I completely fucked up and didn’t write my annual tribute you on Pat’s Day, March 15, her erstwhile birthday. So, on the hallmark-iest of days, I’ll write about Pat and how much I particularly wish she were here today, right now, this week of all weeks. And, I will provide a tribute in a pic of her favorite meal.
In the way, way, way back days, Pat taught “special needs” kids. In those days of the 60s, 70s and 80s, that euphemism was used for students who had things like dyslexia or couldn’t sit still. They were normal kids with learning disabilities and rode the regular long bus not the short variety. Instead, the short bus riders were called mentally deficient or most often retarded.
Now it’s a slur, and then it was an adjective.
So, back in those dark days, my town, the same one in which Pat taught, was actually not bad in handling kids who were developmentally delayed or had an intellectual disability. I’m not sure of the best words to use. Anyway, according to what my mother and her friends told me, and my own experience, there were students from nearby towns joining our schools,nand for a few hours a day or week, the handicapped kids were “mainstreamed” into our classes. Pat was besties with Debbie, who taught, or in some cases just managed, the classroom in their school where these kids were the rest of the time, and Pat would help that class, too.
She affectionately and without a shred of malice–seriously it was a different fucking decade–called them her “retreads.”
Because I was me–a dorky, lumpen, possibly doughy little girl, who far, far preferred reading and writing to actually talking with people, and because I was for better or worse Pat’s baby and shadow in so much of her teaching life, which chronologically coincided with my schooling life, my mom had a plan. She put the word out to her teacher friends to use me in classrooms, as peer and friend to the kids getting their mainstream swerve on when I was in class.
Doubtlessly if asked, my mother would have said wryly that I actually belonged with the intellectually disabled.
It would have been a crime of capital proportions if I was anything but friendly and respectful to these other kids. I think one disparagement would have pushed Pat over the line from threatening a physical beating to actually doing it. So I was on a first name basis with kids with all sorts of issues — cerebral palsy, what was probably autism, Tourette’s Syndrome, Down’s, Fragile X–all of the things that could get them beaten up by the bullies.
I also learned from Pat and her friend Debbie some pretty horrible tales of mistreatment for these kids. Teacher Debbie, for example, reported physical abuse, then fostered, then adopted a friendly little boy whose dad (or step dad) would daily try to beat some sense into him. When we became adults, my mother long retired, he would great my mother by name in the local grocery store where he worked with a big smile and wave.
I was taught to just not be an asshole, and (mostly) I kept my mortification of being in with these kids in check and genuinely tried to tutor and be a friend.
Pat championed these kids. She really championed any kid who had it rough. Broken-heartedly, she also helped abused kids, including testifying in court for a poor little dude who came to her for help, which led to the revelation that he was being sexually abused.
As a side visual — there was a lot about Pat that was more grandmotherly than motherly in appearance. With her cap of sometimes untamed curly hair, big glasses and panty hose, standing all of 5-foot-2, she was not a MILF. She was kindly and comfortable to the kids, and undoubtedly they cried in her soft arms more than I ever did. I never really talked with her about sex, since that seemed so out of her area of expertise, so I can only imagine how desperate the little boy was who came to her with a health issue involving the most private of his parts.
Why am I thinking of all of this on Mother’s Day? Because this week, more than many a week, maybe ever a week, I would love to hear what Pat would say.
In my daily life, because I am still the little girl who Pat made befriend developmentally disadvantaged folks, I chatted with a guy around my age who could only handle minimal tasks and mostly talked about baseball. He has been a fixture of my morning routine for years, greeting me with a smile and “Good Morning, Sunshine,” and I talked to him like I was taught normally to people with intellectual disabilities in a place where some people ignored him.
He was arrested this week, accused of child molestation, and then his home was searched, and they say they found child porn. After the news broke, I found out through people who knew him better than me, that at least on paper, he was not actually one of Debbie’s “retreads.” Because of the labeling and terrible situations years ago (and probably still), his mom never wanted him to be one of those short-bus kids.
So who knows what has happened, and whether anything is true. Innocent until proven otherwise. In the newspaper, he’s a grown man. But assuredly he wasn’t on the same page intellectually with most men his age. He’s sitting in jail, where certainly he will be broken if only because of his own stubborn adherence to his own daily routine.
But, he may have done one of the worst crimes you can commit.
So I wish I could hear from Pat. I wish I could hear her heart, the ferocious defender of the less fortunate. I wish I could hear her professionally, the teacher for decades of so many kids with so many problems. Where would her feelings fall? What would she say? I need her help to understand a fucked up, monstrous, horrible, bad thing. I want my mommy.