Life’s Curve Balls

Ya never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and cement a belief, or make you forever look at it differently.

So, one weekend in October, a long time ago when I was teaching Kindergarten, my teaching assistant  (TA) called me at my campground to let me know she thought one of our kids had been involved in a very serious accident–where a car had hit some pedestrians, and she thought a girl in our class was one of them. I went home thinking it wasn’t her, but the next day I found out it was–she and her mother, brother and grandmother were out walking down a country road after dinner and a car had come along and struck all of them. Grandmother died at the scene, brother had a broken kneecap, mother was in serious condition, in a coma, and Annie had severe head trauma and also was in a coma. My 5 year olds wanted to know what was going on and so my TA, Debbie, and I decided to go see her right after school and find out.

When we got to the hospital, we found out she was in intensive care, in a coma. No one was in the room with her–Dad was sitting with Mom in her intensive care room at the moment, and the family was, needless to say, in a state of shock, losing grandma and trying to care for brother and deal with their own losses. When we walked into the room, I was blown away–there was a HUGE bandage around her head, she was hooked up to multiple machines and she looked incredibly vulnerable lying there. The nurse stayed in the room for a few minutes, checking Debbie and me out, I am sure, to make sure we were okay to be with Annie.

Unresponsive and asleep, neither Debbie or I were quite sure what to do, so we began telling her about our day at school, citing what kids had told us to tell her, and who had missed her and what we read for read aloud (one of her favorite times of the day), and how much we hoped she’d get well soon and be back. The nurse observed us and then stepped out until we were about ready to go. She met us at the door and we asked how Annie was doing. She told us she’d been very critical, but that while we were talking to her, the pressure in her brain had come down to normal limits for the first time since the accident. (This was Monday, the accident happened Saturday.) I rode home thinking about the implications of that–that a teacher and teaching assistant could have that effect on a child’s brain in pain. I was hooked.

For the next 4 months, I went every night to the hospital to sit with Annie for a while. Sometimes I ran into Dad and the brother, but more often I didn’t–they had been with her or Mom much of the day, or right after school for the brother, and I generally visited after dinner. I read her books, played tapes we made at school of the kids talking to her (and left them with the nurses so they could replay them during the day) and just talked to her about what we had done. I kept her alive to her classmates by sharing with them the progress she was making as she moved from intensive care to a room, to the rehab center, relearning to talk and walk as she re-entered the world of the living. I rejoiced with her the day she got to see her Mom who was also coming out of her coma, and then cried with her when her mother died. No one was more nervous than me the day she returned to school in March, almost 5 months after her accident. I had lived with her the shakiness of her limbs as she tried to regain use of them, had seen the helmet she would be bringing to school with her to protect her head as she simply walked around, in case she fell, and I knew how much she had come to rely on me for support in the months we had spent together in the evenings.

I knew her strength and determination, but also the fear this little five year old girl felt coming back where she wasn’t sure she would remember everyone, or where she didn’t remember the routine and knew it would be far different from her rehab routine. I met her in the office and the grip she had on my hand as we walked the length of the hall to our room was so tight. Debbie had the kids at the door to see her as soon as they could, and she also was controlling their excitement, as Annie was really sensitive to loud noises (and we were somewhat afraid they would give a huge cheer and scare her.)

Annie came back to our class, and our lives–none of us–were untouched by the miracle of that child fighting the battle to re-enter her life. We watched as she got stronger and settled right back in our community. She wasn’t without differences, without struggles, without changes in what she could do and learn–but she was still Annie and the kids were amazing as they tenderly and kindly helped her relearn things. They supported her and she grew with us because we were a community–a group of people who had lived and learned and loved together since we had been thrown together by fate in August as we began that year of Kindergarten.

I tell this story because I know how I handled this situation was different from how a lot of teachers would have–I had support to take care of my own kids in the evenings. I had a teaching assistant who knew how powerful our support was, and who took extra time to help kids make Annie’s tapes or drawings or who took dictation each and every time a kid said, “I want to write Annie.”  I had support, but I also had an amazing experience that let me see how powerful an impact we can have on someone without knowing it much of the time. When Debbie and I first went to see Annie, we had worked with her only about 8 weeks–but our voices calmed her and she obviously recognized them, even in a coma. Think how critical that was to her, since it wasn’t possible for her to hear her grandmother’s or her Mother’s voice.

Our brains are amazing. Kids’ brains are amazing. It is up to us–as adults, as teachers, as admins, as keepers of the human future–to make sure all kids have a chance to stretch their brains and grow as much as they can, and to believe in the growth mindset that Carol Dweck talks about in her book Mindset. Annie’s recovery was truly a miracle, one that my class of students lived through and saw for themselves. I believe each of those children learned something about themselves that year as they supported Annie, and I know my belief in the  ability of the brain to grow beyond what  was expected was cemented forever.  As the song goes, I do believe that children are our future and that if we teach them well, they will lead the way.

Ya never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and cement a belief, or make you forever look at it differently.



7 thoughts on “Life’s Curve Balls

  1. Paula,
    Thank you for sharing this very powerful story. The dedication of you and your students seems to have been a critical factor in her recovery.

  2. Hi Paula,
    Thank you for sharing this with us. I can only imagine how hard it was for Annie during that time in her life. That you could be there for her when her mother and grandmother couldn’t must have built a powerful bond between the two of you.

    I have a student from my very first class (36 years ago) who contacted me via Facebook. We reconnected two years ago, and now every time she comes to town to visit her parents (her dad just passed away in December), we get together for dinner and drinks. We have a very close relationship that started when I taught her in fourth grade. We should never forget the effect we can have on the minds and lives of the students we teach.

  3. Children can be such an inspiration. I wonder if they realize how much they touch us.

    A youth director once said something that keeps coming back to me. He said, “I cringe when I hear people say children are our future. They are our present.” His words remind me to value students as they are now, rather than always looking at what they will become.

    Thanks for the inspiring post.

  4. Hi, Paula. My name is Angie Morris, and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am taking an education course (Microcomputing Systems) in which we are learning all about blogging, among other things. This class is a real stretch for me! I am a former special education teacher who has been staying home raising kids for the last 13 years. As part of my class assignments, I will be following your blog and summarizing it on my personal blog in a couple of weeks( If you are interested, our class blog is

    I really enjoyed this post as a soon-to-be returning teacher and as a mom. Annie’s story is incredible, and I can only imagine what is took for her to overcome all that happened in her life physically, mentally and emotionally. She was very lucky to have you as a teacher and friend. I know you stated that you were able to invest so much time in Annie because you had the “resources,” but there are many teachers that given the same opportunity and resources wouldn’t have done all that you did. You are a very special person! I was wondering if you know how Annie is doing now?

    I also wanted you to know how your post caused me to reflect on the kind of teacher I was before having my own children. I look back at some of my expectations, opinions and attitudes about children and parents and realize that I will approach teaching with an almost completely new outlook. I know that Annie’s parents were EXTREMELY thankful to have you in their lives because your compassion and dedication is obvious. Thanks for the wonderful read!

  5. Hi, Paula. My name is Angie, and I am a student at the University of South Alabama working toward getting my special education teacher certificate reinstated. I am currently taking a fascinating microcomputing class, in which I am required to keep my own blog ( my blog ). Part of the process of our learning to do this is to experience other educators’ blogs, and I have been assigned yours! I will also be writing a summary of your blog on our class blog ( class blog ) in a couple of weeks. I hope you will check it out.

    I so very much enjoyed this post, both as a returning teacher and as a mom. I can’t even begin to imagine what it took for Annie to overcome all that she went through physically, mentally and emotionally. She must have been a very strong little girl. The investment you made into Annie’s life was remarkable, too. I know you stated that you had the “resources” to be there for Annie, but I have known teachers who given the same opportunity and resources would not have extended themselves like you did. We need more teachers like you, and I hope to be one of them!

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