Another Farewell, a ‘Looth Tooth,’ and an Old-fashioned Snow Day

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by Helen Baldwin |

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yo-yoing | SMA News Today | main graphic for column titled "We're Not in Kansas Anymore," by Helen Baldwin, depicting a blue wave offset by green nature scenes

Kudos and a whew! to us all for surviving 2020.

Vastly understated, last year was memorable. Overall (and thankfully), my family managed to welcome the new year intact. However, a second loss connected to my teaching stint at Brockman School hit hard.

Brockman, a self-contained school for students with orthopedic and multiple handicapping conditions, shared its school nurse, Mary Wooldridge, with another self-contained school. Delightfully outspoken, Mary was larger than life. Her hearty laugh, impish grins, and genuine concern for both students and staff boosted morale despite perpetual challenges.

Beyond immediate family, Mary was first on my contact list when our baby, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. We continued corresponding.

Mary, donning her wings in mid-September, was the first Brockman Bear to take flight in 2020.

My eyes are welling up as I type.


My adventure in the kindergarten class at Brockman began with Dorothy Davenport, my teaching assistant. Mrs. Davenport walked me through virtually every step those first few days with a sense of humor (she likely rolled her eyes a time or two) and no-nonsense know-how. She had worked with the previous teacher and could do her duties — and probably most of mine — blindfolded. I may as well have been blindfolded myself until I found my groove.

Brockman’s small size enabled us to know everyone in the school. Dorothy’s best friend, Ruthie Fay, was another jewel of a teaching assistant. Prior to what would be my final and most difficult year at Brockman, Dorothy announced that she had accepted another position in the school system. Excited for her but saddened at the thought of losing my classroom partner and friend, I regrouped quickly, remembering Ruthie was up for grabs. I sprinted to the principal to request her (I may have begged). Angel intervention, at work long before I fully understood it, placed her in my class.

Like her BFF, Ruthie didn’t hesitate to do whatever was needed to keep our classroom afloat. She was likewise fun and funny, a genuine pleasure to work with.

Dorothy and Ruthie both adored dressing up, going to church, and being active, period. They lovingly called our children, Matthew and Katie (both born during my Brockman days), their “white grands.” Matthew and Katie knew them as Grandma Davenport and Grandma Fay. We’ve also kept in touch over the years.

Helen’s teaching assistants and best friends, Dorothy Davenport, left, and Ruthie Fay. (Courtesy of Helen Baldwin)

It was Ruthie who told Brockman student LaMondré Pough about Jeffrey’s diagnosis of SMA. His subsequent phone call to me was a godsend I still appreciate almost 24 years later.

Ruthie snagged her own wings in mid-December.

I envision lots of laughter in her reunion with Mary and others from Brockman.


Our granddaughter Clara turned 5 (!) a few days after Christmas. As big a deal as that was, however, she had her mama FaceTime PopPop (my husband, Randy) and me for the really big announcement: “I have a looth tooth! I have a looth tooth! Can you be-lieve I have a looth tooth?!”

Precious child, barely 5, already had a loose tooth. She couldn’t have been more pumped had she met any of her beloved princesses in the flesh.

In the following MomMom duty days, her usual “MomMom! I’m so glad you’re here!” was replaced with her “looth-tooth” proclamations. She was ecstatic at the prospect of losing a tooth and being visited by the tooth fairy (or princess). When she learned that the tooth fairy would bring a surprise, her eyes flew open at her good fortune. This “looth tooth” business was a keeper!

Note to Tooth Fairy: You might want to expedite your appearance when Clara spies a bit of blood upon the tooth’s eventual escape. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned that part of the process to her just yet.

Given 2020’s circus rings and the potential for even more in 2021, I’ll take Clara’s “looth tooth” adventures any day.

Clara admires her first loose tooth. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


When the pandemic forced school systems to offer virtual learning, the unexpected, highly coveted Snow Day became history. Because students could connect from home, bad-weather days would merely shift learning from school to home. I was crushed.

Our move to the mountains of North Carolina at the end of December 1995 came with a bundle of Snow Days. A week after our arrival a blizzard came, followed by enough snow so that students didn’t have a full week of school until mid-March. No complaints here!

I love snow days, especially when the flakes are big and the wind is gentle, but I really love Snow Days, when the routine takes a surprise break.

The forecast called for snow to begin falling the first Thursday night of the new year. Anticipated to be a significant snowfall, “school” was called off — with the superintendent’s announcement that Friday would be an old-fashioned SNOW DAY.

And with the appearance of a red cardinal, 2021 may be more promising than I thought.

A beautiful red appearance on an unexpected snow day. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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