Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sammy

The first few years of my school life were not very pleasant, but for some reason.....kindergarten sticks out as an okay year. I remember a huge room that was sectioned off. We had a rest area, a painting area, a reading area and two fully stocked kids kitchen area's. It was the kitchen area's I loved the most. Don't even ask me why. When I started kindergarten....I was four which was allowed back then. I was much too young to start and much too emotionally unprepared for school. My home life was a mess which spilled over into school and yet I loved kindergarten and held all other grades accountable when they didn't measure up to my kindergarten experience. Even in high school I longed for kindergarten. I am thinking it was the naps! 

Along with the vivid memory of the room I shared with 15 or 20 other faceless, nameless students, one other student has stuck in my memory all these years. There was a little boy named Sammy. Sammy walked funny and carried himself with almost an Igor type gait always dragging one foot with every step. His arms seemed a bit disconnect and would almost flail about. I don't remember Sammy ever really talking but more grunting and sometimes yelling out and yet I do remember seeming to always know what he wanted. In 1960's America....disability was almost a dirty word....especially when the disability had to do with brain damage or injury. Of course there were still remnants of those walking around with metal braces and arm canes from the now non-existent polio epidemics, but disabilities where brain function wasn't what society deemed normal or where limbs were disfigured and/or non-functional were looked upon as one step up from the criminally insane. Many of the disabled were shunned, humiliated and ridiculed for their inability to be normal. It was a very unenlightened time and kids following their parents lead looked on Sammy as a misfit in a normal world. He was laughed at and made fun of I think mostly.....because the other kids were uncomfortable and didn't know how to communicate with him. I didn't either but I too had my own feelings of non-fitting in so I was not about to make him feel as bad as I often did.

It just so happened that Sammy loved those play kitchens as much as I did and so every time we had play time.....we both headed for them. Being that neither of us was amongst the socially popular of the kindergarten set......we always ended up sharing a kitchen all by ourselves. Somewhere along the line I realized that Sammy had an understanding of how to play kitchen and he would try hard to set the table or pull things from the cabinets, but his inability to control his upper body often resulted in make believe tea party spills or make believe supper being knocked everywhere. You could see the frustration in Sammy's face and he would groan or yell out because of his lack of control. Eventually Sammy and I learned to play kitchen quite well and when the little accidents happened.....we just cleaned up and moved on. I also learned that Sammy in his own way was participating in everything. When he liked something....he would yell out and his face was all smiles. Sadly though his appreciation was usually taken as disruption and he was told to "hush" or "shut up." This further made the other kids uncomfortable and caused more of a divide between Sammy and the class. When Sammy was sad, frustrated or upset he would let out groans and hang his head. This happened when he wanted to play ball with the other kids and they would call him names and chase him away or when he was not understood which was all the time. I remember thinking I could understand Sammy (at least most of the time) so why was everyone else having such a hard time?

Sammy and I were never really friends....we simply accepted each other as the square pegs trying to fit into round holes that we were....and made the best of it. After kindergarten....I am not sure what happened to Sammy. He may have still been in my class or moved to another class or......moved out of the school entirely. I simply don't remember because I was going through three of the absolute worst school years of my life....and my focus was pretty much on ME! Since though....I have thought of Sammy often and when I was older I remember talking to my mom about him. Apparently Sammy was the son of doctor. Mom being a nurse at the time knew all that went on amongst the doctors and nurses of our small city. Sammy was the youngest and according to Mom....the doctor and his family had a difficult time admitting that Sammy had such severe issues. It was the first time I had ever heard the words Cerebral Palsy which is what Sammy had been diagnosed with. Rather than put Sammy in a "home"  as many with kids like Sammy did....they tried to mainstream him....something my mother had very strong opinions about at the time.

Looking back, I wonder if my mother knew the whole story. Was her take on it something she knew for fact, was it hospital grapevine gossip or was it just what she suspected? At any rate....I wonder what happened to Sammy? Being a parent with a special needs child after having others who were not....I totally sympathize with Sammy's parents. On top of that....having a special needs child long before there was Starkey, Rainbows and other agencies and programs that worked with special needs kids....I can't even begin to imagine what Sammy's parents went through. My only hope is that with Sammy's dad being a doctor....hopefully he had the ability and the contacts to help Sammy to better his life and get the therapies and assistance he needed.

So why the story of Sammy on David's blog? Because today I had to go to a meeting at Rainbows in Wichita. I had never been there before and what I saw was totally impressive. Here is a place that houses physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and class rooms for kids with special needs. While David has had services through Rainbows before....never had I actually seen the building and for some reason while I was there....I thought of Sammy. I couldn't help but wonder if in the 1960's when Sammy was a little boy if he had had the benefit of PT, OT and speech if his leg wouldn't have been straight and he could have walked without dragging his little leg behind him. Maybe his arms could have been trained to be steady so that we could have had a tea party without spills....... and instead of grunting or yelling.....maybe Sammy could have showed his joy or his frustration through sign language or even words. Wow...how amazing kindergarten might have been for that little guy.

Jump ahead to the new millineum and now my youngest also has CP. In some ways.....David's disability is greater than Sammy's and in some ways Sammy's was greater than David's but David has the access to many wonderful OT, PT and speech therapists who work diligently to help him not only obtain goals but exceed them. He has teachers and para's who ensure that his school experience is one of rewards and not ridicule and he has access to assistive equipment and technology to ensure that he goes as far in life as possible.

It makes me sad thinking about Sammy from a parents perspective and how difficult life must have been for him in that kindergarten class all those years ago. I am a firm believer though that God gives us the people we need in life and obviously I needed Sammy to prepare me for David. It does make one wonder though.....what Sammy could ever possibly have needed me for? Whatever the case though....thank you Sammy.....wherever you are.

3 comments:

  1. In the 1970s we had a "Sammy" in our school. He was very much like the Sammy you talk about and I remember him being called "retard" all the time. He would laugh when the other kids called him that and laughed. Back then that was acceptable. I am ashamed right now after reading about Sammy. As kids you just don't know better. This was an eye opener.

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  2. Things have certainly changed. I do remember when special needs kids were treated any way but special. They were usually institutionalized and taken out of the sight of the public. Allowing them to go to school was unheard of and families with special kids were looked at as somehow guilty or at fault for producing such offspring. Thank goodness times have changed and we now see things a lot differently. Beautiful blog.

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  3. I spent many hours in Rainbows united as a girl. A whole summer I was there daily. My momma was a nurse and my dad was there too, I can't remember what exactly his position was there! Anyway it has been a life changing experience spending so much time there. I met some of the most fantastically loving special children, staff and families. I also spent years visiting ICU at Wesley seeing my mom, reading books eventually becoming official and being a candy striper in Peds! Some of the best memories of my life. And I thank my parents for giving me that!
    We all have disabilities just some are socially acceptable! My son has indentions in his checks that most kids don't. Society says they are cute! Dimples. Other kids disabilities are more obvious and less accepted. A lot of people miss out on some of the most precious children/adults out there because they don't accept people with differences. It is their loss!

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