A perspective on the world of disability from a mother and an educator. Follow my blog!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Christmas Engine Overheating.

Best. Christmas. Ever. I honestly don’t know who has a better time, the children who get to experience the mystery and wonder of Santa or the parents who soak in the smiles on their faces! The girls were thrilled were their gifts, no disappointment and I've got to say that hubby nailed it this year with gifts for me. What a thrill to open a gift and know that that off hand comment you made months ago was listened to. How spoilt am I?!  We remind our girls of the reason for the season, and for us it is much more about sharing space, time (and food!) with those you love and who love you.

We drove for more than 5 hours on Christmas day to spend time with my SIL’s family. Absolutely worth it. So much friendliness and warmth it was overwhelming. That’s the ‘magic’ of Christmas. For us it is always a little nerve wracking to go and spend time with people we don’t know and who don’t know us. There have been so many experiences in the past where strangers have treated our big girl or us in a way that was unsettling. Those moments stay with you and the ill feeling returns any time we put ourselves in a new situation with people we don’t know. How will they respond to her? What are their understandings of disability? What prior experiences and prejudices do they have? Do they say ‘Down syndrome person’, ‘Downsie’ or ‘person with Down syndrome’? Any encounter with new people is filled with trepidation.

I am so grateful that our day was spent in a small country town with people who weren’t filled with judgement, who didn’t have preconceived ideas about how little to expect of my big girl. I honestly can’t remember most of their names but the kindness they showed to my family and me won’t be easily forgotten.

Imagine my surprise when the bon bons are cracked and MY GIRL is the one reading the jokes out to everybody! Talk about functional literacy! How my heart swelled with admiration for her, know how hard she has worked to get here. Fast forward a few hours and she is the one in the pool coordinating everyone to play diving games when only that morning she had unwrapped her pool toys and told us she was too scared to go diving. What an amazing day – a gift that kept on giving.

And then there was Boxing Day.

As so often happens with our family, any adventure takes its toll. This is the reason we can’t do extra curricula activities after school, why we seldom go away for the weekend. Today my big girl is crashing and burning. Very similar to a sensory overload, Christmas Day was filled with so much for her to process that her mind and body have gone into shutdown mode. Not unlike a car struggling to go the distance in the Christmas Day heat. Eventually the hood needs to go up and the radiator pops its lid. Wait for it to cool down, refill and off you go again.

The heartbreaking thing is trying to explain to my middle girl why her sister is acting this way today. I have to tell her that we don’t excuse bad behaviour, but we need to understand why it happens. We need to be extra patient with her, and to help her the best we can. Telling my middle girl she needs to be a grown up and explaining that her sister’s mind and body is ‘different’ to other people is inevitable, but I don’t have to like it.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Success starts with the seed of motivation.

After the hustle and bustle of a busy year, being forced to go slow has been a delight. No school lunches to make, everyone sleeping in, catching up on missed TV, and connecting, I mean really connecting, with my girls and hubby.

Hubby has always known that I’d love the big country kitchen veggie patch and after getting me my country kitchen, and my country chickens (as much for therapy as practical reasons!) he set to work. It is a beautiful two-tiered masterpiece complete with up-cycled sleepers, herbs in rustic wooden barrels and a fence to keep the chickens and dogs out. It has been wonderful to see his vision start with the first push of the shovel into the soil and finish with planting a variety of goodies.

While hubby designed and built it knowing my preference for aesthetics, he was inspired by our middle girl coming home from kindy with a pumpkin plant she had grown from seed. Needless to say that particular plant didn’t survive until the patch was finished but the level of involvement she had throughout the whole process has been astounding. She turned the soil, helped carry the sleepers, shoveled manure into the trailer, shoveled dirt out of the trailer, hammered stakes, picked out the veggies from the store (we couldn’t NOT get the purple carrots), and lovingly planted them without fear of getting dirty.

There was never any hesitation on her behalf or mine to help with the project because it was something we both greatly desired. In teaching we’d call this a highly motivating activity. It engages, it inspires and it is easily facilitated. It doesn’t need to be fully planned out from start to finish, in fact it’s best if you don’t. In order to keep the inspiration and motivation from dwindling you need to incorporate the input of others.

Other times, motivation comes purely from within, but it still needs to be fostered, though not facilitated. My big girl has spent most of this year teaching herself to click her fingers. Not a bad feat when it’s hard for your brain to tell your muscles what to do on such a detailed level. Every now and then we would catch her practicing unprompted, always offer praise, but also reassurance when she became frustrated.  While I wouldn’t say that clicking her fingers was high on MY list of goals FOR HER right now, it was so very important to her. It was a desire inside of HER to achieve something that meant something TO HER.  The obvious pride she wears on her face when she shows off her clicking is palpable. And brings tears to my eyes.

Without that desire inside of me to get out of bed each day and embrace the life given to me, where does the joy come from? No one is going to deliver it to me in a sealed envelope each morning before breakfast. Holiday motivation has been pretty forthcoming so far with manicures, pedicures, new hairstyles, veggie patches, visiting family as well as trips to the zoo and beach filling our days. I love getting out old music favourites on holidays and feeling recharged by them. One of my feel good songs at the moment is ‘Cooler than You’ by Ben Folds. (mild language warning).  Immersing ourselves in beautiful life moments and surrounding ourselves with people we love and who love us, that motivation is easy. Perhaps it is this joyful place we’re at right now that has inspired hubby and I to take on a big project we’ve dreamed of for years. Let’s just say it involves good teaching, a love of kids, and sharing it. If it succeeds we’ll celebrate here. If it fails I’ll admit that too!

I will draw my motivation and inspiration from my girls who have vision and perseverance to see it through just as I draw from the enthusiasm of my students in the classroom. Maybe it’s time I learnt from them rather than the other way around? It is thrilling to be taking such a big step out of our comfort zone together!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Chocolate Glorious Chocolate!

So many chocolates! I was so blessed to received box upon box, upon box of sweet chocolately goodness. It's nice to feel appreciated by the parents and children you work so hard for all year though I'm not ashamed to admit I had to re-gift some simply because of the sheer volume received by both hubby and me.

My favourite so far has been the Cadbury Dairy Milk Tray. I found a chocolate I've never comes across before - the chocolate mudcake. 'What should I expect?' I wondered to myself. 'Will there be actual cake inside?'. I bit into the most delightful dark chocolate gooey centre coated by the outstanding Cadbury exterior.

To look at the chocolate from the outside you had no way to know what was inside. It was a circular plain chocolate with no detail on top. Yet inside was a cornucopia of flavour. There were other chocolates that gave themselves away more easily. The strawberry centred chocolate was clearly shaped like a strawberry. You knew exactly what sort of delicious to expect.

Children (and adults) are not that dissimilar to chocolate if my time as a parent and teacher has taught me anything. I sound a little Forrest Gump I know but the analogy works for chocoholics like me. I have a daughter who appears to be a strawberry chocolate but turns out to be a mudcake. She looks and acts differently and because of this people place certain expectations on her. This is a flawed approach because though the exterior might tell you one thing, the inside is beautifully unique. When she was just 6 weeks old I was so sick of people saying 'kids with Down syndrome are such happy kids' that I took a photo of her crying just to prove to everyone she was just like every other baby. So many expectations have been made about her over time and I am so happy to write that she surpasses them all. Her report card showed that while she has areas to work on (as we all do) she is working so very hard to achieve the best she can. She has to work so much harder than the other kids just to achieve the same. No wonder she is exhausted at the end of term.

I've come across many children and adults this year who are the chocolate mudcake. Seemingly plain on the outside but with so much depth inside if you are willing to look beyond the exterior. Children  who have been mislabelled or put in the too hard basket. Adults who judge on a Cadbury coating rather than the individual centre. They look into the Dairy Milk Tray and judge. It isn't hard to work with a child to turn a hard centre into something that is softened to learning, it just takes desire and dedication - a chocolate addiction. A heart that can appreciate that even compound cooking chocolate has its place and time.

Enough blogging, I'm hungry!

PS: Was delighted to be given such thanks by students and parents, but I did tell them all that my thanks is seeing my students happy.