The sign hung in the kitchen of my parent’s bright and vibrant home for many months, before being replaced by my chic step-mom with an equally family oriented sentiment.
My niece quoted it on a beautiful day at the beach last summer.
I too love the quote and I’m equally inspired by it. Family is the beginning of every story and if we’re among the lucky ones, every story ends with family. When all is said and done, it’s what matters most.
They say, “there is no I in team” but there is both an I and am in FAMILY. Family is the place where we all belong – each of us as unique individuals and collectively all together.
No matter who we are or where we come from, we all draw on our own personal experiences.
I must have been born with a love of reading. Growing up I could always be found sitting next to the book shelf, or hiding in a quiet spot, escaping to an unknown world… I loved to read about animals, nature, far away places – I’d never been, fiction and reality, as long as it was interesting…
I’ve heard teachers say the best writers are the best readers. I think writing comes naturally to me, though I’m always working to strengthen my skills and improve my technique – like any artist with a passion. Writing is even my prefered form of communication. It keeps me from being shouted at, like a little old lady with a missing hearing aid, or accused of selective hearing. It seems like I miss half of what is spoken and fill in the blanks to the best of my ability. This can make for some unusual and unexpected responses.
I even watch tv in closed captioning for the hearing impaired. Before I owned a tv with closed captioning (in the old days when tv’s had knobs – remember that?) my tv was a dust magnet. It would get turned on so rarely that the average dusty screen would seem like the waters of the Caribbean, compared to my tv screen which more closely resembled the murky water of the bayou. Most of my family members can’t stand closed captioning and they find it very distracting. My hubby and my 7-year-old son are so used to it, if they watch a tv that doesn’t have subtitles they actually miss it. Mostly because of my constant pausing and rewinding.
I passed senior English before passing freshmen English in high school. Final averages A+ in all but 9th grade. Wit is no substitute for intellectual discipline. Genius does not equal success. My classmates would be jealous of my test grades – mostly A+ while my homework grades were fairly consistently F’s. My mind was constantly wandering, and every new thing peaked my interest. Every old, repetitive thing was a stumbling block to success.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
I remember all too well what it felt like to struggle with what was easy for others and what it was like to excel with little effort at all. I moved to a new school in 3rd grade. That year I spoke so little, the teacher began to suspect I had a speech impediment. I went to the speech room until they coaxed me to talk enough that they were able to evaluate my speech. In 4th grade I had fallen behind in math and I couldn’t read aloud at all. When I thought about the resource room that I went to for remedial work, the weight of dread was like a barbell on my shoulders and a bowling ball in the pit of my stomach.
They say 90% of communication is non-verbal. If that’s true then my non-verbal son and I are in luck. We both seem to decipher what’s being said to us by context clues, pitch, and tone. Because of this uncanny ability to read context clues, by the time I reached 6th grade, I had a college level vocabulary and I skipped ahead 2 grades in reading – which meant taking a foreign language 2 years before my classmates.
The most difficult part was the perception that I was smarter than I was letting on. I was clueless, frustrated, and depressed over it. I was one of the so-called “lucky ones” who always excelled on tests. It was more likely due to deductive reasoning than skill. All the same, I had a label, “underachiever.”
These experiences instilled a passion for learning. 90% of my education was self-taught or independent study. The best part of school was taking the pencils out of my favorite teacher’s pencil cup and throwing them up into the drop ceiling. Every day he’d come in and the 2 quietest kids (2 of his favorite students) had emptied his pencil cup and there were a dozen or so freshly sharpened pencils dangling from the ceiling.
Alternative Ed wasn’t just a school for kids with emotional and behavioral problems, it was a lifeline. I was 16 years old, I had my own apartment, a full-time job and an abusive relationship. I was the sole bread-winner. I had no car, and no welfare assistance. I walked 15 miles a day between walking to and from school and 2 jobs.
I wore out the soles of my shoes before they were even scuffed. Luckily we had a poor shoe maker who lived in his shop and would put new soles on my shoes. He’d make my $15 shoes the same quality as $50 shoes for only $8. I think I was one of his best customers. The owner had a beautiful rendition of “The End of the Trail” that my boyfriend drew from memory with colored pencils, framed in the window of his shop.
I was legally emancipated under state law. The teachers told us that we’d need a college education to secure a career. I was listening, but unfortunately my parents were too busy working to worry about a teenager who was completely capable of taking care of herself. I dreamed of a college education, but when it came time to pursue one I lacked the confidence to make my dream a reality. A state university accepted me with a letter of recommendation from a teacher and high SAT scores. I dreamed of becoming a teacher. I was unprepared and I didn’t have the support I needed. Depression set in and I gave up on myself before I had the chance to fail.
Later I went to community college, but again depression held me back. The most valuable lesson I learned in college was that I’m not cut out for “the rat race.” I have no love of competition. My first taste of competition was in 3rd grade I was winning the 100 yard dash when my classmate (the teacher’s pet) intentionally tripped me and gave me a nosebleed.
I’ve never really been part of a team. I was so uncoordinated in grammar school. When we played baseball, I couldn’t hit the ball off the tee. The gym teacher discovered I was not right-handed – I had simply been taught to write with my right hand. I remember wearing a bracelet in kindergarten to remind me which hand to hold the pencil with.
I fell in love with challenger little league a few years ago. With my skill level I fit right in with the autistic and developmentally disabled children. The children’s ability quickly exceeded my own. My son would cry if he caught a glimpse of the playground during practice. He wasn’t really interested in running on the dirt, touching the bases or getting run over in an attempt to pick up the ball before the more coordinated autistic children did. He wanted to greet his teammates by touching them on the shoulder. Some of his teammates found his mode of non-verbal communication particularly offensive and they’d get upset every time he sat next to them in the dugout.
My love for challenger little league was quickly met with disappointment. When I reached out to the parents of my son’s teammates last September, I realized we weren’t much of a team by any definition. The school had laid off all the union paraprofessionals and the school district was in clear violation of federal law. Yet only one parent was willing to network and make an effort to give a voice to voiceless children.
It’s unfortunate that all the professionals who once advocated for education, are now legally prevented from doing so in their employment contracts. I quickly learned that none of my son’s medical providers are allowed to engage in educational advocacy. This included his “special needs advocate” who is now a “care coordinator”, the “educational advocate” at the Department of Developmental Services is now an “educational liaison” and the “educational consultant” at the deaf-blind project, also legally forbidden to advocate. A lawyer to get a “free and appropriate public school education” would cost $6,000 – $8,000. (In other words my life savings.)
The first day of school there were more children in wheelchairs than there were adults to push wheelchairs. There were more non-verbal defenseless children, than there was adequate supervision. We shouldn’t have to fight for these children to have the right to go to a public school, but despite federal law, we still do.
It’s an unfortunate and harsh reality that parents of special needs children face every day. What I’ve learned from the experience is that most special needs parents are too exhausted, or too broke to fight. They fear that if they “make waves” they will face retaliation like false accusations of child abuse and neglect, or worse their children will be abused or neglected at school and unable to communicate what’s happening to them.
I’ve also learned that our family is our best advocate, and our neighbors and friends have become a part of that family. So I write, I write to fight back despair and hopelessness. I write to express my hopes and fears. I write to remind myself to be grateful. I write for that parent that’s desperately in need of support and encouragement. I write to give information, inspiration, and humor to the dark days. I write to shine a light at the end of the tunnel. I write for family and friends of children with autism and special needs. To all those who take the time to read and support our cause, I write for you, because you are my inspiration!
Liana and Stephen
I shall be telling this with a sighSomewhere ages and ages hence:Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
This post is in response to: Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections | and Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections | The Daily Post.
Family Reflections – (c) 2015 – Liana Seneca – all rights reserved
Family is Forever – (c) 2015 – Liana Seneca – all rights reserved
Live Laugh Love – (c) 2015 – Liana Seneca – all rights reserved
Bart Simpson – public domain (original photo of plastic bag promotional material) – pixshark.com
The End of the Trail – public domain – original artist unknown – photo of a print – pixshark.com
Challenger Athletics – (c) 2015 – Liana Seneca – all rights reserved
Kindness – public domain – Anonymous Art
First Day of School – (c) 2015 – Liana Seneca – all rights reserved
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood – Adam Fagen – CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0
Love Support Educate Advocate Accept by Liana Seneca is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.