Thursday, June 14, 2012

God Sent Me To The Farmer's Market

There is a small Farmer's Market in Auburn Hills every Thursday afternoon/evening.  My friends have gone for a long time and have always put out an open invitation for people to join them.  Even with all of their good reviews, I had never managed to make it there.  Until today.

Let me back up for a minute to let you know my emotional state of the past week or so.  In a nutshell, I realized Lea is old enough for the post-high school program of special education.  She wants to go.  She had a last minute graduation.  I have been meeting with *gulp* public school staff after homeschooling since Feb. '07.  I left her with the school psychologist for testing for 2 hours while I sat and became increasingly uncomfortable in the office of the high school.  I spent the next 48 hours questioning this decision to send her back to school.  Some of my thoughts: "Is she ready?"  "Will she be safe going off in the community with this group?"  "Will I survive all this worry?"  "Is this program going to meet her needs?"  "Am I sending her because it's a great opportunity for HER, or so I can have a break?"  OK, so that is where I was at.

For some reason, I chose today to go to the market.  My friends were not even there and I almost left!  It's crazy, but I get uncomfortable shopping markets and art fairs.  I feel guilty looking at stuff made/grown by these people who have put themselves out there to sell it, and then not buying.  But I can't buy everything!
I sucked it up and shopped and got some great stuff.  Beautiful tomatoes, jam, salsa, eggs from happy chickens.

With my arms full, I approached the last booth on my route.  It was full of handmade items of all kinds.  As I started to look, a young woman asked me, "Did you find what you are going to buy yet?"  I could tell these entrepreneurs had some cognitive challenges and, of course, smiled as my heart swelled.  "Not yet" I said.  I put my prior purchases in the car and came back to shop without distraction.  There were candles made in cute teacups, plaques with nice sayings on them that were very artsy, cement stepping stones decorated with jewels and coasters made from tiles with pictures modge-podged onto them.  "Here, take a flier about our program!"  I read the flier describing the SKILL program of Avondale schools.  This is the post-high program in their district for people with special needs from 18 to 26.  The same program Lea is signed up for in our district.  Hmmm....

With the help of the very chatty young lady, I picked out a coaster that has a picture of a boxer puppy on it.  This sparked a (rather long) conversation about our dogs.  She even asked if I had pictures of them on my phone.  (Which I did.  Is that weird?)  I also showed her a picture of Lea and told her Lea has a disability, too.  "What does she have?" she politely asked.  "She has Down syndrome."  The girl and her friend looked at each other and grinned.  "OH!  Cool!!"  Not a response I have ever gotten in Lea's 17 1/2 years!  "Does she have a lot of friends?"  Wow, that is an unexpected question.  "Well, she does have some friends, but she doesn't have lots."  I said.  "Well, I LOVE making new friends!  Maybe I can meet her!"

Enter the program director.  We had a talk about Lea, about her starting the Rochester program in the fall.  I even told her about my hesitation, about my fears.  Her face just lit up.  She explained how these programs offer our special kids such great opportunities to interact in the community and learn independence and life skills.  She talked about her love of these students.  She told me about a fun dance program they offer during the school year and said Lea could attend.  My new friend behind the table said "Yeah!!!  It's fun!  She should come!!"  I got information on the program, said my goodbyes and left with my tile coaster.

A tile coaster made by a stranger is probably the LAST thing I need in my house.  The clutter is closing in on me and I am trying to get rid of stuff!  But that precious coaster is a reminder to me that God has this in His hands.  He knew it all along.  He sent me to the Farmer's Market to remind me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ringing the Bell

We had such an exciting week last week!  After a last minute scramble, Lea graduated.  We found a group of homeschoolers who were having a graduation ceremony and we pretty much crashed their party.  There were 6 other kids.

We only met them on Thursday when we went to rehearse.  Lea was great and her usual friendly self.  She received a little graduation cap as a gift with a marker.  It was a souvenir that you can sign.  She brought this along and proceeded to ask the other grads and their friends and siblings that were there to help to sign it for her, even though she didn't know them.  The kids were nice about it and signed it.  But from a distance, where I watched, there were a few kids who saw her approaching, saw she was different, and avoided eye contact.  They pretended not to see her standing there waiting for them to look at her.  She eventually said "Hi, I'm Lea.  Will you sign this?" and they did.  They probably wouldn't have done that little eye roll had they known I was still watching as she walked away.

One family arrived a bit late.  Their graduate, Brittany, was tall and very pretty.  I knew Lea would be drawn to her.  "Here we go again," I thought, waiting for the avoidance.  But wait...what is this?  Brittany is smiling back at Lea.  She is signing the cap!  She is having a conversation with Lea where she is talking, too!!  Lea was excited and really liked Brittany.  She was lucky enough to get to walk and sit next to her for the ceremony.

The next night was the ceremony.  We had to be there early to get ready.  Again, those other 5 kids were not friendly with Lea.  They weren't mean, but they certainly didn't include her in their group pictures or their running around being silly.  But Brittany did.  Brittany talked to Lea, introduced her to her friend and her little sister Hannah.

The ceremony was great, it went off without a hitch.  There was a reception after and the kids were all glowing with happiness.  I overheard one of them say, "Let's go ring the bell!"  Apparently the church we were in has a big bell outside.  So the 5 kids ran off with their friends and sibs.  But before Brittany went, she came to Lea.  "Do you want to come out and ring the bell?"  Lea's "Sure!" was filled with excitement!  So off she went to ring the bell!  Do you have any idea how this made her feel?  Not the bell ringing, of course, but the simple act of being included.  Being wanted.  I shed a few tears of joy (not the first time that evening!)  When they came back in Lea told her, "You are my best friend."

I told Brittany's mother how much this meant to me.  She was very proud, rightfully so!  When we were about to leave, I saw Brittany and her sister.  I told her with tears in my eyes that I noticed what she did for Lea.  That I appreciated her asking Lea to ring the bell.  Brittany looked surprised.  "Well, Lea is a graduate, too!  Why shouldn't she ring the bell?"  It was as if it never even occurred to her to NOT include Lea.  My response was, "Yes, that's true.  But you are the only other grad who even thought to include Lea and it really means a lot."  Brittany explained that there were times she has felt left out and different, and she always tries to include others who are the same way.  Hannah, her sister, was also very sweet.  "Lea is so nice and I like hanging around her!!"

It may seem like a little thing, to talk to someone with a disability, to include them in something you are doing.  But it doesn't happen very often to Lea.  I always make a point to talk to people I meet with special needs, even if only for a minute.  If it is that easy to make someone's day, why not give it a try?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Moving on

In 2 days, Lea will walk in her graduation ceremony.  Of course, this milestone causes me to reflect on her life and accomplishments.

Lea has had to work harder than most for everything she does.  Babies without a disability just eat.  Lea had to be taught by therapists and us at home.  Most babies just crawl.  Lea had to be taught by therapists and us at home.  Most babies walk, talk, run, read.....All of this came for Lea, but only after much work on her part.  She started out with a strike against her, but she overcame it.  Not only does she do all of that stuff above, but she does things that many of us, who are physically more capable, do!

She has been in the Special Olympics for several years now.  She has received tons of medals for swimming; bronze, silver and, of course, GOLD!  But for Lea, receiving a 4th or 5th place ribbon is just as exciting as getting the gold.  She knows she has done her best and is SO proud of herself for it!  Oh, she knows the difference between 5th and 1st place.  She just doesn't care which one she wins.  She plays soccer and wins medals and ribbons for that as well.  It has been so inspiring to see her progress in these sports.

She started therapeutic horseback riding 2 1/2 years ago.  At first, she refused to even get on the horse.  Then when she would ride, she would lean way back in the saddle or hunch over forward.  Now her posture is great and she can post, trot and canter!  She has tried jumping and roping, too.  (Although her favorite thing to rope is her therapist, Stacy!)  She even rides bareback.  If you have never ridden, let me just tell you that this no easy task.  Stacy lovingly (?) lets (read MAKES) me try this, so I can see how advanced Lea really is.  With no saddle, you have to use your leg and core muscles and have great balance.  Lea makes it look so easy!  And her muscles don't even work as well as mine do.

Academic learning has been the same as the physical stuff.  It took her much longer to learn to read.  But she kept at it, for years, and now has a love of reading that many people never do.  Her writing is really good, too. Fine motor activities can be very hard for her and physically uncomfortable.  Yet she will sit there with her pencil and write tons of great stuff in her journal.  She also writes songs!

She continues to WOW us with what she can do.  I don't think any of us will have a dry eye as she walks across the stage to receive her diploma.  She tried on her cap and gown and I had to fight back the tears.  I am going to need lots of Kleenex and waterproof mascara!

Great job, Missy Lea!!!