Disabilities, Experiences, Thoughts and feelings

In memory of a caretaker who did a kindness of gifting me as a struggling child a very gracious parting gift. A gift of independence and hope!!

Ok this is going to be a rather long winded post, not that many of you will read this or take note. This is going to be one of my lengthly rambles. I’ve been wanting to tell this story for some time now really. I feel this memory should live on, and people should know about this man who was a legend in my eyes and what he did for me . It may mean nothing to you, but it was something special to me, and I feel that this would be a great way to show my appreciation and thank this person, and share it with everyone.

Often when we think of the people who do the most in schools, or people who help us the most while in school, we often think of teachers. So we often talk about and show  appreciation for and thank the teachers in our lives, who have helped shape the people we are today. Those who have taught us many lessons, and skills to aid us in our daily lives, (well sort of, half the things I barely use these days. Don’t know about you lot), who have perhaps made a difference in our lives, and maybe even supported us when we needed it the most.

We come across teachers who help us, teachers who give great advice, teachers we hate, (yes don’t lie, you know there are some), Lol! Teachers who scare us, and teachers we grow fond of, and remember many years later. Anyway my story doesn’t really involve a teacher, not really. While I appreciate those teachers who put in a lot of effort, and tried with me, those who were patient, (believe me they had to be, when working with me), those who brought out the best in me, those who didn’t give up on me, and the list goes on. I didn’t really have many teachers who I could say I got on with, or who struck a positive cord with me. I don’t really feel a connection with many of my teachers, or feel they did much for me. There were far few and very little of those who really meant much to me. Don’t get me wrong there were some great teachers who came into my life, most of them being my VI support teachers. I couldn’t have passed or gotten far without them. But most of the other teachers did very little to support me. I’m sorry to say, but that is how it was for me. I am not criticizing teachers, I am just talking about MY experience teachers.

This story takes place in primary school when I was in year 5.  Back then I was a quiet, shy, struggling child. But by my teacher’s standards I was a lazy, difficult and annoying child. I was constantly berated for my lack of communication, (I was either mute, spoke in a very quiet squeak, that was hard to hear or understand, and struggled to express my emotions, as I didn’t really know how). I to them was an irritable, not so intelligent child. For me it wasn’t a teacher who had made the biggest impact on me at primary school, it was another member of staff who really sticks out and shines in my mind. He was our caretaker Trevor. Us kids looked up to Trevor, this kind gentle giant with silver hair, and his precious golden heavy bell.

Having congenital rubella syndrome as I have been told recently, (which now makes sense for all my struggles), I have a whole host of disabilities and defects, which meant that as a child I had many barriers and struggles that I had to learn to overcome. (Of course I think I’ve come a long way considering). I had a lot of developmental delays. One of which being physical delays, that included growth retardation, which basically means my body growth was not at an average size. I was naturally small for my age, which came with many a struggles, as well as low muscle tone. in my body. Especially lacking strength in my hands.  My development in other areas were lacking too, but this story mainly focuses on this physical struggle of hand strength, a slight cognitive delay, and partly my struggles with communications too.

One of my biggest struggles at school had been opening the doors. You might think that’s the most silliest thing to struggle with, but when the doors have springs in them that make them close by themselves after being pulled open and let go of, those doors can be heavy and hard to pull. Some doors were harder and heavier than others. I either managed to pull them a small inch, but not enough to walk through, or not at all. As a child I was very good at hiding my struggles and pretending I was either like most others, or that I had no problem with certain things at all. This was just one of them. I rarely needed to leave the classroom, or have to open the door. If I ever needed to open the doors, I waited till an adult or another child opened the doors before me. I very rarely went to the toilet again if I needed to go I made sure another girl was going too. Either that, or I held it the whole day.

One day several girls and I had gone to the toilet towards the end of the day. I quite happily followed them in, as they all chattered and laughed excitedly. I was always apprehensive that I’d be left by myself, but for some reason that day I forgot to rush, and took my time. When suddenly I hear the girls wash their hands and getting ready to leave. I tried calling out to them, telling them to wait, but my quiet voice didn’t carry to their ears and I heard the springs in the doors squeak and creak as the door was opened, and then heard the same slow groan of the door, as it made it’s way shut. Then there was the dreaded bang as it closed, trapping me inside.  Followed by complete silence. I was alone.

I was panicking by this point as I quickly finished my business and washed, then dried my hands. I then made to pull the door open, holding onto the handle and pulling with all my might. Yet the door would not budge, or give way. It stayed shut steadfast. I pulled and pulled for several minutes, struggling, but to no avail. I could not move the door. Soon my struggles became panic, then yielded to fear, and pure terror. At first I cried out pityingly for help, in a small reedy voice that barely carried throughout the room. All the while pulling and shouting, help turned to ‘let me out,’ now there was terror and tears mixed in with the shouts, as they grew louder. But not loud enough.

 

“Help, please let me out!” I pleaded and begged for someone to come and rescue me, I felt trapped and scared. Soon banging on the door, slapping the wood, as well as pulling and tugging at intervals were added as I began to cry and bawl in fear properly now, with the terror progressing to heightened levels.  I was starting to give up shouting for anyone to come now. I cried and cried, banging and screaming, and tugging at the door. No one came, and cries became screams and fearful howling. This went on for several long minutes. Words if any were indistinguishable, and the sounds coming from my mouth were tear streaked terror. Except they sounded more like someone was beating the crap out of me. As though I were being hurt and tortured, loud, fearful and distraught.

 

It was a long time before I heard any movement outside the door, or before anyone heard my pitiful cries and heartfelt banging.  I’d never really been good at being locked in or locked out.  I’ve always had a fear of locked doors.  The logic in my brain often tells me that,  if I’m locked in I will die from lack of food, and lack of oxygen as the air will run out of the room.  Yes silly I know, but when you can’t open the door, and you are completely stuck inside, rationality is the last thing on your dysfunctional, childish mind.  Especially when you as a child are not the typical neurotypical child.  You have to remember having congenital rubella syndrome meant that for me at least, my brain processed things slower than the norm, and I had developmental delays, which probably included some cognitive, even if not much, but some delays.  I think I’m doing better now as an adult though.  Much better cognitively.

 

Anyway I was in fully blown melt down mode, and by the time the teachers and staff eventually found me, I couldn’t stop crying or calm down.   When the adults eventually found me, they tried to get me to open the door, but of course I couldn’t.  I tried and tried to pull, and yet still the door would not yield.  I tried calling through the door and my tears, telling them that I couldn’t.  But my words were indistinguishable, and I couldn’t communicate what I needed, or my problem with the door.  I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t listen, why they kept asking me to pull it and why they weren’t pushing and opening it themselves.  They were stronger and bigger than me, surely they could do it?

After a lot of coaxing and talking to me through the heavy wooden door, someone shouted loud enough for me to hear, telling me I needed to move back.  Once I had followed the simple instruction of moving myself away from the door, did they then eventually open it.  As the door swung open, I was met with a crowd of many panicked adults, teachers, ancillaries, VI workers and even Trevor.  Despite my freedom, and being surrounded by adults who were all here to rescue me, my cries did not diminish.  I continued to cry hard in distress, which caused teachers and ancillaries to frantically ask questions.

What happened? Was I hurt?’  I should have felt safe, now that I’d been found, but to no avail I couldn’t stop crying, nor could I communicate or answer their questions clearly or express myself other than crying.

Some of the staff began to disperse and let other staff members know that I had been found as safe as could be.  For the small crowd that had remained however, with me being an SEN child, this meant that my pain became their fear. And it wasn’t a law suit they were afraid of, it was more just the moral of the 80s, that you didn’t let the disabled  child brake anymore than they already were broken. (Sorry I know many of you won’t like the bit about being broken, but this was the way in the 80s) I’m not telling the story in your words, and the way you’d think, I’m telling it how it was, and the way they would have seen it at the time).  They had a duty to follow, even back then.  And the notion many had at the time, with children like me was that we would brake with the tiniest touch.  Especially me being tiny and very underweight.  I was skin and bones, that frightened people when I got hurt.  It frightened them a LOT!!

When they couldn’t get anything that made sense out of me, they turned to physically searching and checking me to see if I had any tell tale marks or bruises, to check if I had been hurt in any way, shape or form.  They’d presumed I’d banged into something or taken a bad fall, since my cries were frighteningly distressing and labored.  Once they’d established I hadn’t hurt myself and there were no cuts or bruises, they continued in vain to find out what had happened.  I had never been good at communicating my needs, feelings, or anything much as a child without the tears, so there was no way they would get much out of me while in the state I was in.  Most of the adults became frustrated, some making silly snide comments as they often did back then.

Eventually I think it was Trevor who suggested that I was most likely just frightened rather than hurt, and that the solution would be to find out what had frightened me.  But most importantly why I couldn’t open the door.  It was then decided that they would close the door and get me to show them exactly what had happened, rather than me trying to verbally tell them what had happened.  The idea of having the door closed with me inside once more, got me howling louder, as you can imagine.  The adults had to show me and convince me that I would not be left in the room by myself.  Once I was sure of that, my crying was slightly calmer.  They then asked me to show them what happened.  Trevor suggested I try opening the door, so with tears streaming down my face, I once again pulled and tugged at the door.

The shocked silence would have been deafening, if I hadn’t been crying.  Staff were now looking among one another.  The ancillary nearest to me, gently asked me then, “You can’t open the door?”  I nodded my head and tearily verbalised a slightly distinguishable ‘yeah.’  Teachers and staff were confused, how did I normally go to the toilet, what did I usually do? How did I usually get around school?  Eventually it dawned on them, and things started to make sense.  What made sense you need not know, I’ll leave that to your imagination.  But things began to fall into place, certain behaviours, things no one could understand before now.

Once I’d been slightly coaxed and gently taken by the hand, I was lead back to the classroom. I don’t know what eventually calmed me down, what made me stop crying.  I could cry for ages as a child. Sometimes hours on end.  But sometimes my cries are uncontrollable and I just can’t stop.  So I don’t know when I’d stopped or who or how I had been coaxed to stop.  I probably got tired and too exhausted to cry anymore, and the knowledge that I’d be going home probably helped.

A day later I was an unsuspecting child going about my day as usual, in the hopes that I wouldn’t have a repeat of the day before.  Fear and anxiety in my mind, weather I had been quieter than usual, I don’t know.  I was already naturally quiet, barely speaking to anyone, but weather I had stopped talking to what little friends I had, I don’t remember.  Or perhaps I carried on as usual pretending nothing had ever happened.  After all none of the other children had known, or perhaps the whole school had known.  Nothing stayed private in that school, which I learned from another incident where I’d gotten shouted at by the scariest teacher in the school. But that is a different story altogether.  But believe me, the whole school had known I’d been the child the dragon had eaten for lunch.

Either way I had no idea how things would change, and what had been in store for me.  I had no reason to suspect that anything was different, or that there were people making changes that would be around me.  We’d been sitting on the carpet either having story time, or having the next lesson explained to us, I forget the detail when, the head of VI and one or two other teachers along with Trevor came to me.  I was asked to follow them to one of the classroom doors that led to the base (classroom) next door. A ladder stood near the door by the wall, which seemed odd enough.  I couldn’t understand why I’d been brought to these doors, and I stood there staring at it with apprehension. I was now petrified of every door throughout the school, what could they possibly have wanted me to do?

The answer came with the head of VI’s next word, as she asked me to pull the door and try open it.  She tried to explain that they wanted to try and make it easier for me to open the door, but I needed to show them what I could do.  So with trepidation I tried pulling the door, it only came away a tiny little inch before I couldn’t pull anymore.  A few words were spoken among the adults around me, “Ok loosen it some more,”  then Trevor to my amazement brought out the ladder by the wall and climbed it, and began to fiddle with something at the top of the door.  He then climbed down and once more I was asked to open the door.  I could open it just slightly more, but the teachers could see it was still an effort.

It took a long time before the door moved, which was no good to me.  Heads were shook and ladders were climbed, things were tweaked. After a while when they’d gotten the springs as loose as possible, where I could open the door at least half way they let me go back to join my classmates once more.  Nothing more was said about the doors, and I continued the day confused and worried.  Unsure what they had planned and what the reason for that exercise had been.  But now there was a small bit of hope, those doors could be made easier to pull.  But I dared not hope.  The springs were back to how they had been before the strange game of testing my almost none existent hand strength.  Nothing made sense.

Little did I know the next day things were about to get stranger.  The day had started fine, and as it always did, and then just like the day before things were disrupted.  I had been at the table doing my work, or playing with an activity of sorts perhaps when the head of VI came for me.  She’d explained she had a surprise for me, and took me by the hand, with me meekly letting her lead me to wherever she planned to take me.  I was too frightened and curious to pull away, even though I wanted to.  I didn’t know what to make of this surprise, I had trust issues with adults even back then and didn’t trust adults at all.

Confusion turned to fear as she lead me towards the door they had me pull yesterday, the same group of people standing nearby.  Once we had come to the door, she explained why we were at the door.

“We know that you find it hard to open the door, and we’ve all been talking and trying to think of some ideas.  And Trevor has decided to do a kind job for you.  He’s got a lovely surprise for you. Try and open that door.”  She said, “go on, try it.”  She coaxed.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to ‘try‘ it.  I was getting fed up of this new game, I was starting to dread the idea of coming to school and wished my mother would let me stay at home.  I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to pull that door.  But Trevor had given this surprise, so I thought perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.  He wouldn’t do anything horrible to me, he was kind and nice.  He never shouted at me like other adults did, he never got angry at me.  He would give me something nice.  I felt a little calmer and less afraid, but now I was feeling confused.  What had Trevor done for me.

With a little more confidence, I pulled at the door which almost came flying at me as it pelted open.  Someone caught it to stop it hitting me, and caught my back as I nearly toppled backwards.  To my surprise the door came away far too easily and stayed open where I’d left it hanging.  I stood shaking with surprise. The door came away so easily, I couldn’t believe what I’d just seen.  ‘what’s happened? Was it broken?’  I was encouraged to follow them to the classroom next door, still very confused.  They’d convinced me I’d get my surprise if I kept looking with them at the end, so off we went from Green base to Brown base. Then to the next base, from base to base I was made to open every door.  With each pull the door came open without any effort and for the first time in my whole school life, I could open the doors wide, without having to strain and use my utmost strength.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, I felt so happy, my smile growing bigger and bigger as we tried each door.  I was starting to enjoy this game, although at the beginning I had my doubts, but I wanted this surprise whatever it was.  And then finally we came to the last door.  The dreaded girl’s toilets.  I hadn’t seen that door for the past two  days, as I’d avoided it, and hadn’t needed to go.  I was frightened of those doors, and when we stopped in front of it, all my apprehension and fears returned.  The smile and fun gone from my face and mind, filled with dread.  I didn’t want to try this door, but I knew that’s what they’d all wanted from me.  I would have to try and open it, they had made me open the other doors so I had to try this one.  There was no escaping it, so with tentative steps I moved forward and with shaking hands I pushed the door.  Gently at first, not sure what to expect, and as the door moved so easily, no squeaks, no pressure needed, opening as wide as I let it.

With more confidence I pushed the door fully and stepped inside, almost afraid it would shut on it’s own.  But it stayed open, just like the other doors.  It didn’t slowly swing shut as it had in the past.  For once, I had nothing to fear about being locked in the toilet.  I could come and go as I pleased.  “You can open and close the door now. Are you happy?”  One of the teachers from the group asked as they followed me inside.  “Yes” I nodded with a grin. Yes I was happy.  How could I not be.  Deep inside I still had the fear that, what if this was a trick? A terrible mistake? What if it changed again and I couldn’t open the doors?  But I kept those fears inside as I was taken by the hand and gently lead back to my classroom.

Once back in class we stood once more by the door where we’d started.  “Where’s my surprise?” I wanted to know.  The head of VI replied “This is your surprise.  You see at the top of the doors up there?  Do you see where those black sticks that open and close used to be?  Trevor has taken them all out in every door in the school except near the office and the nursery.  But all the other doors are open to you.  He’s taken out all the springs for you, so you can go everywhere in the school.  Especially in the toilets.  And we’re not putting them back in.  All for you.  Does that make you happy?”  I was more than happy, I was delighted.

“I’m glad you’re happy, because that’s my special gift all for you and no one else.”  Trevor smiled kindly.  I thanked him shyly and gave him a shy smile back. I didn’t know how to express my gratitude.  I was so young and just ten years of age, still learning to communicate my needs and feelings. I’d not ever experienced this kind of kindness before.  But it made me feel special and I no longer had to keep a shameful secret and could go about doing what every other child had the luxury of doing without thinking or struggling.  Now I could do as they did too.

Trevor left not long after, and I was so sad to see him go, as he retired either a few months later during that year, or perhaps Christmas the next academic year.  I don’t remember when exactly, but he hadn’t been there much longer after his gift to me.  When I look back at the memory though it feels like what he did for me was a parting gift.  One that no one could match.  I know it wasn’t something he did just for me, he would have done it for any struggling child.  He always did kind things to each and every child he saw that needed a bit of kindness.  Many didn’t notice, but Trevor, I did.  I quietly noticed what you did, not just for me, for all of us.  He was an amazing care taker, always thinking of everyone.  It’s so hard to come by people like him.  I was fortunate that he was there when he was.

I wish I could show him this, tell him how his kindness helped me in so many ways.  How because of it, I got to be independent without relying on others to do what everyone else took for granted.  What everyone else did so easily without thinking about it, or without such effort.  But I can’t show him this, or tell him how grateful I am.  He most likely isn’t around anymore, as he was quite old back then.  I can’t imagine him still being around after 30 odd years.  But wherever you are Trevor, Thank you.  Thank you so much from the bottom of my faulty heart.  He didn’t have to take out the springs of every door, he’d only been asked to do the toilet door, but he spent the evening going around the whole school and taking out the springs in every door.  And for that I am forever grateful to him.

There are a few people here and there who come into my life and do kind things to me.  I know I’m not the best at expressing my gratitude or how I’m feeling and things, even now to this day as an adult.  But to everyone who helps me, who is kind to me, who gives me big gifts in special ways, know this.  Even if my thank you’s are small, or if I struggle to say it.  Know that I do care, that I do notice and that I do appreciate what you all do for me.  If I thank you, even just shyly, know that my gratitude to you is deep and I mean it when I show any kind of gratitude, and I try not to forget what kindness is given.  This is the biggest gesture anyone has ever done for me.  And I am forever grateful and will hopefully treasure my memory of Trevor and what he did for me.

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