Why I’m Sticking With Gratitude

Yesterday, after teaching a morning bootcamp class, I zipped over to the grocery store. The plan was to make it a quick trip. I had a load of things I wanted to accomplish before my afternoon class.

Cool, I thought, the parking lot is near empty, I pulled into a front parking spot, and grabbed myself a big cart (I established a personal rule of no small carts, no matter how small the trip, after the very embarrassing small-cart-incident of unexpectedly hitting a dip in the parking lot, the abrupt stop of the cart almost sending me barreling headfirst, in plain full parking lot view, right over top). The big cart and I safely and efficiently cruised through the aisles, finishing in record speed at the check-out line, with only one woman in front of me, who was already swiping her credit card. Score!

When it was my turn, the woman behind the check-out counter smilingly asked her required questions: Had I had found everything ok, and how was I doing? We then made typical check-out counter small talk as she swiftly swiped my items; what a beautiful day it was, how warm and sunny, and so on. Friendly, yet impersonal. And, I probably would have left the store in about 3 more minutes, with a lift to my step from the ease and friendliness of the experience, but without much further thought as I moved on with the rest of my day. Instead, I turned my head to the new sound of voices entering the quiet of the store.

A small group of kids, all with varying special needs, and their educators, were walking in and grabbing carts. There was a lot of excited chatter amidst the distribution of carts, and once a cart was in hand, a child and their educator were happily off on their shopping adventure. I spotted the back of the blond head of one of Wil’s friends, Nick, as he expertly made his way down the aisle with his cart.

The check-out woman saw me looking their way, and said, “That is a special needs class from Saline schools.” To which I replied, “One of those boys is my son’s friend. They both have Down syndrome. I was hoping to catch his eye, but he went off shopping in the other direction.”

“Oh,” she said, “I was a para-educator for 20 years. My son also had special needs. He went to school at Highpoint (a school for kids with a higher level of needs).” “I know Highpoint,” I said, “I used to work at the WISD and my neighbor recently retired from there.”

“When I started teaching,” she told me, “they were just starting inclusion. I believe in inclusion, but it’s not right for all of our kids. My son needed to be at a place like Highpoint.”

“I understand,” I said. “I’m so thankful for the inclusion my son has right now. We have not had to fight for it, he naturally receives what you had to fight for those years ago. Yet, I also understand what you are saying about inclusion not being right for everyone. Though my son enjoys and benefits from inclusion, I found in certain subjects, like math, the most effective place for him to be is in the resource room. Each child is very different.”

She nodded. “My son was completely typical, then he almost drowned when he was 2 ½. After that, he had multiple special needs, too many to be at a regular school with inclusion.”

She paused, then looked me right in the eye, I could tell she was deciding if she should share something with me, then she did.

“You know, there are some things worse than dying. To have a typical child and then…”

My heart went to the pit of my stomach. I looked at her gently, and all I could do was nod. What words are there for something as heavy as that?

“My son did die, he was only 10 years old. I have 6 children, so, well, that helps.”

But, what can truly help? She did what she could to cope. She helped other parents who had kids with special needs as a para-educator. I have absolutely no doubt that many parents found comfort in her knowing nods and compassionate words when she was responsible for the care of their child each day. I also have no doubt that those kids under her care received her best. You don’t go through what she did, and do the work she did for 20 years if you don’t care deeply about the purpose of that work.

We talked a little more, but by then my items had been checked and bagged, and a man was waiting behind me in line. It was time to go. I told her it was really good talking with her, and we wished each other a good day. I know I will make a point to find her line again.

Back at my car, filling it with groceries, I thought of our conversation. It was heavy, yes, but also, I felt a huge sense of gratitude for that time with her. Gratitude that she chose to share her story with me so that I could connect with her and learn from her in my very own life experiences.

Good days are good. The front parking space, the cruising through the uncrowded aisles, the smile and friendliness of a check-out worker, and the sun burning away the clouds and warming the air. They lift us, they carry us to a certain point, and they even spread, but they don’t run very deep, because they don’t stick. We catch them and hold on to them when we can, and enjoy them, but they are unpredictable and fleeting. They come, and they go.

Stories shared and connections made as in the one at the grocery store have staying power. They stick. I am never left the same after conversations like that, and it’s a wonder, how many I have had just like that since Wil has been born. And, it’s in these very unlikely, common places where they happen.

Last Saturday, I was in the hallway at Katherine’s karate tournament. I happened to put on a necklace that morning that our Down Syndrome Support Team sells. They are beautiful, handmade necklaces, and nothing about them says “special needs” except for the fact that they are sold at our Buddy Walk each year, the proceeds going to our support group. In the crowd of people walking back and forth in that hallway at the tournament, a blond woman stopped, pointed at my necklace and said, “Buddy Walk! I have about 5 of those! I love them, and yours is especially beautiful!”

“Thank you,” I said, “do you have a Buddy you walk for?”

“Oh, lots of them. I’m a special education teacher in Saline.”

We shared a smile, and went on our own separate ways down the busy hallway.

A passing friendly comment on a piece of jewelry in a crowded public place, but it will last longer than the smile she gave me. That compliment drives deeper, because it carries with it a common purpose, a common cause, which we both innately understand in those few words we exchanged.

At a birthday party I went to at a lake, where Wil was happily splashing around, a woman walked up to me, and said, “Your son reminds me of mine when he was your son’s age. So blond, so sweet. I miss him at that age.” And, then we shared stories like old friends reconnected about our kids and our lives, except we had only met that very moment, and our only known connection was Down syndrome. I learned so much about the experiences Wil could look forward to in her stories, and she was able to look back and relive some of her son’s youth.

I can recount many such stories, in restaurants, walking down the street wearing my Buddy Walk shirt, and other such every day places. I believe that I am so easily approached with these experiences is not for any other reason than that I am open to them now, when I wasn’t before. I did not have the “WIL”lingness those years ago that I do now.

Last night, I went to bed overflowing with gratitude. Not because of a front parking spot or the ease of my day, but because I now have opened myself to the gift of looking underneath the surface shine. Diving down deeper, past the pretty and shimmery surface, down through the murky and the messy, the deeper of the emotions, and down, down, down, down, to uncover the treasure chest of connection. That is where the staying power to fulfillment is. That is what sticks.

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Magic in Mosquitos

Last night, Matt built a fire in our outdoor firepit. The girls eventually tired of it, and went inside. Wil wanted to stay, so I stayed with him. He plopped up on my lap in an old wire chair, and we gently rocked back and forth, my arms wrapped around him. Dusk was settling in, our yellow lab Woody was splayed out on the cool of the grass, and the kittens started play fighting, rolling and tumbling in their agile, quiet way, over the low rocks of the retaining wall. All very relaxing and satisfying. Until the mosquitos started buzzing around.

“Wil, these mosquitos are going to eat us up. I’m sorry, but we need to go in, buddy.”

Wil extended his arms and legs, took a long, thoughtful look at them, then said, “Hey! I’m not food!” He burst out laughing, which of course, is highly contagious, so I immediately joined in.

Life is full of magic, I must never forget that.

I find I can look at something so long, that I think I know it. So when it shows up to threaten the party, I can quickly become annoyed by it, bored by it, or even get to the point of being jaded by it. Then, POOF! Something happens where I see what I thought I knew in a whole new way.

Life is so much fuller when I have the “WIL”ingness in my life opening my mind to the magic!

TBT

A Small Kindness

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Wil had swimming at Goldfish Swim School last night, and I was leaning against the wall in the shower area, as he played and rinsed off after his lesson. A mom walked in with her daughter, and stood near me waiting for an open shower.

I didn’t really give them too much notice, when all of a sudden, the girl reaches over and gives the top of my arm a big, tight squeeze in her fist. I looked over in surprise, and the mom looked at me apologetically.

It was then that I noticed her daughter had a hard time being still, she was moving and reaching and looking around constantly as her mom was trying to keep her in one place waiting for a shower.

A shower opened up, and I watched the mom try to shampoo her daughter’s hair. She had to have one hand holding on to her suit the whole time, or I could see that her daughter would take off. At one point, a little boy was within this little girl’s each, and in a split second, she reached out and gave him a smack right on the nose. The little boy stepped back, shocked, and went back to his shower, hands over his nose, tears in his eyes. The mom gave the boy one of those tired looking smiles in apology.

When her daughter was sufficiently shampooed and rinsed, the mom wrapped a towel around her daughter, so she could not move, bunched it up in the front, and led her out by grasping the front of the towel. I gave the mom a smile as she passed me, and she flashed that tired looking smile back.

I really hope my smile gave her a little boost, a little feeling of understanding, a connection, one mom to another. I have no way of knowing, but I do know that tired smile she wore, I know how it feels, deep in the pit of my stomach.

And, I do know what it feels like to have another parent show just the smallest kindness.

I was wearing that tired smile at the grocery store a few years ago. It was at the time when Wil would just take off at a moment’s notice, and I’d have the twins and a cart with me, and I’d have to say, “stay here!” and run after him. I’ve chased him through the “Employees only” doors past people in hairnets, where upon seeing me, Wil would plop unmoving on the floor, me pulling his limp, spaghetti noodle body weight, and someone invariably saying, “Don’t throw out your back!” when my biggest concern was getting him off the floor so I could quickly get back to my unattended twins.

Standing in line was the easiest part of shopping. I’d have him quarantined between the shelves of the checkout counter, filled with magazines, trinkets and other such distractions. There was a woman on this one particular shopping trip, and she must have been watching us, but I was too consumed with my 3 kids to notice. As I pushed my cart past the checkout counter, Wil standing with his feet on the base, his back leaning against my chest, both of our hands on the bar of the cart, the twins jumping ahead with their slushies, she came up along side me and said, “Good job, mom! I was you not too many years ago.” “Thank you” I said, flashing her that same tired smile the woman at Goldfish gave me. But, under that smile was an immense amount of gratitude. Just the smallest of kindnesses can sometimes mean the most. J

ust Thursday, I went to a market after Katherine’s Tae Kwon Do class. Shopping with the kids is easy now. Nothing like it used to be. The girls are 9 and very self-sufficient, and Wil is much less likely run off (though he still has an affinity for the Employee Only doors!) As I was unloading groceries into the car with my kids, a man who was walking into the store said, “Would you like me to bring that cart back in the store for you?” Such a very simple and kind gesture, but it left me smiling and uplifted.

On this Valentine’s Day, we go out of our way to show our love for another, everything wrapped in big ribbons and bows, and that is a wonderful thing. We should celebrate our love for one another. But, let us not forget, that simple, every day kindnesses can hold more significance than we realize.

The Joy Between the Lines

Wil reading

As much as I try to plan, sometimes, life grabs me by the collar, and says, Hey, sit tight! This needs to be one of those day-by-day things.

Oh, no, not one of those! I like to fly with a plan. This day-by-day thing takes time and patience. I’m not so good with that.

But, Life is always right. So, I do my best to listen. But, I’ve had to learn the hard way.

I remember, when Wil was just a baby, my friend told me about someone who had an older child with Down syndrome. My friend thought it would be helpful if I talked to her.

So, I gave this woman a call, and we had a great chat. We talked all about the joys of our children, the doctor visits, what toys and therapies were best, and so on.

She was very friendly, kind, encouraging…and forthcoming. Or so I thought.

A found out later, she intentionally left out some of the challenges I will encounter as Wil gets older.

Why would she do that? I was hurt, and I was a little scared. What was ahead of me? What did she think I couldn’t handle?

It was Life telling me to be in the Present, and not to get too far ahead of myself.

But, of course, I didn’t listen. I needed a plan!

Wil was so little, and there was so much I didn’t know yet. I wanted to be ahead of the game. I wanted to be prepared.

So, among other books, I checked out one from the library written by two young men with Down syndrome. They spoke candidly of their life, and I simply wasn’t ready for all that I read. All I could see were the challenges.

I returned the book, unfinished and tear-soaked. It was just too much too soon.

I read many other books, such as “Babies with Down Syndrome” and “Common Threads,” which is a book that contains stories from people who have had close experiences with individuals with Down syndrome. They are all very positive and uplifting stories. That was what I needed when Wil was a baby. I needed lots of reassurance and positivity.

I’ve learned, with lots of reminders, that much of this journey is one to be taken day-by-day. All challenges are not heaped on us at once. When a new challenge presents itself, we handle it. And in so doing, we learn and we grow. In this growth, we begin to see that there is joy that is hidden between the lines.

It’s the kind of joy that is discovered in hearing your child pronounce a single consonant they have struggled with for months, or having the oral strength to blow a bubble, or to keep their feet to the pedals to move a bike, or grasp a pencil in just the right way, or seeing your child’s friends clear the way on the basketball court so your child can shoot a basket.

So, Life, in its Wisdom, pulls us back from our big plans every once in a while, and snaps us into the present. That is what that kind woman I chatted with was trying to do. She wanted me to enjoy what I had in the Now, so I would gain the strong foundation I needed to go forward.

Oh, and as for that book, I still cry when I read it, but this time around they are happy tears.

I still see all of the challenges, but now I am able to read the joy between the lines.


REMEMBER: BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOURSELF

Flexible

There was this girl, and one day, she felt like she was missing something, but couldn’t for the life of her figure out what it was.

There was nothing unusual about her day. It was full of the usual busyness.

She had three children involved in three different activities, she was training for a distance race, writing a book, teaching a few classes and training a few clients.

Yes, her life was busy, but it was of her choosing, and she enjoyed it.

Except for that day. What was missing?

She knew some days were simply harder than others, but she knew how to conjure up excitement and energy within her.

She focused on why she was doing what she did, what the outcomes meant to her, and allowed those positive emotions to flood through her. That was always enough to recharge her batteries and fill her with excitement and energy. But, try as she might, it wasn’t happening that day. What was missing?

She started to get upset with herself. Why couldn’t she get it together? Was she being lazy? How had she lost her excitement?

Her husband offered to bring home carry-out, which was a huge relief. One less thing. When he walked in the door, she gave him a big hug and just hung in his arms.

A tear streaked down her face, and she whispered in his ear, “I just don’t have it today, honey. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I love this life, but something is missing. I just don’t have it in me today.”

He leaned back so he could see her face, and said, “You have a lot going on. You just need to be flexible with yourself.”

That was it! That’s what she was missing.

She hugged him so tight, and whispered, “Thank you, that was exactly what I needed to hear.”

A huge weight seemed to lift from her shoulders. She wasn’t being lazy, she hadn’t lost sight of her goals, she simply needed to remember to be flexible with herself.

Her husband placed the huge tray of pulled pork he had brought home on the counter, and opened up the lids of bbq sauce. They didn’t grab plates or forks, they simply stood there, laughing and talking, picking up pieces of pulled pork with their fingers and dipping them in the sauce.

Her carefree, happy self was back again. She had back what she was missing.

That night, as she sang her son his favorite bedtime song, unknowingly, she peacefully fell into sleep next to him. She was woken by her daughters, kissed and tucked them into bed, and went into her own bed, next to her husband, and contentedly fell to sleep.

Her alarm went off very early the next morning, and she got up and dressed for a run in the cool winter air.

As her heart started pumping, the snow crunching under her feet, the sky big and black, she felt that familiar excitement flood her body again.

As she ticked off the miles, the previous day’s story ran through her head. She decided, when she got home, she would share her story. She knew, someone else was out there, feeling like they were missing something, and just maybe, they would stumble on this story, and receive the gentle reminder they needed, just like she did, to always be flexible with yourself.

What’s so funny about?

funny about

“What’s so funny about?” Wil asked me this morning, as he was eating his breakfast.

Good question, Wil. He didn’t make a joke, he wasn’t trying to be funny. In fact, he was just sitting at the table eating oatmeal.

What is so funny about plain, old oatmeal?

It was in the way he was eating. He was so darn happy about his plain, old oatmeal.

The way he was smiling, wiggling around in his chair, and dipping in with such gusto, you would have thought it was a big old bowl of ice cream.

His energy was so high and bright, that I couldn’t help but watch him and giggle at his excitement over oatmeal.

But, it wasn’t about the oatmeal. It was because he was awake! It was morning! The day was just beginning! Let’s get this party started!

He didn’t say that, but I sure could feel it, and it was so beautifully contagious, I couldn’t help but feel the same way and start to giggle.

Isn’t that funny how you can just feel people’s energy and be carried right along with them?

Some people lift you up just by being around them. They are full of energy, life and smiles. They are excited about life! They don’t have to be rich, have immense talent, or have anything uniquely spectacular going for them, they just enjoy life for life. They have struggles, and obstacles, just like anyone else, but they find meaning in them rather than focusing on the darkness of them. They move forward with a lift in their step, and it’s so beautifully contagious.

And, then there are the Debbie Downers. It is very dark within their circle because all they focus on is what is going wrong, or how they were wronged. They are the energy suckers. Nothing seems to go right for them, their life is one problem to the next. They believe they have more obstacles and struggles than most, but in reality, they just are so mired in fear, that they don’t want to readjust their focus to move forward out of the fear. They may be very well-meaning people, but until they readjust their focus, they will always live in that fear, and only see how everything around them is wrong, and how wronged they are by others.

Most of us have been a little bit of both in different times in our lives. But, the moment we realize we are in full power of our focus and perspective, is the moment we learn the courage to work with our fears, and move past them, and enjoy life for all that it offers us to be.

The cool thing is, you don’t need more money, a better childhood, or anything other than the sheer desire and willingness to change your perspective.

It’s freezing rain here right now. The sky is dark, grey, and the clouds are really low. It’s not a very uplifting sight. My guess is, if I scroll down facebook there will be many negative and complaining comments today, simply because it is a grey day.

But, why do we live like that? Why do we allow something like the weather, that is completely out of our control, to control our own mood? We can not control the weather, but we can control our mood and perspective. It just takes a little time, desire and effort to change our focus to create a more enjoyable and fulfilling day.

When we feel dark, everything around us looks dark. We are what we focus on. Do you want a dark life? Focus on the dark and you are well on your way.

When we feel light and bright, everything around us looks brighter. The dark is still there, but we see beyond it, we find meaning in it, and it is seen as a growing experience rather than gloom and doom.

I am running 13 miles on this dark, cloudy, rainy day. There is no way around the weather. I could bemoan the fact that I have to go out in this, or endure 13 miles on the treadmill, or not run at all. And, hey, it’s not my fault, it’s the damn weather’s fault!

But, I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to take a lesson from Wil today. I’m not an over-the-top fan of running in the freezing rain, but I’m excited to be awake! I’m excited that I have the ability to run! So I’m going to lace up my shoes, crank up the tunes on my iPhone, and get this party started!

So, if you see me out there running and smiling in the rain, you won’t have to ask, you’ll already know what’s so funny about.

How To Have a Stress Free IEP (& Low Stress Life!)

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How to have a Stress Free IEP:

Step One: Maintain positive expectations.

Whoa, wait! What if I miss something if my head is in the clouds with positive thinking? There is so much to think about and worry about! If I’m not on top of this, who is going to be? That may work in your world, but not mine!

That would have been my response several years ago. Three kids under three, one with special needs, and I was fueled by stress. Stress was working for me, it kept me up and running, and on top of things. Until one day, I bonked!

I just broke down and cried one day but I didn’t know why. I can do this, I can handle it, so why am I crying? What is wrong with me? I knew all this stress was taking its toll on me mentally and physically, and I knew I needed to make a change, but I didn’t know how. I was scared that if I let go of the stress, I would miss something critical. I needed to stay on top of my son’s needs to give him the best opportunities in life. If I let go of stress, wasn’t that being irresponsible?

One day, while at the library with my kids, I happened upon one of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s books, “The Power of Intention.”  I remembered reading “The Road Less Traveled” way back on my pre kid working days, and really liked the spiritual aspect of it. So, I flipped through this book and found it very easy to read, and very uplifting. I decided to borrow it, and was soon hooked. This book was exactly what I needed, and I went on to read many more of his works.

I learned that I couldn’t wait around for things in my life to change. I had to change my thinking in order to change my environment. Holding on to blame, anger and stress, no matter how justified, was only holding me back from receiving the positive results I desired.

Replacing stress and anger with positive expectations is not easy, but I knew if I continued to hold on to stress, it would continue to decrease my quality of life, and eventually lead to serious consequences with my physical health. So, even though every day it is easy to fall back into old patterns of stress, I know that if I make the effort to change my thoughts to those of positive expectations, the results will always be worth the effort. I have found the best way to maintain a positive mindset is with meditation.

I now meditate for 20 minutes at a time, and it zips by, but it didn’t start that way. I decided to start meditating for 2 minutes at a time, and this is how: Sit upright, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Count your breaths as you inhale slowly, hold your breath for a beat, then count as you slowly exhale. Do this for a few moments until all you think about is your breath. You will have thoughts that enter your mind as you are doing this. When they do, do not give them any emotion, simply observe that they are there, then visualize them floating away on a cloud. It’s important not to give your thoughts any emotion, good, bad or otherwise. Simply watch them float away. (I was always nervous I would fall asleep, so I set an alarm and that allowed me to relax)

When you have successfully reached a point where you are only counting breaths with very few intruding thoughts, bring up a picture in your mind of the IEP (or the situation that you are feeling stressed about). Visualize yourself smiling and satisfied with the results. Don’t worry about the details of how you got there, just imagine all is positive and you are feeling satisfied. Now that you have that mental picture, internalize those feelings of well-being. If that is difficult, remember a time when you felt all was well and going in a positive direction. Let those wonderful emotions flood your body and sit with them until you feel enveloped in them. Now visualize surrounding everyone in the situation with love. Yes, even that person you can’t stand that always seems to be standing in your way and blocking your success! Any anger and blame you hold will be blocking you from the positive results that you desire. Remember, this is for you and your child, not for them, so go ahead and do it! Surround every single person involved with an aura of love. Watch all the stress, anger and blame evaporate as everyone is enveloped in loving feelings of good will.

Slowly open your eyes, but remember that feeling and that picture. What is important now is that you maintain those feelings as you go about your day, no matter what should unfold. If a stressful occurrence happens, simply excuse yourself to go to the restroom, outside, or anywhere you can have a few moments of privacy, close your eyes, and bring back those positive feelings.

I’ve found, whenever I let go of the stress of the details, and hold the feeling of a positive result, the IEP goes amazingly well, and things happen I never would have planned myself to bring about a positive outcome.

This does not mean I sit around with my eyes closed and hope everything works out for the best. Quite the opposite. When I maintain this positive mental image and state of mind, people are more cooperative and more willing to help me, and new opportunities present themselves that I act on.

This has worked so well in having successful IEPs for my son, I’ve extended this way of thinking to all areas of my life. If I find myself angry with someone or filled with stress about something, I close my eyes and surround this person with love, or visualize myself smiling that the situation worked out. I don’t think about the details of how it came about, I simply visualize being satisfied with the end result. Then, I go on with my days, maintaining this positive image. It’s not always easy when there are bumps in the road, and that is why I read a few spiritual passages every day and meditate to keep me on track. I have found this effort of maintaining a positive state is always worth the results.

Raising a child with special needs is a very rewarding experience, but it can be filled with a lot of unpredictability which can lead to high stress levels. This is one way I’ve found to be very effective in reducing stress and bringing about positive results, and I share in hopes that you will find it helpful, as well.

All the best,

Christie

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