“It takes a village”. That overused phrase really does apply when it comes to our children, especially our special needs children. Parents simply cannot do everything it takes to help their child succeed on their own. It’s with humility and gratitude, and often more than a little bit of embarrassment, that we accept that help. I pretend to be superwoman. I tell myself I can do it all. I believe I can sing my way through my day like Mary Poppins handling crisis after crisis while making it all look effortless, my smile never leaving my face. In reality, many days are a struggle just to hold it together. I feel I’m failing at everything I am doing, from not spending enough time with my children to being ill equipped to run a nonprofit. I can’t do it all. Not by myself. God knows this. He encourages me to believe I can do anything he has set before me, and then He sends me help.
This past Thursday evening, Sam had the opportunity to walk with his graduating class at UD Arena. It was probably one of the most emotional times of my life. I’ve cried more happy tears this past week than I probably ever have. Tears of joy to see him with his peers and enjoying himself. Tears of gratitude for the many people who have helped him get here. The list is long, and if I start naming names, I’ll invariably leave someone extremely important out. If you’re reading this, you’re probably on that list.
Just like his peers, Sam has come a long way. And like his peers, he has a long way to go. I’m often too close to the situation to see how competent he truly is. I still want to protect him. To hover and be there should he need me. I live with PTSD from Sam’s rage days and I constantly worry he’s going to unleash on some unsuspecting “villager”. I worry about how they’ll react. If they’ll know what to do. Graduation gave me a whole new perspective on my son. His “people” aren’t holding their breath waiting for his rage to flare. They aren’t concerned when his volume begins to increase and he begins repeating phrases loudly as the anxiety rises. They believe he is competent and able, and treat him as such. And because of this, he is successful.
One of the people in Sam’s village that made Thursday possible is a friend he’s had since preschool, Jake Shockley. Jake has been there for Sam all along (below is the letter I sent to the Eagle Scout review board regarding Jake). Jake volunteered to walk Sam through graduation, forfeiting the spotlight, to make sure Sam could participate to his fullest extent. On graduation night, Sam had already endured a 3-hour practice that morning, horse therapy that afternoon that included a seizure, and was back for the “big show”. He was tired. I was tired. And he WAS NOT going to put on the cap. When Jake walked in, I literally tagged him and said “Tag, you’re it. He’s not wearing the cap.”. Without hesitation, Jake said “Okay, we got this.” and I left him with Sam. After a while, I texted Jake to see if Sam was okay. The response back didn’t make sense “Yeah, she’s fine.”, but I thought maybe it was a typo and I relaxed. Two days later, I learned I texted the wrong person who is dating a girl named Sam. Jake never got the message.
When the boys marched out with the class, my heart melted. He was, indeed, wearing the cap, and he was all smiles. He was having the time of his life. And I had nothing to do with it. His village had his back (and mine) once again.
May 6, 2016
Miami Valley Council, BSA
7285 Poe Avenue
Dayton, OH 45414
Attention: Eagle Reference Letter
For: Jake Shockley, Troop 274
Dear Eagle Scout Board,
I have known Jake Shockley for about 12 years. He and my son, Sam, were in kindergarten together. From a very young age, Jake has been a friend to Sam, who has autism. He would help him navigate school, be his reading buddy, and was ready to defend him should another student attempt to make fun of, or bully, Sam. Jake has never seemed embarrassed by Sam’s behaviors or the fact that Sam is different. He takes Sam at face value and appreciates him for who he is.
Jake and his family invited Sam to be part of their Cub Scout troop, and because it was a typical troop with kids who didn’t know Sam, I was hesitant. I shouldn’t have been. Jake and the other scouts have been warm, welcoming, and inclusive, modifying their activities to accommodate Sam whenever possible. When another scout parent suggested that maybe Sam would be “happier” in a special needs troop, Jake and his parents made it clear that if Sam leaves the troop, so would they. As much as Jake loves scouts, he loves Sam more. As the parent of a special needs child, all you want is for them to feel loved and included. Thanks to Jake, Sam does.
Jake volunteered to help Sam earn badges and worked with him after school to learn to tie knots (especially his shoes!), pack to go camping, and other badge requirements. After a little work, they would go out and play frisbee as a reward, one of Sam’s favorite activities. Jake has also taken time to come over and hang out with Sam and play video games when he learned Sam has no other friends. When the scout troop would do special projects like a car wash, clean out the storage unit, or clean up after a gathering, Jake made sure Sam had a job he would be successful in and then empowered him to accomplish the task on his own. He understood that Sam’s capable of doing many things and encouraged him to be independent, which gave Sam a feeling of self-worth. Jake and his soccer team volunteer at the special needs summer camp where Sam attends and adopted Sam as one of the players, awarding him his own jersey. As high school comes to a close, it will be Jake walking with Sam across the stage to receive his diploma. He’s been with Sam all these years and it’s a testament to his loyalty that he’s also going to be with him to share graduation. The impact Jake has had on Sam’s life is profound. Jake embodies all the things the Scout Oath and Law represent. I wish there were a way for us to recognize what Jake has done for Sam because I don’t think he’ll ever fully realize all that he’s done for him, or for us. It may not have seemed like much to Jake, but it’s meant the world to Sam.
Jake is a true Boy Scout in every sense of the word and deserves to receive his Eagle Scout award. He’s an amazing young man.