Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Powerful Force For Love

Today I had Patrick's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for his transition to high school.

I wasn't expecting too much since we had recently had another IEP meeting and pretty much set up all of the expectations for next year and planned it all out ahead of time.
This was just a more formal hand off:
You, junior high group, formally pass the torch to the high school group.

It was an intimate affair.

One school psychiatrist. One inclusion specialist from the high school. 
One junior high inclusion specialist and me.
And the person of honor: Patrick.

So we started out the meeting in the usual way.
Let's list Patrick's strengths.
Patrick, you go first.

Patrick was prepared.
Mike, his awesome inclusion specialist, had worked with him.
He listed off his reading, his love of Shakespeare, his love of drama...
and then he paused.

So the team, ever conscious of time, and the need for a steady pace, stepped in.
Mike asked pointedly: "Any more strengths, Patrick?"

Patrick was thinking about it.
I wanted to jump in and list the many, many strengths that I know he has.
But I resisted.

I distracted myself: I pondered how I would have handled this question 
asked of me in a room full of adults as a 15 year old.
I would have said way more ummmms.

[Once again, I considered how faulty this whole process was...
how contrived and forced.
What 15 year old would want to discuss his or her strengths or challenges in a room full of adults?
What adult would?
Asking a typical student to do this is hard.
Asking a teenager with a developmental disability to do this is Herculean.]

Patrick ummed for only a short second and then he hit it out of the park:

"Oh, and I'm a powerful force for love."

What on earth?
Have I said that phrase.to anyone.

There was a silence in the room.

I wasn't sure if they had heard him...but Mike did.

I agreed with Patrick and chimed in.
"Yes, he's a powerful force for love...but I'm not sure where that will go in our paperwork."

In my mind, I'm in a trance.

Powerful force for love.
Powerful force for love.
Powerful force for love.

Why, oh why, isn't that measurable?
Why does an ability to move fractions into percents seem to this audience as a greater strength?

Where's our humanity?


What I love about this whole episode is that to those of us who have our days graced with someone with Down Syndrome this whole conversation doesn't seem so far-fetched.
People with Down Syndrome have a remarkable ability to keep it real.
To be candid and spot on.
They get to the heart of a situation.
They speak their minds...
without pretense or hidden agendas.

We just have to listen.

Or their genius gets overlooked...or lost...or worst of all, remains unknown.

No adult took the bait.
Patrick's comment went untouched.

Except for me.

His words just echoed. Over and over.

Powerful force for love.
Powerful force for love.
Powerful force for love.

His words became the haunting opportunity that remains largely missed in our schools.
Students with intellectual disabilities should be,
included in typical classrooms...for this very reason.


And our classrooms need way more love.
Our typical students could sure use some love...
some acceptance...
some social, emotional acknowledgement.

Our schools need this powerful force,
way more than fractions or dates in history or grammar.

LOVE is the answer.


Still, hours later, I'm hypnotized by those words.

Powerful force for love.
Powerful force for love.
Powerful force for love.

Maybe he said them just for my benefit.

They have forever changed me.
Patrick's words have become a mantra...
a challenge...
a request from the universe.
Most of all, they have become my heart's desire...
a daily affirmation...

to live more forcefully...
for love.

Let's be a powerful force for love. Today.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The ABC's of Graduation

Stay cool.

**Jack is graduating and I've been writing several different notes to him as part of a graduation gift. 
This is the third in that series.**

Just the other day I was talking to one of my resident teachers.  She's very pregnant, expecting her first baby, and the unmistakeable joy of this was sucking me in like that little whirlpool at the end of a bath.  I just wanted to soak up the anticipation. Wanted to bask in the newness and the miracle of her new baby-to-be.

We were talking board books and of course, 
I had my fair share of favorites to tell her about.  
I was right there. 
Could picture my baby bag stuffed with the board books that shared your baby days.

That moment of your babyhood was so vibrant and so tangible it made me swallow hard.
How can that be so real...and yet, so long ago?

Time is weird.

So, in honor of your board books and the many happy days of ABC books, Dr. Seuss, Captain Underpants, Harry Potter and the rest, I thought I would write you your very own set of ABC's.

Here, my friend, are the ABC's of Graduation...

life after formal school...
otherwise known as "the Real World".

I told you my approach when I was faced with that nervous situation...more school. :)
It worked for me.

But, we both know that more school, although probably in your future, isn't going to happen immediately after graduation so here's a little Real World advice,

using the alphabet.


A-Attitude -- We know this to be a truth but sometimes we blow it off, or try to belittle it, but the truth is: you can get through the most hellish situation with a good attitude. How you frame the difficulty in your mind will be the path through which you surmount it.  If you believe you can't, you won't.  And, life is just so much more pleasant when you are around someone with a good attitude, a can-do-it approach and the ability to make the best of a true crap sandwich.

B-Believe -- You are the captain of your ship. Believe it. Set your course and see it through...but don't forget to stop at an island or two. Believe in yourself.  Believe in the beauty of your dreams. Believe in miracles and magic. Just believe.

C-Curiosity -- Stay curious...learn new things...contemplate the mysteries in our world...you'll never grow old if you stay curious.

D-Dream -- There are so so many paths to take, so many options wide open for you...life is expansive and full of possibilities and the only limits that you have are the ones you put on yourself...dream so big, Jack!

E-Excellence -- Autograph your work with excellence...take care to do the small job with care and the bigger ones will follow the same way.  Every job you complete has your signature...take the time and the care to do your best each time.

F-Family -- Family is everything...your support system, your 9-1-1 emergency crew, your middle of the night, call anytime people...they are always, ALWAYS, always here for you, cheering you on. 

G-Guts -- There is no easy button. So you have to go after things that matter to you and you have to have guts.  No guts, no glory, my friend.

H-Heart -- Live your life with your heart wide open...risk it all for love...hearts heal but the heart that plays it safe will never know just how big and open and full of love our world is...

I- Intuition-- Trust it. Follow it...no questions asked. Trust yourself to know your path...you know best.

J-Joy-- There are pockets of joy to be scooped up every single day -- look for their glitter and sprinkle it around...our world needs more joy.

K-Kindness--There's a famous quote that says: "If you have the choice to be kind or to be right, choose kind." I really wish I had heard that sooner on my path. Choose kind. Every.time. Life is just way too hard for any other choice. Everyone you know is struggling with something...most people play it very very close to the vest and only if you're lucky will they reveal their heart...but the struggles are real and kindness goes a long long way.

L-Laugh -- You know I'm a fan of laughing...in fact, I think it is a very necessary quality for a spouse and said so when I wrote this: marry the guy who makes you laugh  If you can laugh together, you have a very good chance of getting through the hard stuff...and the regular stuff will be a lot more fun too.

M-Magic and Miracles -- For some people, magic goes away around age 12. They've figured out David Copperfield's secrets. They know that the Muppets have someone hiding under there making them move. They are wise to the wily work of adults and they start to think that magic is just a fun story for little kids. I'm not in that crowd. For me, magic (and miracles) are everywhere...in the pink tipped color in an otherwise white rose; in a coffee cake muffin made at the Davis Food Co-op (otherwise known as crack with a crumb topping), in a spider's web, in a moment that holds a brush of skin or a held gaze for a fraction longer than needed that suddenly changes the course of a life.  It's in the crazy coincidence that suddenly makes everything else make sense. It's there. Please notice.

N-Never Take No For An Answer -- Honestly, if you know it's right, if you really know in your heart that this is what needs to happen, just keep pounding on the door, making some noise, keep asking the question and find another way...don't take no for an answer, ever...unless it doesn't matter that much...then, just let it go.

O-Outside the Box-- Actually my preference is no box at all...but often times the world presents you with a puzzle that seems confining and with no solution. Think differently. Try upside down or inside out or under ground.  There is a solution...you just have to get creative and blow the barriers off.

P-Prayer -- There is a tendency to think we know it all...or at the very least Google what we don't know...sometimes we just don't know.  It's confusing. Makes no sense and seems frightening. Finding time for prayer will help. Make time for it...no one needs to know. Just make a space in your day for it...it will help, I promise. 

Q-Quiet -- If you make time for prayer you'll be given the gift of quiet...soak it up.  Our world is a very noisy place and getting noisier.  Find a space to settle down...into the quiet so you can hear the whispers of your heart.

R-Ruh-roh-- That's how Scooby Doo says it...being able to say uh-oh is a very good skill.  We don't have all the answers...very very often, things turn to mush. Things don't make sense and that's okay. When things get confusing, when crap goes down, when life pours a whole crap ton of lemons on you a little ruh-roh might just help. Take a deep breath and just know that the confusion is part of the process and all you can do is acknowledge it.

S-Service to others -- This, right here, is the ground zero of a happy life. Honestly, if you are out of whack...messed up...upside down...get back to serving others.  It will make everything make sense.

T-Thankful heart-- You know how I feel about taking the time to be grateful...at least I hope you do...counting your blessings is real...no joke, no Hallmark card...real life help in seeing just how many blessings you have and trust me, you have a million even on your worst day. Picture your biggest nightmare come true: still, there would be people and moments that are worth thanking. BTW, do not forget the power of an in-real-life thank you note...let someone know, really, how much you appreciate their time or encouragement or their efforts on your behalf.  It will make a world of difference.

U-Unexamined life -- It's not worth living.  You know it. Stop. Pause. Examine. Revisit ideas that you are really invested in...are they still worth your time and energy? Only you will know...but only if you take the time to check in and make sure.

V- Voice -- Spoiler alert: you are the very own you that will ever exist. Ever. It's so crazy and amazing and still we just act so casual about it...100% irreplaceable. Please, please, please know your true, vast, miraculous essence and let your voice be heard. None of the rest of us know what you are thinking, dreaming, hoping, praying, creating unless you share it. It would be a tragedy to never know. Speak up. Share it. The world will be better with your voice being heard.

W-Wonder -- This is part of being curious...every day, literally every day, there are wonders to notice.  Today I saw the world's tiniest red spider. How can it survive? Where does it live? What does it eat? Flecks of dust? Honestly, there is so much to wonder about that it can take your breath away. If you stop wondering...take a mental health day and find your happy place because you've landed in the doldrums.

X- XOXO -- Never think you're too big, too sophisticated, too special for a little xoxo love. Grandma still signs every card with that hug and kiss assortment. We need it.

Y-Yoga Yield -- Sometimes the only answer is to yield...to be soft...to release the hold. If you're ever stuck and you find yourself gripping something tighter, try it. It just might blow your mind.

Z- Zzzzzzz -- When it all gets to be too much, just snuggle up and take a little nap or better yet, hibernate. Sleep really does make everything better. The new day, the fresh start, the second chance is the gift of sleep. I know it's not sexy.  I know it's not what you want to hear, but just head to bed. Your great grandma is right:"Nothing good ever happens after midnight." (I might lengthen that to 1am, but you get the point!)