Our daughter Evelyn came home from school with an armload of papers. Mostly scribbles, photographs, and an occasional footprint painting, she was often busy with crafts that I would never have the imagination or energy to do. Upon closer inspection, I saw the small message begging for my attention: We will miss you, Evelyn. Have a good Summer. Ms. B.
Tears immediately formed in the corners of my eyes. Brief doubts of our upcoming move swept over my confidence. My husband’s previous contract had expired and he had secured a new position. I had already quit my job. We sorted through our boxes, drawers, and closets preparing ourselves for the movers to show up in one week. Taking loads to Goodwill, we have cleared out our lives. We have a townhouse waiting for us in our new state and a deposit on a new daycare. We are finding new health care providers and a new veterinarian. With everything in place, I feel mostly ready. Yet this one apprehension often hovers over our preparedness.
Evelyn has attended this daycare from the beginning. At six months old, she first entered the infant room. Born prematurely, and with clubfoot and gross motor delays, she required extra help. Her teacher, Ms. Michele, was her guardian angel while we were away. She carefully took note when we showed her how to strap on Evelyn’s brace shoes, and she diligently followed the schedule we left. She welcomed the therapists that came each week, never having any qualms of learning from the experts how to best help Evelyn through the day. While we were working, she provided the guidance and push Evelyn needed to learn how to sit up, army crawl, and become the independent toddler she is today. Through the cries, struggles, and Evelyn’s determination to do things her way, she nurtured her. Never losing her patience, or demanding Evelyn do what the other children could, she was there for our child when we could not be. She helped Evelyn learn she could do anything, even if it was a bit more difficult.
As Evelyn moved up to the next room, we worried she would lose the attention she needed. Leaving her for her first day with the toddlers, it saddened me to know she was the only one who could not yet walk. Scooting on her belly, and desperately wanting to keep up with the energetic youngsters, Ms. Beverly and the staff made sure she was involved. They carried her outside to play and set her up on a blanket. She would ride the tricycle, and learn how to climb and go down the slide. She required extra monitoring when she practiced walking, yet they never hesitated to keep her involved. Noticing how bright and clever Evelyn is, they engaged her in books, building with blocks, and kept her mind working even when her legs could not.
Dropping Evelyn off one morning, Ms. Beverly nodded to our smiling daughter and said, “People ask me why I do this. This is why. It’s the kids. I get to watch them grow and learn. When Evelyn first started here, she could not do anything for herself. Now look at her!” Even though she could not hear what was said, the glee on Evelyn’s face was the perfect response. Waving at us emphatically from across the room, Evelyn’s love for her teacher matched the adoration in Ms. Beverly’s words.
It was always evident how much the entire staff loved our child. As many aides rotated through the rooms, most knew our daughter by name. Always responding to Evelyn’s cheerful “goodbye!”, we could never leave school without a fanfare. Opening the windows, staff called out to her as I carried her to the car. Fun-loving and always silly, Evelyn soaked up the attention, giggling and responding with her toothy grin.
With little family living close by, this was our village. We needed support implementing Evelyn’s constantly changing therapy needs, and they were on board. We never worried about her while we were away as we knew she was loved, cared for–and most importantly–happy. She learned to love school, reading, making artwork, music, dancing, and meeting new people. Evelyn’s social skills far surpass my own, and her outgoing nature makes it easy for us to bring new people into her life. They took her in despite knowing the extra challenges she faced. They never blinked an eye. With their consistency, Evelyn is nearly walking independently. They provided her with more than an education and some physical therapy skills–they helped our daughter develop a sense of pride that could have been lost. In a lesser place, Evelyn may have been cast aside, left to sit, or not pushed to her potential. Instead, she has the invaluable sense that she is good enough, she can do anything, and she is always worthy. She knows she has differences from the other children, but understands that is not a bad thing. Through their acceptance of her, she has learned to love herself.
Now, as we plan to move away, I dread having to find a new village. The words Ms. Beverly said that day stung in a beautiful way. Evelyn gained so much from their nurturing and loyalty to her well-being. And, her teachers will always carry the pride that comes with watching a small child thrive. In the end, Evelyn needed them as much as they needed her.
“She probably won’t remember us,” one staff member said as we left one day. While she may be too young to have solid memories of the people, what they gave her was much more important. She will forever be imprinted with their love, kindness, and the strength they instilled in her–and that is something she’ll never forget.