I have worked with many Mama Bears over the years. Some Mama Bears are angry and ferocious. Others are kind and quiet – with the understanding that wrath will be released if her baby is hurt. Typically developing students have the ability to go home and tell their Mamas every part of the day. For those who are not typically developing, the Mama Bear must rely on the teacher to relay anything about their child’s day. These Mama Bears trust on a whole different level.
I have learned so much from Mama Bears throughout my years in education. One Mama was the reason for my drawer full of bleach pens, wet wipes and art smocks. This Mama sent her baby to school looking pristine and she was insistent that he be sent back to her looking the same way. This kiddo had a nicer wardrobe than mine and every article of clothing matched – even those articles you could not see. There were definitely moments of frustration for me, as the teacher. I would think to myself, “shouldn’t she care more that he is learning to play with other kids instead of being angry when he comes home with dirt on his shoes?”. Then I took a step back and I thought about all of the things this Mama Bear could not control. She could not control when – or if – her baby would ever speak. She could not control his outrageously loud burps. She could not control his inability to play with his peers. She could, however, control the way he looked. She could control that his clothing matched and ensure he look absolutely gorgeous every day. I learned to give that Mama…and many who followed, more grace. More understanding that I, as the teacher, would never understand how it feels to be the parent of a child with autism – no matter how much I love the kids. I had no place to judge decisions any Mama made for her child.
Another Mama taught me about perspective. I was so excited that her little guy was going to perform with his class in the first kindergarten performance. He stood alongside his peers, and although he did not sing or do any of the dance movements, he was able to remain in place and play the maracas on one song. During the daytime performance he did so well that I spoke with her before the evening performance. I told her how excited I was that he was able to participate in this performance with his class. After the evening performance, I called her to ask her how it went. She said it went well, but something in her voice told me otherwise. The next morning, she told me that although he did magnificent, it was the first time she had observed him alongside his typical peers. She was heartbroken to see the stark difference between her child and his peers. I know this Mama loved her son just as he was and it never occured to me how much this would hurt her. This was a tough lesson learned and one I will never forget.
I know one Mama Bear in a different way – she is my Aunt Connie. Timmy is her son. He is a beautiful, funny, smart boy – and he has autism. Timmy has blessed our entire family in ways that we didn’t know we needed. In the video below, I read a tribute she wrote to Timmy on his birthday.
This is the rest of Timmy’s tribe.
As teachers, we must remember that these Mama Bears, vicious or mild, all have the same ultimate goal: their children are safe and loved. As educators, we must give grace and show empathy to all of the Mama Bears.