Tag Archives: This Little Light of Mine

An “aha moment”

 

Scan_20141006I’ve heard Dr. Phil talk about an “aha moment,” one of those times in a person’s life that will always be remembered, because it was at that very moment something life-altering occurred. I had one of those moments in 1979. Kirstin was attending the regular preschool, and her teacher and I were having trouble communicating about her progress.  Flo suggested that we keep a notebook at the preschool. She would write in it each day, and so would I.

Everyday, I wrote about Kirstin’s accomplishments. “Today Kirstin asked a question. Kirstin helped make her bed. Now Kirstin can put on her shoes.”

As I have said, Kirstin’s attendance in the regular preschool pointed out many areas where she fell behind. Every day Flo would write about something Kirstin had trouble with. “Today, Kirstin wouldn’t participate with the other children. Kirstin had trouble using scissors. It is hard for Kirstin to color inside the lines.”

Every day, I read Flo’s comments and felt more and more frustrated. One day after reading all the things that Kirstin couldn’t do that day, I wrote, “Isn’t there anything Kirstin can do?” That was my aha moment. It was at the moment I decided to become a special education teacher. I would focus on what students were able to do and use that to build upon. That way we would focus on the positive not the negative. If you can do one thing, I surmised, you can learn more, and there’s no way to tell how far that can take us. That has stayed my teaching philosophy for twenty-nine years.

It was during my course work in special education I had another experience that contributed to what would later become my teaching philosophy. One of my professors had worked at the Coolidge facility and related this story to us. He was looking in on some of the residents, and while he was there he told a joke to the nurses. They didn’t get the joke, but a woman with cerebral palsy laughed. Her cerebral palsy was so severe that she could not move her arms or legs, nor could she speak. Confined to a bed or wheelchair, she required constant care as if she were a baby.

The fact that she laughed intrigued my professor, so he decided to try a little experiment. Arranging the room so she could not see him, he told another joke. Again she laughed. This was repeated, and in every instance, she laughed at the appropriate time. Certain that her brain activity was much more than anyone knew (people with cerebral palsy can have average intelligence and above), he decided to develop a program so that she would be able to communicate and learn.

Before he could put his plan into effect, the family of the woman took her home for Christmas. While she was there, she developed pneumonia and died. It struck me as so tragic that, for her entire life, she had been unable to express to others the extent of her understanding of what was going on around her. And now that someone had discovered the truth about her, it was too late. That story has stayed with me, and it is the reason why I never give up on a single student. How do I know if the next thing I try will be the answer?

From This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world. Available at amazon

 

This Little Light of Mine

2012-04-08-1134-58_editedFrom This Little Light of Mine, A woman with Down Syndrome shines brightly in the world.

When Kirstin was three years old, her preschool teacher gave me a book to read. It was written by two psychologists who had a child with Down syndrome. They talked about how they placed his crib in just the right spot so that he would receive the most stimulation. Everything about his day was calculated to provide the best environment for him to develop properly. I thought about how we hadn’t done any of those things. When she was a newborn, we didn’t even know we should be doing them. Now she was three years old. Was it too late? When I reached the part about their son starting to walk at age three, I looked up at Kirstin. She was spinning around the driveway on her Big Wheel, happy and engaged in what she was doing. Maybe we hadn’t done everything just right, but we had done okay.

As with all situations we find ourselves in, there are blessings to go along with the challenges. While those with Down syndrome require special help, they also provide their families with special joy. I’ve heard it suggested that instead of Down syndrome, it should be called Up syndrome. Kirstin smiles most of the time and sees the bright side of every situation. She has the ability to spread happiness wherever she goes; it’s contagious. Her concern for others is genuine. There is not a phony, conniving, or distrustful bone in her body. This makes her more vulnerable, but it also makes her a beautiful example of how the rest of us should live.

A doctor can explain exactly how Down syndrome occurs, and I can understand and accept what he tells me. Still I do not believe it is a mistake of nature. God does not make mistakes. Kirstin is as she was intended to be. God has a purpose and plan for her, as He does for all His children. He sees her not as the world sees her but as His perfect creation.

KIRSTIN’S SIDE OF THE STORY: My mom asked me to tell you how I feel about having Down syndrome. I feel like I’m happy about it. I do have a problem with my knee. One good thing is being able to wear glasses, so I can see and do some reading. I feel I am special in my own way. I have some friends with Down syndrome. We do look a lot like each other, as if we are people who are related. Sometimes people call me by the wrong name. They think I am someone else with Down syndrome. I just go along with it, because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. That’s not my style. I would like people to remember that even though we look alike, we are all unique.

This Little Light of Mine is available at amazon

Kirstin two years later

kirstin bookThis month marks the second anniversary of This Little Light of Mine. I thought I would fill you in on what’s happened in Kirstin’s life since that book was published.

Kirstin has continued to work at Costco. This is her sixteenth year there. She is the assistant manager in the food court–a responsibility that she handles with her usual determination. Recently she had to help train a new manager. She was working with both the new and old manager. They were having trouble with something. Kirstin told them “Get with the program, managers!”

As always, Kirstin is constantly being recognized around town. We can’t go anywhere without someone coming up to her and telling her what a good job she does at Costco.  The joy she brings to these people is awe-inspiring. And she does it just by being who she is.

If you read This Little Light of Mine, you know that driving had resurfaced as an issue. Kirstin had a learner’s permit for two years, but was not able to get her license. When she applied for her third learner’s permit, she failed the eye test. I think maybe the person who was giving the test had read my book.

Kirstin continues to live in the mobile home that she now owns free and clear. Her grandmother moved into a nursing home in May. Kirstin plans and prepares her own meals and takes care of her home. As always she is organized and makes good use of her time. She budgets well and pays her own bills. I wish I did as well.

As you may remember, Kirstin is an avid reader. Currently, she is reading Jane Austen’s Emma. Jane Austen is my favorite author, but I think her books are challenging to read because of the language.  Kirstin is really enjoying it. Last year she read The Wizard of Oz–all of it. I bet you didn’t know that there is much more to the Wizard of Oz than what you’ve seen in movies. There are fourteen books in the series by L. Frank Baum. Kirstin read them all. That’s 1768 pages on her Nook. She can tell you more about the Wizard of Oz than you would ever wish to know!

In addition to reading, Kirstin always has a jig-saw puzzle going. She puts together 500-1000 piece puzzles in record time. On her days off she does her singing and dancing to one of her favorite albums–usually Reba McIntyre or Bette Midler. Sometimes she spends the night at my house. We usually play our card game called Pounce. It’s a cutthroat game based on Solitaire. Kirstin beat me four out of the last seven times we played.

You may remember from the book that getting married was Kirstin’s most important plan for the future. It still is. She and David have been together for more than ten years. I think I’ve run out of reasons why she can’t get married. So watch for a wedding announcement in the paper in the not too, too distant future.

This Little Light of Mine is available on Amazon.

Raising Kids Who Care

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I have been a teacher for most of my life, and I consider myself pretty good at it. But when it comes to knowing how to help others, my daughter Kirstin has been my teacher. She knows how to reach out to people in a way that I will never be able to do. She genuinely cares about others and they feel her sincerity. In my book, This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world, I call her and others like her “angels among us.” If you will permit me to quote myself, “They care for others, even those who are not kind to them, without any expectation of reward. They are patient, gentle, and loving. They hold back nothing but share their feelings openly. They forgive and forget.”

I believe we are all born with a desire to help others. Consider the small child who wants to help his mom in the kitchen, or make the bed or feed the dog. How often does the busy parent dismiss this desire to help and instead hurriedly complete the task on her own? Later, when those same activities are the child’s chores, they become the source of argument because the child no longer wants to do them. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that by allowing our toddlers to help with chores, they will necessarily grow up to happily do them as teenagers, but it is certainly something to think about.

By cultivating in our children the desire to help others, we are developing in  them a lifelong spirit of giving. While they are young, and their lives are less complicated, it is easier to find the time and opportunities to help others. As we become adults with adult responsibilities, it is more of a challenge to do our part as loving, caring citizens of this planet. If helping others is already a natural part of our lives, we are more likely to continue it into adulthood.

The characters in The Handy Helpers books seek out opportunities to help. While their parents encourage them, it is the children themselves who are choosing to serve others. Sometimes children become involved in volunteering through church groups or scouts. These are very good ways to start. Sometimes the entire family volunteers together. How ever it happens, children will always benefit. Rabbi Shumuley Boteach, who hosts a show on Oprah Radio, says, “When we don’t give kids responsibilities, we pay the price. Kids become lazy and complacent and too self-focused. Volunteering and giving back prevents that and helps others.”

Part of my vision in writing The Handy Helpers books is that someday there will be groups like the Handy Helpers in communities all over our country. I don’t know exactly how that will happen, but I pray every day that it will. On the back cover of Seven is a Perfect Number, I quote one of my young readers who says, “I love the great moral values talked about in the book. It inspires me to want to start a Handy Helpers group myself.”