THE day's mail had brought a huge yellow envelope -- Tracy's file, sent from the facility where the nine-year-old girl had been living for the past seven years. I had spent a couple of hours after dinner going through the various evaluations, analyses, prognoses, objectives, and goals for the coming year. Pushing away the pile of reports, I felt totally discouraged. How could one little girl be so afflicted, and what could I, a brand-new appointed educational surrogate parent with no prior experience in dealing with the severely handicapped,contribute to what was already being done to help her? Had I bitten off more than I could chew? (An educational surrogate parent is appointed by the court to serve as an advocate and protect the educational rights of a handicapped student when the child's parents are not known or available, or the child is a ward of the state; several states have such a program.) Should I ask to be assigned another child with whom I could hope to establish a more rewarding relationship?
On my way to meet my little charge the next morning, I still felt unsure of myself. But when I left the home a few hours later, most of my doubts had vanished. I had just met a very special group of people, loving, caring, not easily discouraged, with the ability to rejoice over the slightest bit of progress. Tracy was in good hands. Looking at her and the other children, I thought of the promise of the different buds in a flower garden; a good gardener will give them all the proper care so that each opens up to its full potential.
Driving back home in the mild, colorful fall afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that while my intentions had been to give -- my time, interest, suggestions, and yes, maybe even a little bit of love - actually I was coming away the recipient. I had been given a new perspective by a child who could neither hear nor talk nor walk, yet managed to express happiness at such small things as a spoonful of pudding, a bright toy, or simply being held on one's lap. With a twinge of shame I recalled how often my smile becomes a scowl when things don't work out just my way, how easily frustrated I feel when caught in a traffic snarl or when my boss turns a neatly scheduled day upside down.
That night, I paid a little more attention to the crickets' concert outside my window. Early the following morning, I joined my two cats at the window and we watched the birds chirping away and fluttering from tree to tree, singing their joy at another day. Even mundane, routine things such as biting into an apple, throwing a stick for the dog as we walked through the woods and seeing him race after it, checking on my pumpkins yellowing nicely in the garden, listening to a Boccherini tape on the way to work, added to a store of experiences I had never really thought much about before.
Yes, Tracy, I'll help make sure you get all the training and services the laws provide for you; I may join the ranks of those who press for more and better facilities in the area where we live. But I have a feeling that along the way you will be teaching me some lessons about endurance, patience with others (and myself), and, foremost, gratitude for the many blessings I so often take for granted.