Calvin

“I don’t know what I’d do with a special-needs kid.”

“You must have loads of patience to deal with him.”

“Oh shame, can’t he go to a special school for others like him?”

“Is he safe?”

“Why is he here, can’t he go somewhere else?”

“It’s a bit unfair, isn’t it? How do you manage to teach the other children when he takes up so much of your time?”

And my answer?

“It’s my job. And I love him.”

I have a little boy in my class who is classified as special needs. He has foetal anti-convulsant syndrome, because his mom has to take Epilem, a common anti-seizure drug. Many, many children are born this way because doctors don’t have a choice when it comes to managing a mom-to-be’s epilepsy or bi-polar disorder and ensuring the safety of her unborn child. They choose to ignore the data. So many moms have to deal with such guilt and pain, and the struggle of raising a child who, despite everyone’s best efforts, will always have a harder time than other kids. And it’s not their fault. Not at all. But try telling them that.

Calvin has clubbed feet.

He narrowly avoided spina bifida.

He is 5 and a half, and still on nappies much of the time.

Mentally, he is about 2 years old. Physically, he’s a big, strong boerkind.

He battles to swallow, so he drools a lot, and has to wear a bib.

He wanders off, and all the staff know to keep an eye out for him, especially when I am working with one of the other kids.

He gets frustrated because he knows that for some reason he can’t do a whole lot of the stuff the other kids in the class can do. The other kids are all 2 years younger than him.

He bites himself when he gets upset. He lashes out at other kids who tease him. He has to constantly be reminded to be gentle.

Calvin also gives the best hugs.

His smile can light up a room.

His laugh can bring smiles to the faces of people on the other side of the school.

He can tell a joke.

He loves doing work in class, and even though he can’t perform at the level of the other kids, he tries.

He loves to see smiles on other people’s faces.

He is perceptive and can tell when someone is upset. Then he’ll hug them.

He’ll greet other parents with lables of “Papa”, “so-and-so’s Mama”, “Oom” (uncle), “Tannie” (Auntie), “Ouma” (Granny) “Oupa” (Grandpa)

He’ll hug them, too.

He has this way of staring through you with this puzzled expression as he figures out who you are and your place in his world. Then his eyes focus, and he give’s the statement, “Calvin’s Teacher Kirsten”, or the like. It means he likes you. It means you’re a part of his world.

There is no special school for him. Not until he turns 7 and is in grade 1. And by that time, the formative years have passed and the brain settles into the patterns that will define a child for the rest of their lives.

He comes to our school because his mom had nowhere else to turn.

And I believe that some higher power must’ve sent him to me. And I thank that higher power every day.

I look after him because I love him. I love him so much my heart aches. He’s special. In more ways than one.

He has taught me so much about a world of things.

He has taught me patience.

He has taught me to see the funny side.

He has improved my ability to speak Afrikaans.

He has taught me to appreciate the beauty in simple things.

He has taught me about the strength of the human spirit.

All the people who’ve ever asked those questions at the beginnings of this post… they’ve all become his biggest fans, because they see how his joy, his sense of humour, his boundless energy and bright spirit enriches the lives of them, and their children, and their children’s teachers.

When he first came to me, I was uncertain.

I was stressed.

I was afraid.

I didn’t know how to deal with him.

I cried most nights for the first couple of weeks.

Not because I didn’t want to. But because, as his teacher, I wanted to do right by him.

Because that’s my job. My vocation.

And I won’t lie, this one child has affected me more than any other child I’ve ever taught. In the few short months I have been Calvin’s teacher, his spirit has become inexorably bound with mine. And even once he’s long gone like the others, gone to big school and a bright future, I will always remember that I was his teacher.

And when I remember that I was his teacher, I want to remember that I did all I could to make sure that future is as bright as I can possibly make it.

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