I miss when you were little When I could hold you in my arms When your limbs moved more freely When it was easier to take you out into the world I miss the way you loved to eat And how you were always able to spit out the peas in any meal I miss the days when your flesh was unmarked by surgeries There are days I think I’m too habituated to this life I convince myself that none of this ever hurt Yet shockingly, I just had to stop writing to get a tissue The sound of today’s tears hitting my shoes Puts me right back to the day I sat in the doctor’s office Drip Drip Drip Onto his leather chair And heard for the first time You would never walk, talk, or use your hands This morning I walked into your room You were so still I did what I have done for the past 24 years I held my breath Moved closer Scrutinized the color of your face Strained to hear your breath Watched for movement And exhaled when your continued life was evident While I am more at peace with this life And the perfect way you’ve lived in it It is still too easy To fret About your place in the world If Daddy and I aren’t here You have always been my beauty boy That has not changed Looking into your eyes Hearing your laugh Has always made up for what the world lacks When I scroll the pictures of your life They reflect joy Thank you for your joy For it allows me To live each day without weighing what is good and what is bad It keeps me from fantasizing about some alternative life Where you have a home, a job, a wife, and kids of your own Where Daddy and I can retire and travel and lament about an empty nest From time to time I still allow myself to grieve For my younger self Who languished in make believe scenarios Then I relish in being an experienced mom Who knows there’s no sense encouraging those disillusions And allowing them to taint our lives You are you You are more than enough There has never been a day in the last 24 years that you were not enough I can only hope that you know The only gift I have ever strived to give you Is to match the love you have given me Happy birthday Benjabeauty
Earlier this month, Sebastian and I filmed a segment with GMA3. It aired today. You can watch it here.
It is my greatest hope that our message reaches every student who plans to attend an inclusive college program and wants to participate in NCAA Division III sports. I want students and coaches in elementary, middle and high schools across the country to know this is something they can work towards. Most of all, I want inclusivity in schools to grow to the point that all students with disabilities know that they truly belong in every aspect of their academic communities.
Since our story came out in the Philadelphia Inquirer last month, a lot of my friends have called to say they admire my tenacity. I’ll admit, when I first approached Gwynedd Mercy University to help us secure this waiver, it was never my intention to take no for an answer. I was ready with several back up plans if our first effort failed. While it’s true that I have been an advocate for a very long time, it was only during my preparation for this GMA3 piece that I realized what drives this- not taking no for an answer- attitude.
Years ago, when we lived in Brooklyn, Sebastian had a particularly difficult kindergarten experience. The school didn’t want him, but they didn’t really help us find an appropriate school either. Every day I would walk Sebastian to school knowing there would probably be some kind of negative report later that afternoon. Every day my five year old autistic son, who struggled to communicate, would look me in the eyes and say, “Find me a new school, mommy.” And I couldn’t make it happen. Every day I knew I had failed him. I had allowed a system to fail him. So, I made it my mission to be sure another system would never fail him again.
While I was surprised to realize this drive comes from a place of deep hurt, I am thrilled that it has resulted in such a positive, wide-spread change.
Congratulations to us all!
A few years ago, Sebastian told us he wanted to run in college and study education. Honestly, we hadn’t planned on college. We thought Sebastian would attend the 18-21 program at his high school. He did for one year, but then wanted to move on. We thought it would be a big jump to go directly into a matriculated college program, so we look for alternatives that would satisfy his academic and athletic goals. Using the Think College website, we looked at inclusive college programs in Division III schools. However, most schools wouldn’t consider having Sebastian on an NCAA team because the inclusive programs are non-degree programs and the NCAA requires student athletes to work towards a degree.
While I understood and respected the NCAA’s rules, I also knew they create waivers for students for a variety of reasons. I felt it was time to acknowledge that over 300 colleges in the US have students who live on campus, audit a full course load, and are welcomed to participate in every club and organization offered to all students….except for NCAA sports. That was an inequity I wasn’t willing to accept. The only way to eradicate an inequity is to find someone who is willing to listen and who is in the position to affect a positive change. Fortunately, we were able to partner with Gwynedd Mercy University in order to secure a four year NCAA waiver for Sebastian and all future Integrated Studies Students.
Today, Sebastian and I are featured in the The Philadelphia Inquirer. Many thanks to Gwynedd Mercy University and the NCAA for working with us, and reporter Susan Snyder for helping us get the word out. Now any DIII student in an inclusive college program will be eligible to compete as stipulated by the NCAA in their “Previously Approved Waivers Checklist.”
When I asked Sebastian how he felt about his role in making it easier for other students to compete for their schools he said, “I’m glad that I’m helping to change the community.”
Indeed. In my mind, there’s no better person to do it.
Somehow 20 years has slipped through my grasp. Why is it I don’t recall anyone telling me that parenthood is a series of letting go?
The other day, I found a pair of your first walking shoes. I can remember holding your hands in an effort to help you balance. A grasp became a fingertip hold and then I let go when I thought you were ready and eager to step away from our connection.
In no time, you were running.
This has been a special year. Your dream of attending and running in college has come true. I know it wasn’t easy to leave home. It was hard for me too, so I welcomed those nightly phone calls. Now, I welcome the absence of them. I never doubted that you would find your balance and let me go.
This week, someone asked me what my vision was for you when you’re finished with college. First I said, “It’s an unwritten rule that parents shouldn’t think too far into the future.” Then I tried to explain that I don’t have a vision for your future. Even if I did, it would be far more inconsequential than the vision you have for yourself. Your future has absolutely nothing to do with my desires. Your future is not about me. My job as a parent has been to follow your lead, encourage your interests, and support you in whatever way I possibly can. That you have your own vision is a success story above anything I could have originally conjured up 18 plus years ago when you were first diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
While it is true that I have spent your entire lifetime advocating for you in an effort to pry open the doors that were so easily closed, you have taken on every opportunity with hard work, joy and gratitude.
Keep building your visions. You’re doing a fantastic job and I am so incredibly proud of you.
I am so lucky to have a son who still hugs me tight in public and says I love you no matter who’s in earshot. I will always treasure that connection and because you have such great emotional intelligence, I know you will as well. It is a connection that space and time and even the act of letting go cannot break.
I love you and wish you the happiest of birthdays.
I just read an article where the actor Peter Krause said, “The isolation that everybody’s experiencing is unprecedented, certainly in our lifetime.” Most people would read this and shake their heads in agreement. Not me.Continue reading
If you talk to any special education lawyer or advocate, they will tell you that The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is designed to prepare a student to graduate and move on to further education, independent living, or employment. Most families with children who have disabilities look at graduation as the time their child falls off the educational cliff.
Once a student graduates, the educational entitlements afforded by IDEA end. A student like Benjamin goes from an intensive therapeutic setting into the world of adult services with a fraction of what they’ve lived with and thrived on for their entire lives. Continue reading
Benjamin was five months old
When his first therapist
Crossed our threshold
When your child has a disability
Strangers are given unusual access
If you’re lucky
These strangers become
If you’re even luckier
I was taught
That when a child
Parents grieve over the loss
Of some preconceived
Version of their child
I was satisfied by this explanation
This idea never felt
Quite right to me
It’s too simple Continue reading
When this month began, my work calendar was loaded with special education conferences. As worries of the Coronavirus intensified, each organization cancelled their large gatherings and my calendar cleared. No work means no pay. I know many people in this situation. It’s stressful but as I deleted each event, money wasn’t the first thing on my mind.
This isn’t the first time I’ve lost jobs, money, or my freedom to illness. Every time Benjamin gets sick, my life goes on hold and I’m reminded that everything I thought was important-isn’t.
Benjamin’s health and life are more important than work or debt.
I am worried, but worry is not a new state of being for me. Any respiratory infection could kill Benjamin.
Although the heightened media presence of the Coronavirus has me more concerned and has placed me in a higher state of preparation, there is one thing I can not listen to anymore.
I will echo what others have been saying, but so many still haven’t taken to heart.
My writing mind has been quiet for a long time. There are a good number of reasons why I have not placed myself in front of the computer every day. Part of me is hyper-focused on being in this moment. In five short months, Benjamin will graduate and he will fully transition into the world of adult disability services. I almost don’t want to attend his graduation. There’s no way I’m going to hold it together that day.
I have no idea what will come next. We’re signed up with an adult support coordination agency and I plan to lean on them heavily to steer us in the direction of continued daily, quality services.
So I will allow my mind to be quite about all the changes I’m not ready for because I don’t know how to explain it all to Benjamin. Explain that he won’t spend his days with Ms. Janet and all the lovely, young ladies in his classes who’ve fought for his attention for so many years. I don’t want to imagine him missing all the phenomenal therapists who’ve watched over him so carefully when I’m not there.
Benjamin, I am grateful that you have been so loved.
When I opened your door this morning, you were sleeping so peacefully. I put away the stuffed animal friends that surrounded you, took out your clothes, positioned your wheelchair, and set out your morning medications. You didn’t budge. I leaned in close to get a better look at your skin color and to listen and watch for your breathing.
I woke you with a whisper, “Happy Birthday Beauty Boy.”
I’ve had 21 years to love you, knowing another day was never guaranteed. Your daddy always said, “Ben’s not going anywhere.” I believe, deep in my heart, that you will be with us for a long time. But I know every parent in my lissencephaly support group wants to believe that. I’ve seen too many of them proven wrong. Their mourning is palpable.
Grandma asked me last night, “Where has the time gone?”
These past 21 years have flown, but they have been hard fought.
You are worth every ounce of fight I have ever exerted.
Actually, that’s not quite right.
You are worth so much more.
I love you.
I’ve always loved you.
Any grief I’ve had isn’t a reflection of who you are.
It’s always been based on my fear of how the world would perceive and treat you.
A fear of knowing I can’t make this world accessible enough.
But I will die trying to keep your corner of the world safe and filled with people who are willing to do the same.
Happy 21st birthday my Beauty Boy.
Thank you for being you.
The night before Sebastian’s birthday he said, “This is the last day of 16.” He was taking the time to be in the moment. He was saying goodbye and doing a fine job of making me stop to be in the moment with him – to appreciate his sentimentality, sensitivity, and gratitude for this life and this milestone.
To celebrate his 17th birthday, 25 of Sebastian’s cross country teammates came over for dinner. While Sebastian celebrated a new year, I stood in awe of his accomplishments. He recently received a driving permit. He also set a new personal record in cross country-a full minute and a half faster than last year. He’s convinced me to help him look at college programs with cross country teams. He invited his team over to celebrate his birthday, and they showed up!
It’s not that I’m surprised by this.
I appreciate it.