these rules seemed like good ones, though one of my brothers relished using them on me anyway. Not to worry. I could take it.

Up until third grade my mom drove me and my brother to school in our squeaky 1960s sky blue and white Chevy Impala Bel Air. She’d drop us at the curb and I’d run to class, my salt and pepper plaid pleated skirt, white blouse and carmine wool sweater vanishing into a sea of scampering clones. Matching boys and girls were greeted by nuns, some with thin silvering hair pulled back tightly into buns accentuating sharp noses, their manner and facade equally austere.

In fourth grade I started attending public school, freeing my mom of her early morning drive. At the top of our gravel road I’d wait under the cover of a small shack until boarding a yellow bus elbow to elbow with my best friend Monica. We’d bounce happily in our seats, steaming up windows chit-chatting away. When the bus pulled into the Robinswood Elementary School parking lot, twenty rowdy kids tumbled out onto the pavement and scattered like so many leaves.

On the far side of the parking lot sat a lone one-story building boasting the same cinder block design as the main school. But inside it was different. Inside dwelled the Special Ed kids. We really never saw them up close, just got fleeting glimpses from afar. The kids were in wheelchairs and walkers, limping, drooling, yawning, recoiling. The mean students called them retards, spazzes. None of them were my friend, I didn’t know their names or recognize their faces. They were nobodies to me, sequestered to a special building, a special short bus, a special life hidden and unknown to me. My memories of those students are so vague, having had little to no exposure to them. Sometimes I wonder if they really existed.

Now days it’s different—disabled children, Autistic Children, children with cerebral palsy often mainstreamed with the “typical” kids, the “normal” kids, the ordinary kids. Calvin participates in a class like this for part of his school day. The other kindergartners love to be near him, to read to him, to somehow befriend him.

One day I brought Calvin to school after a doctor’s appointment. He was in my arms as I was saying goodbye and a string of his fellow kindergartners marched on past. When they saw Calvin each of them waved and, like a gaggle of geese, chirped “hiiiii Caaaaaaalvin!” My nostrils stung and I started to cry. My boy finally had some friends, some other kids who truly showed an interest and fondness for him. I'm glad he's not shunned or hidden or shamed like in the days when I was a kid growing up, back when my brother called me a retard.


  1. Wow, this took me back. I'm glad that Calvin has a better experience than the kids in the Special Ed building did in our day. I'm really happy to hear that Calvin has friends that he goes to school with. That is a wonderful thing for Calvin and for the kids who get to know him.
    Love you. Nydia

  2. And I beleive that the children who are not disabled gain so much as well from the inclusion. I know that my kids who know and love my sister who has special needs and is cognitively delayed have wide open hearts for people of all differences - and I think it is because of their relationship with her. It is a win-win for all!

  3. Those kids in Calvin's class are well on their way to a lifetime of tolerance and caring. I hope they can stay that way.