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.

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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.”

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.

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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!

Caitlin’s Life Lessons from a Cactus

There are many reasons why I recommend this book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling:

  1. It’s really good.
  2. The main character, Aven, is funny, kind, interesting and cares a lot about her two best friends.
  3. It has really good mysteries in it.
  4. Aven has no arms and plays soccer.
  5. The story shows you what it means to have true friends.
  6. It teaches you not to be afraid and that you can do anything.

* Caitlin and I received this book as a gift from a friend. We have enjoyed talking about the characters, their struggles and trying to solve the mysteries in Aven’s life. When we finished the book, Caitlin immediately asked to write a book review. This is her first book review. I hope there are more reviews in her future. 

 

 

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

 

PEOPLE WORKING SIGNS

 

Yesterday, my daughter, Caitlin requested a special post. She wants me to share her story about trying to change “MEN WORKING” signs to “PEOPLE WORKING” signs. Because I believe in her, her message, and that anything is POSSIBLE. Here is Caitlin’s story.

In the car on the way to school…

Caitlin: Mom, I just don’t get it. Why does it say, “MEN WORKING”? It should say, “PEOPLE WORKING.”

Me: Yeah, I never thought of that. That is a really good idea. What made you think of it?

Caitlin: Well, I want to be an architect and that means I will be on lots of construction sites. Those signs don’t include me. I think that is unfair.

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Caitlin researched women in construction on the internet and found an interesting article. Here she is reading it and taking notes on the topic. She found it shocking that women make up only 2.6 percent of the construction workforce.

Two days later and after lots of research on the topic…

Caitlin: Excuse me, sir, can I fix your sign? It says, “MEN WORKING” and it should say, “PEOPLE WORKING.” I want to be an architect and I will be involved in construction.

Eversource Worker: Yeah, sure. Go fix the sign.

 

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Caitlin stands proudly next to the new “PEOPLE WORKING” sign.

Caitlin’s Steps & Tips for Making “PEOPLE WORKING” Signs

  1. Get some recycled cardboard. (Tip: Use long skinny ones, but any will work.)
  2. Cut the cardboard into a 6-inch by 24-inch strip. (Tip: Make sure it is long enough to cover the word MEN.)
  3. Cover the strip with Duck Tape (Tip: This makes it weather resistant.)
  4. Write “PEOPLE” in big bold letters. (Tip: Use Black Sharpie.)
  5. Go to the construction site and safely find a nice worker. (Tip: WEAR BOOTS!)
  6. Politely ask the worker if you can fix the “MEN WORKING” sign. Explain that it is not fair and doesn’t include everyone. (Tip: If you want to go into the construction field, you can say that too.)
  7. Go fix the sign. Use lots of Duck Tape and make sure you wrap it around the back of the sign. (Tip: Don’t go on a rainy day like I did, unless you really want to change that sign.)
  8. Talk to your friends and share this post.

    People Working Materials

    Here are Caitlin’s Supplies for PEOPLE WORKING signs.

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

What Change Is in Your Pockets?

Piles-of-Coins

Piles of Coins Photo Credit: stratejoy.com

Growing up, my dad would collect his change and encourage my sister and me to do the same. Every six months or so, we would all sit down in the kitchen and pour our collections on to the center of the table.  We would then each go about sorting the change into piles- pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Once we completed the sorting, we began creating piles of ten around the table with each type of coin- 10 pennies, 10 nickels, 10 dimes, and 10 quarters. Eventually, the kitchen table would be lined with delicate towers of coins, and we were ready for the next challenging step of sliding the piles into the small six-inch paper sleeves from the bank. Once a sleeve was filled with the correct amount, we would pinch the ends and fold them down to make a solid heavy tube of money. Finally, the most exciting step was counting up the tubes to find out the total amount of money we had collected. I was always amazed at how much money we had in the end. Of course, there was usually some loose change left over that my dad would have us go back and put back into our piggy banks reassuring us that we could look forward to the process occurring again.

When I decided to make a career shift and focus on writing in an attempt to create change with my words, I had no idea how much it would be like collecting coins with my sister and dad. Although it is much less tangible than a pile of coins, creating change is about small moments that may seem insignificant like a penny in your pocket, but when piled up and tallied with others they surprise you with their worth. Therefore, I thought I would share with you the small pocket of change that I have collected over the past month. 

Ocean Park Memorial Library

Ocean Park Memorial Library Photo Credit: Jon Hannaford

Change #1: As we walked across the street to enter one of our favorite summer time spots, the public library in Ocean Park, Maine, Nolan announced with excitement, “Mom, do you see the new accessible ramp to the library? Now, everyone can get books.”

Coach Hooper Photo Credit: PBS Kids

Coach Hooper Photo Credit: PBS Kids

Change #2: During a lazy summer morning, Caitlin and Nolan were cuddled on the couch watching their favorite shows on PBS when Coach Hooper appeared encouraging viewers to get up and move. Ignoring his instructions to stand and reach up high, the kids continued to stay huddled on the couch until Coach Hooper was done. Then, Caitlin popped up and turned away from the television. Concerned, she said, “Mom, they didn’t show any kids who move in different ways. They should include kids who move differently.”

Nolan and Caitlin talking about an upcoming interview. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Nolan and Caitlin talking about an upcoming interview. Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Change #3: I was sitting at my desk writing when I was interrupted for the third time in five minutes by Nolan. Annoyed, I explained to him I was writing and I needed to focus for the next 30 minutes to finish up an interview. He responded, “Mom, I want you to be successful. This is really important work. I will play with Caitlin and make sure you get that story done.”

Mosaic Bowl on My Desk Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Mosaic Bowl on My Desk Photo Credit: Jen Stratton

Change #4: “It’s one of a kind,” my colleague proudly stated as I carefully unwrapped the glass bowl she gave me for a parting gift. “It is a mosaic,” she explained further. Shaped from glass and mosaic tiles, the colorful bowl carries a hidden message. It is a reminder of a conversation we had a few years ago, and one I have had with many of my former students. It is a reminder that we are not seeking a melting pot, but instead we want to celebrate what makes all of us unique to create something that would be not be possible alone- a beautiful mosaic.

The Other Side of the Sky by Ahmedi Photo Credit: Amazon.com

The Other Side of the Sky by Ahmedi Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Change #5: This excerpt is from an email sent by a former student… I am reading the book you lent me, The Other Side of the Sky and on page 78, I read this passage and loved it. It is such a strong passage for me…It brought to mind Team Possible, and all the stories you have written about, and all the others to come.

“I didn’t want pity. If less is expected of me, less was thought of me. That’s how I saw it. I refused to concede that stepping on a land mine had made me any less than I used to be or could be. I refuse to scale back my ambitions or reduce my expectations of myself.” 

Coin in Hand Photo Credit: http://desertofziph.ca/

Coin in Hand Photo Credit: desertofziph.ca

I still have some change to share. However, I will keep them in my pocket for now. They will encourage me to keep collecting and remind me that small change can be significant. So… what change is in your pockets?

On Being the Change: Step 2- Read More. Look in the Mirror Less.

Step 2: Read More. Look in the Mirror Less.

Reading is good for you; it is exercise for the brain and food for the soul. In fact, reading has documented health benefits like reducing stress, improving memory and increasing focus. It also has social-emotional benefits and can help us connect to others, develop empathy and understand differences.

There are lots of ways to read. You can read a novel curled up in your favorite chair with the sun shining over your shoulder. You can read a magazine in the doctor’s office and learn 25 healthy ways to cook chicken while you wait. Or, like Dr. Seuss, you can read with your eyes shut (fun, but not recommended). My favorite way to read is snuggled in bed with my children. We read anything from adventurous chapter books to picture book classics to maps of museums we recently have visited.

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After years of sharing children’s books with young readers, I have noticed that as much as I love the wild rumpus in Where the Wild Things Are or other “classics”, these stories do not generate nearly as much conversation as when I read books that offer new perspectives. For example, my children and I can identify with not wanting to try a new food that appears different like “green eggs and ham”, but then being surprised at how good it actually tastes and admitting that they would eat it here, there or anywhere. Since this experience is familiar to us and mirrors our own lives, it does not generate lots of questions. However, when we read in the world atlas that South Africa has eleven official languages, we begin to wonder: What language do they use for street signs? What languages are taught in school?

These wonderings about the world have led me to look for windows in books. What do I mean? Well, many of the books we read are like mirrors; they reflect our own lives. However, when we read books with windows they give us a glimpse into a new world. They help us look at our lives and every day occurrences from new perspectives.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There may be moments for some of us when there are no mirrors. We can’t find books on the shelves that reflect our lives, and we realize our story seems to be missing. This happened to me when I stood in the library looking for picture book biographies that represented my family and I could only find two that focused on the abilities of individuals with exceptionalities. When we find this gap and are left searching, it is time to pick up the pen and tell our story. We need diverse books.

OUR FAVORITE WINDOW BOOKS

With my son, Nolan, acting as editor of this post, we have included a few of our favorite books that create windows and conversations:

 You And Me Together    Cool Drink of Water

How do you spend time as a family? How do you drink your water? Do people around the world spend time with family or drink water the same way? In Barbara Kerley’s You and Me Together: Moms, Dads & Kids Around the World and A Cool Drink of Water, readers get to peer through windows around the world. Stunning photographs in both books show lives very familiar and very different from your own. The images are woven together with repetitive and lyrical phrases that connect you to each image and humanity.

 Emmanuels Dream

“He proved that one leg is enough to do great things- and one person is enough to change the world.”

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls is a recommended read aloud for every home and classroom. This picture book biography is about, Emmanuel, a young man from Ghana who is born with a limb difference. In the story, Emmanuel embraces his exceptionality and pushes past limitations others try to impose on him. With a vision for a better world and a bike from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Emmanuel sets off on a journey across Ghana to raise awareness and hope for people with disabilities. Emmanuel’s story inspires and empowers readers to believe that “one person can change the world.”

Finally, everyone should read I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. And now, with her story available in both picture book and chapter book formats, everyone can hear this powerful story of how one girl challenged systems of oppression and changed the word.

malala-quotes

So for step two in being a part of the change, I will READ. I will look in the mirror less and try to find windows by reading more diverse books that challenge my perspectives and help me grow. And if at times I don’t find a mirror, I will WRITE because “ONE BOOK, ONE PEN CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.”

Believe in the Possible,

Jen

On Being the Change- Step 1: Choose Your Words Carefully

Step 1: Choose your words carefully.

Words are powerful. Words can evoke strong emotions. When they are selected carefully, they can educate, empower and inspire. They can be used to change the ideas of one individual or to generate a movement among thousands.

When words simply spill out into the world, they can lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions. Misplaced words can create pain and disappointment. They can even build barriers and breakdown the human spirit. How do you plan to use your words?

I plan to use my words to make the world a better place. I will use my words to embrace others and unleash their potential. Here are a few ways I plan to use my words to be the change I wish to see in the world:

1. Disabled to Exceptional. My son, Nolan, was born prematurely. From his very first moments on Earth, he struggled to coordinate the instinctual skills of sucking, swallowing and breathing. These seemingly innate actions needed to be coached. Actually, he was delayed in learning all the early developmental skills like crawling, walking and talking and required hours of intensive therapy. Now, at the age of ten, he has mastered most developmentally appropriate skills. Writing remains a laborious task, and tying his shoes seems to elude him. Fortunately, technology can replace the pencil, and Velcro can secure his shoes.

After nearly a decade of triumphs and tribulations, we have come to realize that Nolan’s brain is wired differently. According to the CDC, he is “disabled.” However, this label seems amazingly inaccurate for my son. The word “disabled” unfairly places limitations on Nolan’s abilities and potential. It creates barriers and makes me want to shout, “He can do ANYTHING!” His learning differences are beautiful. His unique brain deserves to be celebrated.

When I talk about Nolan and the challenges he faces, I choose my words carefully. I use them to empower and unleash all of the potential in my son. This is why I tell the world: “MY SON IS EXCEPTIONAL!” DSC_0541    And then I smile, knowing I have used my words to make the world a better place for him.

2. Handicap to Accessible. I recently learned about 3ELOVE (www.3elove.com ). It is the brainchild of Annie and Stevie Hopkins, two exceptional individuals, who are re-conceptualizing the International Sign of Accessibility that was originally developed in 1968. The redesigned symbol is being used to EMBRACE, EDUCATE and EMPOWER the world about individuals with exceptionalities.

Accessiblity Sign3e_love_embrace_educate_empower_sticker__80183

My children and I immediately connected with the 3ELOVE message and bought various 3ELOVE products including t-shirts. When the t-shirts arrived, the kids couldn’t wait to wear them.

Caitlin proudly wore hers to a birthday party, but I wasn’t totally prepared for what happened. On the ride home from the party, she told me a peer asked her, “Why are you wearing a handicap sign?” I asked her how she responded and, un-phased by the incident, she stated, “I told her it was my wheelchair rugby shirt.” Nolan reported a similar experience at school, but his response to the question was, “It’s about 3ELOVE.”

I then realized I hadn’t prepared my children with the accurate words. So, I explained to them that when we see this symbol posted in parking lots, on bathroom doors or on buttons near doorways that it means “accessible.” The symbol is there to let everyone know that if you need more space to move or if you need the door to open for you, it is available. It does not mean “handicap.” When we choose our words carefully, this International Symbol of Accessibility means: “All are welcome here.

Accessible2010

3. Impossible to Possible. In the winter of 2010 when I was teaching full time at the college-level, working on my doctoral degree and raising two children under the age of five, I was overwhelmed. I was considering giving up on my studies. All I could see were barriers. Then, I made a critical decision. I got rid of the word “impossible.” By removing that word from my vocabulary, I was forced to think of everything including balancing work, studies and family life as “possible.” Ridding myself of this word shifted my thinking. This resulted in me finding new ways to make it all work. Some solutions were simple like asking family members to babysit more. Some solutions were hard like getting up at 4:30 a.m. to write papers. But, it all became possible. And finally, in May 2013, I received my doctoral degree and my children cheered for me as I proudly walked across the stage.

This idea of possible versus impossible has became even more evident during my interviews with Nick Springer. Becoming a quad amputee at the age of 14, Nick embodies all things possible. Despite his amputations, he can drive, send funny text messages, travel around the world and play a very mean game of wheelchair rugby.

Nick Blocking

In fact, the more I research athletes who play adaptive sports, the more I realize that anything is possible. For example, Mark Stutzman, member of the US Archery team and 2012 silver medalist in the London Paralympic Games, can shoot a bow with incredible precision using his foot and mouth. He also hunts and raises his three boys with his wife, Amber.

stutzman_matt_2_600x375

When we choose our words carefully, we can create change in ourselves and in others. What does this change look like or sound like? It appears in simple moments. Here is what happened recently in my home when my daughter was completing her math homework:

Mommy, the problem says Brendan has two bandages on his fingers and they want to know how many fingers don’t have bandages. I think they want me to write 10-2=8, but it depends. It could be 5-2=3 or something else. It all depends.”

With carefully chosen words, one person can create change. It’s time for you to decide, “What will I do with my words today? Will I break down or build up?”

I plan to choose my words carefully and to use them to educate, empower and inspire change.

robinwilliams

Believe in the Possible,

Jen

Be the change you wish to see in the world. –Gandhi

This is my mantra. This is the foundation from which I teach my students and my children. However, change is challenging, uncomfortable and at times frightening. But is the challenge real or perceived? Is the discomfort physical or mental? And is my fear grounded in fact or fiction?

For me the challenge is often perceived. The discomfort is usually only mental, and the fear is grounded in more fiction than facts. Therefore, I force myself to move forward outside my comfort zone into the realm of “CHANGE.”

Unexpectedly, the push to change my career path came to me on my short drive to work this fall. It wasn’t a day that I didn’t want to teach. In fact, I was excited to share my love of teaching reading with a fantastic group of pre-service teachers. They were discovering for themselves that supporting early readers is the merge of magic and science.

So what happened? It was an epiphany of sorts resulting from critical reflection on an incident that occurred last year when my daughter, Caitlin, was in kindergarten.

It started over dinner when she was deciding what to bring in for “show and tell” at school. Remembering her recent visit to my office, she asked if she could bring in the poster of her cousin that hung on my door. Excited about her decision, I agreed and told her that I would get it for her the next day.

The following afternoon, I carefully pulled the tape from the back and rolled up the poster of Nick in his Team USA uniform with gold and silver medals hanging around his neck. I, then, tucked it into my bag and headed home. That night after dinner, the kids argued which one of them would get to share the poster first. My son, Nolan, who was in third grade, stated that he wanted to take the poster to school on Thursday because Caitlin did not have “show and tell” until Friday. This seemed a reasonable request, but I said I would email their teachers and wait to hear back from them.

I sent their teachers links to articles about Nick’s accomplishments and video clips from the Beijing Games, along with a photo of the poster. Nolan’s teacher responded that night saying she had shared Nick’s story with her family and how they were all inspired by his success. Yes, like many world-class athletes, his story is inspiring.

I didn’t hear from Caitlin’s teacher until the next morning. She explained that she had forwarded my email to the principal and that she was concerned the poster would “scare” the children. I was appalled.

Nick Springer is Caitlin’s cousin. Nick Springer is a gold and silver medalist in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics. Nick Springer is a world-class athlete who plays wheelchair rugby. Nick Springer is a survivor of meningococcal meningitis. Nick Springer is a quad amputee.

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Unfortunately, the only label her teacher could see was the last, and she found it frightening.

The next day, I received a call at work from the school principal. Here is a bit from my side of the conversation:

“It is not if Caitlin will share the poster, but when.”

“How can we be okay with sharing images like Captain Hook with young children, yet we are afraid to share a photo of someone who represented our country in the Paralympics?”

“I find it more frightening that we have an educator who feels unprepared to embrace diversity in her classroom. If she can’t handle this conversation, what other conversations are not occurring?”

On the following Friday, with the support and guidance from the principal, Caitlin shared the poster. And, how did her classmates react? They thought her cousin was totally awesome!

Proud Cousin

However, I never found peace with the situation. Well… until this fateful car ride to work.

A book. A tool. That was it, I would write a children’s book celebrating Nick’s story, and it would be a tool for Caitlin’s former teacher and every educator to discuss, embrace and celebrate differences.

Thus, my journey began and I started researching picture book biographies. Over the past three months, I have read 44 picture book biographies. So far, only two have featured a person with a disability, Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull (1996) and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant (2014). Of the 44 picture book biographies, 10 have been about athletes, but not one has featured a Paralympian. According to the CDC and the 2010 census, approximately 20% of adults in the US are disabled. Yet, individuals with disabilities remain a vastly underrepresented group in children’s literature.

My plan is to change this. I will be the “CHANGE” (or at least be a part of it). I will research and write the amazing life stories of people with disabilities or more accurately stated, “people with exceptionalities.” Yes, I will write stories of people who lead exceptional lives that educate, empower and inspire others.

If you have an amazing story to tell, please share it. Let’s be the change we wish to see in the world.

Believe in the possible,

Jen