A Learning Experience

This blog post is an excerpt from the chapter titled, “A Learning Experience.”

One beautiful spring day, Michelle brought me some tulips. It never occurred to me to ask where she got them.  Strapping on her bicycle helmet, our petite eight-year-old daughter hurried back outside to ride her scooter. Up and down the sidewalk she coasted.

Meanwhile, the homeowners viewed the destruction of their beautiful garden in horror. Believing that some malicious teenager had vandalized their property, they filed a police report. Once the officer left their home, they set out to find the villain who stole their prize-winning flowers. When they reached our house, they spotted Toby doing yard work and asked him if he knew anything about their missing tulips.

Remembering that his little sister had brought home tulips, he ran to find me.  Floyd joined the neighbors outside and strolled down to their house to inspect their tulip-less garden. Indeed,
Michelle had plucked every last one, root and all.  I hurried to find her. A couple of minutes later, I walked down to their house, my young daughter trailing me on her scooter. The wife was livid, but the husband took one look at our little girl and changed his tone.

Tearfully, Michelle apologized. We explained to her that she must not go into other people’s yards and pluck their flowers without permission, and she promised she wouldn’t do it again.

Floyd offered to pay for the damage or replace the tulips, whichever they preferred, but the husband said, “Don’t worry about it.”

Two days later, around dusk, there came an unexpected knock at the door. The couple’s son brought Michelle her own garden kit so she could grow her own flowers. Floyd helped her plant them. Just as they started to sprout, she plucked them all. They weren’t even flowers yet.

That summer, still on unemployment, Floyd decided to take a quick jaunt up to northern Wisconsin to visit his family while he had the time. With Jamie visiting friends in Arizona, he took Toby and eight-year-old Michelle along.

Pulling into a remote rest area, Floyd never considered that his young daughter had never been in an outhouse before.  Michelle trotted into the ladies restroom and quickly returned to her dad.

“Dad, we have a real problem here,” she said. “You should see the women’s restroom.”

Floyd and Toby, now a teenager, had no desire to investigate that “real problem” in the women’s restroom.  Floyd suggested Michelle use the men’s restroom since the rest area was deserted anyway. When Michelle entered the men’s room, she said, “See? You have the same problem in here. There’s nothing but a big hole and no way to flush!”

The School Gets an Education

This blog post is an excerpt from the chapter titled, “An Academy Award-Winning Performance.”

Soon after Michelle’s follow-up, a school administrator phoned to find out about our daughter. Her insolence indicated her prejudgment of us due to her lack of knowledge. “Mrs. Strebe, what did the hospital say?”

Michelle age 8

Michelle age 8

“The doctor found nothing wrong, but recommended we get her in for a follow-up with her pediatrician.”

“Did you?” demanded the administrator like she was interrogating a murder suspect.

“Yes, we did.”

“And what did he say?”

“He couldn’t find anything wrong, either.”

“Oh.” Her tone changed. “Mrs. Strebe, we need to have a conference about Michelle.”

“Are you ready to listen? We don’t want to waste our time.”

“Yes, we’re ready to listen.”

The special education staff of this elementary school couldn’t recall ever having worked with a child with Williams syndrome, so they all received an education. In addition, Wendy was young, and Michelle’s first-grade class was the first class she’d ever taught full time.

Michelle age 8

Michelle age 8, and a classmate, at school

During our daughter’s third-grade year, I met with Wendy for a parent-teacher conference, and she shared this amusing story:

Michelle had been misbehaving and Wendy warned her to straighten up or she would not attend the fifth grade drama production. Michelle ignored her. The day of the performance, Wendy set her on a chair outside the door and watched the production from the back of the room where she could keep an eye on our daughter at the same time.

A commotion in the room required Wendy’s attention. The moment her teacher stepped away, Michelle lay down on the hallway floor in front of her chair. Of course, someone saw her—someone who didn’t know her.

When Wendy returned to her post, Michelle’s chair stood empty, but her teacher knew where to find her. Marching into the nurse’s office, Wendy took Michelle by the hand and said, “Come on, Michelle.” Michelle stood and followed her. Those in the nurse’s office looked at Wendy as uncaring and insensitive to show so little compassion for a student.

I grinned. “Isn’t that what you thought of me the first year?” Indeed, she had. Fortunately, she no longer held that view. We both laughed.

Wendy’s special education class consisted of first, second, and third grades. That class grew so big that halfway into Michelle’s third-grade year, she and another student were moved to the fourth- and fifth-grade classroom.

Michelle age 9; 2nd grade

Michelle age 9; 2nd grade

In May, 1993, GE downsized, and Floyd lost his job.  I landed a job to supplement his unemployment. One day while I was at work, Michelle and Jamie got into an argument. Wanting the police to rush to her rescue, Michelle pulled out the Cincinnati phone book and dialed a complete stranger. After telling this lady about her mean sister, she gave out our address and phone number. The girls scuffled. Jamie yelled at her for being on the phone and covered her mouth, attempting to keep her from giving out personal information. Then she hung up the phone.

Concerned this little girl could be in serious danger, the lady contacted the police. Within minutes, a police officer banged on our door, investigating a domestic dispute, which Floyd knew nothing about.  You can imagine his surprise when he opened the door to a uniformed police officer. He told the officer that I was at work and that there had been no domestic dispute at our house. Then he called the kids, whose happy-go-lucky demeanors suggested that they’d already forgotten that they’d been fighting. When questioned, Jamie related the details of their recent dispute. The officer logged it down as sibling rivalry and left.

An Academy Award-Winning Performance

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Rescue 911

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