I am filled with mixed emotions as I look at those pictures and send her off to school. I am so proud of how hard she works and how far she has come, but she is still so far behind and likely always will be. I am painfully aware that next year she will enter middle school, a scary place to send even well-adjusted, typically developing children. Annamarie is just beginning to realize that she is different, and just gaining awareness of the fact that many of the kids aren't very nice to her. She is sweet and funny and so interested in other people, but she doesn't have a clue how to have a normal conversation. It just doesn't come naturally to her like it does to most people, and it's an incredibly difficult skill to teach someone. It's sad and often funny to have to make rules before any social event. "Do not ask for anyone's jewelry. Do not touch anyone's artificial limbs (this actually applies to two people at the dog park). Do not hug strangers. Do not ask people if they have been arrested, grounded, or had a c-section. If you have asked a question and gotten an answer, it is not necessary to ask that question again. The only exception is, 'How are you?' and only ask that once each time you see the person." Sounds silly, but this is my life.
We are blessed by a number of adults who are very patient with Annamarie's incessant questions and who accept and love her just as she is, but she has never had a friend her own age. At ten, my joyful, loving, sassy little girl has never once been invited to a birthday party or to play at another child's house. Her peculiar interests (law enforcement, childbirth, anything medical-related) don't lend themselves well to conversing with girls her age who are into Hannah Montana and Webkinz. Her behavior is often just weird, to be honest, and my heart breaks for her because she wants so much to be liked. I have a terrible time finding a balance between loving her as she is and trying to help her fit in without hurting her feelings or making her feel bad about herself.
So it's not hard to imagine how I am struggling with the thought of sending this precious child to middle school. She is naive and trusting, and I am not. I know very well that the developmentally disabled are among the most often abused. How, then, will I keep her safe? How will I equip her to keep herself safe? She loves Jesus and she has a strong sense of right and wrong. But soon she will be a teenager, and I suspect that her desire to be accepted will only get stronger.
I am a big believer in the notion that God puts people into our paths when we need them, and these days I feel like I'm stumbling over all the people He's putting in my path. (Hang on a minute...this does relate to the school thing eventually.) Several months ago we met an awesome family at the pool where A & I swim in the winter. The kids were really sweet to Annamarie, and we have become friends with them. They kept mentioning a wonderful home Bible study group they attend, and invited us back in July. You know me: "ACK! Strangers! Social situation! I can't. Very busy. Might be sick that day." But God wanted me there, and we went, and I and my family are still there nearly two months later. Being with this group of Christian families every week is an amazing breath of fresh air. We sing and pray and eat and study the Word and I feel vaguely like I am cheating on my home church but I don't think you can have too much worship in your week. Thomas (!!!) and Annamarie love going there and hanging out with a gaggle of really nice kids of all ages. It is just exactly what I have been needing; fellowship and support and Jesus, and I am just SO GRATEFUL.
Now for the part about how this relates to Annamarie and school. Most of the families in the home group also homeschool. They are part of a co-op that meets weekly and includes about 400 students. Homeschooling is not something I have ever wanted to do. It scares the heck out of me, I fear I am not organized and driven enough, and if I am going to be completely honest, I cherish my alone time when the kids are at school. We have considered private school for Annamarie, but there isn't one in our area that has special education resources appropriate for her. So the options are to throw her into public middle school and pray for the best, or to homeschool.
I have not made a decision yet. I'm going to spend the next few months