Life Skills Class at Junior High
A few years ago my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, transitioned from junior high school to high school. She had been in a Life Skills class in junior high where they teach many of the basics such as reading, math, writing, and other skills that are needed to function in society. In her Life Skills class were other teens with developmental disabilities. She was lucky because she also had many classes in the normal school setting that allowed her to participate in classes like choir, sewing, health and cooking. It’s a great blending of experiences and classes that the students are offered.
Talking About His Accomplishments Produced A Big Smile
At the end of her junior high experience the Life Skills teacher held a “graduation” for all of the teens going on to high school. As part of the graduation the teacher read all of the accomplishments of each student during his or her three years at the school. She had the student stand as she read off the list. One young man, as she was talking about his accomplishments, was smiling. His smile got bigger and bigger as the teacher kept reading. When the teacher finished, with a look of awe and joy on his face, he said, “I’m amazing!” The teacher said, “You are amazing!” Of course everyone in the classroom started smiling too. He said it with such wonder and sincerity that it was really a joy to have witnessed it.
Making the World a Better Place
I have thought about that sweet experience many times since then. The look of awe and wonder on his face still brings a smile to my face. He didn’t solve world hunger or end international wars. He didn’t figure out the solution to the homeless problem or fix the political divide. The things he accomplished were actually quite simple things. Because of his developmental disabilities he obviously will never accomplish much by world standards. Yet in his own way, he has added to the goodness of the world. He excelled where and how he could, and added light to the world through his small accomplishments. And remarkably, if each of us could say that we have excelled where and how we could, the world would be a better place. I often think of Gordon B. Hinckley who was known for his optimism and encouragement for each of us to be a little better every day. He once said, “There is room for improvement in every life. Regardless of our occupations, regardless of our circumstances, we can improve ourselves and while doing so have an effect on the lives of those around us (October 2002).” That young man improved himself through the things he accomplished and made the world a little better. And that is the challenge each of us has. To be a little better than we were the day before and to make the world a better place by doing so.
A Basketball Tournament For Teens With Disabilities
Recently I attended a delightful basketball tournament for people with developmental disabilities. This tournament is sponsored by the local school district and is run by volunteers. Each of the teams consisted of 3 teens with some kind of a disability and 2 peer tutors. A peer tutor is a teenager who is normally abled and helps another teen with disabilities be successful in the school setting. This time the peer tutors were there to teach, encourage and help the teens be successful in basketball. Whenever a peer tutor got the ball he or she would throw it to a teen with disabilities and then instruct them where to go and what to do. Sometimes teens would throw the ball and miss the basket and then the ball was given to them to try again, and then again. Everyone would stop playing to allow the teens to be successful. If they actually made a basket, it was pure magic! The look on their faces was so sweet, radiating pure happiness. The whole day was all about helping these teens have a great experience.
For The Fun Of It
There were even a few teens in wheelchairs with a peer tutor manning the chair and running down the court with everyone else. I say running but really, at best, it was just a fast walk. Most of the teens with disabilities just couldn’t be hurried. Parents and coaches would shout “hurry” or “run” but it just wasn’t important to them. They would walk down the court holding the ball, not even bouncing it. Sometimes a teen on one team would help another on a different team by giving them the ball or saying encouraging things. They were there for the fun of it, not to win. The great thing is that no matter which team made a basket, everyone cheered.
Pink Shirts Everywhere
What was truly amazing to me was that there were 8 games going on at the same time, and each team played 4 games with a half time show from the various high school dance teams. And of course there was also the big playoff between the two highest scoring teams, with trophies for the winners. When you add up how many volunteers it took to pull this tournament off it’s astounding. Adult organizers, score keepers, coaches, people who got the school ready with directional signs and the peer tutors were just the obvious volunteers. All of the volunteers were in pink shirts and I saw hundreds of pink shirts! The volunteers, mostly peer tutors, were spending their Saturday helping these kids with disabilities play basketball.
Hope For The Youth Of The World
I have been to this tournament two years in a row now and both times I have been completely overwhelmed with the kindness, camaraderie, friendship and genuine caring exhibited by everyone involved. It’s really hard to understand the feeling that is there unless you have been there. Everyone was there just for the opportunity to help someone else. Sometimes we hear about a lot of bad stuff happening in the world today, a lot of it involving young people. This event and others like it give me a lot of hope for the youth of the world. There are some caring, unselfish teens out there doing some simple and yet significant things to help and serve others. Service truly brings a sweet feeling into life and this event was all about service. There are so many needs and so many ways to serve others and I can guarantee that if you reach out to serve others your life will be happier.
Summer is approaching and I love the flowers that are blooming and the sound of birds when I walk outside. I love the lazy days of playing in the sun at the beach or park. I have good memories of picnics and taking my kids to the pool, and programs at the library. It seemed like summer was a very busy time in a laid back sort of way. Maybe it was just busy for me because I was managing 8 kids, because I also have memories of bored kids complaining there was nothing to do. It seemed that if their friends weren’t available to play with, their world came to a crashing halt. Their brains turned to mush and with a blank stare in their eyes they would wail “there’s nothing to do!” I got so tired of hearing that complaint, usually one week into summer vacation! So one year I got smart. I typed up a list of 40+ things to do when they were bored, put it in a page protector and taped it to the fridge. The list had craft ideas, solo things to do like reading or taking a walk. It also had ideas like making cookies, or things to do with their siblings (if they were really desperate) like board games. I also made sure I had lots of craft supplies in the house so all they had to do was get them out and of course clean up when they were done.
I got a lot of my ideas from a magazine I used to subscribe to called Family Fun. It had lots of creative ideas that were inexpensive. I remember one of the activities used pipe cleaners and felt to make bendable dolls. It even came with patterns for clothes and accessories. My kids spent hours making those! The Friend magazine is also another great resource for ideas and things to do. There are also lots of craft books available to buy for different age groups. Of course there are also a lot of resources online of fun things to do for and with kids.
At the bottom of my summer list I typed in bold letters that they were not allowed to complain there was nothing to do or I would find lots of jobs for them to do. I also typed a list of available jobs to do and hung it on the fridge next to the fun things to do list. I did this mostly to show I was serious but also to use as a quick reference for me should I need it. It was amazing how well it all worked. If a kid even started to complain they were bored I would mention finding something for them to do and the complaint died on their lips. It worked so well that I hung the list on the fridge every summer after that for many years. Sometimes I even joined in their activities! The wonderful result was non bored, non complaining kids and a happy, less stressed mom.
I have written before about an organization called Orange Socks. Their mission is to teach people about the joys of raising a child with disabilities. Most people hear about or assume the difficulties and Orange Socks wants people to know there are good times as well as hard times. Their tag line is “inspiring life despite a diagnosis.” Orange Socks interviews families who have a child with disabilities and posts the interviews on their website as well as doing podcasts. They want people who are facing a diagnosis to hear from people who actually have a child with that disability. It helps to learn from those who have gone before us, to learn from them the realities of raising that child, of the good and the hard.
The reason why I am writing about this again is thatI have been privileged to go to several of the interviews. I was touched by the fierce love and advocacy the parents all have for their child and in some cases, children. I was impressed that these parents spoke mostly of the joys and happiness their child has brought to their family. When asked about the difficulties every parent said it was worth it, that they got far more back than they ever gave. I was amazed that in every interview I went to, except for one, the parents all spoke about how they relied on prayer to help them with their challenges. They spoke of receiving inspiration to help guide them as they cared for their child. The interviews have taken place all over the country, with people from many different religions. It really surprised me that so many people talked about praying. It surprised me that so many talked about relying on God to help them. It gave me hope to know of so many good people in the world. Sometimes it is easy to focus on the distressing things we hear about going on in the world. The media seems to blast daily sometimes even hourly the bad things that occur. It’s easy to think that most people are unkind and hurtful from watching the news.
There was another thing that happened also has given me hope. Several years ago I attended a 3 week program in Minnesota that focused on how to live with chronic pain. Every morning we had to set goals for the day, which were written on a white board in the classroom. One day, another woman in the program said her goal for the day was to express more gratitude in her prayers. That one comment is probably the thing I remember most from attending the chronic pain program. It told me that way over in Minnesota, there was a woman who believed in praying, who believed in God and in acting on that belief. It showed me that there are good people all over the country and world. Sometimes it seems like there is so much bad, and hurtful and horrific things that are happening. When I reflect on the parents interviewed and the woman from the program, I remember that there are good people in the world. Good people who believe in praying and believe in God. Who believe in helping others and giving service to their children. Even with the media bombarding us about all of the bad happening I know there is much good in the world. We live in scary times, but we also live in good and hopeful times. Take time to look for the good and you will find it!
My husband and I just celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary. When we married I had a lot of hopes, dreams and expectations. Some of them were even realistic! Since I grew up with a single parent I remember wondering what married couples talk about, especially in the evenings. I didn’t really know what it was like to have a man around all of the time, so I had some apprehension about how marriage would be. But I married him with stars in my eyes and love in my heart. Our marriage has been good but in some ways it turns out I married a stranger. Oh, I knew he was a good man and we had similar values. He treated his parents and me with love and respect. He loved our Savior, Jesus Christ and living gospel principles was important to him. We had fun together and I loved being with him. He also wanted to have children and I loved him dearly and so we began our lives together. But, there have been many things about him that have surprised me. When we married he was working as a school psychologist and kept school hours. He was home by 4:00, even though I didn’t get off work until 5:00. He was usually busy working at other things while I was still at work. I tease him that I married a mild mannered school psychologist who turned out to be an entrepreneur. The signs were there that he was entrepreneurial but I just didn’t see them. At the time besides being a school psychologist he was teaching community education classes, writing a column for a newspaper, doing hypnosis to help people quit smoking as well as doing a home business of upholstery. Of course now I look back and realize all of the signs were there. Actually being a hard worker is a good thing, I was just pleasantly surprised by it.
When we had been married about 5 months he was offered a job as a program planner with a developmental center for people with intellectual disabilities. He took the job and so began our venture into the world of developmental disabilities, a cause he has become passionate about. Since that time he has started a nonprofit organization that supplies services and staff to help people with developmental disabilities be successful in their lives. Through his hard work the company has expanded to several states and to several thousand employees. I have told him that he is recreationally impaired because he would rather work than play. There was one time I even told him I would never go on another vacation with him because all he mostly did was work while the kids and I played. It was not a fun trip!
It’s not just his work ethic that has surprised me. Even though he has traveled much during the years for business, he usually made time for our family. Our children respect and love him dearly and know him to be a man of integrity. They know he will do all in his power to help them in their lives, and that his love for them doesn’t change based on what they do or don’t do. I know he prays for our children daily often takes the long view with them. Because of that our children call him almost daily just to say hello and talk about their day or to ask for his advice. Of course he has regrets as a parent about being away so much and about missing many occasions but we all have things we would do differently as parents. I think that even if he hadn’t traveled so much he would still have regrets because parents are just imperfect people. But I believe he really tried to be a good dad. He told me once that he kept growing the company because the bigger it got the more financially stable we were. We have 8 children and families cost money and he took his role as the provider seriously. I think love for his family and his passion for those with developmental disabilities fueled his work ethic. It was hard having him gone so much but I knew he wasn’t playing but working hard for us. I really didn’t know when we married what kind of dad he would be but I have been grateful that he is the dad of my children.
As he was and is a good father he is also a good husband. He frequently puts my wants and needs before his own. It’s the little things like letting me choose the restaurant when we eat out or deciding what to do on our dates. He will send me a text to “buy it” when he knows I’m shopping because he knows I’m cheap sometimes. I love how he holds my hand when we’re walking along somewhere together. He peels an orange and offers me half of it. Anything I bring home he will assemble because he knows it gives me anxiety to even think about putting something together. He supports me in my church callings and by his examples encourages me to do and be better. He values my happiness and will work to solve problems we have and not just dismiss what I want. I never have to wonder if he’s telling me the truth. He tells me frequently that he loves me. Did I know that he would be this way when I married him? Definitely not! But of course I hoped so. So really I married a stranger in some ways, and I got lucky because he is even better than I thought. I now know what couples talk about in the evenings, and what it’s like to have a man around all of the time. I’m glad he’s that man. He is a good person, dad and husband and I hope we are lucky enough to have another 34 years together. Happy Anniversary my Love!