Learning to Fly

“Mom, I have a question.”

This is how most conversations start with Ian. His questions range from “Mom, how did we get our last name?” to “Mom, do you know what superpower I want to have?” Most of the questions occur in our minivan as I race around after work driving kids to basketball practice, picking up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store for dinner, and thinking about those work emails that I should return.

On this quieter Monday afternoon, I was headed to the library with Ian and Caitlin to drop off books that were due when Ian announced from the back, “Mom, I have a question.”

“Yes,” I responded.

“Do you think I can be a pilot in the military?”

I pause. I think about the military and their physical requirements to join. I think about how one learns to fly. I think about Ian’s limb difference. I also think that I am really tired, that I didn’t have my afternoon tea, and I really don’t know the answer to this question. So, I sigh and say…

wing sky flying fly airplane aircraft military vehicle airline aviation show flight blue speed aerial pilot power team performance precision navy fast airshow jets blue angels air show air force jet aircraft aerobatics fighter aircraft monoplane air travel atmosphere of earth general aviation

“Well, I don’t know. The military has special rules about becoming a pilot and I am not sure if they would let you.” I pause and sigh again. Then, I add the words that make my shoulders sag and my heart ache.

“I am not sure if they let people with limb differences learn to fly.”

Silence.

“I think you’re wrong, Mom,” Caitlin states breaking the silence as she looks at me with disgust. “I think anyone can learn to fly.”

“Maybe,” I reply feeling exhausted. Exhausted because this territory of raising children with exceptionalities never lets you retreat. Exhausted because fear seeps into every crevice of your life leaving you questioning your actions, worried about their future, and so wishing you had time for a comforting afternoon tea.

The discussion ends abruptly when I pull into a parking spot in front of the library. Distracted by the idea of picking out new books, Ian and Caitlin jump out of the van and run into the library. I walk slowly behind them wishing I had better answers for his questions.

7 books, 1 cup of tea, and 2 cookies later, back at home I hear a ding.  I ignore it and keep typing my response to a work email. Then Caitlin appears, standing over me at the end of the couch, she asks, “Did you see what I sent you?”

“No. I will in a minute.” Intrigued because Caitlin rarely sends messages from her iPad, I set my laptop down and look at my message. Here is what she sent:

See, Mom, Ian can learn to fly.

I have never loved Caitlin’s YouTube watching more. Jessica Cox, I have never loved being wrong more. Lastly, I have never been more proud of my kids and how they see the world! I hope they learn to fly and prove me wrong over and over again.

IMG_3453

When I took this photo, I thought I was capturing a moment of summertime joy. Now, I realize what they were trying to tell me. Ian was shouting, “Mom, Never doubt me!” Caitlin was growling, “Mom, I am more fierce than you ever imagined.” And, Nolan was sighing, “Mom, when will you ever learn? Trust us. We can do anything.”

The Game Ball

At the end of every baseball game in Ian’s Coaches Pitch League, the coaches select a player who gets the game ball. Often the game ball goes to the player who made a clutch catch, hit a double or tagged someone out during the game. It is an honor to receive the ball, and the young players cherish getting the game ball more than a win.

IMG_2986

In one of Ian’s recent games, he didn’t make a clutch catch or tag anyone out.  Actually, I’m not sure he even touched the ball when he was playing in the outfield. However, he did get a hit. It was barely a single, but it earned him the game ball. Let me explain how it all happened…

Ian walked slowly up to the plate dragging his electric-green bat behind him. He positioned his feet parallel to the plate, slung his bat over his shoulder, got his back elbow up and looked at his coach signaling he was ready. Kneeling on one knee, Coach Nick lobbed the ball over home plate. Ian swung…and missed. Ian swung at the next ball and missed. He continued to swing and miss until the fifth ball. This time he swung and tipped the ball only to have the ball hit him in the forehead. After rubbing his head and talking to Coach Rori who checked his head,  Ian once again took his spot at the plate. This time looking tired and a bit nervous. Ian held tightly to the bat, swung and missed.

By about the eleventh pitch, I was standing anxiously with my hands clenched when Ian looked up at me wondering what to do. At this point, Coach Nick wiped his brow and encouraged Ian to keep swinging. Then, from the dugout one of his teammates started to chant, “Let’s go, Ian. Let’s go!” Instantly, all the other players stood up and joined in the chanting, “Let’s go, Ian. Let’s go!”

On the next pitch, Ian swung and hit the ball. It wasn’t a big hit. It didn’t even get past the pitcher’s mound, but it is enough for Ian to make it safely to first. Once on base, Ian jumped up and down waving his arms triumphantly in the air. Everyone cheered, and I felt like I was in a Disney movie as the tears welled up in my eyes.

Image result for jim abbott quote

At the close of the game, the coaches gathered all the players in the dugout. I didn’t get to hear what was said, but I will always remember Ian running up to me while holding a ball high above his head smiling and shouting, “Mom! Mom! I got the game ball! I got it for not giving up!”

I can’t thank the coaches enough for what they taught Ian at that game. He learned to persist. He learned that when you surround yourself with others who believe in you that you can exceed your own expectations. Most importantly, Ian learned that he can do anything.

I also want to thank all of the players and their families. I am so grateful for all of the support you have shown Ian throughout the season.  It makes me proud to be a part of this community where differences are celebrated.

And just when I thought I couldn’t be more amazed by this baseball season, Ian ended his last game by taking the mound and pitching. Watch out Jim Abbott!

Finally, keep believing in the possible! I do.

IMG_3069

 

A Time to Dance

Over the past month, Caitlin and I were snuggled up in her bed each night reading, A Time to Dance, written by Padma Venkatraman. Inspired by the beauty of Venkatraman’s poems that create the amazing story of Veda, Caitlin wanted to craft her own book review written in verse. Here are her thoughts on the book.

 

A TIme to DanceThe Elements

Veda, a young dancer in India.

Paati, Veda’s grandmother and a spiritual leader to Veda.

Ma, came from the rich and left it all behind when she fell in love with Pa.

Pa, Veda’s father and Paati’s son.

 

Veda loses her leg in an accident.

She loses dance, too.

 

Govinda, a young man who dances from the heart.

He teaches Veda to dance again.

 

 

Why the Book Is Worth Reading

Written in verse.

Transports you to India.

The dancing creates beautiful images in your mind.

The story creates beautiful feelings in your heart.

 

Veda changes and her way of dance changes.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the book, you may want to watch the book trailer. If you have suggestions for other exceptional books that Caitlin and I could read together, please leave your ideas in the comments section below. Happy Reading and Keep Believing in the Possible!

Hope in Black and White: The Running Dream

The Running DreamAn Interview with Wendelin Van Draanen, Author of The Running Dream

Have you ever been reading a book and the words jump off the page and touch your heart like you have been searching for those words? Then, tears start to fill your eyes and stream down your cheeks because now you know someone else in the world understands your heart. This is what happened to me when reading The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. 

Van Draanen wrote the book I had been searching for on the bookshelves for young people. On page 131 in black and white, she had presented the reader with HOPE. The kind of HOPE that I want to explore with this blog and someday present in my own books for young children. As a result, I had to reach out to the author about her work. She graciously agreed to be interviewed and share her secrets to writing The Running Dream. Here is Van Draanen in her own words…

What sparked the idea to write The Running Dream? I was on a flight home from the New York after running the marathon, and I was falling asleep with my head on the window, but I couldn’t get this character out of my head. There were many runners in the race with physical challenges. I was in awe of what the human spirit could accomplish.

This experience made me want to write a book an amputee that would be hopeful and not filled with darkness or despair. When I was a high school teacher I remember feeling guilty because I was not emotionally gritty enough to support a student with cerebral palsy. It was this culmination of the desire to write a book of hope, a character I could not shake from my thoughts and the memory of a student that prompted me to write The Running Dream. I then wanted to move the message of being inclusive from lip service into the heart. As a teacher, I wanted this shift, especially for my high school students.

What do you hope readers learn or gain from reading The Running Dream? I hope readers gain a broader empathy for others. I want readers to come away with a clear sense of hope. I want them to know that they can succeed at whatever they dream if they approach it step-by-step.

What advice do you have on writing, running and life for other aspiring writers, runners or life adventurers? It’s funny you ask that question. I am writing an entire book to answer that question. It is a book for readers about pursuing their own dreams step-by-step. They just need to do three things: dream big, work hard and don’t give up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wendelin Van Draanen and her husband, Mark Parsons ready to run and read with Exercise the Right to Read.

In addition to writing, Van Draanen also is an avid runner and stars in her family rock band. Combining her passion for running and reading, Van Draanen founded Exercise the Right to Read, a non-profit focused on raising funds for school libraries by promoting reading and fitness among young people. The way it works is simple. Students read for 26 minutes a day and run or walk a mile a day for 26 days while raising funds through sponsorship. At the end of 26 days, the students have read and run a “marathon.” 90% of funds raised through the completion of the “marathon” go to the participating school’s library and 10% of the funds go to First Book, which provides books for children in underserved communities. Talk about a WIN-WIN!

I must admit I am a big fan of Wendelin Van Draanen and her passion for getting youth reading, exercising and contributing to the community. Thank you, Wendelin, for believing in and writing about the Possible!

F is for February, Family of Five & So Much More…

F is for February, and it is a special time in the Stratton household. We have officially been a family of five for a total of four months. It hasn’t been an easy four months, but it has been filled with many unexpected beautiful moments. I thought I would share a few of them with you.

  1. F is for fierce. Ian really wanted to climb the rock wall at school. Caitlin thought about how he could use his prosthesis and engaged Ian in an at-home “coaching” session. She created various exercises and pushed him hard. He listened and tried his best.  By the end of their training session, Ian had figured out how to hang from the rings with his prosthesis. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend hanging rings in the basement with a cement floor and only a small foam mat beneath, but watching their teamwork and Ian’s perseverance was worth the risk.IMG_2108
  2. F is for fun. We are fortunate to live in New England and to have a large yard with a decent size slope for sledding. With the three of them packed into a plastic sled, Ian literally squealed with delight as he zoomed down the hill for the first time. He is still working on stopping before hitting the old stone wall, but luckily his older siblings are helping out with that important step. IMG_1997
  3. F is for friendship. Ian has enjoyed celebrating new holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, he could hardly contain his excitement to share his culture and language with his friends at school during the Chinese New Year. It was simply beautiful to witness how his peers embraced the many traditions associated with the holiday and then how they challenged themselves to write in Mandarin on their red paper lanterns. As they struggled and asked him for help, I could feel their respect for Ian and his journey deepen. IMG_1717
  4. F is for forts. Nolan, Caitlin, and Ian are a remarkable trio. Their energy and creativity are endless. As oldest, Nolan is typically the leader and delegates jobs. Caitlin is the creative one whose out-of-the-box thinking generates new ideas for the group. While Ian is the eager little brother who usually gets sent on every less desirable job. Building forts whether inside or outside is one of their favorite group activities.IMG_2237
  5. F is also for fighting, but I won’t share any of those sibling stories. Just like in any family, brothers and sisters don’t always get along and I’m sure you know what that looks and sounds like. So there is plenty of bickering in the house or the car, but those less than beautiful moments have taught Ian the most important lessons about our family: Love in our family is endless, and our family of five is forever.

So there you have it, five moments that give you a glimpse of our journey as a family. Hope you take time this February to have fun and to reflect on your own family moments.

Believe in the Possible,

Jen

 

Showing Up on the Blocks

I learned an important lesson about “just showing up” from Nolan at his swim meet on Saturday. Here he is as a sixth grader swimming on the high school team simply because he believes he can. He stands about a foot shorter and 75 pounds lighter than most of his teammates or competitors. He is still trying to do a flip turn and he has come in last every race this season. Yet, he still shows up…with a smile.

img_0121

Nolan and Cole, the swim team captain, who has supported Nolan the whole season. Thanks, Cole! Photot Credit: Jen Stratton

On Saturday, it was a big meet. It was the league championships. While I was sitting with Nolan before his first race, he shared that Jack, one of the older students who has been watching out for him, asked him on the bus ride  what his goal was for the meet. Nolan told me he had two goals: 1) not to come in last and 2) to do flip turns in his freestyle events.

I sat nervously in the bleachers as Nolan stepped on to the block for his first race, the 50 freestyle. He took his mark and dove in. For the first 25 he swam his heart out just a few yards behind the leader. He approached the wall and to my amazement did a flip turn. I jumped up shouting. I cheered and screamed like it was the Olympics. Parents from other schools  in the stands looked at me wondering why I was cheering so loudly for the kid who was clearly undersized and was now being outperformed by all the swimmers in the pool, except one.  Although his kick slowed and his form got messy, he tagged the wall in fifth place for his heat making him 77 out 78 swimmers. He had achieved his goals.

I sat back down and my heart filled with joy for him. Then, my eyes filled with tears. In those tears were all the memories of PT sessions, OT sessions, evaluations, labels, and all the other rollercoaster moments of being a parent of a child whose journey is different.

img_0132

Nolan coming off the blocks for his 100 freestyle event. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

And just like a rollercoaster ride, this meet was filled with ups and downs. Two hours later with a bit of success under his belt, Nolan confidently stepped on to the block to swim in the 100 freestyle event. This time he dove in and came up with his goggles not on his eyes, but choking him around the neck. He struggled to make it to the end of the pool. He then stood in the shallow water gasping for breath looking around for help. His coach pulled him from the pool and, fortunately, Nolan’s teammates surrounded him with support.

Eventually, he made his way to us in the stands. He slumped down and cried, “I didn’t achieve my goals. I am a failure.”

Seth and I tried reassure him that he had achieved some of his goal, just not all…not yet. We tried to explain how proud we were of him for “just showing up.” We shared sports stories of other athletes like Michael Jordan who had failed, but had grit and had persevered through setbacks.  However, our words just were not enough to lighten his disappointment.

Fortunately, it appears some rest and comfort can help a lot. Because over breakfast Nolan asked me to take him to the pool at the YMCA to train. He explained that he was going to “redeem himself.” He was going to practice so  that in his next meet, the New England Championships (an even bigger meet),  he could achieve his goals. So we spent this Sunday morning at the pool swimming laps together and Nolan taught me how to do a flip turn. During the car ride home, Nolan smiled and said, “Mom, that was fun.” I agreed and told him that he had not only taught me to do a flip turn, but that sometimes, we just need to show up.

img_0116

Nolan is ready and determined to achieve his goals. We believe in you, Nolan! Photo Credit: Proud Mom (a.k.a Jen Stratton)

Love you, Nolan! You’ve got grit!

Telling the Truth

Telling the truth is not always easy. As a non-fiction writer, I now find myself immersed in digging around and finding ways to explain the truth to children through my writing. Therefore, when I was asked by a local elementary teacher to speak to the second graders at her school, I felt I had to be honest and apologetically replied, “But I haven’t ‘published’ anything yet.”

“Yes, I know which is fine. You are just like our students with their ‘Works in Progress.’ It is perfect,” she responded. I sighed a deep breathe of relief and started planning for my visit.

As I thought more about it, I realized I have a very broad view of writing that includes a collection of my children’s earliest messages which look like scribbles to the outsider, but carry great meaning. I started to wonder why their hieroglyphic messages were valuable enough for me to keep hidden away in a treasure box while my unpublished picture book biography and blog posts were not enough to justify my work as a writer. So I started to realize that maybe the truth was…I am a writer with many “Works in Progress.”

IMG_20160211_120205782

That’s me holding my graphic organizer displaying the very messy process of my “Work in Progress.” Photo Credit: Beth Mengwasser

With this newfound belief in myself as a writer, I visited the second graders and shared my writing process. I showed them how messy writing is and how I use graphic organizers to plan out my work. I explained how I revise and revise again using different colored pens and sticky notes. I even admitted that I often have to walk around and frequently write standing up. I even confessed that I am not so good at sitting still and that I have green putty at my desk to help me concentrate.

IMG_2450

A thank you note from Aeson. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

I then talked about why I write and how I am writing to solve a problem that I found on the library bookshelves. I told them that in my research I could not find picture books about athletes who play adaptive sports. So, to solve that problem I am writing books and blog posts about people with exceptionalities who play sports. The students were amazed at the accomplishments of the athletes in the sports stories that I shared.

After telling them about Nick Springer, a wheelchair rugby player, quad-amputee and the subject of my first book, one boy raised his hand and asked how Nick could catch or throw a ball without hands. I said, “I think we need to shift our perspective here. I need you to not look at Nick’s disability, but how he is exceptional. I need you to think about how he can do things in exceptional ways.” A hand then popped up from a girl in the front row and she demonstrated how Nick could use his elbows and residual limbs to throw or catch the ball. Then, more hands shot up and the students started shouting out ways they thought Nick could do anything from playing wheelchair rugby to driving.

In the end the visit exceeded my expectations because I was able to tell the truth about my  writing process while sharing the awesome stories of athletes I have met who play adaptive sports. And, to my surprise by telling the truth about my messy writing process, I was able to validate the writing experience of those students who learn differently. Overall, it was a great visit, and to be honest I hope to do more in the future. Until then, I will keep working on telling the amazing true stories of athletes who redefine the possible.

Keep believing in the possible!

Jen

P.S. If you would like me to speak at your school or organization, just email me at jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com.

Stop Whispering and Start Talking with Kids about Exceptionalities

Chatting with Nolan Photo Credit: Seth Stratton

Chatting with Nolan Photo Credit: Seth Stratton

Since my writing focuses on athletes who play sports in adaptive ways, many parents and friends have been asking me about how to talk with kids about exceptionalities. I am no expert, but I do have experience from discussing differences with my students in the classroom or at home with my own children. I have not handled all of these situations perfectly, but I have learned that there are some strategies to make the conversations more meaningful and authentic. Here are my top 5 tips for talking with kids about exceptionalities, and I included some of my own real life “mom” scenarios to help.

1. Speak up. There is no need to whisper. When we lower our voices and answer their questions about an individual with an exceptionality in a whisper, we are implicitly telling our children this topic is not appropriate to talk about and we have to be careful with what we say. Instead, we need to speak up.

Caitlin: “Mom, why is that boy in the family locker room with us? He is in a wheelchair.”

Me: “He probably plays a sport. Why don’t you ask him what he plays?” 

Caitlin & Me: “Excuse me, we were wondering… what sports do you play?”

Little Boy (with a grin): “I ski, swim, and play basketball.” 

2. Follow their lead, but guide their path. Children are curious observers of their world and they want to share their observations. When they share their observations, they do it from their own perspective and with their own vocabulary. We need to acknowledge their observations and help them develop their language for clarity and to promote inclusion.

Little Girl with Braces Photo Credit: nohandsbutours.com

Little Girl with Braces Photo Credit: nohandsbutours.com

Caitlin (while pointing): “That little girl is wearing braces.”

Me: “Yes, she has braces on her legs.”

Caitlin: “She walks funny.”

Me (taking a deep breathe): “Her legs work differently. There are lots of ways to move, and she is headed to the library just like us.”

3. Encourage questions and reflection. Children have questions, lots of them. You don’t have to know all of the answers. You just need to be a curious listener and encourage them to reflect critically.

Man with Service Dog Photo Credit: blog.lrn.com

Man with Service Dog Photo Credit: blog.lrn.com

Nolan (my rule following and anxious child): “Why does that man have a dog in here? Isn’t that against the rules?

Me: “From the harness and vest the dog is wearing, it looks like he is a service dog. Do you know how a service dog helps people?”

4. Be curious and learn more. Differences are beautiful. Exceptionalities give all of us an opportunity to learn more about each other and how many different ways there are to do every day tasks. It is okay to ask questions. Investigate the world with your children and learn more about it.

At an exhibit hosted by photographers who have exceptionalities…Nolan (whispering): “Mom, he has no arms. How can he take pictures?”

Me: “I don’t know. We should ask.” 

Nolan tentatively follows me over to the young man in a very sophisticated power chair.

Me (putting my arm around Nolan): “We love the photo you took of this young girl. We were wondering how you took it.”

Photographer: “That is my niece. I love taking pictures of her. I mount the camera to the end of my chair. Then, I use my baseball cap with this wand attached to the brim and a stylus attached at the end to focus and snap the shutter. I am really working on how I use the light in my photos.”

Nolan (moving away from me and pointing at a photo): “Yeah, I like the shadows in the picture of the telephone lines.”

Photographer: “Yes, it’s one of my favorites.”

5. My favorite response to any questions kids have that I don’t know how to answer: “That is a great question. Let’s research it.” ChoosingQuestion_alexsl

6 Ways Team Possible Has Impacted My Life

Team Possible is dedicated to highlighting the abilities of athletes who play adaptive sports. The sports story of each athlete, coach or family is meant to EDUCATE, INSPIRE and EMPOWER readers. However, I cannot ignore the impact that meeting these incredible athletes has had on my own life. Here are six ways I have changed as a result of this research and writing:

Nick Blocking

Nick Springer playing against Japan in 2008 Paralympic Games. Photo Credit: CBS News/ U.S. Paraympics

1. I push myself harder than ever before. At 6 a.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, you can find me at spinning class. The instructor is an unrelenting, former Marine-type. You don’t talk. You just hop on your stationary bike and ride. When the music is loud and our drill sergeant screams, “Sprint!” you pedal as fast as you can. As I pump my legs furiously, I close my eyes and imagine myself racing Nick Springer down the court during a gold medal rugby match or

Cortney Jordan in the Womens 200m Individual Medley SM7 race on day 4 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Cortney Jordan in London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo credit: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

pushing like Cortney Jordan swimming to break the world record.

When he orders us to crank it up and attack a huge hill, I take on Kanya Sesser’s confident attitude and say to myself, “I’ve got this!”

Kanya showing her “I Got This” attitude. Photo Credit: Scott James Photography

Kanya showing her “I Got This” attitude. Photo Credit: Scott James Photography

This becomes my mantra, and I repeat to myself over and over until he finally announces, “And, you are there.” Every time, I leave class sweaty, exhausted and totally ready for the day. 

IMG_1865

Nolan and Caitlin in a tree overlooking “The Bathtub” on Hermit Island, Maine. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

2. I take more risks. This summer when I was camping in Maine on Hermit Island, with Seth and our two kids, we went for a hike along the rocky shore when we discovered “The Bathtub,” a small cove that fills with water during high tide and empties out during low tide. Fortunately, it was almost high tide when we arrived at “The Bathtub.” So, Seth precariously positioned himself on a rocky ledge and jumped into the water claiming it was great fun. Nolan wanted to join in and made the plunge next.  Caitlin, who is always up for an adventure, nearly jumped on her brother as she entered the water. Then, all three looked back at me expecting me to say, “I’ll meet you at the shore on the other side.” But instead, I took off my shoes and did my best lifeguard-style jump into the brisk water. It wasn’t pretty. But, I did it! I took the risk, and it felt great!

Admitting Weakness

Photo Credit: Pinterest.com

3. I admit my weaknesses. In the past, I would try to hide my inadequacies. Now, I recognize my many weaknesses because I have finally realized that they are really just skills that I am working to develop into my strengths. I have been finding that when I actually openly discuss challenging areas with others that people want to help me improve. They want to see me succeed and are willing share some advice or even lend a helping hand.

IMG_2090

The Black Binder Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

4. I set goals every day. I write my goals down in a black binder on white-lined paper with colorful pens. I make sure there are no more than three goals on the list per day. Then, I check them off when I reach them. I love that feeling of accomplishment. The next morning, I reflect on my previous lists before crafting my new list. By reflecting on previous goals while also thinking about what I want to achieve in the future, I am able to write goals that keep me moving forward every day.

5. I listen more. I listen more to my children. Their insights are genuine and teach me a lot about myself and the world. I listen more to my friends. Their words are supportive and full of advice. Most importantly, I listen more to myself. My heart seems to know the way.

IMG_2091

Caitlin’s Thank You Note to God (Enjoy the inventive spelling.) Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

6. I keep a “Thankful Journal.” Every night before I go to sleep in a small hard covered journal, I write down what I am thankful for in my life. When I first started the journal, I made the rule that I had to  write at least three items down every night. Now, I can fill nearly half of a page. The other night, I was surprised to find Caitlin in her bed carefully writing on a small piece of note paper. When her pen stopped, she read softly to me: “God, I am thankful for everything.”

If you enjoy reading Team Possible blog posts, and they have impacted your life in some way, please share with me. You are encouraged to comment below or for more privacy you can email me at jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com. Thank you for believing in the possible!

Jen

My “I’m Not Going Back-to-School” To Do List

SCHOOL-HALLWAY

School Hallway

Everyone is back to school, and I’m not.

I figured it out and every September for 37 years I have been walking in a school door and down glistening hallways to either attend or teach a class. Do I miss it? No. Didn’t I love getting new textbooks to read or greeting my new students with a welcoming smile? Yes. I loved every minute. I will always love the smell of a new book and how the spine creaks when you open it for the first time. I will miss offering my hand to students and watching smiles slowly emerge across their faces. However, now I am doing what all of my teachers and former students taught me to do throughout those 37 years. This September, I am believing in myself and following my heart. So instead of putting on a new outfit and stepping out the door, I am home alone, writing and…loving it 😉

But…the student-teacher in me is a difficult beast to tame. Therefore, I did buy colorful new pens and made plans for the fall that include offering some new features with the blog. Don’t worry, I will continue to interview amazing athletes and share their sports stories. Additionally, I will also continue to share some of my own musings on adaptive sports, change, teaching, writing and my kids.

What’s new? I will share resources like books, films, organizations or other noteworthy items. I will also offer more perspective on the world of adaptive sports by interviewing family members and coaches who support athletes with exceptionalities. My hope is to create a site where athletes are celebrated, families are supported and readers are empowered.

So here is my “I’m Not Going Back-To-School To Do List”:

Endless Abilities

Endless Abilities Photo Credit: EndlessAbilities.org

1. Watch the film Endless Abilities by Windy Films. I LOVE this film! I mean I REALLY LOVE this film! The documentary focuses on the journey of Zachary Bastain and his three friends who travel cross country meeting athletes who play adaptive sports. The people they meet are not elite athletes, but individuals who have found meaning in adaptive sports. What I admire about the film is how honestly Zack tells his story. His genuine desire to share adaptive sports with the world is evident in every scene. Also, the music is fantastic. The only request that Nolan, Caitlin and I have is that Zack and his friends make another film titled More Endless Abilities and include Team Possible members- Nick Springer, Kanya SesserCortney Jordan and Sydney Collier.

Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper Photo Credit: Amazon.com

2. Read Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. This book is a MUST read for all teachers. I hope when you read it that you get out-of-your-mind mad at some of the teachers in the book because all they can see is what a student can’t do based on her disability. Then, I hope you shed tears when eleven year-old Melody uses a communication device for the first time and she is able to share her thoughts with the world. Next, I hope you cheer, laugh and shout, “I knew she could do it!” when she competes to join the school quiz team. Finally, I hope you read Out of My Mind to your students, your children and share it with your friends. As Malala Yousafzai reminds us, “One child. One teacher. One book. One pen can change the world. ”

If you’re still not sure, I did recommend this to one of my absolutely fantastic Springfield College students, Abbie King, to read over the summer with her sister, Maggie. Here is what she had to say about the book:

Abbie & Maggie King

Abbie & Maggie King Photo Credit: Abbie King

Mags and I really enjoyed reading Out of My Mind this summer. She goes to the school that I work at in the summer so we would listen to it on our drives to and from work. When we finished the book she typed on her communication device “it was happy happy love.” She really seemed to enjoy the book…I felt like Maggie was really able to connect with this book since she had very similar abilities to Melody. Growing up she would always scream and cry over the simplest of things since she had no reliable way to tell us what she was thinking. Once she got her first communication device, she became a whole new person. It was as if she was just trapped inside her mind. Now, she is a sassy, independent, brave and fearless young lady.

3. Ask for help. The fall is overwhelming and busy for everyone. I am working on asking for help when I begin to flounder instead of waiting until I am over my head.  I will start now by asking you to share this blog with a friend on FaceBook, Twitter or via email. I would also love help finding resources. Please email me (jlstrattonpossiblebooks@gmail.com) your favorite websites, books, films, organizations, etc. Really, I need your help and want to share your stories. 

Believe in the Possible!

Jen