A Beautiful Awakening

This time last year, my world was in complete chaos. I can honestly say it was the worst experience I have yet had to live through. I felt like a woman spinning a million plates and trying desperately not to let everything come crashing down. The job that I had worked at for almost ten years decided to “restructure” and in turn renamed positions at lower pay. Both my husband and I were out of our jobs in January 2013. While most people were busy trying to keep up with their New Year’s resolutions, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I have never felt so lost, so low in all my life. Unexpected job loss can really throw your life into a whirlwind. I imagined a tornado of financial stress, family-marriage stress, raising a child with special needs stress all barreling towards me as a stood in a field of unknown. In my darkest hours all I could really focus on was my son. He was 10 at the time. He had no clue what was really going in our family and how everything would completely change in the coming months. But I was able to keep his day-to-day routine in perfect working order, like I always did. It was the only thing I seemed to be able to keep in order. But I was crumbling on the inside and was losing all hope for things getting better. Honestly, I have never been an optimistic person not even when I was single and had no kids. More of a realist, I was always able to function in my day-to-day activities easy because of this. I had a firm grip on reality and was able to meet many challenges in my young adult life because of how I saw the world. Until I had my son. My son and his diagnosis of autism was the inevitable tsunami wave that would eventually destroy all that I had created. And this wasn’t just one tsunami, it would be several of them through the first ten years of his life: the initial diagnosis, raising a non-verbal child, schools, and IEP’s. They all just kept coming. Breaking me and making me older everyday.

Imagine if you will a woman sitting in her car, in a grocery store parking lot, at 10:00 p.m., completely exhausted, confused and lost. This woman was me. I had been sitting in my car, in the parking lot for what seemed like an eternity. A quick run to the grocery store had turned into a mental – emotional breakdown of sorts for me. I eventually decided to head home, motivated by the fact that probably by now, my husband was calling the police because I was gone so long. So I turned my car on, stuck what I thought was a Florence and the Machine cd in the car stereo and then it happened. “My Beautiful Awakening” brought to me via my son’s Wow Wow Wubbzy CD. Knowing my son, he more than likely slipped his CD into my radio player when I wasn’t looking and crank it to the highest volume. “Be Happy” came blaring from every speaker in my car at a volume of 38. Immediately startled, I turned the volume down to a more acceptable decibel. I never really listen to my son’s music, but found myself listening that day. It wasn’t the songs title that got me, but I had a vision of my son “getting happy” and doing his cooky butt wiggle dance to the song in the back seat of the car. Which in turn got me thinking my first clear thought in months: Be happy. That’s something I have never tried to do. Really. I don’t think I had ever thought of being happy, for real. I am constantly doing for others first and not focusing on me. It is nice to be thoughtful and think of others before self, but it can also be a double-edged sword that leaves you empty and drained.

As I sat in the car, I realized how unhappy I was. Then I asked myself, why was I so unhappy? I was unhappy with the loss of my job. I was unhappy in my home, unhappy with daily life, and most of all I was unhappy in the state I was living in. This got me thinking about the things that made me happy, which wasn’t much. All that really made me happy was my son. I pretty much woke up for him everyday. I told myself that I was done with everything, things had to change. We were homeowners in Lexington Kentucky at the time, but I just didn’t want to live there anymore. It offered nothing for my son. Schools were and still are subpar in Lexington. The district special education department itself is riddled with scandal and individuals misappropriating money. Our family experience with the district was always negative. We had constant battles with the district, but the main one was trying to get our son into a school that better fit him and the way he learns. A school that would give him a better opportunity to succeed. It took us four very long years to finally accomplish that goal. If only we had got the district to do this earlier, perhaps he would not be so far behind his peers now. But it almost seemed like it was too late. He entered the 4th grade with the inability to read, write, or do simple math. The district failed him. Failed him big time.

Then I made the decision, the decision that has brought me to this wonderful place where I am today. I decided I wanted to move. I wanted to move somewhere that would give Marley a better opportunity in education and grow his future ability to be independent. I also wanted to move to a place where I could be happy, that would promote a positive change in my life. I thought about a time when I was younger and I attempted to move to Washington. I got about as far as Portland, OR before I spooked myself and ended up back at my mom’s house literally crawling through my bedroom window. At first, the thought of living on my own seemed like an easy, do-able thing. Until reality set in. Since then I have longed for Seattle, WA. I longed for Washington because I always personally thought of this place as the ultimate destination for peace and happiness. So to be happy, I finally realized I was going to have to completely uproot my whole family. “Honey, guess what?”……..were moving to Seattle!!

So I convinced my husband that we should pack up our things, sell our house, downsize and move. I explained to him—rather convincingly—how I have always wanted to live there and how I felt it would be the right place for Marley. The educational opportunities, the social opportunities, the opportunities for an independent future combined with the nature and overall environment of the Pacific Northwest. I knew deep down it was the step in the right direction. So before my husband could change his mind, we sold our house, sold most of what we had collected in possessions over ten years, and prepared for the biggest move of our lives. Eric flew out in April, secured employment and housing. Marley and I spent a few months with my mom and headed out to WA in June 2013. Honestly, I completely dreaded the idea of a cross-country road trip with my son. In actuality, it was best road trip of my life. As long as our days ended at a hotel with a pool, Marley was completely satisfied. I only wish my husband could have experienced the road trip with us. It would have been a nice family experience, one to cherish forever.

So Marley and I arrived in June and the next few months were super hectic. Mostly I was trying to adjust to not working, living in an apartment, missing my mom, and getting use to living with less. This got increasingly difficult once Marley started school. I then found myself with a lot of time on my hands, something I had never had in abundance. What was I going to do? I did not know what I was going to do at the time, but I knew that something would inspire me. It took only a day before inspiration knocked on my door. On the second day of my son’s new school adventure, I decided to go to my first ever PTA meeting. We were in the middle of introductions when I said my name and who my child was, when a couple of the parents in the room said, “We love your son”. I was totally confused, these parents just met me—How do they know my child? Then one of the parents said that their child is in the same class as my son, and that the teacher took it upon herself to read a children’s book about autism to the students. I was blown away and speechless. After about an hour of chitchat, the President of the PTA came up and asked me if I would like to be the school’s Special Needs Parent Liaison. I jumped immediately at the opportunity. She told me if I wanted to I could post to the Special Needs blog for the school and share anything I wanted to with the other parents at the school. So I decided to do a small “About Me” post and then just posted events and activities in the community on the blog. One of my first posting was about an upcoming Lake Washington Special Needs PTSA meeting. This posting would eventually lead me to my next volunteer opportunity. In October I decided to attend the district’s Special Needs PTSA. The focus of this meeting was to gather parent input on where they saw the need for improvement and also to help influence district-wide initiatives. During the meeting someone had mentioned that the PTSA had a parent advisory council, which sounded like another fantastic opportunity for me to get involved. So after the meeting, I introduced myself and asked the PTSA chair if I could join the Parent Advisory Council. Initially I was turned down because they already had enough representation of parents with children with autism. I was crushed. I had all this free time, I would be totally committed, I wanted to be an integral part of influencing the school district when it came to students with disabilities, and I was devastated I could not join.

The next day, however, I received an email letting me know that one parent dropped out of the group. They asked if I would I like to come join the group. Yipeee!!! I was so happy, I was on cloud nine all day. One of our first agenda items was to help strengthen the school district/parent-student relationship. As a group, we decided that there should be some sort of flyer/brochure given out to the parents on the first day of school to better familiarize them with the school district. We were all asked to come up with ideas and submit them at the January meeting. So I worked really hard over Christmas break to come up with my thoughts, ideas, and interpretations of what the brochure could look like. I was so nervous because I thought perhaps I was out in left field with my interpretation but at least I brought something to the group. So at January’s meeting I presented the group with my interpretation of the flyer, and they loved it! Our amazing group has collaborated over the next few months and I am happy to say the flyer has been submitted to the district this month. I am so fortunate to be a part of such a great group of parent advocates. I am so thrilled to be able to advocate for my son and others and help create and shape the direction of the special needs department.

So free time no more!!! I am happy to say I am back spinning plates but for a purpose now. And it doesn’t stop there. During a recent posting on the PTSA blog for my sons school, and I found my biggest inspiration yet. I recently posted about an upcoming event in Sammamish (a town near Redmond). It was a free art/clay event at the EX3 Sammamish Teen Recreation Center. This event paired children with disabilities with teenage peer volunteers that would help them throughout the event. My son had a blast. At the event, parents were afforded the opportunity to sit in adjacent room and talk amongst each other. As an ice-breaker, I asked a couple parents how they found out about the event. I was surprised to hear they had found out about it at the last minute, and actually one parent came without her child because the activity had reached its capacity, but she still wanted to see it for herself. We talked some more and I asked two of the parents if they had heard of the upcoming “Transition Fair ~ for Students with Disabilities” at Microsoft. They, both being parents of children just a little bit older than my son, would totally benefit from this event. Neither of them had heard of it. Then I got an idea: I could start a web page, strictly devoted to letting parents of children with disabilities find out about free and low cost events in their community. It was my A-HA moment!!

So at the beginning of March I made a goal to begin this website. I told myself I had to get this off the ground by the end of March. I had to make this happen. I am so happy to have accomplished this goal with this first post. I know this has been a rather lengthy one but I wanted to answer the questions of how I got here and who I am, but most importantly, why this website is so important to me. I hope that over the next few months I will be able to share events, activities, and miscellaneous opportunities and musings having to do with special needs. I hope to connect with as many parents as possible. I have never had this opportunity as I have always been stuck in the work world. I used to live in a community that had limited events when it came to children and young adults with disabilities and I think I only participated in one event the entire time I lived in KY. Now that I have been afforded this great opportunity, I want to make the most of it. I hope you enjoy and come back often.

So, officially welcome to ………

MYMANYSPECIALWAYS

I hope to serve the special needs community in as many special ways I can!! Please be sure to stop back in often to find all the awesome things going on in our community!!

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2 thoughts on “A Beautiful Awakening

  1. A beautiful and inspiring story! I’m so impressed by you Tracy. You exemplify the phrase “never give up.” Oh! I just knew Marley is my people when I read, “As long as our days ended at a hotel with a pool, Marley was completely satisfied.” Now that you are on the West Coast again, we will find away to meet. 🙂 -Leigh-Anne

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  2. Nice work Tracy! I’m glad you made the move. There were probably many reasons to stay but I think you did the right thing for yourself, your son, and your family. I’m lucky to have met you and inspired by your hard work and dedication. Do consider writing a book as your writing has terrific “voice” and would help others going through similar times.

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