Monday, February 27, 2012

Be Out There

photo and page copyright Hannah Beach, I Can Dance a Better World
One of the things that I have learned over the years with Jessie, is that just being OUT there in the community—going to the library, walking to school, using the community centre, drinking coffee at the local coffee shop, sending her out for movies or bread, or just to the bank at the corner—is the best inclusion strategy there is. While the goal might sometimes look like getting books or doing the banking, I have come to see that the “real” goal (i.e., the most meaningful goal) is connection, to become insinuated into the warp and woof of this multi-textured tapestry that is community.

This has often meant letting go of certain outcomes (such as learning to do up buttons, or ensuring total safety, or getting the exact movie that we wanted, or paying a reasonable price for bread), but being open to experiencing others (such as learning how to sneak up the down part of the slide without the teacher noticing, or a complex people-based safety net that returns your daughter when she escapes the house without you knowing and heads off to the river, or her being a shoo-in for a coveted volunteer position at the library, or being asked to preach at church in front of an adoring congregation).

Over the years, Jessie has taught me that to be out there is critical: to life, to living, to loving, to contributing. And only IF our children are out there, if we take a risk to let go of some of our expectations and let the world (and God/the universe/or some other un-nameable higher power) help determine outcomes, is it possible to live a good and meaningful life. A life filled with giving and receiving, freedom and responsibility, loving and being loved.

So we committed ourselves to getting her OUT there and continue, as her world expands, to see the unexpected outcomes create new possibilities and connections that nurture her and nudge her into places we might not, on our own, lead her.

As she gets older, being out there also means that she is much less dependent on us for her sense of self. Which is a good thing! As I can be a bit of a naysaying witch master (you call THAT putting your clothes away?) at the best of times. Being out there also means that she builds circles of support and meaning that are rooted in her daily pursuits and passions.

When Jessie registered for the Introduction to Public Relations course, we had a few goals in mind. These included learning to: take notes, track assignments, participate in college-level discussions, negotiate the Centre for Students with Disabilities, take a new bus route, take tests, and begin to find her way around the college campus. Her goals included: being a college student, learning about public relations, being a college student, eating in the college caf, and, being a college student.

Instead of waiting for the perfect circumstance (an inclusive and supportive program and structure), we jumped in with what we thought might be enough to sustain the experience and trusted that the universe might just bless us with a few surprises. And it has.

Jessie has had the experience of a wonderful instructor who fully includes her in all discussions and who seems completely and naturally comfortable with Jessie as a full-fledged member of her class (what does that tell you that we did not assume that this would be so?). While the mark on her midterm is still an unknown (they get their marks tonight), it seems a smaller part of her education and definitely a smaller part of her experience. She has made new friends and contacts . . . eager to share her accomplishments with each other. This is the e-mail that came in the other day:

Good morning all! [sent to class list]
I was enjoying a lovely commute in to town this fine spring morning and what lovely voice did I hear on CBC radio? Our very own classmate, Jessie! Here is the link to the full segment: [click here to link and listen to the CBC morning show item]. Jessie, I recognized your voice and passion for dance right away. Awesome job! Talk about great public relations for such a wonderful initiative!

It’s so wonderful to have peers and people with whom to share your accomplishments!

For those interested, I've included a brief clip from the video of the dance that Jessie created below; Hannah’s full website can be found here.

I wonder . . . what unexpected consequences have you had from being OUT there?

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Midterm

Earlier this week Jessie wrote her first midterm for her first college course—An Introduction to Public Relations. At this point, the only accommodation she has is time and a half and the use of a computer. This was a bit problematic, as, aside from Centre for Students with a Disability (CSD) having only a hard copy of the test, formal tests have never been a great way for Jessie to demonstrate knowledge, even with extra time. However, we decided to jump into college with this one class—with just basic accommodations and no real modifications—to test out the waters.

Of course, a basic accommodation on this trial run includes Dan taking the class with her. As an instructor at the college (he teaches screenwriting) he is allowed to take the course at a preferred rate (compared with the $345 or so Jessie had to pay), and it allows him to rack up credits towards the various certificates he seems to be working on. However, after the first class he was pretty well banished from her sight as she got in with the cool group of young women taking the class, all of who are now her Facebook friends. Now Dan is just trying to teach her that the “I-told-you-so” face that she turns around to make at him every so often—such as when he told her not to hog answering in class and then the instructor kept calling on Jessie—is actually visible to others and doesn’t do much for her claim on maturity.

However, according to Dan, she is more than holding her own. The instructor adores her and has established her own relationship with her, she participates fully in the class and is able to give examples and responses that show her clear grasp of the material, and she is actively included in the small group discussions. In fact, her dance company, Propeller Dance, was chosen as a case study for some marketing brainstorming, which I thought was a brilliant move on the part of the instructor. So for an interim run at college, it is going pretty well.

Jessie desperately wants to be a “college student” but is adamant about not entering a segregated program. I could write reams about that, and most of you could link me to the reams written, and the research, and the myriad opportunities . . . everywhere but here. I read posts like the ones Gary is writing about Alex and try very hard not to be incredibly jealous. Unfortunately, at this point here in Ottawa, we have few choices when it comes to post-secondary education: a segregated class called Academic Assistance for Adults with a Developmental Disability (AAADD) or mainstream classes with minor accommodations. A truly inclusive post-secondary experience doesn’t (yet) exist, but we are working on it! Mostly at Jessie’s insistence, as she feels that the next natural step in her growth and independence (aside from moving out) is being a college or university student.

It is interesting, and understandable, just how much weight she places on following what she sees as being the acceptable/defined/normalized road to independence. She has a tendency to ignore, or at least at this point, discount, her work as an artist and advocate (such as performing, teaching, and giving workshops for Propeller Dance), which takes up much of her time and provides her with an income! But the drive to independence through recognizable means sometimes overrides the unique journey that is unfolding. The challenge is to support her, as what she wants always seems to involve inventing something that doesn’t yet exist.

As she left for the college on the night of her test, she was a bit anxious. Okay. More than a bit. This was going to be her first test in over two years. She hadn’t written one since leaving high school and the academic stream (she was fully included all the way through her school career), and even then, formal tests were never the best measure of her learning, knowledge, or understanding. I tried to reassure her, but what do mothers know? So I called Dan and reminded him to reassure her that just writing a college midterm was the goal. Whatever mark she gets will be okay. I’m not sure she believed him either (Dads are just slightly higher on the humanity/level of consciousness/life form scale than Moms), but by the time the test was finished (Dan said he found parts of it challenging, and Jessie didn’t actually complete the whole thing), it was apparent that she had already processed the experience and was on to the next thing.

I knew this from the phone call that I usually get from Jess as they get on the bus at the college reminding me to get ready to drive to our local bus stop to pick them up (by 10:30 pm in our cold Canadian winters I am willing to do at least this much so they don’t have to walk home late):
“Mom, we’re done.”
“How did it go?”
“I didn’t finish, but I did alright I think.”
“Just remember, and I don’t say this often, you’re perfect just the way you are no matter what your mark.”
“Not everyone is perfect Mom,” (said with an exasperated sigh).

A Jessie-ism: This post was originally written to include a bit from her first class, where, on the bus on the way home, Dan went over what they were going to do in the next class. “It will be about ethics,” he said. “You know what ‘ethics’ is?” “Sure,” said Jessie. “Ethics is about different people like those who are black or aboriginal or from another country.” While this little Jessie-ism didn’t quite make it into the post, it was too good to omit completely.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Days

 Some days are just blessed affirmations and involve the right balance of winter sun, worship, affection, a good book to delve into, right relationship, a daughter in love, and of course, chili and the Super Bowl game on TV. Not to mention a 7.8-kilometer long frozen canal with a Winterlude festival offering free bus shuttles, ice sculptures, and beaver tails

Happiness and contentment reign, at least for this moment, in our family.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lead Me—Please, Please, Pu-leez—Beside Still Waters

I love my daughter. I think she loves me. But we sometimes have a difficult time expressing that love in ways that are, how shall I say it, affirming. Especially as she strikes out on her own and I try to provide a bit of an invisible safety net and some guideposts to help her navigate her way. Only I’m not always so great at being invisible and am definitely uncertain at times as to whether the guideposts are actually helpful or just an indication of my need to control. Difficult questions. Not easily answered. But definitely lived out almost every day.

Such as today, when, after an especially difficult morning that only really started at 11:30 and which quickly devolved into total resistance to doing any house/communal chores, I walked away. Gently. (I am learning to do that). I didn’t stomp. I didn’t yell. I just calmly walked away. “But I NEED you to HELP me,” she yelled. “You HAVE to help me.”

This is probably, but not completely, true. In addition to her dance, work, speaking, and advocacy commitments, she just—this morning, somewhere between finishing breakfast and brushing her teeth—made plans to have 3 friends over to cook dinner on Saturday, Drummer Boy on Sunday, another cooking date here with another friend on Wednesday, and another next Friday. “But Mom, its SOCIAL!”


The walking away bit, or shall I say the CALMLY walking away bit, is new for me. I’m having to practice it in good times, when the emotions aren’t so strong, so I am able to use the skill when all I really want to do is yell and stomp out of the room. Such as this morning. When, I am proud to report, I was able to say “I will be happy to help you after I get an hours’ work done and if you let me know that you are ready to work with me, cooperatively. When you are ready to work with me, then we can do it together.”

I really am beginning to think that this transition phase is more about learning new parenting skills than it is about teaching our children anything. Or maybe that’s just because I completely missed the mark the first time round, when she was younger. Whatever the reason, it exhausts me. Totally. It’s a kind of soul-sucking exhaustion that leaves me teary and tense and unable to concentrate.

So the first thing I did when I CALMLY walked away and sat at my desk to work, was open my e-mail. Where I found further proof of the existence of God(ess), or El, as Madeleine L’Engle would write. It was an invitation to a daylong workshop called Sabbatical for the Soul, which promised to lead me “beside still waters.”

I threw an air punch with my fist and continued to read. It said that with a light heart and in a supportive environment, I would “drop into the ever-present Mystery of Love and Compassion.” Mystery is right! Especially in our house!

I quickly e-mailed First United Church to see if there was any room left and got the reply: Looks like your lucky day! I have just had a cancellation so there will be room for you.

So, damn the groceries and whoever needs a ride home from dance (including Jessie). On Saturday, you will find me beside still waters.