Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wonder Reminds Us That Kindness Makes the World Go Round

While reading Wonder by RJ Palacio, I kept thinking of my student, Michelle. I am lucky enough to have worked with Michelle for the last four years. I first met her when she was in 5th grade and now she is almost done with 8th grade! Working with a student and his or her family over multiple years is a huge benefit of my job. I have the chance to develop strong relationships with my students and their families because of this. 

Michelle truly is a wonder. She brings a smile to my face every time I see her. Let me tell you, this kiddo has an amazing personality. She's just fun. With all the challenges she faces, I am constantly in awe of her. Michelle needs a full-time, around-the-clock nurse with her in and out of school. This is her mom's summary of Michelle's medical needs on a daily basis: "Michelle requires a ventilator at night to assist in her breathing, and for a few hours during the day as she gets tired and worn out from the day’s activities.  When she has any illness, and remains at home, she requires the vent around the clock.  She is fed by a permanent g-tube, and eats the most elemental form of liquid food.  It is pre-digested with some supplemental ingredients.  Michelle receives a multitude of meds through her g-tube throughout the 24 hour day.  She has four daily topical meds for her skin atrophy, sometimes it goes up to seven, depending on her condition.  At present she is on seven eye meds, several times a day for glaucoma, retinal fluid, and severe allergies. For her chronic pulmonary lung disease she has steroid inhalers and other lung meds via puffers or nebulizer treatments as needed." 

I have tremendous respect for Michelle, her mom, her dad, her older sister, and her nurses. I can rarely find matching socks for my two sons. I can only begin to imagine what their daily life is like. What I don't have to imagine is the love Michelle shares with her family and nurses. It is obvious she has a wonderful relationship with her parents and her sister, Sarah. She also has close relationships with her nurses. Some have worked with her since she was an infant. They are an extension of her family. They are all an inspiration to me.

After reading Wonder, I called Michelle's mom and told her about the book. I had to tell her about it and to suggest she read it with Michelle because I so strongly believed she would be able to relate to Auggie's story. In knowing Michelle, I am lucky enough to know someone as remarkable as Auggie. I also get to know her supportive parents and a kind-hearted sister who remind me of Auggie's parents and his older sister, Via. 
Michelle and RJ Palacio, author of WONDER
Yesterday, Michelle brought her mom, her sister, and her nurse with her to come with me to meet RJ Palacio at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville. Michelle's mom, Mary, asked RJ how she wrote so sincerely about the characters and their experiences. RJ shared that she did research and read about kids similar to Auggie and Michelle but for the most part she wrote about people. When she wrote about Auggie's mom, she imagined what it was like when one of her son's was sick and wrote how that felt for her. This really speaks to humanity. What is the world about, if not to care for others no matter what? As people we can all relate to Auggie's story to some extent. Some people might need more kindness than others at different times and in different ways, but it's kindness we need to give them nonetheless.
Michelle's Mom, Mary, with Michelle talking to RJ Palacio
What I value most in my teaching are the people I work with and the relationships I develop with them: foremost the students, then their families, their teachers, their school staff, their community. Developing good relationships with everyone by showing them my compassion is how I am able to to do my job. As Wonder suggests, we need more kindness in the world. I believe kindness makes the world go round. 
Me and Michelle with our signed copies of WONDER!
If you haven't read Wonder yet, I urge you to read it (or listen to it, the audiobook is brilliant). I dare you to read it and not want to add kindness and compassion to your day...and everyday after. The characters and their stories will stay in your heart. 

Whether you have read Wonder or not, you can still start spreading the kindness by helping Michelle. Michelle's mom has shared with me that a drastic cut in Medicaid funding for technology dependent kids in the State of Illinois has been proposed. If this Medicaid budget cut goes through, there will be no more home care program. By August 1, the state says that Michelle and over 200 kids like her in our state will have to live in a nursing home or the pediatric intensive care unit at Children’s Memorial Hospital. Michelle and her family would not be together if it weren’t for the Medicaid Home Care Program. For detailed information on this proposed legislation, visit Children's Memorial Hospital's Compassion for Kids website.

I am asking on behalf of Michelle and her family for your help! Please sign the petition to stop the government from cutting this program that is vital to Michelle’s livelihood. Please go to Save the MFTD Waiver! Click on “advocacy” and sign the petition. The website also has other suggestions for how you can help including information on contacting your politicians. 

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