Thanksgiving can be tough. We’re supposed to reflect on what we are thankful for, yet some years are so difficult we are lucky to even find time to celebrate.
This year I decided to dig deeper than the obvious shining stars we typically express gratitude for. The wisdom gathered from growing older coupled with six months of stellar therapy sessions have taught me to focus on the day-to-day things I appreciate. Because, lets face it, a week in the Bahamas isn’t in the cards for all of us; and even if it is, one week of bliss doesn’t do much good if the other 51 are miserable.
This year I am thankful for …
- THE STRANGE. The sound of my children munching on apples as they lay next to me; for some reason I love it. Yet my husband’s chewing noises are one of my biggest pet peeves (sorry babe!). I’m savoring these fleeting years where I am the center of my trio’s universe. I love how every family member and the dog pile in our bed even though it means I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in 7+ years. I adore the way my daughter pops her “Ps” when she says “Dada poo poo head” over and over again.
- LIGHTENING UP. If you would have told me a couple years ago that I would just shrug off Eminem and Beyoncé’s new song with the r-word in it, I would have laughed in your face. But right now I don’t feel like that battle is worth my energy. Same goes for person first language. I will politely correct anyone in my path, but unless you are in my inner circle and should know better, I’m not going to get angry. Sure it’s offensive. It is unacceptable. I just don’t want to give a word that much power. Besides, today it’s the r-word; in a few years there will be another word used as a weapon that degrades people with intellectual disabilities.
- HOME. More specifically, my family being home. Between medical treatments and illnesses, I know how lucky I am that no one is in the hospital; and I realize how quickly that can change.
- OPEN-MINDEDNESS. So often we get caught up in how we are treated in one moment. This year, on several occasions, it was suggested that my oldest son (who has Down syndrome) might do better in segregated, “adapted”, “inclusive” settings. Initially I was angry and hurt. But rather than shutting down, I explained why those practices can be problematic. Amazingly most of the people I dealt with were happy to listen, accommodate, and even alter their programs so children with disabilities could feel truly welcome. Shouldn’t it be that way already? Sure. But it’s not. Accepting that and working with others to change it is a beautiful challenge.
- ADVOCACY WARRIORS. This has been a challenging year for the disability community. Even seasoned advocates are caught off guard by the ongoing attack on healthcare and human rights that were made into law decades ago. Through these challenges we are witnessing a reinvigoration of the disability rights movement that is bringing younger generations on board. The process is exhausting and invigorating all at once.
- FORGIVENESS. This is not the the trite “forgive and forget” mantra; that’s for basic transgressions. Life is complicated. Relationships with friends and family can be full of turmoil. Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away and cut ties. But circumstances change. We can always go back. We can forgive and move forward knowing that person isn’t perfect and neither are we. We can use the knowledge of what went wrong before and proceed cautiously as that person re-enters our life.
- PRIVILEGE. I’m not rich. But now more than ever I recognize that I have a certain amount of privilege just because of circumstance. I’m grateful that my situation allows me to help other families get their stories out. I do that through my work and through my positions on my city’s Community Services Board and our school district’s Special Education Advisory Committee. I hope that through the work I do, things will improve for those who can’t make those meetings.
- ACCEPTANCE. So much peace can be found in accepting ourselves and other as we are. It’s OK not to like people. It’s OK if people don’t like you. I’m grateful that I have finally realized that my family’s life will always be chaotic and busy and messy. I recognize that “letting things go” makes me anxious and in turn, those around me suffer. Accepting my own quirks instead of trying to change them makes life better for me and those around me. Accepting that life is really hard, and sometimes it doesn’t let up, so appreciating the small things is so important.
- FRIENDS. Sure, everyone is grateful for friends. But there are a rare few who just know what you need by looking at you. The ones who you can go months without talking to but it doesn’t matter, when you catch up it’s as if no time has passed. The ones you only know virtually but have a deep connection with. The ones who you rarely hang out with but wish you saw all the time because they are awesome.
- MY PARTNER. Being grateful for your spouse is sort of a cliché. But not when you really mean it. Not when things get so hard that you forget to say it. There’s so much hoopla around tying the knot and then celebrating big occasions as times passes. After 13 years of marriage it’s become clear that it’s the day to day that matters, not the ornamental stuff; which is good because my husband and I don’t do birthdays or anniversaries or gift giving particularly well. We bicker more than we’d both like. But when it comes to true adversity, he is my rock. We are a harmonious match when it truly matters.
- SMILES. My children’s smiles are the highlight of my days. Far too many of our waking hours are spent in doctors’ offices or at therapy or in school meetings or in home meetings dissecting everything my oldest child does and doesn’t do just so he can get the support he needs. That is the reality for so many families. And the sooner we learn to make the best of it and find ridiculous things to make us smile the better. Even if it means defacing waiting room magazines by drawing mustaches on every man, woman, and dog you see.
- SLEEP. I’m grateful for sleep when I can get it. I’m equally grateful that I’ve learned how to function for long periods of time with very little of it. And of course, it goes without saying, I am forever (an maybe most) grateful for coffee.