Thanksgiving is an American holiday, granted, but it's also THE holiday that should be adopted by everyone in the world, regardless of religion or believes. So, from here on, I declare, Thanksgiving day in our house will be The De Armas Happy Feast! Sure, we will still eat Turkey (and pork, and rice and beans, and flan, and Cuban bread....etc) and all the fixings but we will also be thankful because we have faith and we have hope and now we can say that ALL of us in this family have finally learned to believe.
We are, indeed a family of believers. I confess to be the biggest offender at never giving up when others tell me to let it go. Raci has learned to trust me and takes most chances along with me. Rebecca is more of a stubborned person than a believer but I am not complaining - it's part of her charm and it gets the job done. Victor, well, that kid is just so good he will believe and trust until the day he dies. Now, Frankie is another story. Believing? Trusting? Not a chance! Well, on the best day ever, on the day that marks our Happy Feast, all that changed, thanks to a Kindergarten Fall Festival and two wonderful teachers who have helped him try and try again.
Frankie has been working with his Developmental Kindergarten teacher on a "blending" program, where Kindergarten students in self-contained classrooms have an opportunity to join the General Ed, Full-day Kindergarten class during the day, for academic or recreational time, based on their ability to cope with the requirements. I must say it was not easy at the beginning and we were both very, very scared. This was something that terrified Frankie and made me hesitant. Still, we took the plunge and the process has been amazing for him. In less than two months, he's spending more and more time in the General Ed class, without support or an aid and doing the work his peers are doing. He doesn't always finishes his work so he brings it home - no matter how much complaining and whining, he has learned the work doesn't go away. He has to finish it and he does. When he turns it in and brings it back with a star or a nice comment, his face is lit up brighter than our Christmas tree! I volunteer on Mondays and Fridays to help with a special activity they have in Kindergarten called "stations" where the kids have the opportunity to move around the classroom as a small group to experience different kinds of fun learning stations....I did it at first to be there to coach Frankie and see first hand how he was coping with his "blending" - the possibility of bullying, teasing and mean words that can hurt more than punches had me terrified and I wanted to make sure I was there to re-direct. Well, what I found is that Frankie can hold his own ground and that he is stimulated to learn by the challenges he has to face in a General Ed setting. Most importantly, he is willing to TRY. No matter how much we praised him before, "I can't" was his motto. You would tell him he had a positive trait or a great ability and he will answer right away with a "No, I am not - No I don't!" - it was frustrating and sad at the same time. As he spends more time on a General Ed setting, he believes he can do the work and what is expected of him as a "November Kindergartner." He can listen, follow directions, ask for help, and be part of a team....that's all perhaps not a big thing for a typically developing five-year-old but it's a huge thing for him and for us.
The best part of this process is that Frankie was invited to participate in the Kindergarten Fall Festival this year, along with the General Ed class! He worked and worked and practiced and practiced and I am sure it must have been a painful process to follow the words AND body movements of six songs, one poem and one dance. Frankie would have melt downs in his preschool music class and will refuse to do PE because of his motor issues and challenges with coordination....I couldn't imagine him participating in a performance with twenty more kids and struggling to keep up without crying or breaking down. Well, he did. When he brought home the card inviting us to attend I was even afraid to ask the teacher if it had been a mistake. I figured, hey, if they are willing to give it a shot, so am I - let's do this thing! I tried not to build it up so much so he wouldn't give up before trying and at the same time, I tried to make a bit of noise just enough to get him excited about it...it was a hard balancing act! When the day came for the performance, he would not tell us what it was about - there was no getting a word out of the kid and his major thing was that the parents would be really surprised and proud of the Kindergarten class. Frankie was so happy to see us at the library when the class walked in he started clapping at us....awkward, since none of the other kids were doing it but I didn't care - he kept on telling us how much we would love what they were going to do and he was not wrong - it was the best performance I have ever watched because it was a display of self-confidence, trust, persistence and most of all, of hope. All of that wrapped up with a dose of Kindergarten charm. I could have not asked for a better show.
When the time came for the show to end and parents asked for an encore, "the dance" number was up and the "wipe out" song started playing. Oh, man, the hand movements, the jumping, the SURFING! Not all the kids did it right but they did it and so did our Frankie. He DID it! He believed he could do it and he did. That's enough reason to feast, and feast and feast! At the end of that night, during our praying time together, he told me that he "will never forget this day" but I am sure it's just the first one of many more wonderful days to come because he found a little switch inside that allows him to try HIS best, and to be proud of his accomplishes. That makes all the difference in the world and it's what Thanksgiving is all about; being grateful for realizing that what really matters in life is always inside of you.