Friendship

I recently watched a video about a boy with Down syndrome who was included into a general education setting. The video gave a nutshell picture of the successes and the challenges of such a placement for this student.

I cried at the lunchroom scene the film included. The student, who had some “behaviors” that were worsening in 6th grade sat at the lunch table with a group of other boys. Without warning and quick-as-lightning, the boy reached over and grabbed another student’s roll right off his tray. The breadless boy and another student demanded the return of the dinner roll, telling the boy that “you can’t take someone else’s food!” But the boy held the roll tightly in his fist and refused its return, ignoring his friends’ pleas.

Finally, the breadless boy and all of the other boys got up and moved together to another table, shaking their heads in disgust and frustration. The boy was left at the table all alone with his stolen piece of bread still clenched tightly.

It was heartbreaking to watch. The boys tried to reason with the bread thief; they tried to be patient; they reminded him of the social rules. But in the end, they got frustrated and left.

And you can’t blame them. They are kids. Hungry kids. And their rights had been violated, basically. No, you cannot blame those boys at all. I mean, who knows what else the boy may snatch before they have a chance to eat it. And who knows how many items he’s snatched from them over the years while he struggled to control his impulses. And even the best of friends, the most patient of saints, has his limitations and feelings.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that only one day later I got word from school that Chloe had snatched her BFF’s cake pop at lunch! Yes! Seriously. Snatched it quick-as-lightning right from her lunch bag. And… and… and licked it!!! I’m not kidding! Tell me it isn’t so!

The movie played out in my head: all of the girls getting up, angry, and leaving Chloe at the table to finish her lunch alone.

I’m so grateful to report with a very full heart that Chloe’s BFF simply snatched the cake pop back, wiped it off, and ate it. Because that’s what BFFs do. And because Chloe’s BFF responded like she did, no one got up and left, and no one got angry. (Although I’m guessing Chloe was the recipient of several lectures from her friends about behaving appropriately and respecting others.)

But you can be sure that I’m terrified for the day Chloe’s BFFs run out of patience. I am still very much aware of that possibility. And it makes me sad.

But today: grateful. Grateful for friendship.

Eve

Today at church the children heard the story of Adam and Eve. The story included the apple, the serpent, the fig leaves, and the Garden of Eden.

For the game that accompanied the lesson, the kids dressed each other up as Adam and Eve.

Chloe was Eve for her team. The girls ran around the room, gathering supplies, and quickly decorated Chloe. Within moments she was completely decked out in Eve garb. She wore green crepe paper, a wreath of leaves on her head, and … a cool pair of shades.

This, folks, is what inclusion looks like at church. :)

photo

And now, for the rest of the story….

When it was time for the Adam and Eve game, Chloe got my attention and let me know she wanted to play the game. It’s not uncommon for the Sunday morning game to be a running around relay game that she has a hard time participating in. So this time she wanted to make it clear that she did actually want to play.

I happened to be the adult in Chloe’s group for this game so I informed a couple of the girls who were sorta taking charge that Chloe wanted to play this game and be Adam or Eve. They both looked at me like perhaps they didn’t speak English, but knowing that isn’t the case I didn’t restate my message or check for understanding — I thought the request was pretty clear and that it was a fair request from Chloe since she can’t really actively participate in a lot of the activities.

Well, lo and behold, when the game leader went around the circle and asked who from each group would be Adam and who would be Eve, these two girls announced that the two of them would be Adam and Eve. Hmmmmmmm. I guess I should have checked for understanding after all. ;)

I very casually reminded the two of them that Chloe would like to either be Adam or Eve and asked them to decide which of them would give Chloe their role. This time they looked at each other like maybe they didn’t speak English and sorta halfway pointed at each other silently. I gave them about a minute to work it out between them in whatever language they might choose, and then I asked them which role Chloe would be playing in the game. Again, I got confused looks that I finally determined were not looks of not knowing the language but were simply looks of total human selfishness (don’t hate! — we all struggle with it!!) that were just unwilling to budge for another person. I gave them one last opportunity to redeem themselves by giving an encouraging, knowing cue: “Girls, which of you will make a kind choice and be a good friend?”

After no action from either girl besides continued confused, stuck expressions, I let them both know that they were both relieved of their duty of Adam and Eve and that instead Chloe would be Eve, and a little boy on the team would be Adam.

Now before you go calling me a meanie, know that I would’ve done the exact same thing for any child if I saw a rare opportunity for him/her to fully participate. And also know that if I were the parent of one of the confused girls, I would want another adult to step in and help train my child’s heart in kindness and compassion and unselfishness. So no hard feelings, ok? It’s just part of children’s ministry. :)

I tell this story to illustrate the fact that sometimes inclusion is natural and friendship is natural and that amazingly cool things just happen in the hearts of children sometimes. But other times, children need guidance, and inclusion has to be guided and staged. But guess what? If done correctly, both types result in inclusion. And guess what else? My kid is blessed in both instances (if done with dignity and taste). And the other kids benefit, too, because which of us could not use a little heart training? Which of us couldn’t use a little “unsticking” when our hearts are stuck in selfish gear?

In the end, Chloe enjoyed getting “decorated” as Eve, and the other girls enjoyed running off, gathering supplies, and decorating Chloe. It was a win-win.

All in a Day’s Work

How do you prioritize when everything is ultimately important? when everything is #1?blue #1

How do you choose to spend your time when the whole list consists of urgent items?

Do you choose to breathe first or to make your heart beat first? They’re both critical.

That’s how I feel with trying to prioritize what to focus on with Chloe. How do I spend my time and energy when the needs are all so great? Where do I start? Where do I begin? Where do I focus?

Communication is #1 because everything else depends on it. If Chloe doesn’t have a way to communicate her wants and needs…if she can’t relate and give her opinion then what??

But her legs working enough to walk across the room is #1. Remaining functional enough to be on her feet when she wants to be is vital. It’s a skill and ability that we are fighting to keep. The battle against her tightening, weakening legs is one we have to fight with gusto.

black #1Her performing and succeeding in school is also #1. If she’s not successful in school, then her teachers won’t take her seriously. If we don’t work to find ways for Chloe to express what she knows…if we don’t empower her with the ability to express her knowledge, then how…how…? So this ever-growing pile of homework is top priority.

But what about practicing and exceeding in cello? It’s imperative that she grow her talent. It will allow her to be part of a “team” in orchestra in junior and high school. She loves it; she’s good at it. Her playing music speaks to people …speaks to her.

Independence and growing in work/chores/responsibility has to be #1. Self-feeding, personal hygiene skills — It’s those huge skills that will lead her to independence in life. Those skills will pave the way for self-care later in life. It’s ultra important for Chloe’s success.

Encouraging and growing her friendships should be a high priority. She has friends who love and enjoy her; inviting friends over and helping those relationships grow are key. Friendships will deter loneliness.

I. Can’t. Do It. All. There are 24 hours in the day.

What do you do when they’re all a #1 priority?

 

The Artist

Ever had the feeling of your heart swelling with excitement and happiness?

I felt it recently.

I have a good friend who is an elementary art teacher. She has recently started teaching art camps in her home. This semester she is doing the camps twice a month. Each time she posted about the camps, I considered signing Chloe up for them. But I quickly decided against it each time.

You see, Chloe is a victim of “Learned Helplessness” in many areas of life. Art is one of them, it seems. Learned helplessness is when a caregiver or friend steps in and completes a task for the person that the person is actually capable of doing on her own. Since someone is always stepping in to complete the task, the person gets in the habit of being passive and not completing the task; thus, learning to be helpless in a situation and just waiting for someone else to do it for them.

That has happened in school art class for sure. At the end of the school year, I end up with a stack of art that Chloe’s aide completed in art class! (Not all of the art is the aide’s, but a good bit of it certainly is.) It’s not ideal, but quite frankly art has not been our highest priority since we’ve been concentrating on success in core curriculum classes and on inclusion. But I think Chloe has learned to just sit in art and wait for someone to do it for her.

This Learned Helplessness is the reason I have decided against signing Chloe up for my friend’s art classes. I didn’t see how sending her to my friend for my friend to complete art projects for her would benefit anyone. So each time I talked myself out of asking or of trying.

But one day my friend sheepishly came to my car and asked if I was aware of her art classes. I told her I was familiar with them. And she told me that she really wanted Chloe to attend them. She said she’d been thinking about it and felt that Chloe was an artist and just hadn’t been trained hadn’t been encouraged, and she wanted to give it a try. She offered the group art class or a private art class but asked me to consider giving it a try.

Guess what? I didn’t need to consider it. Here was an artist, a teacher who wanted the opportunity to teach my child. Let me assure you that is unusual for us. Our mailbox is less than full of invitations of any kind; our inbox is not overflowing with teachers asking to teach my child; the phone isn’t ringing off the wall with requests for Chloe’s attendance at events. It’s just not our reality.

For some reason, I reigned in the urge to hug my friend. Somehow, I controlled the tears that wanted to flow. But I did give my friend a resounding, “Yes! Let’s try it!”

And so we have.

I chose the group classes for Chloe to attend, which I’m guessing isn’t a surprise to those of you who know me and know the importance of inclusion with peers.

For the first class I chose to sit out in my friend’s living room so I would be close in case Chloe decided she was All Done with art class. I want success for Chloe, but I also want success for my friend and for the other students taking the class. For the first half of the class, I was pleased that my friend said other kids’ names more than she had to say Chloe’s, which told me that other students actually needed more redirection than Chloe did. <Score!> And I could tell by conversation that Chloe was obeying and was creating art. After an hour and a half or so, most of the students were wandering and were tiring of the project (an expected outcome when working with young artists, I’m guessing). And like the other artists, Chloe tired of the project so we left while we could call the experience a success.

The second class two weeks later, Chloe was less interested in the art, but my friend, Chloe’s teacher, encouraged her with reminders of her previous success and of her ability to do it on her own. Again, Chloe left early from class. But I’m chalking it up to our having to undo years and years of Learned Helplessness in the area of art.

And guess what else? My friend does NOT want to give up! She wants Chloe to succeed. She wants Chloe to realize that she’s an artist. And she sees Chloe’s success as her own success.

It’s experiences like this that warm my soul to its core. It’s times like this that I don’t feel alone in this journey. People notice my girl and see her heart and her potential. And people want to be a part of her success.

Sigh. Yes, a warm, warm, happy soul. Here’s to Chloe’s success as an artist!

Beautiful New Body

Recently, conversations about heaven, about loss, about death have been more common than before around our house. With the loss of my dad, my kids’ Papa, have come conversations and thoughts that before were unfamiliar to us. And, frankly, didn’t matter as much to us.

When Zippy recently talked about heaven and the new bodies we will receive when we leave these tired, for-earth bodies behind, he made me smile at his confidence and self-love.

“I hope the new body God gives me will still have brown skin.”

And with that one comment, I smiled knowing that we have succeeded (for now) in making him proud of himself and of his race and of his body. Maybe gone are the days of his wishing away his dark complexion so he could look more like his family.

While I know transracial adoption will continue to throw difficult issues at us and at him, I was encouraged with his confidence. And, yes, I smiled. And I agreed that I hoped for the same thing – I hoped for him a new body with beautiful deep dark skin when that day comes.

Sweet family moments. Sweet moments with my son for whom I’m forever, forever grateful. A quick peek into his soul — his beautiful, innocent soul.

Being Known and Being Missed

IMG_5296As we entered the building, there were greetings and cheers.

“Hi, Chloe!”

“Chloe!”

“Yay! There’s Chloe!”

Everyone was happy to see her. And she ate it all up. She waved at her friends and her fans alike as we entered into the cheer gym for the first day of practice for a new season.

What a great feeling to enter a place and be greeted by name by friends who love you and have missed you.

I’m so glad that Chloe has that feeling of acceptance and friendship in several different settings. At school each morning, she’s greeted energetically by sweet friends. At church, folks are glad to see her and greet her by name. And at cheerleading each week, when she enters, the room erupts with excitement.

Chloe over the years has gained confidence and awareness and the mutual respect of greeting others (usually, anyway!). She will look their way or wave or say Hi.

Friendship. Relationships. Being known. Being appreciated. Being missed when you’re not there. Being loved. Being seen and noticed.

Yes, Chloe matters to people. And nearly as exciting: those people matter to Chloe. J

Never Give Up

My girl is persistent. Thankfully.

She tries to tell me things. I nearly always know what she’s saying. But now and then, I just miss it.

Sometimes she gives me more than one chance to get her message. Other times, if I miss it, then too bad so sad for me.

Chloe, age 12 (and a half!), is mostly nonverbal. But she is quite a communicator. She gets her point across usually — especially if you’re “listening.”

Recently Chloe tried to tell me something for about 7 days in a row. Each time, I responded in a way that was NOT satisfying to her. But she was determined for me to understand…because she would greatly benefit from my understanding.

You see, Chloe has a love affair with stuffed dogs, especially dogs that have batteries and make noise. She owns a half dozen varieties of the My Pal Scout dog. She loves them and often gets them all going at one time, making them say their  phrases together in unison. She also often googles “My Pal Scout” on YouTube and watches reviews of Scout and his female counterpart, Violet (of whom she also has several varieties).

For days, Chloe would squeeze the belly of her My Pal Scout and vocalize to get my attention. Each time I responded with, “Scout’s belly doesn’t do anything. You just push his 2 hands and his 2 feet.”

And each time she would squeeze his belly again, not satisfied with my answer.

Then she would try again later that day or the next day. Each time I answered that Scout’s belly isn’t a button.

The day that Chloe said she wanted to go shopping with 2 of her cousins and me, I knew she had something up her sleeve because she is not one to volunteer to run errands. She much prefers the privacy of her own bedroom to going out and about. She grabbed her Scout as we headed out to the car.

Once in the car, she vocalized to get my attention and proceeded to squeeze Scout’s belly. I responded with my usual, “Scout’s belly doesn’t do anything. You have to squeeze his hands or his feet.” This time I added, “Some toys have bellies that you squeeze, but Scout just has his hands and his feet.”

Chloe then made a heart sign over her own belly and looked at me expectantly. This caused me to focus in a little harder.

“Is there a Scout with a heart?” I asked.

“Yes,” she nodded.

It was then I realized that Chloe must have seen a later-version of Scout on a YouTube toy review that has a belly that you push. Or maybe a heart that lights up or something. “And you want to buy it at the store?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she nodded again, surely relieved that her mama was finally catching on.

“And THAT’s why you wanted to come shopping with us?” I smiled at her.

“Yes,” she nodded triumphantly.

I was glad I had figured out what she had been saying, but I doubted the accuracy of our communication. The parts I had understood were a belly to push and a heart, but LeapFrog wouldn’t put hearts on the belly of a dog. Maybe you push the belly and the heart lights up or something?? I wasn’t sure. But she had clearly placed the heart sign on her own belly. She was probably not paying attention to what she was doing.

A bit later, we arrived at the LeapFrog aisle of Toys ‘R Us and lo and behold right there front and center was a Scout dog with hearts on his belly. She grabbed Scout and pressed his belly. He immediately sang a happy song in response.

A very happy Chloe held Scout tight as we made our way to the front of the store to check out. She had seen this very Scout on YouTube and had very clearly shown me that he had a belly that you push and that belly had hearts on it!

And now a happy girl owned it!

In case you ever wonder, just know that persistence pays off. As does patience. As does shopping with the girls every now and then.

Welcome to the family, New Scout!

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