“How do you spell, ‘penis’?”
The question posed by this seemingly innocent elementary school student jarred his teacher to attention. The class had been asked to draw a picture about their lives, and the fact that this was his student’s choice aroused immediate concern and suspicion in the conscientious teacher.
“Why do you want to spell that word?” he asked, fearing the response.
“Well, you see, I drew a picture of a rainbow and I want to write, ‘happiness,’ under it. I have the, ‘hap,’ but I need the, ‘penis.'”
This was just one of the many stories shared during a four-day retreat for special needs mamas that I attended last week. It has been years since I sat up late swapping stories and laughing with friends. I seriously felt like a 13 year-old girl again, and it was beautiful and healing.
By nature, I am a fairly reserved person. I am not comfortable in large groups of strangers; I have even been known to develop a last minute, “illness,” when I feel pressured to participate in social groups. I was tempted to back out of this one too, but others had been turned away from the opportunity. I could not intentionally skip out on it. Sometimes those nagging feelings of guilt and responsibility really do save me, and this was one of those times.
I entered the room with an overwhelming sense of trepidation. “Please don’t make me hold hands and sing, ‘Kumbaya,’ with a bunch of strangers,” I silently prayed. I was one of the last to arrive and had missed several of the introductions already. The group was busy making Journey Boards – scrapbook pages of themselves and their journeys that landed them here. As I hurried to catch up, I became overwhelmed by the lives of the women surrounding me, and I immediately realized I had entered a room of sisters, not strangers. These women had faced and conquered struggles that I cannot even imagine. Loss of husbands, abusive husbands, children with multiple diagnoses, and multiple children with special needs. By the time I had my board prepared to share, I felt nothing but pure joy for the life I was blessed to have, and this was only the first hours of a life-changing event.
Over the next four days, our group participated in courses tailored to the significant challenges that come from raising special needs children. We were taught about working with our schools to develop amazing IEPs (Individualized Education Programs – not plans – see Lana I remembered something :). A local chiropractor volunteered his time to discuss chiropractic options to treating our special kiddos. We learned about resources available through Medicaid and other charitable organizations. Did you know that Idaho Falls has a group that is dedicated to finding bicycles that work for our special needs kids? Neither did I. Amazing! And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
We learned about the importance of taking care of ourselves and putting priorities in proper perspective. Later in the week, a certified ABA therapist provided training on handling many of the challenging behaviors we see every day with our children. I had more questions answered in these four days than I have in all the years of being Luke’s mommy. I came home on fire with new ambition and drive to make changes in Luke’s care that will help him develop to his full potential. More than that, though, I came home with a new network of support, new friends living with parallel challenges, new skills (and no, ladies, painting is not among those skills), and new perspective.
Thankfully, my prayers were answered. Although we did have one very close call, we were never required to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” I would say, however, that I do have more of a Kumbaya spirit now. A huge thank you to all of the many, many people and organizations that contributed time, money, and effort to make this possible. Every one of you contributed to healing this stressed-out, tattered mamma.