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Lessons learned from working with Wyatt

Wyatt 

He has creamy, soft skin and a laughter that erupts with the tempo of divine gods like the best of the Disney voiceovers.

His eyes peer over his glasses when I make a joke that is maybe too wordy or awkward. I assist with a boy named Wyatt every day for three hours as a special education assistant. Wyatt is a 5-yearold boy who has spina bifida — a birth defect that occurs when the bones of the spine don't form properly around part of the spinal cord — and is attending Cooper Elementary in Superior.

Once a day, I bring him to the nurse where he intercepts her cell phone and plays "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas." I hear the laughter trailing from her office as she completes the one medical routine necessary for him to thrive in school. During gym, I follow him around in his wheelchair and navigate between 36 other kindergartners as the gym teacher calls out orders. "Stay on the blue circles," I tell him, which prevents an unintended crash just one foot in from where the rest of the kids run the perimeter. He has one friend who checks on him regularly and two other boys who try to hug him too tight. Daily, I have to remind the students that hugging him and touching his chair have necessary boundaries.

Working with Wyatt doesn't feel like a job — it feels like an avocation, a passion brought to its threshold by recognizing my place in the world, a place I had to fight for. It doesn't derive from a sense of charity or do-goodness. It emanates from knowing that God has placed certain people in our lives who have taught us meaning bound by the fragile mortality of our own being intermingled with those who contain transcendent magic.

When in Wyatt's presence, I feel that I am a companion to a young soul of elevated consciousness whom every employee and student embraces. He never complains as he makes left wheelies around the corner and maneuvers his chair like that of an expert. His enthusiasm for lessons by his effervescent teacher who has a sing-songy, Mary Poppins voice and subtle encouragement for each student, fulfills the mission of education and abstract thinking. Surrounded by a life-giving teacher and 15 students, Wyatt's presence in the classroom combined with his observation skills and appreciation of co-students adds a unique quality. I feel in a sense, our classroom is an evolving lab of understanding where I learn popcorn words and strategies to birth students in the comprehension of the English language. Through Wyatt's eyes, I see the world.

The nurse and Wyatt have a special relationship. They are together twice a day. She bought him five hippopotamus gifts for Christmas. She even found a Christmas card with the infamous hippopotamus song that plays when he opened up the card.

The thing about Wyatt is although he is in a wheelchair, it is a universal feeling among staff that within our lives, he gives us the feeling of being special. His subtle laugh, his inflection of jokes, his due diligence in trying to write out letters and words, his natural rapport with the physical therapist makes the essence of his education a paradigm of purpose. After losing a child in 1992 on Christmas Day to a heart transplant, I have learned to treasure new moments with the youth I serve. Wyatt has filled up those spaces in my heart that lay dormant for years. His life is a tribute to a big picture meaning. Working with Wyatt has given me a chance to reflect on my place in the world by understanding his place in mine.

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