Yesterday we celebrated Graduation for the Nursery School at Small Church. It’s a five morning a week program for 3-5 year olds, and every year, those going on to kindergarten march down the aisle at church to the sounds of “It’s a Small World,” then sit on the “stage,” which is to say in the Chancel, wearing (or not) little graduation-style caps. Theoretically, they sing some of their favorite songs, too, although most of them stare out into the gathered crowd either showing off for parents and grandparents or freaking out at the number of strangers. The younger children sit in tiny chairs in the front of the sanctuary and receive certificates after the graduates get their “Diplomas.”
The church was packed yesterday with people and their cameras of all kinds. I gave the welcome and opening remarks. I promised the Director they would be no longer than 25-30 minutes. She has a good sense of humor, but on this particular day she just looked stricken. Really, I said, they’ll last more like 45 seconds.
There is one family I have followed with great interest. About this time three years ago, I learned that our new fall class would include two boys of a set of triplets. The other boy had cerebral palsy, the Director told me, and would be attending a special nursery school at the CP Center. When they arrived at school in the fall, the mother approached me and said, “You may not remember me, but I remember you. You visited me three years ago when I was in the hospital on bed-rest. I really appreciated your visits.”
I did remember her. It was the first part of my summer of CPE, and I was trying to see all the patients on the ante-partum unit. Quite a few of them were Catholic, but they seemed to appreciate having company, since the priests did not come every day. If you have to be on bedrest, being in the hospital has some advantages, particularly having someone to bring you things if needed. But it is also lonely, and for Triplet Mom, it meant leaving her three-year-old son at home. And it is scary. You’ve been told that your stillness is the best preventive against prematurity. I know that would not incline me to calm and relaxing thoughts.
Triplets A,B and C were born on the 4th of July. For the rest of the summer, I “visited” them in the NICU, but I never happened to be there at the same moment their parents were. And I never expected to know how things turned out for them. It was a wonderful surprise to have them reappear. Triplets A and B started nursery school at 3, and on Friday mornings, Triplet C would come in to play for a few minutes, since his school did not meet on that day. He is identical to his brother, B, but you could easily tell them apart by the leg braces and crutches C used.
That fall, C went to Big City for surgery on his legs. We added him to the church’s prayer list. By the next spring, he had been cleared to go to regular preschool, but the schools on the states’s approved list of reimbursible tuitions did not meet with Triplet Mom’s approval. “Why couldn’t he come here?” I asked. Well, three tuitions were beyond their means. Let me work on that, I said. And we made an arrangement that allowed all three boys to attend school the next year.
About midway through the year, Triplet Dad began bringing all four of his sons to church on Sundays. I was surprised, knowing the family is Catholic, but of course we were delighted to have them there. The preschool Sunday School teacher is a part-timer in the Nursery School, thus a familiar face. And we were already prepared for Triplet C’s special needs. As the year went on, we learned that he was scheduled for another surgery. On Children’s Sunday last year, when I asked for prayer requests, the seven-year-old brother raised his hand and asked us to pray for his brother, C.
Given that the boys were very young 5’s, the family decided to wait a year on kindergarten and send them to our school one more year. By Halloween, surgery and recovery behind him, C was walking better than we had ever seen him. At the Halloween party, we marveled at how well his feet were touching the floor. By the first of the year, it was harder and harder to tell him apart from B at a quick glance. Meanwhile, a grandmother began taking them with her to Mass. They are much-missed at Small Church, although we certainly understand.
Yesterday at graduation, C walked in with the rest of the children. Crutches are a thing of the past. When he stood and crossed the stage to receive his diploma, there was loud and sustained applause. And not a few tears.
Godspeed, C, as continue your walk through this small world. I pray we will meet again.