Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Flag Football

On Saturdays mornings you can now find us at the ball field.  Given the choice of soccer,  t-ball or flag football, Cooper chose football. 

 He loves the drills

He loves the instruction

He loves having a team

He is also afraid of the ball, 
doesn't know which direction to run, 
cheers for all plays on either team,
claps for all players and make "tackling" faces to no one in particular.

So it's been a win/win for both of us!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eat Dessert First -My Messy Beautiful

This essay is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

My best friend Hope always looked at the dessert menu at the restaurant first.  She chose her meal around what dessert would follow.  That girl knew what she was doing..... she started with her focus on the good stuff!

My messy beautiful life came about from grief.  Old fashion compounded grief that rocked me to my core.

My life used to read like the lyrics from a bad country song ("my dog died, I lost my lover, my best friend died").  

In 2007/2008 if I was keeping track I would have made a list that read like this:

  • I married a man I didn't know was mentally ill and I hid it in shame and exhausted myself trying to change it- CHECK
  • My dad died of leukemia- CHECK
  • I gave birth one month after my dad died in a sea of compounded grief and stress due to #1 and #2- CHECK
  • Best friend's cancer re-occurs - CHECK
But then 2009/2010 didn't want to be outdone so:
  • Best friend goes into hospice/dies - CHECK
  • Beloved Grandpa goes into hospice/dies - CHECK
  • Six months later Grandma goes into hospice/dies - CHECK
  • I freak out on the hospice grief counselor and bark -'THIS AIN'T MY FIRST RODEO LADY"- CHECK 
  • Husband moves out/ I file for divorce -  CHECKITY CHECK CHECK CHECK
(Grandma, Pop and me: 1974)

To tell you that I lost another dear friend to cancer in 2011 would send you over the edge,  I know, but that happened too.
Each line item above has a long complicated story, some of which is the stuff that soap operas are made of. Moments filled with fear, sadness, shock,  abuse, anger, rage and shame. 

During my "angry stage" I used to say all this "drama" turned me into someone I wasn't.  

I now am proud to say that those line items above have turned me into someone NEW- and it wasn't drama, it was real.  It was just plain LIFE. Life is messy and hard, and we've all heard it a thousand times but don't want to believe it..NOT FAIR.

Attending therapy with my husband opened my eyes to mental illness in this country and our VA system. It has given me compassion not only for my now ex-husband but for families in crisis because someone they love is not ok. I also learned how close we all are from being the one that's "not ok". I also learned everyone has a story and that no one really knows the truth of marriage or anyone's real life until we start talking to each other about it honestly. 

My dad's death showed me first hand what true faith is. He told me, "Honey, when The Big Man Upstairs tells you to come home, you go and you don't argue".  My dad's brave battle and death taught me that in genuine faith and love there is no fear and that if you learn to let go, more will come to you in return.

(my dad also taught me to always belt out a Barry Manilow tune when you hear it)

Hope's illness and my all my days/years in hospice showed me the truth of this life. That love is a verb.  Love shows up, doesn't criticize or judge. I did things in hospital rooms I never thought I was capable of, both physically and emotionally.  It doesn't get any more REAL LIFE than that.  I learned how never to take for granted a single breath we are given, it's hard not to when you watch the ones you love painfully struggle just to take one more. If I hadn't seen it first hand, I would have thought it was just a nice saying cross-stitched on a pillow.

(Hope and me in 200?  I have lost track of years of my life)

I used to say all this grief broke me.  I used to cry that I was broken from all the sadness and stress and pain and fear. I used to think I didn't know who I was anymore.

I was unfamiliar with myself, because I had broken OPEN.

In 2012, I sold my house in my hometown and almost everything in it and moved with my then 4 year old across country.  I needed the space and distance to heal. I thought I needed to find the old me......but I found someone better...the NEW me.

I don't check the dessert menu first like Hope did, but I do all the good stuff first. I don't work long hours for the big bucks anymore, I work in an elementary school supporting children with autism. I spend all my time with my son and his activities and his friends. 

I do more photography, writing, and I work hard everyday to be fully present. I work to put priority on the things I love. I am not perfect, but I am learning and funny enough, I am happy.

Life has taught me to speak truth, 
lead with love
and do the good stuff first!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Autism Awareness Month

In a few short months when summer arrives, I will have completed my second year working as a paraprofessional supporting children with autism. 

As you know this little slice of the internet is a place where I document my life and I have said very little about what I now do at work.

I have done not for profit association work and marketing for my entire 20 year professional work career, and I have NEVER made such little money at a job and been happier at work.  

When I said I was making big changes a few years ago, I meant it!

I don't know if this current career is sustainable due to the financial hardship that it really created (hence working the side jobs at Pampered Chef and My719Moms) , but I know one thing only....that I LOVE IT.

I feel I was called to do it and I know that every day, every single day at work I make a difference.

At the beginning of the school year one of my kindergartners didn't know at least 1/2 of the alphabet.  Today he read a book to me
 "I see the {insert photo of a cat}".

When once my 4th grader paced, flapped and had anxiety in band, I thought I would never be watching him LEAD the class. He knows EVERY part of EVERY song and literally ROCKS OUT now. 

Inclusion means we do everything in the general education classroom. It also means I have to be quick.  Lacrosse in PE? We'll try!  Group projects with peers?  We'll try.

The key, We Try.  All the time. If it's too much we modify, but we also try and try again. There is no can't, and THAT is what I love about my day.  That I believe is why there is such success these days with children with special needs. The way they learn is different, it doesn't mean they can't learn. It's my job to modify and make it work.  If math seems too hard and overwhelming, I may wear a puppet on my hand to "talk" the student through it.  The crazy thing? It works and the kids learn.  

Most of my day revolves around behaviors that I try to work around or decrease.  We can't "watch movies" on our hands during school. Even though I am impressed by the scripting and memorization, (it's seriously incredible!!) we can't do our school work if we are on scene 27 of Cars, 34 minutes and 7 seconds into the movie. WORD FOR WORD.

We spend time in the sensory room, working out sensory issues to increase focus time and learning.  5 minutes on that trampoline while singing Pherrell's Happy can get anyone ready to work and tired enough to sit in class long enough for a math lesson.

(you can see Cooper likes to sneak in the sensory room too when he can)

Most of all, this job has taught me to SLOW DOWN. Something you know I had been unable to do for years.  Processing times are slower, simple tasks take triple the time due to behaviors, but it's my job to wait, to support and to help them try.

And eventually succeed.