Stephen walked into my life and classroom more than twenty years ago, shorter than a yard stick, weighing no more than a sack of potatoes, with hair the color of a shiny penny and personality that outshone the overhead lights. He had a very serious congential heart defect. I remember when he turned four and was supposed to move on with his classmates to a three day, more intensive, preacademic program. I had to convince his mom that it was in her son's best interest to stay behind with children he could keep up with physically and academically. It took lots of persuasion.
He had several hospitalizations, and his little lips would turn blue from exhaustion from simply getting up and down and doing physical activity. I wanted him to be happy and have a positive experience in preschool, not struggle to keep up. His mom agreed.
I tutored Stephen in hospital when he would not cooperate with the special ed team. He and I learned from one another. I knew that mastering those basic skills wasn't as important as allowing him to master his destiny as best he could. He needed some control over his life. He would become so tired and weary of medical interventions, he'd shout at the nurses, "You're fired!"
I would walk in with school work and I could tell by his mood. Some days I'd say, "You don't want to do ABCs? Okay, what should we talk about?"
I could see the disbelief on his face. Wow! The teacher had no expectations and wasn't going to force him to learn? We talked about everything, but mostly the latest episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I did a fund raiser for his family at Easter. My students did a bunny hop at school and we raised $1,000.00 for his family. I dressed in a bunny costume and parked in front of the hospital. I exited my car and realized I had left the envelope filled with cash on the front seat...and my keys in the ignition. I rushed into the hospital and begged a guard to come help me. I then grabbed my keys and the envelope and rode the elevator to Stephen's floor. I hopped into his room and he burst out laughing and squealed, "Ms. Linda!"
"How did you know it was me?"
"Your eyes!" He smiled.
I purchased a stuffed Ninja turtle, for the classroom. His favorite, Michaelangelo, waited for his return. That stuffed toy was bigger than the boy, but he dragged it everywhere.
When he had moved on to big school, Stepehen had surgery to replace his pulmonary artery (I think) but sadly his condition worsened over time. I kept in contact with his family and visited him in hospital years after he left me.
Stephen went to heaven eighteen years ago this month, at age 9. I was on vacation and unable to attend his funeral. For years I would call his mom around the anniversary. The first time, I said, "I am sending you a hug through the phone, uuunnnnhhh."
She cried out, "That is just how Stephen would send me a hug across the room at the end when he was too weak to get up."
Today she received my Facebook message. She said she was clearing debris from his grave when her new phone pinged a message received from me: "Thinking of you and Stephen."
Ann said, "With only the slightest breeze in the air, the windmill I placed at his grave began to spin wildly."
You can think what you want, but Ann and I know than an angel boy flew by. For a brief moment of earth time we had that special connection.