A few months ago. I was going through some papers while two of my children were sitting in the living room with me. (It was time to get rid of…oops did I say that out loud?…It was time to give all the art work, school papers and whatnot’s that I had saved over the years to each of my children. You get to do that when your children move out.) I came upon some letters I wrote years ago when I was advocating for my oldest daughter to be allowed into the regular school system while we were living in Bermuda. I read them and chuckled and then read them out loud. I think it was my son who said, “Geeze Mom you were hard-core back then.” Hard-core, me? Na, I just never took no for an answer.
Seriously though I never really realized or thought of myself this way before. But maybe one has to be hard-core when one is advocating for someone who doesn’t have a voice. I knew that the best environment for my daughter was one that would give her the most opportunity to learn in and for us that was in the regular classroom setting. It was here, in the typical classroom environment that she learned how to deal with the realities of life. She was not sheltered or put in a bubble where things were made easier for her. I wanted her to learn how to make friends, how to deal with enemies and how to be appropriate and of course inappropriate like all the rest of the kids learn when they are going to school. This right of passage that should be available to all children was denied to my daughter because she was born with an extra chromosome.
My journey into the role of advocate began right at the birth of my daughter. I was thrust into the world of needing to lend a voice to her from the get go. I learned on the run and made many U turns along the way but in the end I felt that her “voice” was being heard. Our journey while living in Bermuda was not the first experience that we had in trying to get others to see the value of our daughter being placed in the regular classroom setting. As I said, right at her birth, when she was just a few months old I lent my voice along with many other parent’s voices who were advocating for laws to be changed so that ALL children had the same rights and privileges to attend school and receive the same educational experiences. Those laws were changed and when it was time for my daughter to attend school she did have the legal right to attend school just like all the rest of the children….however the interpretation of this law was subjective and interpreted to suit the needs of particular schools and school boards. When I began to push back and try to use this new law as a precedent to get my daughter in school the words “lack of funds” would come out as an excuse about why my daughter was not allowed to be placed in the classroom where her peers were being placed. This term became to be a very dirty phrase for me and one that would instantly get my blood to boil. Let’s just say that I became pretty efficient at letter writing and having meetings.
We ended up leaving Bermuda because we received a letter from the then Minister of Education stating that he had the right to place Christie in one of their Special Schools. Remember this was a few years ago and policies may have changed in Bermuda since then. While living there I met many people who had the same point of view as I did and I lent my voice to theirs to try to get policies changed but we as a family didn’t have the time to wait for this change to happen. For us, placing our daughter in a school that was not a regular school was not an option so we packed up and moved back home where I began the fight for her to be able to attend her local school. We moved back home, where there was a law in place….I just didn’t know that I still had a fight a head of me.
The path of choosing to advocate for someone is not an easy one to maneuver. In fact at times it can be down right difficult, frustrating and in some cases the path becomes so obscured you don’t know where to place your next step. During this journey I came across many people who were ignorant and narrow-minded. People who were more interested in hearing themselves talk than helping, people who were more interested in the power of the position they held instead of using that power to help. However, I also came across many more people who were willing to change, who were willing to learn, who were willing to try something new, and who were willing to take risks. I met wonderful supportive people and made many friends along this journey that outweighed those “other” sorts.
Would I choose this path if I could have a do over? I’ve asked myself this question a few times especially lately now that my daughter is grown and living away from home. Would I do it all again. Yes I would. She is who she is today because of the experiences she has had, the negative and the positive. Like all people the experiences we face shape and mold us into the adults that we become. It’s just when some of those experiences are negative that we have a choice to make…are we going to learn from those experiences and move on or are we going to allow the negative aspects of those experiences to change us into less than what we are able to be? I have to say that one of the beautiful qualities that my daughter has taught me is that one has to move on from the negative, forgive and continue to love no matter how much an experience has hurt. I wish that I could bottle up Christie’s hugs so that the World could feel how much each and every one of us is loved.