I wanted to write on your blog about a place you went to when you were not even walking, when you were a bit over a year old. Before we put you in a school with everyone (all the friends I'm sure you have today), we wanted you to work on some basic skills like walking and communicating. So your dad and I enrolled you in the Charles Webb Center. This is a school for special-needs kids, but I'm not calling it "special" in that cheesy, slightly condescending way. I have rarely been to a place where I have felt so much unconditional love, and not just for you (let's face it, you're a ham!), but also for children whose disabilities make it a bit harder for people to accept them.
For instance, one young girl has Cri du Chat syndrome. She doesn't talk, but she is mobile and loves hugs (she would never let me go!). Unfortunately she also bites and pinches, skills that you are slowly but surely also learning. Yet the teachers always included her in educational activities, always gave her the hugs for which she hungered, and treated her just like you...just like everyone else. I grew to love her, as I grew to love all of the kids there. I'm crying as I write this because, without the support and love of this place, I don't think you'd be in such a great place as you begin in ECDC, the College of Charleston's (fully integrated) pre-school. The teacher told me that yesterday, on your first day, you played with the kids, ate all of your food (no surprise!), read books, and made a few friends. You didn't cry, you weren't rattled, you knew what to do and you did it, thanks to CWC.
So I wanted to post some pictures of just some of the people who made your time there so amazing.
This is Mrs. Washington, who runs the center (although Ms. Bonnie also did for a while!). As her sign proclaims, her office door is always open. In between fundraising and meeting with parents, she helps out in the classrooms, always helps to make lunch (have I mentioned how much I will miss not having to make lunch??), plays, ans is always up for a snuggle. Her own son went to the Webb Center: just another reminder of the committment people have to this place.
We met Ms. Susan, the woman with the white (or, as my hair stylist would say, platinum blonde) hair even before she came to Webb! One day, we were playing at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, and we met this woman who was very interested in playing with you. She asked where you went to school, and when we said the Webb Center, she told us that she was applying to be a nurse there...and she got the job!! Susan has been not only a great nurse and teacher but also a good friend to our family, and I hope that we stay in touch with her and her grandson, Kortez (on right). Kortez was your best friend at the Webb Center; in fact, Ms. Bonnie used to call him your boyfriend because he would hold your hand and take you places! One time, when your dad and I were going to a party, Ms. Susan and Kortez came to our house to take care of you. Most special to me, though, is that Kortez was your buddy for Buddy Camp this year; we picked him up, you all played through the morning, and then I took you both for lunch before we returned to the Webb Center. In fact, one time, you both had bathroom accidents in the middle of the park, so I ended up running across the park with two naked children! (You parents will tell me this was a rookie mistake, and I admit it).
This is Katelyn, who came to work at Webb just this past summer. You two formed such a bond, though, and you were always running to her, your arms open for just one more hug. I will remember how much she loved you, but I will also remember her as your hairstylist. Every day, you would come home with some complex hairstyle that I could never in my life imitate (in fact, I might take you by there for a touch-up...and do you cut, Katelyn?). You two literally fell in love, and I also hope to be seeing more of her.
I wish I knew how to make a collage, but here are some more pictures of you with people you spent a lot of time with and loved (and clearly there was a blue and coral color memo!).
Ms. Stephanie has been your teacher ever since March, when you were moved up to Toddler 2 (you 'graduated' from both the nursery and Toddler 1 during your time at Webb). She also loves to hug you, has always been there with a smile and encouragement for me, and really cares for your well-being. This summer you had some crappy (literally) diarrhea issues; at one period, you had an incident once a day! Once we realized that it wasn't a virus and wasn't contagious, we took you right back to Webb, where Stephanie and Katelyn selflessly took care of you and put up with, well, the reek. Stephanie has been such an asset to the Webb Center, and these kids are lucky to have her.
And last but definitely not least, Ms. Bonnie was there for you as the interim head of the Webb Center, and then, for a good long while, as your Toddler 1 teacher. I honestly cannot say enough good things about this woman. Her voice, yelling "Julesie- Woolsie!!", every morning, never ceased to cheer me up. She probably has the biggest heart of anyone I've met, and she cares about her kids's education. In fact, I would come in sometimes at 4 (okay--rarely. Those of you at Webb reading this know very well that I'm that parent who rushes in at 6 every day). Well, when I did come in at 4 or even 5, I would find her still there (she got off work at 3), working on crafts, projects, decorations for the entire school. She decorated every year for the Christmas Party, which was just amazing and meant so much to the kids and to their families. When I asked her what her weekend plans were, she often responded that she had a lot of work to do on projects for her classroom. As a person, but also as a teacher, this woman went above and beyond. She has been at Webb for over 20 years, I think, and I think she's the soul of the place. Her smile, her laugh, her boisterous voice, her artistic talent, and her big bear hugs just make the place what it is:
On your last day at Webb (we'll be back!!!), we had a cupcake party for you, and things got a bit out of hand:
Everyone had a great time, though, and I'll always remember the way you crammed entire cupcakes into your face as your friends sat around the table.
You gained so many skills there--more importantly, I think, you got so much unconditional love there- that when I ask "who's a smart girl?" you point to yourself and say "me!". This, I think, will put you in good stead as you join your peers without special needs.
I also want to say to the people reading this in 2014 that some of these kids can't, for logistical reasons, be integrated. For some of them, the Webb Center is the only place they can go, the only place that will fully accomodate and accept them. Yet this center is run on a shoestring budget, mainly supported by the Disabilities Board of Charleston and by the Avondale 5K run. If you click on this link, you'll see the sweetest video in the world, featuring Julia in the beginning!!! Please consider running it (we will be there running with Jules), or donate to it, or just make a donation to this amazing place. I feel so blessed that we heard about it from Julia's then-occupational therapist, and that we have been able to call these people family.
As you move on, make new friends, I want you to remember what these people have done for you: for us. You went from swinging in a baby swing all day at day care to crawling, then walking, then running down the long hallways and yelling "no, no, no!!." You went from being spoon fed to feeding yourself. You went from barely expressing yourself to becoming a diva (thanks a lot, Bonnie!). You may have graduated, but the Webb Center can always count on me for anything. You all have a piece of my heart.