because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Guest Post by Leanna Best: Lessons From Javan

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Photo by Travis S. at flickr.com

This narrative was written by Leanna Best, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes held during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester at Monroe Community College.

My aunt’s third child, Javan, was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat. Without air for five minutes, doctors told my aunt that Javan was not going to survive because he had lost too much oxygen. My aunt asked the doctors to try anything they could to help him to regain consciousness. The doctors put him on a respirator where each minute felt like an hour. Amazingly, Javan began breathing independently again, but the doctors told my aunt that Javan would be handicapped for the rest of his life as a result of the brain damage he had suffered. The doctors also told my aunt that Javan’s lifespan would be shorter than normal.

Guest-blogger, Leanna Best

All my aunt wanted was for her son to live, and her wish came true. But the doctors were right, too. Javan is handicapped. He cannot walk, talk, eat, or dress himself. Throughout his life he has always been in a wheelchair. Every few years, Javan has to get a bigger wheelchair because he is still growing. He is now sixteen years old and has been in a wheelchair for his entire life.

Javan has short, dark brown hair. He is very thin, but he is still very heavy. Javan can only wiggle his arms and legs in his black wheelchair, but he does not have enough muscle strength to walk or lift anything; nevertheless, he is a very happy teenager and always has a smile on his face.

Each day, my aunt faces the struggles of having a handicapped son. He has to go to a special school and get special care every day. Each day, my aunt lifts Javan out of his bed, washes him, dresses him, feeds him, and even changes his diaper. She has a huge responsibility and will have to live with this for the rest of her life. As Javan’s body grows, he gets heavier, and lifting him has become challenging. She will always have to worry about her son having a reduced lifespan.

Knowing Javan has made a huge impact in my life because I see how my aunt struggles with my younger cousin. I love him just as I love each of my cousins, and I hate to see him suffer. I hate to see him cry, and I hate not knowing what he is thinking or what he wants us to know. I know it will be extremely hard for my entire family the day he is no longer with us.

I have learned so much from watching what my aunt goes through every day, taking care of Javan. I don’t know if I would be able to do what she does every day without a lot of help. From watching my aunt, I have learned how big a responsibility it is to take care of a special needs child on a daily basis. Javan cannot communicate in words at all; he can only make sounds. My aunt has to try to figure out what he needs or wants on her own. I have seen how hard it is raising children, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to try to raise a child who cannot clearly communicate in words or gestures.

My aunt is very patient and caring. She gives Javan the care he needs every day. While I like to think that I am good with Javan and enjoy the time I spend with him, I also like taking him home. I don’t think I could handle this type of responsibility every day, along with having four other children to care for.

My whole family loves Javan so much and we would not trade him for anything. My aunt was given this challenge and she has mastered it with lots of love, time, and effort. My wish for my aunt and Javan for 2011 is a simple one: for them to be happy and healthy!

End of Semester Gratitude

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thank you note for every language
Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

The Fall-Winter 2010 semester is over for me. My grades have been reported. The contents of my unattractive yet functional wheelie bag have been dumped and placed with the rest of the luggage — in the nether regions of the basement. Today, I am getting my hair highlighted. It’s been fifteen weeks since my last highlight or cut. (The straightening thing doesn’t count.) Don’t even ask about the state of my fingernails at the moment. I have a way of letting certain things go during the semester. But now it is time to catch up.

This morning, I popped onto my faculty email account to make sure everything was in order, and I found two pieces of email waiting for me. The first indicated that my grades may have been inaccurately reported (are you $%#@! kidding me?) so I had to check another link to a list upon which — thankfully — my name did not appear. And then there was a second piece of mail. Here it is:

Dear Mrs. RASJ,

I would just like to say thank you for everything, Mrs. Renee Jacobson. I learned so much in your class and I am so glad I received an A! I know you’re probably going to write back, “You worked hard for that A and you deserve it,” but there is no way in hell I would have done it without you.

You just did so much to help, and you ARE a good teacher. You have amazing patience with students; you’re fair, and you’re always willing to help. You are very thoughtful and you really put your time in to teaching your students, and you do it all without babying us. That’s the way a teacher should be, and it is really hard to come by these days.

Thank you for putting up with my short temper at times, for sitting down with me to talk almost everyday, and for the donuts and wisdom pendant. You are very thoughtful.

It was nice to be educated by you. I wish you the bast (sic) of luck and times.

With love and sincerity.

Your favorite student ever,
Student X 🙂

This student knows me. Because I would absolutely have said that he earned his “A,” that it had little to do with me. An “A” in my class means he did his work and he did it well. It means he showed up and participated. It means he took advantage of extra credit opportunities. It means he was a good peer editor and gave solid feedback. It means he was respectful. It meant he asserted himself. If he didn’t understand how to do something, he made an appointment to meet with me to figure it out. It means he came prepared with all his materials: all his books, handouts, and writing utensils. Every day. He was on-time. When he contributed to the conversation, his comments were meaningful — and when he received criticism, he was not defensive. His writing often showed great depth, and he taught me something on more than one occasion. He was honest (in his writing) and open (as a human being).

I don’t give A’s. To me, an “A” means something akin to “amazing,” and very few people are. So I will share this letter with all the teachers out there who understand how much letters like these really mean. People so rarely write letters these days, typed or otherwise, it is always a bit of a thrill for me when I receive one. For an educator, a letter from a former student is a shot of fuel that helps fill up a near empty tank. Those little gestures keep us keepin’ on.

So thank you, Student X. You put a little bounce in my step today.

What put a bounce in your step today?