The power of a goodbye

“Bye, Willow!”

It’s something I’ve heard probably a thousand times. But this time, it was different. This time the words were felt, not just heard.

They came from a little boy on Willow’s first day of preschool. That was a hard day for me. From my perspective, I had just put my small, fragile, beautiful 3 year old daughter in the middle of scary, unfamiliar place, full of judgmental children. It took everything in me to walk out of that classroom without her. Honestly, the only reason I did is because Willow wanted to stay. In fact, she was so excited she didn’t even say goodbye.

I spent the next 3 hours crying, worrying that she was being picked on. Her classmates might not know she has Down syndrome, but surely they can see Willow’s differences. She’s half their size, after all. She doesn’t talk, either. Then there’s her walking. Ugh. She’s 3, in a classroom of 3 and 4 year old’s, and she doesn’t walk. She doesn’t even crawl. She scoots. On her bottom. Surely, they’d laugh at that. How could she not stand out?

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She did.

It became very clear, the minute I arrived to pick Willow up. She most definitely stood out. But it wasn’t because of her differences.

“Oh, she is such a sweetheart!”

“I just want to stick her in my pocket and take her home with me!”

Those were the comments from her teachers. I guess I expected that. But, what about her peers? What did they think? Did I dare ask?

“She just had so much fun, today! She’s right where she belongs.” One of her teachers said. I still didn’t understand, as I scooped up Willow to take her home. And then I heard it, as I walked out the door.

“Bye, Willow!”

It came from the locker area. It was a little boy, one of Willow’s classmates. Or I guess I should say, her friend.

That little boy’s enthusiastic goodbye passed straight through my ears, down into my heart. And then I looked at Willow’s face. She was smiling. She had a good time at school. More importantly, she had made a friend. Or, I guess I should say, friends.

Willow was so excited as we pulled into the school parking lot that following week. She was grinning ear to ear.

“Willow!” I heard from the minivan next to us. It was a different boy this time. Another friend.

“Willow needs that to help her walk” I heard the little boy tell his mom. He was pointing to the fancy gold walker I was pulling out of the back of our van.

His words were just so matter of fact. They carried no emotion, no judgement. They were just a 3 year old’s observations.

As we walked inside, Willow was greeted by more hello’s. Her classmates were truly excited to see her. And Willow was equally excited to see them.

Seeing all her friends standing next to their lockers, Willow quickly looked for her walker. She climbed into it and walked right up to the classroom door, eager to get started on the day.

The minute the door opened, she was off. Her friends right beside her. And then it hit me. This is inclusion.

All my fears, all my emotions about sending Willow off into this world stem from my childhood, when inclusion didn’t really exist. I don’t have any memories of children with special needs in my classes growing up, because most were put in separate classrooms. I may not have seen them, but I certainly heard about them, mostly in the form of jokes. The R-word was real popular in my day, as well.

Things are different now. Thank God, things are different now.

Willow’s differences don’t separate her from her classmates. They also aren’t the main reason she stands out. No, that’s her personality. She’s spunky and lovable.

Sure, her classmates notice her differences, but they aren’t afraid of them, because they’ve been given the chance to know Willow, to play with her, to become her friend. She’s their classmate, their friend, all thanks to inclusion.

That goodbye I heard on the first day of school? It would have never happened without inclusion. That goodbye is proof that the new generation, Willow’s generation, is different. Better. Beautiful.

That goodbye gave me hope. It warmed my heart. And it showed me what this world is becoming, that acceptance is growing and that love is winning.

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9 thoughts on “The power of a goodbye

  1. This made my heart soar! Well okay it also made me blubber like a baby…..I admit it!☺Ahneela and Willow are about the same age so I feel the things you write about deeply. Ahneela just started going to daycare a couple of days a week. The woman who runs the daycare sends me pictures of her playing with her friends during the day. That’s an indescribable joy when you’ve feared that others might not see her for the awesome kid she is because of her disability. Thank you to all the parents out there who fought long and hard for inclusion. You were so right, and I for one am so grateful.

  2. Many years ago this poem appeared in Ann Landers column. My great uncle sent it to my mother after
    brother Tim was born. Tim was Down Syndrome.

    HEAVEN’S VERY SPECIAL CHILD
    A meeting was held quite far from Earth!
    It’s time again for another birth.
    Said the Angels to the Lord above,
    This Special Child will need much love.
    His progress may be very slow,
    Accomplishments he may not show.
    And he’ll require extra care
    From the folks he meets down there.
    He may not run or laugh or play;
    His thoughts may seem quite far away.
    In many ways he won’t adapt
    And he’ll be known as handicapped.
    So let’s be careful where he’s sent.
    We want his life to be content.
    Please, Lord, find the parents who
    Will do a special job for You.
    They will not realize right away
    The leading role they’re asked to play.
    But with this child sent from above
    Comes stronger faith and richer love.
    And soon they’ll know the privilege given
    In caring for their gift from Heaven.
    Their precious charge so meek and mild
    Is Heaven’s Very Special Child.
    By Edna Massimilla

  3. Oh, this story is so beautiful!! Thank you for sharing it. 🙂 I work for ForEveryMom.com, a parenting website from Outreach, Inc., and I would love to republish this post on our site. We’d give you full credit as author, link back to the original post, and include your bio and head shot. What do you think? Please let me know if you’d allow us to share Willow’s story with our readers, or if you have any questions. You can email me at mcarver@outreach.com, if you’d rather not reply here. Thank you for considering my request!

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