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To the high schoolers about to meet my daughter

29 Aug

Hello Classes of 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021! You all have two things in common!

  1. You’ll all be in the same high school.
  2. You will be going to school with my daughter Maura.

Yeah, consider yourself #blessed right now.

So you’re going to be in school with my daughter. Congratulations! Here’s what you’ll need to know…

Maura is going to be one of those newbie freshman scurrying about the halls. Except Maura doesn’t scurry, she booyahs her way into every room.

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Yes, you’ll notice her. You’ll notice this girl with fabulous hair and a sense of confidence that you’ll probably envy.

It’s okay, you can learn from her.

You can learn that it’s okay to be yourself, to be confident in who you are, to wear those clothes that make you feel fabulous, and to laugh loudly because it feels good to laugh.

You will watch her with some envy because of the way she enjoys life – but you know, you can too. My daughter doesn’t give a crap about what other people think. You can learn that from her as well.

You may be hesitant to do something weird or silly, because, you know, High Schooler. But then you see my daughter being silly because silly is fun, and fun is awesome and maybe you’ll stop being so self-conscious and do that goofy thing that makes you laugh.

You will definitely see her dance. Because dancing is fun. They say you should dance like no one is watching. No, be like Maura – dance because you want to and who cares if anyone is watching? Maybe they’ll join in. And in doing so, they’ll be another joining in, and then you’re six degrees from a flash mob and flash mobs are awesome.

And now, you’re watching my daughter with a bit of awe. That’s okay, I do the same. I’m in awe of her spirit, her ability to live life to the fullest. To love freely, unabashedly. To enjoy being yourself. It’s something to aspire to.

And while you’re watching Maura, you may notice her sister as well. Because she’ll be the second person in that potential flash mob. You’ll see her sister treat her…well…like a sister. She’ll treat her normally.

Because that’s all you have to do with Maura. Treat her like you would any classmate.

Oh, did I mention that Maura has cognitive disabilities? Yeah, there are those as well, but they’re not what make her stand out. Heck, her moaning and groaning over doing school work could make her blend in with the rest of you lot.

But here’s the thing – yes, she’s fabulous and confident and all – but she is also okay with you being fabulous and confident and all too.

So good luck, incoming freshman and all the upperclassmen who have to deal with them. May this year be full of awesome.

And to the high school teachers and admins – I’m still rooting that you get a margarita machine in the staff room. Because dang.

 

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My 14 year old graduates from 8th grade today – doesn’t that sound so normal?

26 Jun

It does, doesn’t it?

It’s so ordinary. Everyone who’s had a 14 year old goes through this. Maybe at 13, if they had a late birthday. But we all go through this.

Today, I will sit in a gym, on a bleacher or in a folding chair, and watch 8th graders in their newest dresses and nice shirts and Converse shoes file by and get a diploma. My daughter will be one of them. We will be one in a crowd, a snapshot in time where we shall blend a little. There will be others there, who don’t know my daughter, who won’t know how many disabilities she has or how hard she’s worked to get to the level she’s at.

I don’t know how she’s going to manage this – will she collect her diploma and shake hands and be good with that? Or will she bounce up onto the stage, give people hugs, shout “Woohoo!” to the crowd? It’s an either/or really.

Friday, they had a special ceremony for all the kids in her program who are graduating. A private gathering for students, teachers, peer tutors, and parents. A ceremony of their own, because not every child will be able to get through today’s ceremony (though all are given the option.) They had a party afterwards as well. The teachers went all-out on every aspect of it, and honestly, it was way more than I expected going into it.

The one thing that struck me though, looking at the peer tutors – other 7th and 8th graders – and my daughter, was how different my daughter was. Among her classmates in her program, she blended a bit. But around the other students, the “traditional” students, she just looked…younger. Even though she is as tall as most. Even though her clothes are from similar stores they shop at. Even though she’s the same age or even older than some. She just looked younger.

I don’t expect my girl to blend – because she’s my girl, and we don’t blend. But it was unexpected, to see her next to a typical 14 year old, and to see the differences.

But today – today she’ll be part of the crowd. Will she blend? That’s up to her. But there will be this moment in time where she will just be another 8th grader. And I will appreciate that moment, even while appreciating all the extraordinary that went into getting to this moment.

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A backpack of one’s own

9 Jun

“That’s mine!” I stated with some resignation mixed with frustration. Because once again, Maura nabbed something I bought for myself and claimed it as hers.

This is an ongoing problem. Maura doesn’t differentiate between the stuff that is hers, and the stuff she wants to be hers – to her, it should all be hers. I buy myself new shoes? She’s trying them on. I get a maxi skirt at Target? She’s wearing it before I’m done unloading the car. I spend three months searching for a good backpack for myself to haul my writing gear in because she took the last backpack I bought? She’s got it stuffed with tutus and on her back without me even realizing she’s taken it from the place I thought I had hidden away.

It’s not just my stuff. She gleans from everyone. Collin was missing his wallet. We started searching. I found Miriam’s wallet in one of Maura’s backpacks before finding Collin’s in another of Maura’s backpacks. Sean was missing keys on a lanyard. Maura had them. Josh didn’t even know when Maura nabbed $120 in cash from his bag. No, that one, I got an email from Maura’s teacher with “So Maura brought in a Dooney & Burke purse with $120 in it. I’ve locked it in a cabinet until you can come retrieve it.”

The purse came from the thrift shop. I’ve yet to use it because every time I turn around, it’s in Maura’s room.

It’s frustrating, and something that we’re still trying to teach her, to make her understand. Our stuff is our stuff, even if she wants it. Other people’s stuff is other people’s stuff, even if she wants it. Just because she wants it doesn’t mean she can claim it as her own.

But she doesn’t get this. Which is why, as Maura and I were leaving my friend’s house, I searched her backpack. And found two things that didn’t belong to Maura. Once home, I found two more things that belonged to my friend in Maura’s backpack. It was disappointing – because Maura choose to steal books when I know my friend has a fantastic jewelry collection. Luckily, this friend also has a fantastic sense of humor and applauded Maura in her choice of books (an art history book and “The Agony and the Ecstasy”).

It’s not easy though when you live with this every day. Every day, she’s swiping a sibling’s possession, sometimes one they need, like their wallet or their cell phone. Maura has two of her own wallets, but she wants her siblings. She wants to take Miriam’s sketchbook, even though I have given Maura her own notebooks. She wants my legal pad full of notes, even though she has her own legal pad. We can provide her with things, but she wants more, she wants the new stuff that comes in. She has little self-control over it at times.

Which is why, despite owning several backpacks of her own, Maura last night swiped my new backpack again. Even after I explained that it was mine, and she understood that explanation enough to be unhappy about it. I didn’t see her swipe my backpack, Josh found it tucked away in her room this morning. He quickly hid it while she was in the bathroom and made her choose one of her own backpacks.

I don’t know if this is a phase or not, but even if it is a phase, I am braced for the fact that it is a long-term phase. Maura goes through phases slowly, so this compulsion to take other people’s stuff? Could last years. Some days, I’m okay with that. Other days, it’s just really tiring.

But for now, I’m just going to stake this one claim on this one backpack I bought for myself.

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