An Exit Interview from the Toughest Job

We've had some difficulties with getting the right people to work with our T-Bird. On a Facebook group recently for parents of kids with hypotonia, a mom was saying she needed to fire someone who works with her kid, because she just wasn't great, not doing a good job, but it was hard because that person lovvvves her kid. 

I wrote: "Nope, fire her ass. Do it today. It makes no difference whether someone likes your kid if they're doing a crappy job. You owe it to your kid to have a complete team of rockstars." 

I wrote that because I've made the same mistake that mom was making. It was early on in our time with Tess, and someone was not great. I dragged my feet in getting rid of her. My wife was saying it had to happen, but I was trying to be nice. When we finally made the switch and got a new person--who was seriously awesome--I knew I'd blown it. Now we had a dream team, but why had I waited so long? Tess had had a less than stellar time of it, just because I wanted to spare someone's feelings. Bad call. My wife was right.  

Well, lemme tell ya about someone who really was amazing. Her name's Kendra. That's her real name. She worked with Tess for many months, right up until we pulled the ripcord and sent T from preschool to kindergarten. This meant changing to the public school in our town. 

Recently Kendra left that preschool. When you leave, they do an exit interview. And one of the questions was, what has been your greatest accomplishment during your time at this preschool? Kendra had a one-word answer:  She said Tess. 

In case you're new to the blog or need a reminder of how things went for Tess in preschool, let me tell you. She's delayed, way behind her peers. So when she came to preschool, she needed help with so many things. She zoned out a good part of time, fixating on light coming through windows. She didn't know what was up. 

I've said this before and I'll say it again, but go to hell, TV and movies. Go directly to hell, because you make most people think that working with Tess will result in regular breakthroughs, these ka-blam moments, nearly every day, where she sorts something out, the light bulb goes on, the braces on her legs fall off and she hits the track like Forrest Gump. Fact is, TV and movies, you create an unrealistic picture of how it actually goes down at a school like Tess's, with a teacher like Kendra. See, if you're Kendra, you come to work every day, and most often there is no breakthrough at all. Instead there's a routine that you've helped to create, that hopefully one day soon will cause a breakthrough. Even a minor one. I know this because when we picked Tess up from that school every day, we'd hear a report from Kendra. "Oh my god you guys, Tess held the spoon today for a second!" she'd announce, celebrating this move toward self-feeding. Later in Tess's bag, we'll discover a pair of pants that's covered with applesauce, so we'd know that Tess probably dropped the spoon and most of the food on her lap. But we were making progress, and that's what Kendra focused on. And over time, Tess got there. These breakthroughs built on previous minor ones, and slowly she learned to feed herself. 

There's a great video of T at the school. At the time, we're working toward having her walk. But as the saying goes, you gotta stand first. And in the video, T is wearing her orthotics, these braces that go up to her knees. She standing on her own. It's a first. She's got these tiny wavering moves, as if trying to keep her balance on a tightrope. Kendra is there, just at the edge of the frame. In this video, Kendra is freaking the fuck out, about how long Tess has been standing there. It is so awesome to watch. And in time, Tess took steps at the school. And that's why Kendra said she gave that answer, that Tess was her greatest accomplishment. Kendra was part of all of it. She got Tess at a time when our girl needed help with almost everything. You'd feed her, carry her around, change her diapers, wipe her mouth, do all of that for her. 

And when Tess was done and ready to go to kindergarten, she was a different girl. She could walk. She could feed herself using a fork or a spoon. She was potty training and pretty reliable with that. 

We love that school. Because the people who run it are amazing and so supportive of their teachers. But at the same time, it's so hard for those teachers to do what they all do there, even in this most supportive environment. That's the job. My wife and I recognize this. We recognize that our damn country has this backwards, that the pay for people like Kendra is upside-down from where it should be, that she should be among our best compensated professionals. That if you want to see real change, it doesn't happen like you see in a 45-minute TV show or a movie that lasts an hour and a half. It takes months and months of getting peed and pooped on, and applesauced, of working on skills in sessions that sometimes go the wrong direction, with Tess appearing to lose skills that she used to have mastered. To get up and come to work each day, when these are the forces working against you, it takes a certain type of determination and energy. 

Kendra, we know our girl was tough on you. But we'll always be thinking of you and what you did for her. We wish you the best of luck in whatever you do next.