Saturday, July 9, 2016

An End and A Beginning

I dusted off the keys tonight to write an overdue blog post that has been on my mind since the ending of school but I was never quite able to sit down and write it out. The ending of this school year was incredibly emotional for me for many reasons because it came off of a year that really went incredibly well.

On the last day of school, I sobbed as Colin's bus pulled away for the last time this year much in the same way as I did on the first day albeit for much different reasons. The beginning of the year brought with it so much fear because of how the previous year had ended but with the end of this year I felt so much joy because of how grateful I was that Colin had such a dedicated general education teacher, special education teacher and paraprofessional who worked so hard, evidenced by Colin's great progress this year.

I was also emotional as Kailey's time at a daycare we have truly loved also came to an end now that she is headed to Kindergarten next year (although we are grateful Cody will still be there!). Her year ended with a graduation show that was wonderful and on her last day, I also sobbed as I was thankful for all that her teachers have done to allow her to grow in so many ways. Between Kailey and Colin this year, I have felt that all of those that played a part in affecting their lives this year did all they could and made a huge impact. It was sad to see it all end for that very reason.

Our transition to summer, despite being incredibly excited for it to start, was very challenging as we all had difficulty adjusting to a far less scheduled and routine day to day existence. We are starting to get into a groove right now but it has taken some time. I still see the impact on Colin as he asks an incredible amount of times each day "where are we going?". I think this change so far has been the hardest on him.

There have been so many incredible things that have happened so far this summer that I can't wait to talk about in future blog posts but one thing that sort of "knocked us down" a bit was our court appearance this past week on behalf of Colin and his placement for 1st grade at a settlement conference. Despite a year in which Colin has made incredible progress, we are still facing a district who believes children like Colin should be educated in a much more restrictive setting than the one he has been in for the past 2 years. After hearing comments from both attorneys, the judge decided that a settlement would not be reached and that we would need to have a trial in order for another judge to make a decision. As I reflected back on a year in photos and videos in preparation for what lies ahead, I couldn't help but  be grateful for all of the ways in which Colin has grown this year much because of where he has spent his time being educated. Much as we do all year, we are continuing day by day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 Special Olympics New Jersey Summer Games

"For if you seek joy, come see the athletes of Special Olympics! If you seek peace and understanding, come see the athletes of Special Olympics! If you seek courage or strength or skill, come see the athletes of Special Olympics!"
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver

This weekend was our 5th year participating in the Special Olympics New Jersey Summer Games held at The College of New Jersey each year. This year was bittersweet for us as it was Colin's last year participating as a member of the Young Athlete Program. This has been such a big part of our life since before he was walking (he was 2 when he started!) and it's sad to see this chapter of Colin's involvement in the Special Olympics come to an end. We have seen this program really evolve and grow since we first started and we have been so proud of Colin for being such an active participant.

The program wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for some really special people that make it what it is and have given it the nurturing it needed to continue to grow into this really amazing place for children to work on sport specific skills AND a very important piece in socialization. It has been a place for parents to come together and share stories as well as the joys that you can only experience as a part of Special Olympics.

Andrea, this program is what it is because of YOU and we are so thankful for all of your hard work to make it such an awesome and successful program for all of our "young athletes". Coach Greg, Megan and have been such a part of Colin's life at Special Olympics and we are SO THANKFUL for all you have done!

The day was an all around great experience. At check-in, each young athlete was given baseball cards designed just for them with their stats and picture on them that they were encouraged to trade them with other athletes (that was a fun experience in itself!). There were many stations set up and the kids could wander to any activity they wanted. There were many volunteers on the field to assist and help with the athletes (who were awesome) and they also had a home run derby set up on the infield.

Afterwards, the kids got lined up for the "Future Stars" race (Colin's favorite part of the day) and ran their hardest.

We are so proud of Colin for doing his very best and for Kailey (and Cody too) for being such a supportive brother and sister. Kailey loves being Colin's cheerleader (she cheered with posters that were made for Colin by his classmates at school) and we caught a few moments where she went up to Colin, hugged him and told him how proud she was of him for doing a good job.

Later in the day, Colin participated in a baseball "bonanza" and he loved every minute of it!

There really is nothing like the Summer Games and we are so proud and thankful to get to be a part of it....

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dance Recital (and another example of Inclusion!)

Last year was Kailey's first year of dance and she really loved it. With Chris' work schedule the way it was last year, I hardly had to bring Colin or Cody with me or Chris would just take her. When asked, she wanted to do it again this year so I signed her up. However, the schedule for the class had changed to an earlier time so I rarely had help on dance days and had to bring everyone to class each week.

Colin was so interested to watch class and it was really hard keeping him out of the room because he wanted to participate as well. After about 2 months of this, one day Kailey's teacher Mr. Richard (one of the owners of the business that he's had for many years) asked Colin if he wanted to join the class for the day. I was a little hesitant at first, but he loved it and Mr. Richard and his wife Denise told me afterwards how well he did. He asked and invited him to join the  next week and after another great class we decided to sign him up as well. It took me some time to let go of the guilty feeling for taking away something that was just Kailey's but we did take some time to ask her and she didn't seem to think anything of it.

Dancing and singing has always been something that both kids have really enjoyed, so it has only seemed natural to have them in dance class together. This has been another great example of inclusion in our community as Mr. Richard and Miss Denise have welcomed Colin into their class with open arms and have treated him just like they treat all of the other kids in the class. We are so thankful that Colin was given this opportunity to participate in an activity he really likes and even more thankful for his classmates, sister and teachers who treat him no differently than other student in class.

I am so proud of both Colin and Kailey for working hard and for putting on a great show!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Colin's Very Special and Inspiring Friend

When Colin started Karate a year and a half ago, he met a young man named Robbie who was also in class with his brother Anthony. We noticed that Robbie started looking out for Colin and always made a point to seek him out to say hi, or to tell him he did a good job, or even to redirect him in class to make sure he was doing the right thing.

Colin was really excited to get invited to Robbie's birthday party and then over the summer the karate school hosted a BBQ where Colin got to spend time Robbie. It was nice for Chris and I because the two of them played together almost the entire time we were there. Robbie really looked out for Colin and on the flipside, Colin really enjoyed spending time with him.

After awhile, Robbie and his brother tested into the next belts and ended up in a different class for quite a few months. Colin and Robbie would occasionally cross paths when their classes butted up against each other. We would see them at different events and Robbie always made sure he went right up to Colin to say hi and give him a hug or a high five.

Robbie has just been one of those kids that warms our heart and gives us hope for Colin. After sharing our story through conversation with his mom and through this blog about what we feel is an appropriate education for Colin, his mom asked him to say a prayer for Colin that he could stay in what we think is the best fit for him. Robbie asked her some questions about why they wanted to move Colin and then disappeared for a bit. When Robbie's mom sent me a message with the story, and then subsequently the following letter he wrote, I started crying one of those ugly took me by surprise in one of the most inspiring ways.

In a fight that often feels very lonely, to receive a letter written like this from a young child, means more than I could possibly put into words. Robbie is truly a special person and we are so lucky he has become a friend of Colin's. If you notice how he signs his letter, Robbie has an understanding of the benefit and value that people with disabilities have in this world. I have said this many times before, but I truly wish adults could follow the lead that many children demonstrate when it comes to friendships and belonging.

We all want what's best for our kids and it's amazing how a hand written letter from a 4th grader puts that into perspective. At a time when we needed this the most, the letter reminded us of why this fight is so worth it, and it came from a child who knows what's best for Colin too. We are so thankful for Robbie and his family....

Monday, May 30, 2016

Unofficial Start to Summer

This weekend was our unofficial start to summer where we broke out the pool and spent some time at the beach. It was so nice to spend so much time together and I'm sad to temporarily see it end but excited at what's right around the corner.