Sometimes I know a book is going to be dedicated to a certain person before I sit down and write it. Other times, I come to that realization while I am writing the book. I know as I crafted the pages of Confessions of a Little Black Gown, that Tally’s book belonged to Jessica Burtt. And let me tell you why.
We met Jessica about seven years ago, when Matthew was a baby. He’d run through just about every babysitter I could find. He was one tough baby. He even sent the neighborhood’s alleged “baby whisperer” into a two hour crying jag. The babysitter. Not Matthew. Well, Matthew too, because he had horrible colic. And he was a fussy baby. And he wasn’t a baby for an amatuer. Then I got a lead on a 14 year old babysitter who was supposed to be “the best.”
This is the part where I cry. Because from the moment Jessica walked into our house, she walked into our hearts. Do you see this sunny, gorgeous smile? It has never changed. She has been an important and indispensable part of the kids’ lives ever since. The boys love Jessica. They even named their favorite playground after her. Jessica Park. Because it was the place she would take them to play. She’s watched the boys grow up and we’ve watched her grow up.
And Matthew’s autism has never been an issue to Jessica. She has managed to see through his challenges and discover the child inside. Unlocking ways to engage him, talk with him and keep him toeing the line. I remember the first time we used someone other than Jessica and Matthew walked up to this poor girl and gave her this sideways evil eye glance and then looked at me like, “That’s not her!” No. No one is.
So let’s fast forward. Jessica is now a teacher. Yes, at 21. She’s the hardest working, most determined young lady you will ever meet. She took Running Start classes to finish two years of college as she finished high school, and then went to college and finished, again, in record time. When I had to drop Matthew off last year at a new school to start with a new teacher, in a temporary building that was just decrepit, I left that school in tears. Until I got in my car and there was a text message on my phone. I’m here. I’ll watch over him. Because Jessica decided to do her student teaching at Matthew’s school and she’d watched me leave.
This year she began teaching full time, an ESL classes filled to the brim with K-3 kids. And on occasion, we can still entice to come over for an evening with “her boys.” But mostly we all just love to see her. To me, she’s the daughter I will never have. To the kids, well . . .
Once Terry said to me, “she’s as much a mom to them as you are.” Some women might find that statement unsettling or threatening. Not me. I smiled and said a prayer to heaven thanking God that he sent such a blessing into our lives. Everyone should have a Jessica to brighten their lives.
And so, a book about finding light in our lives is dedicated to my dear friend, Jessica Burtt.