So with "Welcome to Holland" on my mind, I started thinking about the things about Holland...not as they 13 years ago, but in more recent years.
Perhaps it is because I am 13 years older and wiser?? Some might dispute that, they marvel about my adult capacity for immaturity, not sure how they would deal with the thought of the coming of wisdom for a grown adult regularly reprimanded by her hubby for starting a hacky sack fight with one of the kids right on bed time!
Maybe it is more about 13 years of life experience, life experiences and encounters from which I have learned many lessons, so in part very much lessons learned from A. Then again 13 years ago when all this happened, part of me still had a very strong belief that things happened for a reason. Not necessarily a faith of biblical basis, but just a strong fundamental belief that there was a reason things happened.
Prior to his illness, A was just starting to take one to two turn conversations with adults. He was the consumate master at mimicking me as he saw me when I was speaking on the phone. He even had my spontaneous burst of laughter down to a fine art, complete with the laugh out loud kind of laugh I have when I find something really really funny! Many times people had tears running down their faces watching him impersonate me. All in all even then he was showing us just how much of a bright little cookie he was.
Not long after we discovered that he had a hearing loss (more another day on that one!) and that he would have his fair share of challenges to meet in this deal, I actually said to my hubby that I was right things happened for a reason. Many kids who are really bright get accelerated through educational programs and so they don't quite fit anywhere, making those teen years really tough. I was convinced that A had met with these challenges in order to "bring him back to the pack", not to limit what was possible for him, but rather to slow the phenomenal progress to those possibilities that he had already demonstrated.
In our state when a child is diagnosed with a hearing loss, the Education Department sends a guidance officer (GO) to visit you at home. The role of the GO is to come and discuss the range of educational options with you and to ask you to contact each service provider and have them visit you, to help you make that choice.
Interestingly one of the people from one of the service providers was to meet me just that once, because we didn't choose the provider that she worked for then, but our paths would cross again many years later.
In fact she was in a particularly interesting position, not only was she a teacher of the deaf but she was also mother to a child with a profound hearing loss, Big A.
Later I was to see more of her, big A and big A's Dad. In fact, in keeping with the title it could also be lessons learned from big A - he has brought his share of lessons into my life too.
OK so fast forward to kindergarten, are you keeping up here people? I never said that I was going to write a cohesive, easy to read piece now did I?
So when A was at kindergarten, I joined and later became president of the kindergarten management committee. The kindergarten had a special program for deaf children being raised orally. By that time I was pretty outspoken about making sure that all deaf kids in that program had their chance to be the best that they could be. The kindergarten worked on reverse integration where a small number of deaf kids attend the kindergarten with hearing children. The hearing children provide wonderful speech and social skills role models for the deaf kids.
My A finished kindergarten that year, ready for his transition to school. Imagine my surprise when I discovered our state education department was about to reduce some services to these deaf kids at the kindergarten - not closing the program, just reducing the number of sessions these kids could access. Hmmm if you have a pain in the arse president of the management committee at the kindergarten where you want to change things, one would think you would do a little homework before jumping in announcing reductions, wouldn't you? Ah sadly not for these guys.
Of course A and B are only 15 months apart so when A was leaving heading off to school, B was just starting out his time at the same kindergarten! Da Dah yep ongoing president of the management committee was still around the place! In true government shenanigans, these changes were announced as close to the end of year closure as possible, in order to thwart any attempts to make some noise to get these things changed! We managed a few meetings with departmental heavy weights, and actually got one to come down to the kindy to speak to the committee. Well all the words were not worth the paper they weren't written on!
I was furious, so it was off to the computer to put my maddest thoughts on paper, the continual refusal to answer a direct questions, is truly a bureaucratic artform. Someone at the time suggested I contact an organisation called Parents of the Hearing Impaired of SA (PHISA). Time was short in getting my poison pen letter into the department so I had to take the punt to send the letter off and send a copy later to the president of PHISA at the time, with a copy of my contact details should he wish to discuss this issue with me.
Sometime later the president of PHISA at that time contacted me to discuss that letter and to offer to help myself and the management committee take on the department on this issue. The president at that time was Big A's Dad!
As part of my involvement in this fight with the department (we had a big win on that one!) and PHISA's involvement supporting the process, I became more involved in PHISA, eventually taking over from Big A's Dad. It was through this organisation I got to meet Big A, and meet Big A's mum, that same person that came to see a a few years before to talk about the service she worked for.
We had social activities and a family camp every 2 years for PHISA so we got to know many families with kids with a hearing loss. They were and still are part of the many great things about Holland.
However it was different with Big A and his family. Big A is about 5 years older than my A and he too had a cochlear implant, so he was like my glimpse into the future of just what might be possible for my A. Oh and what a glimpse it was, talk about the poster child of success. He was articulate, he was confident, he was just amazing.....in fact he is still all those things and more today!
His parents - hmmm- trying to put them into words is not easy. You know there are lots of great people in the world and you meet them and you think to yourself - hmm lovely people I like them and you become friends etc etc.....
But then there are a small handful of very special people. What is it that separates these people from the "run of the mill" nice people. The only way I can find to describe it is their spirit. There is something about these very special people, a spirit of warmth, of generosity of spirit - shown by a willingness to help out other people without hesitation. A genuine caring about other people and a desire to make the world a better place when they leave it, than it was when they came in.
That in a nutshell is Big A's parents. So it should come as no surprise then that Big A is turning out to be an amazing young man, very much in the mould of his parents. He too is a very warm, caring, young man with an awesome sense of humour and a quick mind. He continues to impress me with his achievements and he is already volunteering his time to help younger deaf kids in their more difficult teen years at school. Yep another one on the road to making this place better than it was when he came in!
So in the bunch of tulips here in Holland, these guys are my pick of the bunch! With the crazy selfish nature that seems to pervade much of the world today, there is truly such a need for the special people. It is incumbent on all of those that have come to this a little later on the path that we continue to improve on things and make things better than they were when we came in.