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Just before retiring, a chance meeting with a former colleague persuaded me to apply for a part-time teacher aide job with St. Louis County Special School District.  I wanted a no-pressure a job close to home to bridge the time until becoming eligible for Medicare and retirement.  Instead, SCSD offered me a full-time teacher assistant position, three miles from my home.  Except for working three hours more a day, it was perfect.  I accepted.

Feeding and changing diapers of children between 8 and 12 years was not what I wanted to do. Fortunately, these duties were not the whole job nor were they the most difficult.  Most of the children had cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome or paralysis. One had a terminal illness.  It is amazing how emotional it was working with these wonderful, damaged children.

There were unexpected, life-changing experiences during my time in Room 3 of Ackerman Elementary School.  Almost every lesson included artistic elements and, over time, besides helping students with the physical mechanics of doing lessons, I assumed a role in planning projects and to ways increase student involvement.  My favorite project was an 8’ x 6’ mural of an Amazon Rain Forest.  There were music classes, music therapy and dozens of children’s books to read to the class. The staff was great and I was having a wonderful time, except for the feeding and diaper changing. Without a conscious effort by December 2009, I had renewed my interest in and a fair understanding of children’s literature.

About a week before Christmas, there was a gap between planned activity and lunch time when Vicky, Room 3’s Teacher, asked me to read to the class. As I rose from my miniature chair, a pain shot across my back, “Oh my aching back,” shot out of my mouth, much louder than intended. The kids and adults in the classroom fixed on me. “It’s so sore!” Nobody looked away. “You know who has the mother of all back aches?” I paused. “Santa Clause!”  The adults began to smile. “It would be so much easier if he used a door.” Another smile. It was time to have some fun.  I started weaving a story through outlandish rhymes and exaggerated movements.  As time was waning, I struggled with how to bring this poem to an end and decided to take Santa home.  As the lunch period began, my poem ended.

Vicky and Maggie (the other Room 3 assistant) wanted copies. Lunch was skipped to make a copy and, while putting the poem on paper, images for most of the pictures in Santa’s Aching Back came to mind. That evening, I made some sketches and Santa’s Aching Back was born. Had I known it would take 22 months and over 1000 man hours of illustration to get to this point - I might not have started the journey.  Now that it's done, I’m happy.