Special Educators: You are SO appreciated!!

Recently, a friend posted a list of all her elementary school teachers on Facebook and challenged her friends to do the same as a memory exercise. With the exception of kindergarten, I was able to quickly compile a complete list of my grammar school teachers, as well as homeroom teachers from high school. Even after all these years, I can still vividly see in my mind’s eye each teacher, hear their voices, and in many cases, remember something about each of them. This is quite remarkable, considering that I often don’t remember more recent occurrences! Yet, it actually makes a lot of sense when I reflect upon this phenomenon just a little more: each of my teachers made me feel valued in some way during my elementary and high school years. The only exception was my kindergarten teacher, who was impatient, yelled often, and was clearly overwhelmed by the large class that she had. No wonder I couldn’t remember her name- I didn’t want to! You may forget what someone tells you, but you will never forget how someone makes you feel, even after 50+ years!

Teaching is a noble profession, a true calling to influence and mold the minds of our children. It’s also a huge responsibility that requires the utmost patience, creativity, and enthusiasm. Master educators make their teaching look effortless, but the reality of what it takes to prepare lessons and execute them, manage a classroom, plus interface with parents and school administration, is no easy feat, especially year after year. Having been on the “teaching side of the fence” for 5 years, I can attest to all of this and have often wondered how do teachers persevere for the long term? I’m not so sure if I could have lasted for 20+years, and it was clearly no contest once Brian was born. My formal days of classroom teaching were exchanged for a lifelong teaching assignment. No formal education or teaching experiences could have ever prepared me for raising Brian. It has been quite an adventure, to say the least, and in many respects, more life-changing than I would have ever imagined. Yet, my connection to the classroom is still quite strong because of Brian’s teachers. Like Brian, I am a student too, and have learned a great deal from the educators who have taught Brian over the past 13 years.

The overwhelming majority of Brian’s teachers have been dedicated professionals who have my utmost respect. But a few were also awful and quite frankly, did not belong teaching children with multiple disabilities. There is no doubt that Brian’s challenges are many, yet, I never understood why certain teachers basically gave up on him, refusing to teach “out of the box” or consider my recommendations so that he could learn. As a result, I am even more grateful for those teachers who go above and beyond for Brian and other students, to ensure their learning successes.

Thankfully, Brian has been most fortunate that the majority of his teachers care and want him to learn, doing whatever it takes to make this happen. There is nothing more heartwarming for a parent to see than their child enjoying their school experience and learning. This was not always the case for Brian, but with time, the right school, and a strong home and school collaboration, we are currently in a “good place”. It has truly taken a village to make this happen for Brian over a period of time, with those dedicated teachers leading the charge! Brian’s teachers have been amazing over the years, each one bringing their unique gifts and strengths to the table. I have personally learned so much from our collaborations and am indebted to those teachers for helping my son to learn, for I know it requires a lot! In honor of Brian’s special education teachers (which also includes teacher assistants and therapists), I wish to cite reasons why special education teacher appreciation should be formally recognized on a daily basis:

Special Education Teacher Appreciation Day- Every Day!

Dedicated to the Special Educators who teach, love, and inspire special needs students :

1. You could have selected any profession, but you chose to teach special education students because you know they can learn, despite their disabilities.

2. You customize your lessons according to the multiple abilities of the students in your classroom, going to a lot of effort to ensure that each student will benefit from your teaching.

3. Your patience, persistence, and fortitude with each of your special students, day after day, year after year, is nothing short of amazing!

4. You are an extremely valuable resource that both your special students and their families come to depend upon.

5. Your ability to advocate on behalf of your special students when necessary is both a relief and an inspiration to the families.

6. You really care about your special students and it shows, both in your actions and in the behavior of your students.

7. You don’t give up on your students- you will do what it takes to help them, because you believe in them.

8. You are respectful, open, and willing to take parents suggestions to heart and put them into practice to help their special children learn.

9. You are as excited about student progress, no matter how small, as much as the students and parents are!

10. You willingly deal with trying behaviors, loads of paperwork, and other numerous frustrations because you believe your special students are worth it.

11. You have inspired parents to keep going and to believe in their special child’s abilities, especially during the times when learning can be so arduous.

12. You will always be remembered for what you taught your special students and how you made them feel, both precious gifts that mean more than you can ever imagine!

Thank you, beloved special educators, for all that you do; it doesn’t go unnoticed! I know that Brian would tell you the exact same thing if he could!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Until next time, thanks for reading! 😊

A Sense of Humor- Don’t Leave Home Without It!

Let’s face it- life can be very difficult and sometimes down right unbearable at times. All of us have gone or will go through adversities during our time on this planet. This is especially true for special needs parents , for whom the daily struggles with their kids can weigh them down physically, mentally, and emotionally. I can definitely be counted among this group during certain periods over the past 15+ years, to the point where I had almost forgotten how to laugh. Somewhere along the way, I started to lose my humorous self about 5 years ago, and was temporarily replaced by an intense, serious person.

I was always Brian’s “Super Mom”: always on a mission, always trying to put out fires, always searching, seeking, and advocating. Stoic on the outside, but miserable on the inside. Worn down, but kept going because there is no choice. Wanting to cry, but too tired to even do that on some days . Losing myself to the point where I really didn’t want to get out of bed a lot of the time, yet I needed rest desperately. What happened to the fun-loving girl that I used to be? I missed that girl and so much wanted her back in my life! I knew that I was really in trouble when one day I had no desire whatsoever in ever going outside of my house again, which was so unlike the Brenda that I used to know. I had finally hit my brick wall.

I had to very reluctantly admit that I needed help- first to myself, then I came clean with a close friend, who is coincidentally a therapist, so it was truly a double bonus, what a God send! She helped me to understand and see where I was trying to be “in control ” of my life, how I was operating out of a place of fear, (especially where Brian was concerned), and how I never really grieved Brian’s diagnoses, my colon cancer, my husband’s job loss, along with other “stuff” from my past. Gosh, there was a lot of painful work to be done and I am still a work in progress today! I will say that going through the emotional muck in my life was excruciating, but necessary for my mental release to a place of peace.. I shudder to think what would have happened to me without this professional help and the grace of God. I will always have this “Achilles heel”, but am now better in identifying and managing these challenges with the tools that were given to me: faith, hope, prayer, self-care, and a sense of humor. It’s too hard to manage this life on your own will and strength. Whenever I do leave my house now, I bring my “tools” along, especially a sense of humor, because it’s too important to leave behind!

Humor and laughter can help heal the body by releasing endorphins so that we feel better- that’s a huge bonus! I was encouraged by my oncologist during chemo treatments to find laughter wherever I could so that my immune system would become stronger. I still feel better after a hearty laugh no matter how difficult the day has been. Humor helps us to cope with challenges, gets our minds off of things that we can’t control, and enables us to forget our troubles, even if just for a little while. Lord knows special parents could use as much humor as possible in their lives! I love to be around humorous people, you know, the ones who cause you to laugh so hard that you cry! My friend, Karen, is that way-just thinking about some of the funny things that she has said or done over the years causes me to laugh all over again! Laughter and humor ultimately helps me not to take myself so seriously, reserving emotional energy for what’s really necessary. That’s a really good thing for me, my husband, and Brian.

Seeking humor, laughter, and fun is now as important to me as breathing air, so I tend to actively seek those people, places, and things that will make this possible. I love my funny friends; they are such a huge, healing blessing in my life. I also love humorous movies, jokes, and pranks. There is also nothing like a funny story to tell or hear that emotes the best belly laughs. It’s amazing how you can train your mind to seek these things and how your mental perspective can be altered for the better as a result of them.

There is also nothing like props to get a laugh fest going too: the above are compliments of my friend, Karen, who gave these surprise goodies to a group of our friends when we were all together last year. The prop possibilities are endless and so is the laughter!

Time waits for no one. We are reminded almost daily how precious and short life can be, especially as we get older-all the more reason to seek those people, places, and things that bring you joy and laughter, especially in the midst of life’s trials and tribulations.

Wishing you many laughing returns!! Until next time, thanks for reading. 😊

A Mother’s Heart

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Mom. When I was very young, I used to think that I would have 5 children by the time I was 30 years old, 2 years apart, all boys. I have no idea why I had this particular number of children in mind or why they had to be that particular sex. It’s funny how a young mind works sometimes, but I always knew that children would be a very important part of my life, even though I wasn’t quite sure of the particular details at the time.

I began babysitting as a preteen and was exposed to a whole array of kids and personalities, including a young teen with Down syndrome. Little did I know at 13 years old how important that special needs sitting experience would be years later… I found children to be fascinating and fun. I loved being with them and felt I related well with most of my charges. It was also great earning some pocket money and having the opportunity to watch kids quite often, as I was fortunate to have several families who were my “regulars”.

Gradually , I moved on to other jobs to earn income while I was a college student, but I never forgot my “first love” in working with kids and eventually earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in education. However, I ended up taking quite the circuitous route first with careers in the airline and pharmaceutical industries, before ultimately going to the classroom. I had a very rewarding experience with the students I taught over a 5 year period which ended shortly before Brian was born.

Everything drastically changed the moment Brian arrived into the world. Life as I knew it would never be the same. My heart’s desire to become a Mom had been finally fulfilled. This journey has been quite the roller coaster ride, filled with twists and turns, highs and lows. I didn’t know that you could feel such intense love and pain at the same time. I never realized how hard it was going to be. I didn’t consider the costs, the sacrifices, and the intensity of parenting before coming one. There is a blessing to all of that, I realize in retrospect. If I had known all of this ahead of time, I’m not sure if I would have become a Mom. There is a reason why the future is not revealed to us.

Fortunately, I had a great role model in my own Mom growing up, so the decision to ultimately become a parent myself was the right one. She made motherhood look effortless , although I realized it certainly wasn’t for her at times. All kids are challenging and have their moments; my siblings and I certainly frustrated our Mom on numerous occasions, but she always provided us with consistency, love, and support, no matter what. I am forever grateful for the examples Mom showed me of how to be a good mother. It is my daily prayer that I can do the very same for Brian, as Mom did for me, so that he too, knows how very deeply loved he is. I think Brian knows how much he is loved- but it’s hard to know sometimes for sure with a non verbal child. We can only go by how Brian ” communicates” and by all accounts, he is generally a happy, loving kid, so my husband and I would like to think that we are doing all right by our son.

Motherhood has ultimately changed me for the better; it’s rigors have demanded it, and while I certainly wish certain things weren’t so difficult, I can’t imagine not being my son’s Mom. Motherhood has also enriched my life in many wonderful ways, despite the hardships and heartaches, and I have Brian to thank for that! Finally, Motherhood has given me numerous gifts and unique challenges because of having a disabled child that I would not have had otherwise:

1. Motherhood is a joy- There is nothing like holding your child, seeing them smile, or delighting in what makes them happy. It is one of life’s purest joys to see your child enjoy each aspect of his/her life. I am able to view life through Brian’s loving and unique perspective, a huge gift for both of us!

2. Motherhood is a sorrow- You want to solve all of your disabled child’s problems, but you can’t. You feel helpless when your child has surgery and know they are frightened. You feel your child’s pain so much, whatever that pain is, that your own heart hurts. 😞

3. Motherhood is a disappointment sometimes- We don’t always get what we hope for as parents. We will be disappointed sometimes in ourselves, and in our situation with Brian, the complexities and frustrations related to his disabilities can be disappointing at times. This has nothing to do with the beautiful boy that he is, but rather, the impact of the challenges that he lives with on a daily basis effects our family profoundly.

4. Motherhood is frustration and patience is a virtue. You wonder how many more years it will take your special child to learn a basic skill or how much longer you can listen to the same song. You take a deep breath when dealing with the endless bureaucracy and people that it takes to help your child. You often have to take a deep breath, count internally to 10, or say mantras like, “serenity NOW!!” to maintain your composure and sense of humor.

5. Motherhood is exhausting. Brian will be my “forever boy”, even though he will become a grown man. Special needs parenting is forever, not for just a season, as it is for most typical parents. Special Moms can get worn down very easily and it does get harder as time moves forward: our kids get bigger and we Moms get older. We love our children intensely, but we desperately need breaks too from caretaking . I find this especially true for myself as time moves on…

6. Motherhood is love- There is no love deeper than the love between a mother and her child. I would have never believed that before having Brian, but I sure do now! It is that same instinctive, intense bond of love that we Moms are privileged to share with our kids, that also makes the difficulties more bearable. I sometimes have to remind myself of that, particularly in the middle of a challenge. It is these truths that will sustain me, especially when I have moments of doubt in my abilities as a mother. I know now that I was always meant to be a Mom, specifically, Brian’s Mom. Thank you, Son, for giving me that opportunity-I love you! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Happy Mothers Day to all of the great women who make a huge difference in the lives of their children! May you know how much you are deeply loved and appreciated, not only this Sunday, but every day! ❤️❤️❤️

Until next time, thanks for reading! 😊

20 Things Special Needs Parents Want You To Know…

Last week, Brian and I had the opportunity to join Jim on his business trip to Dallas. It was a wonderful adventure on many fronts; we explored the Dallas Zoo, Dallas Acquarium, and the stockyards in Fort Worth. The longhorn cattle were something to behold and the friendly Texans who we encountered during each of these experiences couldn’t have been nicer! I confess that I was a bit suspect of the locals southern hospitality initially (must be a Jersey thing, lol), but it didn’t take long to realize that it was truly genuine. We were welcomed wherever we went and the reception for Brian each time was fit for a king!

We also mixed a bit of business with pleasure by touring one of the special needs facilities for disabled adults, as well as one of the resource centers in the Dallas area for Down syndrome. These visits were well worth our time and provided us with insights as to what resources are currently available. Like many special needs parents, we think about our son’s adult years a lot, specifically, what is going to happen after his formal education is over? Where will Brian go? What will he be doing? We pray that he will not be sitting home doing nothing. Brian still has 6 years of school left, but that time will pass quickly, so it’s never too early to explore and research potential options. It is a faith walk for sure, as there are so many unanswered questions at the moment…

During our visit in Dallas last week, Brian and I also had the chance to interface with many typical parents and their kids during our visits at the local mall, zoo, and acquarium. These families were quite curious about Brian and genuinely interested in him. It was a disarming experience at first, but one I grew to like very quickly. We received very few stares of disdain, and only one “eye roll” when Brian waved to a woman and her child during our time in the Dallas Galleria Mall. There were also a lot of “Y’all are amazing parents”, “Brian is an angel”, ” Y’all are so special and blessed”, etc. I politely responded with a thank you, but at times internally rolled my eyes too. I have no doubt of the sincerity behind these compliments, and I’m sure I would have said them myself if Brian had been a typical child. But our reality is very different. Brian is certainly not an angel all of the time and some days feel more like a curse than a blessing. Brian is also not always accepted for who he is in the community. I think a lot of that has to do with misinformation and a lack of communication. Sometimes people only see a “snapshot” of who Brian is, then make assumptions about him that are not accurate. As a former educator, it is natural for me to teach and inform others about my son, when the opportunity presents itself, IF I feel the person is receptive. While the greatest support system and understanding comes from other special families, special parents also want relationships with extended family and typical families. I believe these relationships can flourish when we “speak our truth” about our special journey with our disabled children. While there are many specific things that each special needs parent would like for their extended family and friends to know about their disabled child, the following is true for most special needs families across the board:

1. We don’t want pity because we have a disabled child. Compassion and understanding are much better alternatives.

2. Staring at our child is rude and makes us uncomfortable and annoyed.

3. If you are not sure how to interact with our children, please ask! Your preconceived notions about disabilities may be pleasantly altered when you see what our kids are capable of!

4. We appreciate when our children are invited to your social gatherings. They may or may not be able to attend, but the point is, our kids are also included.

5. Similar to #4, we special parents also appreciate invitations to socialize with both special and neurotypical parents. Raising a disabled child can often be an isolating, lonely experience. It helps to connect with other adults.

6. Please don’t minimize our challenging situations with well-intentioned platitudes- it can sound patronizing!

7. Please don’t judge our parenting style with our children, nor offer advice unless we specifically ask for it.

8. If you are looking for a gift idea to give to a special family, your time would be most welcomed! Time together with our children or time just with our children, so that we parents can go out for a meal or to a movie for a few hours, would be greatly appreciated!

9. If you are looking for gift ideas for our kids, please ask! My son doesn’t like toys, but he loves books, music, and swimming.

10. Our parenting experiences may be quite different, but fundamentally, we are just like you: we love our children too and also want them to be healthy and happy.

11. We worry greatly about who will care for our children later on when we are no longer here. It’s the Damocles sword that hangs over our heads daily…😞

12. We may appear strong, but we struggle both physically and mentally with the demanding, often repetitive care, of our kids.

13. Advocating for our children and managing every aspect of their lives is a lifetime commitment that is often exhausting.

14. We will go to any lengths and/or take any necessary measures to ensure that our children are afforded opportunities to learn and engage in life experiences

15. The “Highs are Higher” and the “Lows are Lower” in our world. Little steps are HUGE accomplishments, while setbacks, big or small, are felt more acutely.

16. We love our kids with a fierce intensity- we are their protectors and advocates. We are the “voice” for our children and always will be throughout their entire lifetimes.

17. We are not “super parents”, rather, we are ordinary parents who have been placed in extraordinary circumstances.

18. Our kids show us how to live in the moment, one of the best gifts my son has given to me.

19 Being the parent of a disabled son has made me a more mature person, has taught me perseverance, and continues to teach me patience.

20. You have 3 choices when you have a child with special needs: 1. you keep going, 2. you give up, or 3. you take breaks when you can’t keep going and you want to give up. Self care is not a luxury, but rather an absolute necessity .

That’s all, Folks, until next time- thanks for reading! 😊