Dear Mom and Dad,
I met your son today. He came to one of the trainings that I am doing on abuse prevention. He joined in willingly and participated well. We chatted afterwards and I had this sudden desire to talk with you. I know I'll never meet you. I know that even if our paths cross, we won't know it. So, I send this out to you.
You've raised a terrific kid. I know that you must have worried endlessly about how he'll do in the world, what adulthood will mean to him and just how he will fare living the life he has to live. I know this because I know that parents of all kids worry about these things. You, however, may have worried a little more. He has a disability, your son, and that means he has a harder walk, he will take longer to get to where he is going and there will be dangers along the way that are particular to him. I wonder, as I listen to him talk about his life, how you prepared to parent him - this kid with incredible social skills, this kid with a sense of himself.
You did a good job in teaching him to be comfortable in his own skin. He has a natural shyness that can only serve him well, it is not a shyness that debilitates him, it is not a shyness born of shame. No, he is just unassuming and waits to see if he is safe and accepted. It's a skill - this shyness of his. It was terrific to see him be just who he is, to 'wear' his disability naturally. He knows what disability means to him, he knows how to deal with situations where his disability leaves him without skill. After talking about something, Joe wrote down the name for him of a film and slid the paper over to him. He did not panic. He didn't even flinch. He just said, 'The way it is with me is that I'm not good with reading.' In that statement is both self awareness and assertion. He knows who he is, he can say what disability means to him. I then simply read to him what was on the paper. He thanked me and put the paper away. No one stumbled over words, no one was embarrassed. That single moment must have been the results of hours of parenting, of floods of tears, of hugs and reassurances. I don't think I've ever before seen a loving hug given in the past tense, show itself in behaviour in the present tense.
Our conversation roamed over large territory. He spoke of some of the volunteer work he does. He spoke, again with quiet confidence, about a talent he has. He said, 'Talent is a gift, it needs to be shared, it needs to be given away.' Good heavens, I swear I heard the echos of your voices there. He enjoyed talking about what he gives to others, this was someone who understands that this is a world of both give and take. He loves to give. Just as he was comfortable coming clean with his disability and what it means, he was equally comfortable in talking about his talent and how it has affected his life and how he wishes to affect his world. I don't think I've ever seen praise, well earned honest praise, given when young, given long ago, be so incredibly part of the DNA of now.
And the really big deal for me was that he still had dreams. No. No. I don't mean goals. Sure he has goals but he also has dreams. So many people with disabilities are subject to goal planning that is done in such concrete, real time ways that in the process of writing down and scripting the future - goals are solidified and dreams are slaughtered. He has dreams. Dreams are meant to be big, unachievable, over arching things - they are to be like the theme song to life. He has them. He is chasing them. He doesn't even care if he gets there - he loves the chase, he's enjoying the journey. Ah, man, to arrive at adulthood with clear eyed goals and misty eyed dreams - that's the result of parenting genius.
I felt honoured to meet your son. His sense of humour, his ease of being in the world and his self awareness makes him so wonderfully likable. I loved having the opportunity to teach him. He said to me, 'That's not how it was taught in school,' referring to my class. I asked him, concerned, what they had taught in school, he said, 'In school it was boring.' I was thrilled. His opinion mattered to me. I liked the fact that he liked what I had done as a teacher. Your kid is one special guy. Not special special ... just special. And that's because of you. That's because you taught him how to be who he was - with no apology, with expectations of equality, with the ability to ask for what he needed to get by.
After a long and sometimes hard week. You gave me hope because you gave him hope.