The lump in my throat and the tears welling up in my eyes is a recurring experience for me at any Special Olympics event. We arrived early and Ben was not even at the bowling alley, but I was fighting back tears. Luckily Logan was with me to keep me in line - he wanted to play video games while we waited for Ben's bus to arrive. A mom crying at the bowling alley before the games even began would have made for an interesting tale.
This is the first year Ben could officially compete in the Special Olympics. The school organized the practices and coordinated with the county division of Special Olympics. I am unsure how it all works, but Ben bowled today.
The national anthem was played to a crowd of over 100 students, teachers and volunteers at the local bowling alley. The athletes repeated the Special Olympics Oath: “Let me win, but if I can not win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It was not the torch or a billion dollar fireworks show, but it worked for me. I was proud of Ben for being there.
As far as Ben goes, he was more excited to have his brother, Logan, visiting. His effort and enthusiasm for the game of bowling was less than stellar. It is the chance I take when I visit Ben at school or any program - his attention is on his family and not the task at hand.
Ben received 2nd Place, he competed against the other two students in his lane. Everyone who participated left with a medal.
I think part of the reason I am misty eyed during these events is that I am warmed by all the people it takes to put this type of thing together for my child (and all those other kids too). Without the assistance of the adult and children volunteers, the event could not have taken place.
Just found this playground about 20 minutes from our house - it has adaptive equipment. This see-saw is great for working on balance and building core strength. Ben doesn't realize he's working because he's focused on playing with brothers and Grandma.
The operative word in the title is "may". Only people with a certain sense of humor will find this funny, and who are not Vanessa and Steve.
Before Christmas, we received a large box in the mail addressed to "Vanessa and Steve". My husband's name is Ryan, but a simple mistake was not going to stop us from opening up a present.
Although excited to rip open the package, we slowed down to read the card. It read, "Hope you have a wonderful holiday! And good luck on that happily ever after stuff." It was signed by Ryan's long-time friend and jokester, John.
We receive packages and letters from John every so often. One year, he wrote an entire letter in Old English. Another time he sent a brochure of a building he and Ryan had renovated 20 years ago with captions about memories they had during the project.
We had no idea what to think when we unwrapped the bubble wrap and saw, a large pottery plate painted with a bride and groom and the words, "And they lived Happily ever after" and Vanessa (heart) Steve written along the rim. Then a $1 sticker caught my eye. Then I got it.
The last 6 months have been tough for me physically. I mentioned cysts and stress fractures last fall and now I have a new ailment that may be chronic and is extremely painful...and ummm personal. So I will not get into gory details, just that my comfort level can prevent me from being 100% at times. After putting off the inevitable, I have to see the specialist.
My 2012 goals: Get back to exercising, cut back when I need the rest and get through this new ailment with grace.
Anger, hurt feelings, confusion and ignorance surround the word "retarded". Many good posts have been written about experiences with the word. There's even a day to raise awareness and educate people about why it is not an acceptable way to describe things that are dumb or stupid. People who use retarded to describe a situation, saying or person, that in their opinion is stupid, do not realize that they are unwittingly applying a negative definition to retarded.
Ben is mentally retarded. It is okay to use those words in that context. There is a move to use different words like cognitively delayed and intellectually disabled because of the negative connotation mentally retarded has been given over the past several decades.
I think most people who use the word retarded or retard do so because it is something they have always said. Sometimes a bit of education and an effort to break a bad habit is all it takes. So spread the word, stop using the word in the wrong context.
PS -This link was sent to me and I thought I would add to this post. USA Today Story
Lately when pushing Ben in his wheelchair, people I know, say hello to me and not to Ben. And if you are thinking, they might be saying hello to both of us, think again. They are using the words, "Hi Vanessa." And yes, they know Ben's name.
It is easy to depersonalize a situation when someone is in a device that is passive, like a stroller or wheelchair. I do believe that if Ben was in his walker, he'd be acknowledged.
I have not figured out a diplomatic way to handle this yet, but I will. If you have a suggestion, feel free to send it my way.
Last year when we were just observers of Sled Hockey, I wrote about how amazing these athletes were - both in skill and their ability to overcome whatever physical challenges faced them. I brought Ryan along this year and he was astounded by what he saw. He went into the experience with doubts about the sport and quality of the athletes, but after a few minutes realized that his misconceptions were based on bad assumptions. I'd say he did not believe me when I came back last year so excited!
Ben had the opportunity this year to get on one of the sleds and slide around with the Big Dogs. Ben is pictured here with one of the US Paralympic Sled Hockey team members. Ryan made sure this photo happened. Next year, he plans to stage a photo with the whole team surrounding Ben in the goal.
Ben spent a lot of time trying to get the helmet off and his fingers were cold after a few tours around the ice. If he hated it, he would have let us know - so I will assume he enjoyed being out and about. Logan and Sean looked on in envy, only kids with special needs were allowed on the ice. I struggled with them being left out, but reconciled my feelings of guilt knowing that kids get the spotlight at different times and this was Ben's turn.
If you get the chance to attend an event like this one - a practice or actual event of any US Paralympic Team - you will be happy you did so. It is an education for the entire family. There are many "take-aways" after seeing these athletes work their magic.
Just because Logan turned down the opportunity to be in our church's Christmas Eve Pageant depicting the Story of Jesus, didn't mean that Ben could not be a part of it. Ben was assigned the role of one of the three Wise Men.
The beautiful robe Ben was supposed to wear was off him in less than ten seconds. The crown was a lost cause until we decided to hang it from his walker. We politely asked the people in charge if it was going to be okay if Ben did not wear the costume. They looked at us like we were crazy - of course it did not matter. The show must go on with Ben.
With two escorts, Ben made it down the aisle, up the alter and sat calmly for the pastor's reading of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Somehow he even wore the crown for this photo (photo below - left corner, sitting with Ryan.)
I was a proud mom. Not just of my son, but of my husband who stayed in the limelight with Ben and mostly of my church for its comfortable nature and inclusive love.
Every year for Christmas, family friends Tom and Lutu Coffey give us a thoughtful and generous gift. When I collected pitchers to fill my kitchen shelves, they sent me beautiful ones designed by local artists. We still snuggle under the large fleece blanket they sent years ago. We looked forward to our special gift this year. We could not have prepared for this year's masterpiece.
We happened to be in town when Tom and Lutu were visiting their family in Charlotte. When they stopped by to drop off our gift, we let them know how we always appreciate their creative presents. We said this without knowing what was in the large bag they brought.
Ryan did the honors.
There were three framed photographs of orchids. Beautiful. Gorgeous.
All three photographs were of award winning plants.
The photographs were the official ones from the judged event.
Each framed piece had an official certificate attached to the back.
The first one was named for Ben.
The second was named for Logan.
The third was named for Sean.
Tom Coffey is the orchid grower and from what I understand, if you win an award for your flower, you get to name the plant. We were told that people could be growing little Ben, Logan and Sean Orchids from the seeds of their specific plant. Although, I do not have a great understanding of how it all works, I do know that this is an honor and very special gift.
Here's more information about orchids: Dispelling the Myths about Orchids