A lesson in humility … school choices

With Christmas now being over, the shopping center’s aisles are no longer cluttered with tinsel and mince pies.  Instead there are bins of brown paper and plastic, crayons and exercise books – it’s back to school time!

One of the most difficult decisions that we’ve needed to make over the last few months, was what school to start the girls off at.  At the beginning of last year, I anticipated the possibility of school options in the city and had their names placed on the waiting lists of two of the best private schools in the area where we are now living.  This was only to be seriously considered in a few years’ time, once their pre-school years were finished, and our season in the rural village had come to an end.  Admin fees paid up, everything lined up way in advance and extensive math equations considering the costs and benefits of each option meticulously done by me (I’m a planner!)  I felt organized, empowered and in control!

Then came my “Welcome to Holland” experience. So much for my planning and careful sums!  Initially I was adamant that I did not want my girls’ going to a “special” school.  I did not want them to be labeled “disabled”, and in my own ignorance and period of denial, would not consider a school for the deaf as an option. The very words, “I’ll never send them to a special school,” actually came out of my mouth.  I was afraid, confused and frightfully uncomfortable.

I investigated other mainstream school options, as I realized that with them still being very little, we’d need a very gentle introduction to socialization as they are both quite shy.  After making our decision regarding preschools, we had a “visit” period for a week, before we were due to start them off regularly each morning.  The visit periods were eye opening.  My girls were not just a little speech delayed, we were miles behind, and they really were quite antisocial.  During our visits, I’d have long conversations with the other three year olds, they’d ask me why the twins wouldn’t speak to or play with them.  Their prospective teacher was so lovely, so gentle and consequently quite softly-spoken – one potential problem as hearing is not our strong suit.  During one visit, the children were engaging in “water works” being free water play.  I loved the ethos of their nurturing the free spirit of a child, to engage in their little worlds, with nature and simple things – but water!?  There were drenched sun hats and dripping heads and lots of giggling and fun, but hearing aids and water are not friends, and the recent significant dent in my bank balance would not allow me to see past this.  Wet aids equals broken aids, I knew I’d be worrying about these little pink friends all morning whilst at home.  I was very grateful for this mainstream school’s willingness to accept us and help us where possible, but there came a moment when I had to face the facts and swallow a whole lot of pride.  Unfortunately, for Claudine from HI HOPES, this moment came at about 11pm the Sunday night before we were due to start school properly.  I called her in a panic.  We chatted through my options, spelt out some of my fears, and just having someone listening to my fragmented concerns, empowered me to cancel our place at the little mainstream school.

I was now left with two options: A remedial school that caters for hard of hearing children, or the school for the deaf which happens to be just down the road from where we live.  Still very resistant to the deaf school idea, I agreed to just visit, so that at least I’d know what all the options really looked like.  I visited the remedial school first.  It is at least a 30 min drive from our home.  I was impressed with the organization of the facility, and their determination and confidence that our girls would soon be speaking beautiful English.  This seemed like the right place, as they offer loads of therapy, and really does look like a fun environment for learning.  I was tempted to cancel my appointment with the deaf school. However, the remedial school mentioned that they had only a few places for several children who were already on a waiting list for 2014.  I sent motivation letters, filled in all the necessary forms, booked IQ tests and said a very sincere prayer asking for favour that our girls would be accepted.  After acknowledging that I should probably still just explore all my options, I decided to still go along with my decision to just visit the school for the deaf.

It was a surreal experience, as I’ve mentioned before, that I had a bit of struggle with the word “deaf”.  However, the love and acceptance that was immediately felt by myself and most certainly our girls, was not something that I could ignore.  The principal and vice principal showed us around the school, answered our questions and addressed some of my fears before I had even mentioned them.  There were no hoops to jump through nor strings attached and we felt a strange sense of belonging.  This, I really don’t have words to explain… it just felt right.  I left my visit that day with a humbling and rather scary realization – I liked the deaf school!!  The principal also offered for the twins to start there immediately whilst we still considered our options for 2014.  I had nothing to lose in taking up her offer, so that’s what we did.  The girls started school, settled really well in just a couple of weeks and learned an incredible amount.  Their confidence has grown enormously just through starting to learn to communicate and making friends.  We’ve decided to stick with this school for 2014 as it certainly does feel like the right place for now. I’ve also mentioned before that this school practices bilingualism, meaning spoken English for those who are also vocal, together with South African Sign Language.  The fact that it is situated just down the road from where we live, is more than just a coincidence in my opinion.  Since the holidays have started, Hadassah has asked several times whether or not we are going to school (interestingly through signing as she is my most vocal child). I think that she is missing her mornings of fun, friends and learning.

What lessons have I learned from this?  It has been my most humbling experience to date.  I had to address my own prejudiced ideas towards “special schools”, again my concept of “normal” required dissection and the illusion that I was in control of my children’s future was revealed as exactly that – an illusion.  In many ways, however, I feel like I’ve taken in a breath of fresh air.  I’ve filled my lungs with the sweet unpolluted air of “Holland.”  I’ve met with Kindness, bowed to Humility and shrugged off the burden of needing to be in control. There is a sense of freedom here, and an excitement of where this unknown road may lead.

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