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Friday, March 12, 2010


My heart hurts tonight.

Most of you know that I was a special ed teacher
in my "former life," before I became a stay-at-home mom.

Since seeing the movie Son-Rise as a high school student,
I combined my love for children with my complete and utter fascination
with autism and special needs.

Like all teachers, there were a couple of children
who deeply touched my heart and have always remained with me
in my memory.

The first, Jamie, was my first little-student love.
All of about three years old when I met him,
Jamie was classically autistic and, in retrospect,
profoundly impacted.

As a young teacher (actually, I was only 18 when I started working with Jamie)
what I saw in him was his absolute adorableness.
His tousled hair with the big cowlick in the front of his forehead,
his dancing eyes and his tippy-toe, dancing walk sang to my heart.
I would sing him songs and work with him on signs and play skills and motor skills.
He would put up with me rather patiently and every now and again
he would give a good bite to keep me on track. ;-)

I would take Jamie out to the park
and on play dates.
Jamie even spent a couple of nights in my dorm
when his mom was giving birth to one of his brothers.
I will never forget my friends loving on him
because they loved me.

I loved him dearly and I know he loved me too.
One of my dearest accomplishments was teaching him to give a kiss.
I will never, ever forget doing that and the reaction of his mom.

I kept up with his parents for years and years.
A few years ago, his father contacted me after receiving my annual Christmas card.
He told me that Jamie had died suddenly of a lung embolism
at the tender age of 16.
I was so saddened.
I sent them copies of some photos I had of Jamie
and I still think of him every year.

The other student that was my student-love
was a little boy named Terry.
Oh my gosh, this child was nothing short of perfection to me.

A slender child with a short little afro, dancing dark brown eyes
and the widest, most joyful smile I had ever laid eyes on.

Terry came to us with some mild delays.
I am not even sure, in retrospect,
why he was even IN the program.
I think it was because it was a United Way school and he qualified
as an at-risk student and a child living in poverty and negative circumstances.

Most certainly, Terry was a child at risk of being another statistic.
His mother was poor, young and uneducated.
Being a poor black child from the projects of Nashville was not a good beginning.
The United Way school was just the ticket for a kid like Terry
because it gave him exposure and opportunities to learn.

And learn he did.
You have never seen a kid take off like Terry did.
He was the perfect example of a child's brain being like a sponge.
If you told him something, showed him something, sang him something
JUST ONCE, he had it.
It was just phenomenal to watch.

Within a year, Terry no longer qualified for our program.
However, I had developed a personal closeness and relationship with him.
He would come spend the night at my house.
Rob and I (we were dating then) would take him to the mall
and watch his eyes grow wide as saucers with delight
as he took in the sights, sounds, smells and activities.

Many nights Rob and I would talk about Terry.
I hated the circumstances he was in.
I hated that he wasn't being taught and stimulated at home.
I hated that his mother gave him medication to calm him down
that instead drugged him out and made his dancing dark eyes go blank
and his smiling mouth go slack.

How I wished he were mine,
that I could adopt him or steal him away.
The potential in this child was limitless
and I feared that it would never be met.

I last saw Terry in 1993 but I have thought of him often.
I have had great hope that he would be able to rise above the circumstances of his life
and be successful.
I really believed it could happen.

Tonight, I tried to find him.
He would be sixteen and I figured I might be able to flush him out
on Facebook.
I was so curious as to what he would look like
and what his interests were.

Instead, I was heartbroken to discover that two years ago
Terry died.
At the tender and very young age of 14,
Terry sustained a fatal gunshot wound in his own home.

Jamie, at 16.
Terry, at 14.

The two students I loved the most,
I have outlived.

Tonight, my heart is broken.


Ginaagain said...

Oh Leeann! My heart is breaking for you. You are such a loving person. I know you made a difference inthos boys lives even though they were much too short. I'm so sorry.

stevibsbuford said...

Hey Leeann,

That truly, truly sucks! I was looking for some music the other day in an old file and came across the picture of LaTroy on my shoulders.

That outing to the mall, to take those kids to see Santa, was what made me go into teaching in the first place. I know how much Jamie meant to you, almost as if he was your own son. I'm really sorry to hear about Terry. I found out last year that one of mine passed away in a car accident- she was one of those quirky kids that was truly gifted, but she had a very funny sense of humor and that's why we connected. As a teacher you put a lot of your self into each student and hope that it will translate into a better life for that person, and when tragedy strikes, it's like it takes a piece of you with them.

It's not the right order of things, and it isn't supposed to happen that way. And it also makes you hug your kids a little extra tight for a while after.

Hang in there- You know you can call me anytime to chat.


jen@odbt said...

I'm so sorry Leeann. You can tell from this post how much the boys meant to you and I'm sure the time you shared with them was treasured by them too.

Laurel said...

I'm sorry, Leeann, for your loss of those two special young men.

You helped them discover and experience joy while they were alive. That is a gift that will live throughout eternity.

Natalie said...

I'm so sorry, Leeann! And I agree with the others--that you brought such joy to those boys that they would not have otherwise had!

Cindi said...

I'm so sorry Leeann. I could sit here and tell you that you touched those boys' lives like no one else (it's true), but that won't take the heartache away.

As a teacher, it's so difficult not to fall in love with certain children that enter your life. There are a couple little boys right now that have me totally in the palm of their hands, and it's difficult not to let that show.

In my opinion, if we DON'T have that ability to fall in love with these children, then we're in the wrong profession.