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In the Chinese Zodiac, 2010 is the year of the Tiger—a sign of courage—a most apt description of this family’s journey. After a family vacation this summer, our first family vacation ever, we decided Midwestern living just wasn’t the life we were meant to live. After 24 hours of island life in Florida, we all quickly realized we had been living in the wrong latitude. At first we thought it would take about a year to make the big move. I applied for some jobs and lo and behold the first job I applied for I got. But this also meant moving a month after getting back from vacation. This meant moving ahead of my family by several months. This meant some sacrifice and courage on all our parts. But some things are worth the sacrifice and the courage.
Some might think such tremendous changes in a relatively short period of time are early characteristics of some mid life crisis. Some might think such decisions appeared to be without thought or plan or control. Some might think we jumped into something bigger than we bargained for. But when you feel like home on vacation you know something doesn’t quite fit into the bigger picture, something that you have been denied for far too long. We make decisions for any number of reasons—for others, for ourselves, for our children, for our jobs, for love, for comfort, and for fear of change. This decision to leave the leaves and snow and green grass and oak trees wasn’t for any other reason than that of coming home. Coming home to a place we’d never been before. I can’t explain it—this place just feels like home.
Maybe it is the ocean—on some evolutionary scale, it pulls at the soul like a siren song. Maybe it is the tide—putting an ancient, long forgotten rhythm back into life. Maybe it is the million grains of sand—sinking feet and soothing walks putting priorities back into perspective. For whatever reason, I find solace here amid the palm trees and breezes in ways that I have not before.
Everything is new right now and not all is wine and roses. To some degree it is challenging. Getting used to new ways of doing just about everything can be a bit of a culture shock. Just going to Wal-Mart is an exercise in patience for me. I’m a walk in / walk out kind of Wal-Mart shopper. In central Florida, there is no such thing. The check out person has some intrinsic need to tell me about her life or know about mine, either way checking out takes an average of 6.2 minutes longer than normal now. The schools are different too. Hallways are outside, cafeterias are outside, PE is ALWAYS outside, and I think the wall mural is the official state art project. If there’s a will, there’s a way—and if there’s a white wall, by Jove, there’s a mural on it.
Yes this change has been drastic and challenging and I constantly search my heart to know if I have done the right thing. One walk on the beach tells me it is. But I question it, after IEP meetings gone awry (now there’s a blog title…). I question it when confronted with phrases like, “Well we don’t do that here.” I question it when I see how far some places have to go in making inclusion a natural choice in life. Then I go walk on the beach and it all makes sense again. This move has made sense in almost every way except for Ewan’s education. Sometimes I look at this move for him and wonder if it was the right choice. His needs have come first for so long that I wonder if we have done the right thing by moving here not knowing for sure if it was the best thing for him. And then I wonder if in the end this move will have been the best thing in the world for him and how I think of him.
Change is hard and no one really wants to change, rarely does change involve choice. We change because we must not for the sake of something to do. The biggest change this move has brought about is the 1:1 situation. Ewan has had a 1:1 aide for several years now, and although her official title was paraprofessional—she was better known as The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars in our house. When Ewan left school several years ago it was a giant leap of faith on my part to send him back without a posse of guards all carrying electronic tracking equipment. I couldn’t see giving him back to them, the ‘them’ being anyone not me. I couldn’t envision anything that would make it possible for him to walk back into the building. I couldn’t imagine a reason good enough to make me let go. That is, I couldn’t imagine it until they hired quite possibly the only person I would ever trust this boy with outside of the genetic bonds of family.
The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars was the perfect balance of independence and dependence for Ewan. She knew when to let go and when to open arms and comfort a boy who tiptoed on the line between balance and imbalance. She knew when to step back and when to push forward with a boy who struggled to know himself. She knew when to laugh and when to put on a straight face in front of a boy who says so much but often struggles to know how and when to voice it. In some ways she was me, his other mother, and in some ways she knew him in ways I never will. And too soon, we couldn’t imagine life without her. Quite possibly, we were more dependent on her than Ewan was. In some ways, we needed her every bit as and if not more so than Ewan. So when we chose to leave the Midwest we knew we were saying goodbye to a universe that could not follow us. And it has been one of the hardest things we’ve had to do since letting Ewan go back to school after he went on that ‘walkabout’.
Moving down here we knew getting and finding a replacement was on the verge of impossible. And so it has been. As it turns out, life has a way of knowing what you need when you need it. It also has a way of letting you know it’s time to push forward. Life is funny that way. Pulled in this direction by an ancient tidal force, a higher power showing us all that life has to offer if we but imagine it—a life without a 1:1. This is not something I had imagined happening for many years to come, something I could not see ‘just yet’ for Ewan. And I wonder if this is but a wake-up call from a higher power telling us to have faith in just how much Ewan can do. I do not know if this new situation will work yet. Life without your normal universe seems kind of bleak at first. But it’s a little like the profile picture for this page. A door in the darkness—possibility that exists only when you push forward into the future—a giant leap of faith into the unknown.
Upon hearing that he did not have a new ‘helper teacher’, Ewan exclaimed, “You mean they think I’m smart enough now that I don’t need one anymore?!” I never knew that is how he felt about having that extra bit of help. I never knew that he felt lesser in any way because of it. I never realized learned helplessness would sneak up on me as much as anyone—that maybe we were holding him back for fear of what ‘could’ happen or becoming complacent in the status quo without thinking of a future life. Seeing Ewan in a whole new light, I do not doubt that he can do this. In fact, I think now if it does not work, it will not be through any fault of his but rather because of a lack of preparedness by others. Ewan can do anything he puts his mind to, this much I have learned over the years—and now I must trust him to do it on his own. I have faith that his life is a life of possibility—and the first step is always the biggest—a giant leap of faith into the unknown.
I think this move has given us all what we have needed even if we didn’t know we needed it.
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