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Archive for the ‘Ulrich Family’ Category

What is Charity and Love?

I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up
Creative Commons License photo credit: djwhelan

Every day we read about good people planning charity events for people with disabilities.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Wait! You are wondering how I can be an advocate for people with disabilities and not just jump up and down when two caring people are trying to raise funds for people with disabilities?

Let’s just say, “It’s complicated.”

My first fundraiser was when Tommy was an infant, Aaron was 20 months old and still not sleeping through the night. Two hours a day, I would drive them across town to Stepping Stones Center for the Handicapped. Perfect time for me to volunteer to lead the fundraiser, eh?

What pushed me into action was there were about 30 babies in the Stepping Stones program and no teacher. Sure there were amazing volunteers. But these children, who needed so much help, did not have a qualified teacher. I found that unacceptable. I could sleep in a couple years.

Community Fundraisers

The local shopping center was having their annual charity craft show. At the organizational meeting, I gave my impassioned speech, we were chosen the “designated charity” and then for the next month all the parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors of the “Tiny Tots Program” spent our free time making items for our booth. We raised about $3,000 which was then matched by the organization and an official “teacher” was hired.

Special Fundraisers

After that there were the fundraisers for The Mother’s of Special Children and the Arc (formerly known as the Association for Retarded Children), and TASH (formerly known as The Association for People with Severe Handicaps) and on and on.

I met other mothers (mostly) and we had many good times, but I started asking why we had to have charity drives to fund important services other children in the community took for granted.

Regular Inclusive Fundraisers

After our court case and Aaron was finally allowed to go to public school, I got involved in the regular school PTO fundraisers. There were spaghetti dinners, White Elephant sales, Dances, Raffles, Magic Shows, Motorcycle Rides, Bake Sales, Races for… and saving boxtops, cans… It goes on and on.

I learned about inclusion (click here) and realized we didn’t need a “special track team” we only needed an extra support person to help Aaron to participate in the track team events.

“Disability World” Fundraisers

This led to more committees, grant writing, working for levy’s for the County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities as well as the regular local school district.

Other parents got to have jobs and earn money to help their families. I got to be the only non-paid person at numerous committee meetings.

Now, we did some great things that wouldn’t have happened without the volunteer parents. We began an after-school club and a summer school program so our children would have something to do and not lose all the skills they gained during the school year. We started four non-profit groups and incorporated. Yes, indeedy, sleep would have to wait.

But it never ends.

It is my feeling many of these organizations spend their energy insuring their own jobs and pay and giving lip service to the support of people they are supposed to be serving.

Autism Speaks, March of Dimes… are currently under fire because one of their main reasons for existence is to raise money to wipe out people with autism and developmental disabilities. They want a cure and spend much of their funds on sending Medical Doctors to conferences and conducting research.

But what about the people who are here now? These professionals, who make good salaries, have their way paid to conferences. Parents, who volunteer, not only pay our own way–we are supposed to donate to send the doctors? Plus, their executive directors make big big bucks. When I learned what some of the executives of these charities were making–that was it.

When it is all about charity, then it is all about the person who is giving the money. When it is about a person’s life and rights, it is about the person with the disabilities.

There are some large organizations who understand this, but most don’t. Here’s a post on my experience outside my grocery store (click here).

Everyone wants to help babies and young children

I know Aaron’s life was more interesting because of my leadership and volunteer work. But now he is an adult, and there are even fewer opportunities. Babies are cute and helpless and of course we want to help. But the majority of our lives we are adults. That’s 20 years as a young person and maybe 50-60 years as an adult.

So, I don’t do much volunteering for charitable organizations any more.

I spend every moment of my life working directly with the people with disabilities or the caregivers on the front lines. The ones who make little more than minimum wage. The people who take Aaron to the bathroom and clean up his messes. The people who celebrate Aaron’s diversity and think he’s a pretty neat guy. There is no tax write-off, no non-profits. Just people who care and need resources.

Segregated Charity–charity gone wrong

I don’t believe in onetime events like, “People with Disabilities Come to Church Sunday” where the church rents a ramp for the weekend (I couldn’t make this up). I don’t believe in Special Olympic Golf Fundraisers, when they won’t let Aaron even ride in the golf cart (“Oh, honey we just raise money for these poor children, we don’t actually want them on the course.”–couldn’t make that up either.) I don’t want Girl Scouts showing up at my door saying they want to play with my child because it is Lent and they have to do penance (some day I’ll share the details on that one.)

Rights–not Pity

As Joe Shapiro wrote in his classic book, “NO PITY.” People with disabilities don’t want to be the object of other’s charity. People with disabilities have needs, but they are citizens with rights. They don’t want the handicapped parking place because you are having pity on them. They want the handicapped parking place because as a citizen and consumer, they need the extra wide space so they can get out of their car. And, as an American, I’m proud our country recognizes that right to equal access.

If we really want to help people with disabilities–don’t give them your dimes. Instead make room in your lives and give your love..and your friendship. That is the best gift and, I believe, closer to the Biblical definition of “charity.”

Like I said, this is complicated.

Thoughts?

What are your experiences with charity models? With helping people with disabilities? What does it feel like when you are the giver? When you are the receiver? When do you feel pity? Charitable?

“There’s No Santa Claus”|a Transformational experience

Twas the Night Before Christmas

“Toyland, toyland, magical girl and boy land. Once you cross its borders, you can never return again.” (Babes in Toyland)

There’s No Santa

Aaron and Tommy got off the school bus and our world changed.

Tommy walked in the front door, threw his backpack in the corner and announced “There’s no Santa Claus.” Apparently, Billy and Josh minced no words on the bus ride home. And, they were third graders who knew these things.

Aaron, my son with the label of autism, went straight to the refridge.

But what is a mother to do?

I got Aaron settled with a snack and his music and then sat next to Tommy on the couch. We both were facing the Christmas tree and feeling pretty glum when he crawled into my lap. That action alone choked me with tears. Tommy was seven years old and seldom let me hold him on my lap any more–yet another reminder my baby was growing up.

His happy world was just turned upside-down.

Like all parents, I knew this moment would come. And, I wanted to send coal to Billy and Josh for ruining the fun.

I knew this was one of those rite-of-passages, a transformational moment in his young life–but darn. It seemed just yesterday he was three and running down the steps on Christmas morning, diving into the presents from Santa–darn, darn.

For a long time, we watched the reflection of the lights on the tree ornaments and didn’t say anything.

It was a treasured moment but I was desperately trying to think of how to keep the magic. How could I patch up the hole of a Santa that no longer was real?

Sure we’ve had some close calls, i.e. St. Nick and the Batman socks. But this time, there was no going back.

Tommy finally started talking and asked some questions. He said he had suspicions because the whole Santa-goes-around-the-world-in-one-night is a little hard to believe. But, but, but.

There were the things he said: “So there’s no Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy…?” “Was God real?”

And the things he didn’t say: “Did all adults lie, trick kids and play games with them?” “Who could he now trust?”

I tried to put myself into his world and think of ways he might understand. My explanation that Santa was a make-believe superhero bombed. Later, I could talk about Jesus and the gifts of the Magi, but that seemed abstract for the current moment.

Changing Roles

I’m not sure what inspired me, but as Tommy sat in my arms with his chin on his chest, I suggested Santa was a tradition about giving.

“The Santa tradition” was a fun way for everyone to be an actor in a giant real life magic play. It didn’t matter your age, it was about finding someone who needed cheering up, or needed help and giving it to them.

I told him little kids didn’t understand this, but big kids like him, now got to be part of the fun by becoming a Secret Santa to others. This seemed to make sense to Tommy.

Okay, who could we surprise? Who needed some Christmas cheer?

Tommy’s grandparents had just separated after a long and unhappy marriage. Grandpa had moved into a basement apartment in a not-so-great neighborhood and told the family, “This year I’m keeping it simple and not putting up a Christmas tree.”

So that minute, Tommy started to plan a Christmas makeover for Grandpa’s apartment. Tommy decided to become a Secret Santa.

Secret Santa

For the next few days, Tommy spent every minute making decorations, planning how to sneak into Grandpa’s apartment, going shopping for supplies and a small tree….

He decided we needed cookies and put me and Aaron to work.

Age-Appropriate

Aaron was nine years old. If Tommy (two years younger) no longer believed in Santa, then it was no longer age-appropriate for Aaron to believe in Santa either. Tommy was always my measure of “normalization” for Aaron.

I know some parents who, when they are told their child has severe intellectual disabilities or Down syndrome or…console themselves, “Well, at least they will always believe in Santa Claus.”

I know parents, special needs charity groups, care providers and teachers who take adults with disabilities to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall. In groups. UGH!

I know some adults with disabilities who have flat-out refused to go saying it embarrassed them. I know others who do it just to please others. I know some adults with disabilities who just haven’t had the guidance to know better.

The RULE for age-appropriate and normalization is: “Would a person without a disability do this?” “Will this activity add or subtract to a person’s positive image in the community?”

In this case, an adult with a disability sitting on Santa’s lap in the mall makes them seem like an “eternal child” not an adult who will live and work as a contributing member to the community.

This is a difficult concept for a lot of people. But this was the right move for Aaron and our family.

Grandpa’s Surprise

On Christmas Eve Tommy, Aaron, Tom and I got the key to Grandpa’s apartment and put on our red Santa hats. In under an hour, we decorated the tree, put holiday towels in the bathroom and kitchen, added colorful plants and pillows to his living room and his favorite snacks in the fridge. Tommy posted his drawings all over the apartment with a note next to a plate of sugar cookies:

Dear Al,

I heard you were a good boy this year.

Happy Christmas.

Love,

Secret Santa

Babes in Toyland

Tommy glowed as he locked Grandpa’s door. As we got into the sleigh (er, car) we giggled, reviewed our Christmas caper, sang carols and drove out of sight.

When we stopped for burgers and fries (even Secret Santas have to eat) Tommy decided to continue wearing his Santa hat. Aaron–not so much. But my babes had transformed.

There was still Santa and giving and Christmas. But they were no longer the “Babes in Toyland.”

From now on, Mom’s IEP for the holidays would have to include our new roles as Secret Santas.

Over the next years, more innocence would be lost. There would be new lessons and transformations–but that is all part of growing and learning. It is all part of the magic of being a child. Being a parent. And, all part of the Santa Tradition.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best wishes. Ho-HO-HO. Have some fun this holiday and we’ll see you next year.

Mary

Share your Santa story:

How did you find out about Santa Claus? What are some of the ways you continue the tradition of giving? Any Secret Santa stories? Any thoughts on normalization and age-appropriate?

Celebrating St. Nick + Two Special Sons

Celebrating St. Nick and Two Special Sons

St. Nick: New traditions

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there."

Family Traditions:

Because of our German heritage, St. Nicholas’ Feast day on Dec. 6th was the start of the Christmas season. The tradition of putting out our socks (or shoes) was always great fun.

Aaron, our son with the label of autism, and Tommy, our son with the label of normal are now 36 and 35 years old. Last post I wrote about how our holiday celebrations are evolving: St. Nick meets Disney Princesses.

Old Traditions

The first year we were married, my mother-in-law Jean, hand-made Christmas stockings for our mantle. Of course, we were living in a small apartment with no fireplace or mantle, but it began a family tradition. You know this was a long time ago because while Tom’s sock was a typical crew man-sock, mine was shaped like silk hose plus garter. (Do they even make those anymore?)

To personalize the stockings, Jean lovingly sewed small schoolhouses on both of our stockings because we were teachers, adding a felt wedding ring on mine and a felt set of golf clubs on Tom’s. When I was pregnant, she made an “Our Grandbaby” sock for Aaron who was going to be born in December. Later I store-bought some Christmas stockings for both my sons but glued and sewed some Christmasy trim on the socks.

Now a generation later, I captured our family’s own Norman Rockwell moment—Isabella pointing to the “Our Grandbaby” stocking on our mantle.

Making New Family Traditions

Lots of families put up Christmas stockings, some find stockings that are personalized with each person’s name, or hobbies, or interests like socks for dog lovers, Barbie dolls, sports fans, or ….

But, our family made the old tradition our own by adding a token of some special moment each year on St. Nick’s Feastday.

Adding a Memory a Year

Throughout each year, Tom and I look for small tokens and give them to each other on St. Nick’s Day.

Vacations and trips were easy. There were always ready-made patches, pins, buttons we could pick up at souvenir shops. Scouts, school events, sporting ribbons and awards also were small and could be easily attached to the socks. We even added some mementos inside the socks, like Tommy’s business cards for each new job and Aaron’s first pay check. Now the front, back and inside of the socks carry magic moments to remember.

Our socks have become treasured scrapbooks of our lives.

Tommy's Christmas Sock 35 years

Tommy's Christmas Sock 35 Years

Aaron's Christmas Stocking

Aaron's Christmas Sock 36 Years

What do you think? Does this tradition meet the test of inclusion+ normalization? Are Aaron and Tommy’s socks alike? Age-appropriate? Do these socks also celebrate their individual gifts and interests?

You can see Aaron’s Trolley Bus pin from our trips to the Smokies, the pin from Carlsbad Bat Cave, his school bus and Lakota Pin, his prom key chain, his Boy Scout patch from Woodland Trails, a horse pin from Cincinnati Riding for the Handicapped, National Park patches where he hiked with our family…

Tommy has Boy Scout pins, school patches from the cross-country team, buttons of him looking fierce in his junior high wrestling uniform. Tommy also hiked the same easy trails in the National Parks but those patches were not the same accomplishment they were for Aaron. Tommy was proud of his week in Philmont and the more difficult mountain hikes on the Appalachian Trail with his dad…

So both Aaron and Tommy had hiking patches. The difference was the intensity, duration and difficulty of the trails.

Both were proud accomplishments.

Transition

Tommy’s wife, Ana, bought Christmas stockings for their first Christmas together. Each year I give them some token to add to their sock. This year, Ana became a United States Citizen. After the ceremony the Daughters of the American Revolution passed out little flag pins. I asked for an extra one, planning to add it to her sock.

Aaron just moved into his new house, I have stockings ready for his first house decorating party, he will get a house key on his sock.

And so the tradition continues:

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hope that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” (Night before Christmas)

Wishing you many happy memories this holiday season.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

Best,
Mary

Comments

I hope you’ll share some of your family’s holiday celebrations. Is this an idea your family can adapt? Does your family celebrate St. Nick’s or have some unique tradition?

Other stories you might enjoy:

Tale of Two Brothers: Sibs of People with Disabilities

Circles of Life: Family Reunions

Gifts|Grandma Gets a Thong

Grandma gets a Thong

Helen Otten, my mom, died April 3 at the age of almost 93. I’m posting this in her memory. I’m also reminded of the importance of family.

The twelfth day of Christmas is Jan. 6th–Little Christmas, The Feast of the Magi.

Actually, it’s all the Magi’s fault. They are the ones credited with giving the first gifts.

Based on the number of people in line at the return desks last week, I’d say many people had problems with their gifts. (Actually I could see Mary and Joseph thinking the gold was useful, they could buy a wagon or better donkey, but what were they supposed to do with Frankincense and Myrrh. Myrrh–really????)

I know it is supposed to be the “thought that counts,” but it really is much more. Gifts are a whole cultural phenomenon.

My mother is 89.

Recently she’s had hip replacement surgery and has trouble shopping for herself.

Two months before Christmas she told me she wanted slippers. Slippers it is. I don’t have to guess her gift. And this is great…EXCEPT

Every day for the next month she would call me on the phone (usually at 6 AM because that is when she wakes up and is thinking about slippers) and define what kind of slippers. They had to have rubber soles so she could wear them outside if she wanted. And this is great…EXCEPT

She couldn’t tell me her size. It seems some Large slippers are size 8-9, some Larges are size 9-10. And the manufacture, design, model, production all make a difference.

I went to three different stores and brought her “Pair number one” on Thanksgiving. She didn’t even try them on. Which actually made it easier to exchange them, which is great…EXCEPT

She really wanted black. But none of the stores made black slippers. So, I picked out some navy size 8’s and 9’s and 10’s, and some pink (everything she owns is pink) in a size 8-9, and 9-10. And I figured I’d give her a choice. Which was great…EXCEPT

She decided she wanted slippers that weren’t slip-ons. “Only the devil would make slippers with open backs” and she has had slippers that covered her whole foot, well–her whole life. And, she thinks she has ugly toes, so–none of those slippers with toe cut-outs. So, I boxed up and returned the slippers. And it was great…EXCEPT

The next three stores didn’t have black or whole foot slippers. But they did have navy.

You know where this is going, right?

Yep, I rebought her the same slippers (that she wouldn’t even try on) from the first round. She opened them on Christmas and said they were perfect.

So, it makes you wonder.

Was the gift really about slippers at all?

Grandma and the Thong

The picture above is from a previous Christmas. My sister Martha worked in a lingerie store and gave each of the girl cousins a pair of thongs. They thought they were nice. Certainly something practical they could use. EXCEPT

She also gave one to Grandma.

The gift became an urban legend in our family. It brought down the house.

Even though mom didn’t even recognize the thong as underwear—it was the shared experience with her grandkids that made it the perfect gift.

Which again makes me wonder about gifts.

Aaron’s Christmas Gift and Charity

This Christmas Aaron went to a Christmas Party sponsored by a local non-profit. These are kind folks. Many of the people with severe disabilities are the poorest people in the county and don’t even have family members who can give them gifts. So, this is not only a nice gesture, it is an opportunity for these poor souls to get a little something extra.

This year the non-profit got items donated by local businesses to give as gifts. Over 150 adults with disabilities came to the Christmas Party and Dance.

There are so few recreation opportunities, many of the people put on their best clothes and showed up early. Many more wanted to come, but there was little transportation and they depend on staff–who didn’t want to bother.

At the party, even though they arrived early, there were only chairs for 100 people. So Aaron and Jack, his roommate, had to stand and hold their coats.

Since Aaron has balance problems, and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t sit down (people were guarding their chairs) he started biting his hand and pinching others. Not good behavior at a party.

Their staff person made the sensible decision to leave (even more people were coming in the already over-crowded room). Aaron and Jack were each given a “gift bag” at the exit. Which was nice… EXCEPT

The gift bag had a pair of donated slippers. Yea! I would be laughing too, slippers… EXCEPT

The slippers were size 11.

Aaron wears a size 9.

Now, no one with balance issues is safe wearing a pair of slippers two sizes too big. And, unlike my mother, these slippers were charity—donated. So there was no gift card or receipt, most people had no dutiful daughter, family or staff who cared to make an exchange.

And, Aaron couldn’t understand why anyone would give him slippers he couldn’t use. So he just carried the slippers around the house—making me crazy that good, kind people could be so dumb. After all who is the “intellectually challenged” person here? Did they think they wouldn’t notice the slippers didn’t fit? Or all people wear size 11?

Is “Just getting something to open” the point? Even if they can’t use it?

What is Charity?

If you plan a charitable event and are giving gifts:

Don’t

Don’t just arbitrarily pass out slippers, or coats, or T-shirts with misspelled words.

Don’t give radios with no batteries—because they want to use the radio that minute and staff often won’t be bothered with batteries.

Don’t give them things you couldn’t sell or are broken.

Don’t make your interaction a one-time-event.

Do

Do have a party with chairs and refreshments for everyone.

Do get to know people as individuals

Do think about what YOU would want to get

Do think about normalization, age-appropriate entertainment and gifts.

Do think about transportation and staff and family members

Do consider that the shared experience, like Grandma getting the Thong, may be the best gift ever—no excepts.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Comments:

Okay, best/worst gift stories? Am I just being an ungrateful jerk? What is the role of charity? Is it appropriate to give broken, torn things to Goodwill/charity? Only 258 shopping days until Christmas????