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.

cropped avatar

Advertisements

To Those With the Gift

FullSizeRender
There are some people who are just extra special, that have the “gift.” I am not one of them. At least in the sense of what I am speaking.

Today, we had an 8-year-old friend of Wil’s over. In the last 2 years, Wil has not been invited to a birthday party or a sleep over, yet I know very many kids his age are doing so.

I understand. I get it. I don’t say this to make anyone reading this feel a sense of guilt. It’s simply our reality.

I watched Wil play ball with a group of typically developing boys. They were so kind and patient with him. They encouraged him and included him fully. But when he grew tired of the game and walked off of his own will, I could see the sense of relief in the boys’ faces. They could just play. They did not have to be patient. They just played with others of their own level.

You may say, well, that is a good lesson for them, and yes, I would agree it is. But, really, they are 8 years old. They just want to play. Didn’t you? I know I did.

So today, when Wil’s 8-year-old friend, Lila, who asked for this play date with him came over, I was just as thrilled as Wil. She was not cajoled by her mother out of the act of kindness or charity, she simply out of her own will, like most typical 8-year-old kids, asked for a play date with someone they like.

I was also a little nervous. When she came over before, Wil’s two sisters were here. This little girl is smart. Very intelligent and very brave. She can easily hold her own with tight twin girls who are two years her senior. When you are 8, that 2 year difference is a big deal, but not for her. When Wil had his stubborn moments, he could have a break while she played with his sisters.

Not today.

Wil’s sisters were with their Grandma and Grandpa Taylor. A fun swimming and boating day with another 10-year-old friend an hour away.

The play date started off well, a new introduction to toys, then lunch, that part is easy for just about anyone. But, Wil does not speak the same level she does and he still loves Dora and Doc McStuffins. Kid stuff. Fine by her, we’ll just move on to something that doesn’t need an age limit. Let’s play Wil’s drums!

BOOM BANG CLING (oh, yeah, the cymbals, too). Out came the recorder, and whatever else I had in that music box. It was the happiest I’ve been as a mother of three in the midst of ear shattering noise.

Then it was off to the hose, and the slide that goes into the little pool. Splashing, spraying, laughing and squealing. Water is always equal playing ground. Until, Wil sat at the top of the ladder and wouldn’t budge.

I have seen similar instances to this at the park. Wil has very little control over his environment. Everything and everyone move so much faster than he does. So, what would you do if you felt you had little control over your environment? If you could sit at the top of the slide and make everyone wait, when they are usually moving at warp speed ahead of you, wouldn’t you delight in making them wait? Just a little bit? So, at the top of the slide Wil sat, un-budging.

At the park, I see two reactions. Kids either “mother” and sweet talk Wil, or they just wait until I come over and take care of the situation.
Not this girl. This girl has the gift.

“GO DOWN THE SLIDE WIL!” She says loud with authority.
He gives her a look, sees that she means it, and down he goes.
I love it! She called his bluff!

You see, there is this delicate balance between being mean, being enabling, and seeing where someone is simply being a stinker.

She saw stinker, and she called it, frank, to the point, and the next moment they are back to laughing and spraying each other with the hose.

It seems so simple, so typical, from the outside looking in. But, I’m on the inside now, and Wil is just not treated in that typical way, because, well, in some ways, he’s not typical, and people just don’t know what to do with that. So when I see something like this, I see it for the gift that it is.

I’ve heard it said that everyone should have a child with special needs. And, I know exactly what the author was talking about.

How do you appreciate something like day so completely? How can a ride down the slide have so much meaning? How can a simple play date fill you so fully?

I was not born with the “gift.” And, I think, that is exactly why I believe I was gifted Wil. I would have missed so much without him.

~This post is dedicated to those of you who have “the gift” …you know who you are, and I am so very thankful for you! And, for those of you, like me, that do not have it, there is still hope, if we simply pay attention and learn from those who have it. Life is so very much brighter that way.

Creating Ripples

Wil and I were talking before bed last night, and he shared some things with me that made him sad. We talked through them, and he went to be with a smile on his face, but I was left feeling overwhelmed….http://christieleightaylor.com/creating-ripples/

IMG_7376

Are you happy? Let me see

This morning, Wil was sitting on his bed and I was kneeling on the floor beside him, strapping on his ankle braces before I slipped his shoes on over them. He couldn’t see my face because I had my head bent down, focused on the task at hand.
Wil said to me, “Mommy, are you happy?”
Without looking up, I replied, “Yes, honey I am.”
“Let me see.” …http://christieleightaylor.com/are-you-happy/

silly bed time

Dear God…

Dear God,
Thank you for being you, for letting me know in so many ways that you are there.
There was a long time I was not sure of you, I didn’t really even know what to believe. But, one day, the world came crashing down on me, and I truly believed life was left to fate. That is the scariest feeling ever…http://christieleightaylor.com/dear-god/

christie 3

Do You Believe in Magic?

Yesterday afternoon, Wil fell asleep in my lap. He tends to sleep all squished up, or bent over half-way at the waist. This day, he had curled himself up to fit in my lap, all 60+ pounds of him, his legs crossed at an angle that would have me aching, but he was perfectly content, a slight snore coming from his nose….http://christieleightaylor.com/do-you-believe-in-magic/

Wil looking up

Why I Gave Up the R-Word Fight

cropped avatar

I have given up the R-word fight. I will do it no longer.
I am done, fini, the end.
Fights take so much darn energy, they are not sustainable over the long term, and at the end, there is always a winner and a loser. I don’t want any losers in this fight, it’s too important. I want to find a way for us all to win in this. The only way I know how to do that is to share.
So, I’ve put away my R word boxing gloves, and replaced them with a keyboard, and share my heart out to you.
You see, I once used the R word, because I didn’t understand the power that word held. I didn’t need someone coming up and telling me how very wrong, awful and hurtful I was for saying it. And, if we are trying to avoid those wrong hurtful feelings, why fire back with them? To change, I needed someone to help me change my thinking. I needed someone to help me understand why it was wrong.

Now that I have the privilege of raising my sweet Wil, who has Down syndrome, I know, first hand, how very hurtful that word is. A word is not just a word. I know better. I know better, because I know my son.
So, to help you understand the hurt of that word, I want you to know my son, too. You may never get to know him like I do, and that’s ok. I just want you to know him enough through my words, that you can feel a compassion for him. A compassion for the work he has to do, and all of the support and emotions that surround that. It is not an easy life, but it is such a beautiful life, and it is very hurtful to have my son hear a carelessly used word to degrade that.

So, I will not whap you in the nose for using the R word. Instead, I will invite you into my son’s world, so you may get to know him. And, when that word is about to escape your lips out of habit, you will pause first. Not because you remember “you aren’t supposed to say it.” You will pause, because, now, there is something within you that feels it’s wrong. You know deep inside that it just isn’t right, and so choose to express your feelings in a different way. 

So, come join me, no boxing gloves needed. Sit, get comfy, let’s have a chat, and get to know each other. We are all winners here.

YOU CAN ALSO READ THESE POSTS ON MY WEBSITE: http://christieleightaylor.com/why-i-gave-up-the-r-word-fight/

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: