Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Faith in Blessings

Alyssa challenges me, teaches me, strengthens me, makes me laugh, and sometimes cry.  She has qualities that some will see as disabilities and others will see as abilities.  When I look at her, I know she is challenging me to see her ability, and I do.  As her mom, I feel like I am more blessed, than ever!

Tomorrow is the last day of first grade.  I can’t tell you how many times in my life, I have heard people say, “the years go by so fast”.  What an understatement!  As she continues to mature, I see her baby face is gone.  Is it bad, this brings me joy?  I love the person she is becoming.  It’s so much fun.  I say, “I love you” as she is sitting in my lap.  She reaches for my neck and says, “I love…(pause).... necklace”.  Her delay in delivery cracks me up.  She laughs too.  Her delivery of “necklace” shows independence and maybe some silliness.  You know, I figured, for sure, she was going to say, “I love you”, back to me, but I am great with the response she chose.  It’s truly awesome!!

This past weekend, we went to the store together.  She walked through the store with me, pushing the cart.  It was so good for me to see her do this.  Back in March, I made the commitment to myself she would no longer ride in the cart.  After all, she is four feet tall.  It was a young man in Arizona, who has Autism, an employee at a grocery store, who questioned me over and over about her being in the grocery cart.  He was so puzzled.  He kept saying, “She’s too big; why is she in the cart”.  The truth about this, I convinced myself, she preferred it that way.  Confession…. it was more comfortable for me.  It took another person to help me realize, I needed to let go and have faith in her.  She does great in the store and enjoys pushing the cart.  She doesn’t have the best driving skills.  If you have been following my blog, you know, like mother, like daughter.  HA!

I think of being blindfolded.  Where is my trust, if being lead by another?  Letting go is difficult.   I know I wouldn’t like this challenge.  We are instructed to walk in faith.  Easier said, than done, but I am trying.  Alyssa is showing me, falling backwards into the arms of another is okay.  She does it, day in and day out.  She is doing what we lead her to do and trusts us.  I am proud of her.

It is so easy to hold a child back from success.  It’s easy to allow ourselves to think, they cannot do something, so we do it for them.  In Alyssa’s case, maybe we don’t know what she is thinking, so we act without trust, with barely an arms length of room for her to “be herself” within.  Puzzling because my understanding, children are a gift from God to be “enjoyed”, but this doesn’t seem enjoyable for her, or us, the adults in her life, if we cannot relax and allow some space, some independence.  She needs us to trust her.

Okay, so here’s the thing…  If we don’t have faith in one another, then how will there be learning, independence or other growth opportunities?  If I don’t have faith Alyssa can do things on her own, without me hovering over her, to get the results “I want to happen”, who will she become?  She needs some wiggle room, so she can show us what her interests are, without our constant influence.  These are her years to shine; I need not block the light.

Thank you for reading and have a great week.  Angie

Friday, May 20, 2011

Get Ready to Smile

The newest photos, posted to your right, are a follow up to the blog post "Happiness Is".  As I look at the photos, they stir emotion in me, every time!!!!  Alyssa's classmates are the best and Alyssa is truly happy.  I am so incredibly grateful!  This is what INCLUSION looks like! 

To all of those who have been a part of this journey, we cannot thank you enough.  Hugs, Angie

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Journal entry by a classmate

Title:  "Just plane awesome." 
Entry:  "I like Alyssa because she smiles alot.  Shes awsome.  She likes to swing.  She plays ring around the roseys with me.  She runs with me All around the playground.  That is why I like Alyssa."

My reaction....  tears.  So sweet!!!!! 

Cheek to Cheek

Since as far back as I can remember, I have known what it means to “turn the other cheek”.  I am guessing most of us, regardless of our religious stance have also heard these words and understand them.  By understand, I do not necessarily mean practice.  The “turn the other cheek” reference is illustrated around our relationships with our enemies.  As I think about this, I begin to feel more concerned with how we treat people all around us, not just those who may become an enemy, per say.  

It seems we have also all heard in one context or another to treat one another how we would like to be treated.  I can only tell you how fortunate I am.  There have been others who have made an amazing difference; they have treated me and my family with generosity and kindness which has changed who we are and kept us strong in our weakest of times.

We have been using the same carpet cleaning company for the last few years.  One day, the receptionist from this company called us and said the owner had heard about Alyssa.  As a gesture of kindness, he offered to clean the carpet in our entire house.  He was not trying to earn our business, he already had it.  He was being generous, just because. 

Three years ago, we had new carpet put in our home.  Unfortunately, it was not installed right.  In fact, the carpet was not stretched properly, throughout.  Over the last couple of years, we have noticed some of the arising problems, but had far more pressing issues to deal with.  Yesterday, I contacted the company and was able to talk to the owner and share with him what was going on with the carpet.  He came by a few hours later to take a look.  At the end of looking things over, he offered to re-stretch the carpet, throughout the house, at no charge.  The warranty was only good for one year, it’s been three. Talk about awesome, kind heart-ed, not to mention, generous.

Alyssa had one of her friends over for a play date.  Beforehand, I purchased a Connect Four game, so the girls could play it together.  I watched Alyssa’s playmate help Alyssa win.  The most important thing was not about playing a certain way or being clever enough to win every game, which I am sure her friend could have done.  Instead, it was important to Alyssa’s friend to share the experience, share what it feels like to win.  They smiled together.  It was adorable.  This became more of a “connect friends”, than a Connect Four game. 

Alyssa and I have this little “thing we do”.  She will come to me and sit on my lap, facing me.  I will touch my cheek to hers and say, “Cheek to cheek”.  She has the best eye contact with me, as we get closer and closer, to our cheeks touching.  We stay close for many seconds, and then she will lean back and turn my face to the other side.  We take turns saying, “Cheek to cheek”.  She lights up, giggles, smiles and she is very gentle.  She will put her arms around me and give me a full hug, while having her cheek pressed against mine.  This experience does amazing things for me, as a mom and person. 

As I reflect on so many wonderful experiences, I would like to think “turn the other cheek” is simply an opportunity, for us, to turn our face, come together and go cheek to cheek, with one another.  Alyssa and others have taught me this.  I hope to be as generous, as I can be, not out of anything more, than the need to share similar good feelings and happiness, like I have been graciously awarded in my life, by others.  I would like to go on “cheek to cheek” with all those I encounter.  With our cheeks pressed together, gently, lovingly, it’s hard to have feelings that would allow an enemy to be present.

Thank you for reading and have a great week.  Angie

Friday, May 13, 2011

Happiness Is

Last week, Alyssa’s teacher at school decided to give the children an opportunity to pick their own seating, since we are approaching the end of the school year.  The classroom has three large rectangle tables.  Usually, Alyssa sits at the end of the middle table, providing a little more room for Alyssa and her Aide.  The teacher kept Alyssa in her same seat.  Then, the teacher drew names and the children selected their seats.  I just want to tell you what Alyssa’s teacher shared with us.  Alyssa’s table filled up first!!!  In fact, Alyssa’s table was completely full and there were still 7 names to be drawn.  The kids were not prompted, the seating wasn’t discussed… the children in Alyssa’s class chose to sit by her. 

A mom of one of Alyssa’s classmates shared with me a conversation she had with her daughter.  The mom asked her daughter who her best friend was and without hesitation the daughter replied, “Alyssa”. 

One day, Alyssa was on the computer at school in the classroom.  I am not sure of what program Alyssa was working with, but a crowd of classmates formed around her.  Alyssa was beaming with excitement and laughing at the screen.  The teacher took a picture and sent it to me.  All of the children’s faces were lit up, including Alyssa’s.  If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this picture shows how happy all of the children are together.

Several weeks ago, we invited one of Alyssa’s classmates to start coming over for regular play dates.  Each week, I ask the friend if she wants to come over again.  She smiles and says, “YES”, with enthusiasm. 

Years ago, when we first started advocating for Alyssa to be in a regular general education setting, amongst her age appropriate peers – Inclusive Education - it was expressed to me, advocating for Alyssa would be the hardest thing we ever do.  I look back on this warning and can tell you, it holds true.  I wish I could tell other families, who have children with special needs, advocating for inclusive education was easy, but that would be false.  However, I can say, it’s been the right choice.      

I am not sure why inclusion is not automatic.  I wish it was.  I wish all children, including those with disabilities, were offered the same learning environments.  I wish there were no self contained classrooms.  I wish every professional, adult and parent could see what we have seen over the past couple of years.  I know I am not delusional because I am hearing and watching the relationships amongst the children unfold, without being directed, coached, forced, prompted, or impelled.  The kids are awesome!  

All of these experiences bring me to the end of the school year, knowing Alyssa is exactly where she needs to be.  Tears of joy, I tell you, tears of joy!!  All of the beautiful interactions, Alyssa is making with her peers, speak loudly!  I am very thankful to all the families, children and professionals who have been a part of the success and opportunity for Alyssa.  You are making a huge difference!  We cannot thank you enough for being a part of this journey, a part of the possibilities and a part of Alyssa’s happiness!   

Thank you for reading and have a great week.  Angie 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beautiful Things

Beautiful things come from beautiful places.  Love is what sustains us and keeps us safe.  If I come from a place of love, it seems it should be easier for me to give that to others.  Instead, loving is something I have to work on, continuously.  We are all under constant duress from our society and influenced in more negative ways, than positive. 
I don’t know why we work so hard on things that aren’t good.  We put effort towards bringing one another down, effort towards deterring each other from success, and we put our effort into behaviors, the ugly ones, like anger, resentment and bitterness.  I used to have a boss who said, “if you look good, you feel good”.  We all had mirrors on our desks, so we could check in with ourselves, to see, if we were projecting a smile from within.  My scowl is awful… my smile is beautiful. 

I was leaving a shopping center and pulled out in traffic too soon, bad timing for the oncoming car.  I received the bird.  I didn’t mean to cause frustration for the other driver.  I wish I could say, I didn’t deserve it, but if I would’ve waited just a few extra moments, the end result would’ve been different.  I’d like to think, if that person knew me, they would’ve waived at me and said, “Oh, that Angie, she must have too much on her mind again”.  Instead, yucki-ness looms. 

Recently, we had a situation where Alyssa made a bad choice with an adult who provides care/supervision for her.  I felt so angry inside, for the choice Alyssa made.  I turned to her and said, with tone, “We DON’T do that!”  Alyssa looked at me, repeated what I said, and cried.  I crumbled inside.   I was completely brought to tears.  My angel knew I was frustrated and disappointed.  Coming from a place of love, she crawled into my lap and said, “You need a hug”.  She was sorry, but turned her energy to me and offered me comfort.  I was ashamed in the way I attempted my lesson with her.  I later wished, I would’ve offered the lesson the way she did, without anger, just love.  See, her bad choice was a reaction to what was happening in her environment.  She was unable to express her need and had reactive behavior.  Unfortunately, I reacted to the wrongful behavior, instead of seeing the whole picture.  Reprimanding behavior is easy.  Recognizing why a behavior happens and constructively coming up with different solutions, this is a challenge.  Alyssa’s bad choice became my good lesson….  A lesson to listen, look, love, then, teach.

Beautiful things can come from a simple compliment, a genuine smile, encouraging words, laughter from within, believing in one another, and a hug.  I am still learning.  Alyssa is my teacher.  I thank God for giving me such a beautiful thing in my life.  She ignites me.  She makes me a better person.  I am the luckiest person to have Alyssa as my teacher.  I can break the negative; my mirror will reflect something positive. 

Thank you for reading and have a great week.  Angie