Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Contest: a Long Short Story Made Longer

Remember this?

Unlikely you do by looking at it as I just took the photo today. But the uncovering of this curse and prize last February was detailed in a long short story here:

Wind and Dry Ground

The phone rang on my way out to take Addie to school this morning. And so the story is still being told. Will you write the end?

"Hello, this is officer something-or-other. I'm not sure if you remember me, but you brought in a 50 dollar bill that you found. No one has claimed it, so now it is yours."

No I don't remember you, I thought, but I remember bringing in that bill 8 months ago. I remember being disappointed as I waited weeks for your call to tell me the owner had claimed it, that it was back where it belonged. When I accepted that no such call would come, I imagined (unjustly, in hindsight) the impromptu pizza lunch the officers and staff must have enjoyed. And then I just forgot about it. Now it is mine? No. It never was.

Because of the integrity and follow through of Officer I-did-not-properly-note-his-name, the softened, faded cash is in my foster care for now, though. I don't know if there was really an older woman rendered powerless by the wind, a boy who in his cautiousness about spending had to confess to carelessness having lost it, a mother too preoccupied with the diagnosis of her child to grasp that a half hour's worth of speech therapy for her daughter just wriggled from her wallet. But things like that happen every day. And this 50$ can replace a divot somewhere.


Here is the contest - whomever comments with the most impactful way to put this tattered bill to work for someone who needs it, wins!

I need both your idea and your quantitative and qualitative reasoning on why it would be the most fruitful soil to plant 50 bucks in. That is to say - I want to hear from both your left brain and your heart (and if you know me, you know I have no qualms about shushing factual rationale if it doesn't defer respectfully to the heart).

*Must be judged by my daughters and myself as a somewhat original idea (donating it to well known charities would certainly be impactful, but let's go off the beaten path here)
*Must not require a ton of time on my part (full plate, cup and bowl right now, my apologies)
*Must be submitted here in the comments section by November 15th, 2009
*No limit to the number of submissions per person

The winner will receive a prize yet to be determined, the satisfaction that the money will be applied as he or she prescribes, and the deserved claim to end the story in the first person. He or she will also be featured in an interview here on Farmer John.

(Yes, I considered adding it to the over 16,000$ that Michael raised for Special Friends Foundation over 2 marathons, but I know that you all can think of other precious directions in which to divert this modest measure.)

Ask your kids what they think, your co-workers, your grandmother, your tailor...have them submit their ideas on their own or swipe the ideas without telling them about the contest - your choice.

Let's see how this story ends and maybe another one begins with the receipt of a dirty old 50$ bill.

Game on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Pinprick slanted rain spears serve as a smoky filter, not exactly obscuring view, but at least smudging the edges of forms. After picking Addie up from school, we are close to home at an odd intersection at the end of a triangular shaped block. Pedestrians and drivers alike have an extra direction to monitor before proceeding here.

I pull up to my stop sign and make out through the rain a striped hat on the head of a young girl. Her backpack and lack of umbrella lead me to assume she is a high school student heading home, too cool for protective rain gear. The rain spears let up a little. Her striped hat is a woolly home-knit look, extra bunches of material piled and folded on top, her ears fold downward under the band. She holds her curly-haired head perched on a bowed neck, the way tall people sometimes do so as to not appear as tall. I can see her lips moving. She might be talking, but no one is with her. Maybe it's because of the rain, but her clothes don't seem to fit quite right. They hang as if she left before completely finishing all fasteners.

On her round, pale face, her eyebrows strain to meet each other, seemingly knit with concern. I had never seen her before, so maybe this is a natural expression. The girl pivots her head from side to side while her lips move. I think she is checking to safely cross, but the consistency and repetition of the pivot inspire some doubt as to a functional purpose for the movement.

I wait for her to make eye contact so I can assure her that I would not blow the stop sign, that she is safe to cross. She stops. Seemingly without even noticing my car nearby, she turns in a slow circle. Did she drop something? When the circle is complete, she takes a step into the street, only then realizing my idling and still car in front of her. I smile and wave her through, carefully cheerful to make it quite clear that no impatience is felt or intended.

She stops again, right in front of the car. Just past the hood of my car, her back straightens, neck extends, her eyebrows release themselves. Her hand begins to reach up, but she swiftly brings it back to her side and completes her street crossing in front of me. I watch her until she arrives at the other curb.

As I begin to turn my attention to my own safe crossing, the girl turns back a number of times, shifting her head and craning to get a good look in the car. At me. She wants to see me.

Addie kicks the back of my seat as another painful truth shoots gangly tough roots through my understanding.

This girl in the striped hat - a young woman that should be on the cusp believing that the future belongs to her, that the possibilities are endless, without a gray hair on her head, without a line on her face, without a failure under her belt - she is already accustomed to moving through the world unseen. I surprised her by acknowledging that she requires the courtesy of a safe crossing. She did not know what to make of it.

There are humans among us bearing, adapting to, and accepting a state of invisibility. I am deeply ashamed of all the hundreds of times I have could have witnessed, acknowledged, heeded, times I could have extended my human-ness to meet another's...but because I could not readily accommodate the differences, I chose instead, not to see.

I am sorry. I will choose it.

I want to see.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Prudent

I scurry in to the library for overdue fine prevention. After dropping the hot stack into the receptacle, I flip through the DVDs and VHS tapes quickly - if I return things, I'm expected to bring something else back home again. Since Addie is very independent with the VHS tapes and scooching to her favorite parts, I search through those. I find Once Upon a Potty for Her. What the hell. I've been showing potty propaganda for quite some time to no avail, but you never know when Prudence and her pot might find purchase in Addie's proclivities.

Already thinking of my next errand and feeling virtuous about needing to pull no cash out this time up to the check out desk, I throw my hasty choices down. I relish the sounds of library checkout movements, the flick and stamp, slide, flick, stamp, slide. The check out person gets to the bottom one - the red box with Prudence on it - and decides it's time for friendly comments.

"Oh, it's time to sit on the potty!"

The librarians know us. Addie makes serious tracks and noise in there and we are frequent visitors. It was a haven of long practice aisles back when she learned to walk for the first time...and then the second time after surgery on both feet. When Addie first got her communication device, the library page was a favorite - "I love the smell of the pages in library books." The shelvers and check out people know Cate and how she endeavors to borrow all titles in a series at once, regardless of the impossibility of her finishing more than one in the 3 week period.

So this librarian who has watched my family grow through the progression of titles we pick, comments that it's time to sit on the potty. She exclaims it with squinty smiling eyes and a congratulatory tone.

I smile back. The closed-lip kind of smile with a slow blink in the middle of it. "We'll see."

Before a shrewd pause in which she could consider who she is addressing can take place, she continues with her cheers, "The baby's going to sit on the potty!"

Baby? Who has a baby? She hasn't seen me with a baby for 5 years.

I pull the diaper out of my tote and set it on the counter to make room for the dated and stamped items freshly borrowed. It is clearly the largest size diaper. I slowly stuff it back in on top of my potty movie.

Still she twinkles and beams and calls after me as I turn. "Good luck with the baby!"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gone Fishing

...over at Hopeful Parents. Take a break and head over yourself to read:

To Please Me

Then come back and share your own fish stories.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Jarring Mail

I opened a seemingly innocuous piece of mail today and was smacked in the face by it. No, it was not an evaluation or assessment implying my clever 6 year old is really only a toddler developmentally. Nope, wasn't results from medical tests that portend painful procedures in her future. Wasn't even a copy of an IEP written by someone with an entirely different interpretation of every decision made during the meeting. None of that.

It was an offer. A gift. A helping hand. A helping hand that nudged me away from all points of reference I currently hold with regards to my daughter's place in the world.

It was a note from a respite agency we are not currently active with as we have no respite services at this time. But we are still "on the list" and so we get mail and newsletters.

Filled with graphics, fancy and fun fonts, and lots of exclamation points, this mail had 2 parts. Page one was to inform families to call the agency and let them know which kinds of books our child with special needs prefers. At some point after that, we're to come to the agency office to pick up books donated by Barnes and Noble.

The second page asked us to fill out a form that would be posted at local corporations leading up to the holidays. The employees of these corporations would select a form (based on arbitrary things like name, maybe - age, gift ideas) and shop for one item listed on it. We did this where I worked - we called it the Giving Tree. My assumption was that we were giving to those that could not otherwise obtain these gifts. I thought we were fulfilling a need.

But I am confused. My children receive books and toys for the holidays already. We are blessed to not count this among our worries, however modest our giving may be. We have shelves of books, library books from school and from our community library. We have toys and a swing set for our girls. We have enough to eat and can pay our mortgage. To paraphrase, we have enough so that we do not want, and we are able to give others.

As I'm reading through this act of generosity, of charity, I am not grateful. I don't feel prideful either, though it may sound like it. I am dumbfounded that my child is seen as unfortunate and in need. There are children that are, but my child's disability does not automatically put her in such a category.

When I am in the world, I don't see the pity anymore unless it is laser focused on us and articulated as such. I take Addie to school and the dynamic that would make her less fortunate than the other kids, in need of toys, books, food, attention - whatever, is just not visible to me. When we are in public, I don't see cocked heads wishing us mercy, I don't feel a hand patting mine, offering sympathy. I know I am somewhat selective about what I choose to internalize, but those things must be more present than I realize.

If Addie showed up at one of these corporations that will hang the gift tags for employees to grab and shop for a child with a disability, if she bobbed her blond head through the cubicles, if she waddled through, making her happy noises, operating her communication device to find out where the candy jar is (all workplaces have candy, kids know this), if she fixed her eyes on a department director and flung her healthy, squinting smile with a side dish of chuckle, would these people feel good about where their gifts of toys went? Would they feel like they made an impact in an otherwise toy-free, dreary life? Would they feel their part in the lives of those with disabilities had been played, that they can tally that up and cross it off the to-do's?

Probably not. I hope. Again, I don't think my bemusement comes from pride or lack of gratitude. The gesture is a beautiful one and certainly needed in these times all over. But I am confused that my child is automatically a charity target simply because she has a more complicated medical history than many kids, because she thinks, moves, talks differently than many. It feels somehow redundant to me, superfluous, to give my child, who is capable of making her own contributions to those in need, gifts of material things.

This mail reminded me of the reality that often our kids are seen only as receivers, not as givers. Whether this involves pity or a desire to "help" or not is an individual thing. I have had other parents at my older daughter's school comment on how the needs of the kids in special ed negatively impact what their own typical child gets at school, sarcastic comments about these kinds of kids being the "stars of the whole school." If my child is seen as a receiver or someone held up as more deserving than other kids, the gifts she really has to offer herself cannot be recognized, cannot be witnessed, cannot do the work of healing and bettering she intends for her talents to do, as everyone intends their contributions to society to do.

The form from the respite agency asks for a couple options of gifts under 25$, from which the corporate worker will choose 1, to be distributed unwrapped to the parent (so that the parent may use them as the gifts from themselves, if desired) in December.

I know that there is mad desire to give out there, to share - to give effectively, to make something better for someone. It's where this idea of giving toys to Addie and others with disabilities came from, from kindness and compassion, from wanting to lead a life of purpose. And I deeply appreciate it. But I offer an alternative gift tag wish list to ensure the gifts have definite impact on Addie.

Respite Agency, can you post it at ALL corporations, community buildings, schools, retail establishments, parks, entertainment venues..., please? All options listed are free and low to moderate effort. They will not be used as my gifts to Addie, but must come directly from the giver. By giving any of these to Addie, they are automatically given to others and come back to the giver in kind. She does not need these gifts by December, but throughout her entire life, any place, any time. All places. All times.
Name: Addie

Age: 6

Gift idea 1: See me. Don't see me only in terms of my disability. Witness me for who I am and decide whether or not my differences are a tragedy based on how I carry them, how I use them, how important or unimportant they seem to be to me in what I expect from the world and what I have to offer.

Gift idea 2: Hear me. I communicate constantly. I understand that you need to get used to how I do so. I will be patient with you. Try to hear the music I move to. You might find it more similar to your own than different.

Gift idea 3: Let me help you. I can. I am capable of filling a need you may have, whether it's a social one, a practical one, a paid one. I am 6 now, but I intend to do work that I can feel good about when I'm a grown up, to live as independently as possible. If you see me now, if you hear me now, witness my talents, you might just want to hire me, be my roommate, hang out with me...later.

Thanks in advance for your gifts. I can really use these.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Final 2 Miles in the Dark and Rain

Michael shoved off on his last 2 miles of training for the Lakefront Marathon last night. Cate rode along on her bike. Would have been nice to wrap up training with Addie in the jogger, but she's not as game for the dark rain run as Cate is. Ok, it was mom who made the call on that.

Now that training is done, for Michael I imagine it's a matter of carbo-loading, weather watching, logistics arranging, handing hammer gel packs to his fans to toss to him at water stops, getting psyched from now until Sunday. And a matter of thanking.

Thanks to all who have supported Michael in so many ways as he's endeavored his 3rd marathon, his second fundraiser for the Special Friends Foundation.

There's still time - the site will be up for a bit. Please send the link to anyone you know with an interest. If you're a local, drop me a line to see where you can station yourself as a cheerleader for Michael on Sunday morning. Or even just drop a comment here to wish him luck. I know he appreciates any and all of the above ways to get involved.

Catch you on the other side of the finish line!

Just before a father/daughter training run last month: