When I was a child my mother used to spin her favorite records for us at home all the time. As a child of the 70’s, she loved folk music and played all sorts of records for us. One of her favorites was Simon & Garfunkel. I vividly remember hearing “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” and “Scarborough Fair” over and over again. I didn’t understand the lyrics, but I loved the music.
As I grew into my teens, I would listen earnestly to the lyrics, understanding and feeling them deeply. Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” was one of my favorite tracks.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me.
I am shielded in my armor.
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock.
I am an island.
As an angsty teenager, I related to the song, feeling like an outsider. As in the song, I was a rock, a recluse trying to be strong–on a subconscious level attempting to gain self-worth.
Fast forward 15 years and I’m a mom myself, with two wonderful boys, each one with his own unique personality and taste in music. Each one with his own unique challenges.
Benji was officially diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) when I was nine months pregnant with Ari. His diagnosis didn’t shock me—quite the opposite: it confirmed my maternal instincts that something wasn’t right. Benji wasn’t reaching his milestones, but at least now I had the medical explanation why.
Ari was born shortly after and was a wonderful, happy, and easy baby.
I took on the challenges of having a child with special needs and a newborn. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. I researched, documented, and finally placed Benji in the best public school program I could find.
As time moved on, Benji progressed, but very slowly. Our motto became “small steps every day,” and we watched eagerly for every new small step. And then, when Ari was two we started to wonder if something was going on with him. Ari wasn’t speaking much, and eventually we took him to a specialist for an evaluation.
“Ari is on the autistic spectrum.” The news gutted me at first. I had spent the previous three years focusing on my Benji, feeling as if I was in an ocean trying to keep my head above the water. He had been the first wave in my ocean of motherhood. I had been focusing all of my efforts on learning to swim in this ocean and to accept the uncertainty and the volatility of this wave. Hearing Ari’s diagnosis was a second wave I wasn’t prepared for.
My mother’s favorite folk singers and their popular song “I Am a Rock” took on a new meaning.
I felt isolated. I had two children in special education, while all my friends had their kids in typical yeshiva settings. I felt alone and separated from the norm, and the boys weren’t even progressing as I was hoping they would. I was an island surrounded by an ocean.
And yet I had no choice but to continue to surf the challenging and constantly changing waves in my ocean. It was a blessing when I found SINAI Schools, which had decades of expertise in special education, but all the benefits of being integrated into Jewish schools. At SINAI, both Benji and Ari, with their very different needs, were getting what they needed academically, emotionally, and socially. Their educational needs were being met—but they also were part of a larger, mainstream community, and a Jewish community. For the first time, they felt that they belonged….and I felt that as a family, we belonged.
Having two children with special needs has been challenging and isolating, but now that we are part of the SINAI family, I know that I am no longer an island. I am not alone.
Back when I was a teenager, my mother tried to tell me that “I am a rock, I am an island,” didn’t mean that I was alone or isolated. But only as an adult did I come to understand what she meant. Now I know that, like a rock, I am filled with strength. Like an island, I am strong and can stand surrounded by an ocean. I can handle these waves.
Yesterday I played Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock” for my boys. Needless to say, they weren’t impressed. They weren’t moved by the words of the song. They didn’t notice the smirk on my face or the fact that as soon as the song was over I ran to call my mom, to give her the latest details on what they had accomplished that day at school.
I only hope that one day when they hear the lyrics of this song, they find strength in their oceans to take on the waves in their lives.
Avital Rubin lives in Staten Island with her husband and their two amazing boys. Even on the most challenging days, she embraces the unknown, knowing that her boys are happy and comfortable in their own skins, and that they will always find joy in singing and dancing to the songs they love.