Yesterday my husband and I met with our daughter’s new teacher and her counselor after school. We reviewed Ellen’s strengths and areas for improvement as a young learner and as a girl finding her way in second grade.
Yes, the girl has Trisomy 21, also known as Down Syndrome. Yes, Ellen is already a trailblazer. Blessed with excellent health and a nimble mind, she has already achieved a great deal for any girl her age. She is a Brownie. She’s in a hula and Hawaiian Studies class on weekends. She is bilingual. She adores reading. She’s a pretty good speller. She’s being brought up in two faith traditions and attends a Sunday school. She’s embraced by the YMCA community, our family’s second home.
And for all that, she may need, at least for now, extra support, even one-on-one assistance in subjects like math.
I looked around the classroom where my daughter spends many days. The walls, decorated with children’s work, maps, and illustrations, protected us from the sudden downpour outside. The chalkboard, a multi-colored roadmap to navigating a second grader’s day, showed me one of many ways my daughter is being guided to her potential.
And then I took in the participants for our after-school conference, all members of Team Ellen: the counselor, like me, slowly graying at the temples, unlike me preternaturally calm, who stated why we were all there — “To reach agreement on what the next steps are to help Ellen reach her eventual goal: graduation from high school and her acceptance and graduation from college”; Ellen’s generous, smart teacher whose insights after knowing my daughter for just three weeks are right on the mark yet who looked grateful when I wanted to share more and who stated what she wants most for all her students: A Never Give Up Attitude; my husband, the definition of wisdom and clear, measured logic; and me, Mr. Wear My Heart on My Sleeve.
I held up pretty well, though. My relief turned into streams of gratitude for Team Ellen that began to overflow as much as the creek near our home rushed free past its traditional path as the rain continued.
I looked at my daughter this morning with more tranquility than I usually do. The rain had ceased hours ago. Ellen may stumble now and then, but I have a hunch she will be like me: a late bloomer and bit of an overachiever who is unexpectedly, and not entirely by choice, a trailblazer. She is lucky to have Team Ellen, which keeps growing every year, to help her stay on track.
Blogging, Community, Early Education, Education, Faith, Fate, Fulbright Program, German Heritage, German language, International community, Languages, Mainstreaming, Marathon training and running, Presidential election, Trisomy 21, Wimbledon
Now that I’m posting only two days a week rather than five — after meeting my goal of writing every day but weekends and holidays for a solid year — the topics about which I could write seem to be overabundant!
Here we are, for example, in the thick of Wimbledon. Do I offer thoughts about the surprises of the tournament that lasts two weeks and is the one time of year when I try to rearrange my life around tennis?
Should I share insights about how my husband and I are preparing our daughter for second grade — for most parents probably not a huge deal, but somewhat uncharted territory for a precocious child who is holding her own with other kids her age but who nonetheless was born with an extra chromosome. Is there more my husband and I should be doing? Is there less?
Perhaps some advice for my followers about wisdom I’ve gained training for my 19th marathon that is less than two weeks away?
Or do I reflect on the astonishing turn of events with the new occupants of the White House?
I’ll pick the latter but for this post only as it relates to a subject near and dear to my heart.
As it desperately tries to make itself credible in any possible way, the Trump administration has again made a proposal that defies logic: a 47% cut to the Fulbright program as one of many painful reductions to a State Department that is every day rapidly losing talent, purpose and meaning.
The program was launched by Sen. William J. Fulbright right after World War II to encourage global study, understanding, and constructive engagement with the world’s community of nations.
I think many of us are trying to figure out if Donald Trump is a nationalist, isolationist, or just breathtakingly shortsighted. I wish he knew some basic facts about Fulbright.
Over seven decades, some 370,000 people from 165 countries — Americans studying overseas, and men and women from other countries attending universities in the United States — have received Fulbrights. They include Nobel and Pulitzer prizewinners and former heads of state.
In the current budget year, 8,000 scholars from the United States have been funded by $235 million from the State Department to study abroad. The Trump administration hopes that amount will shrink to $125 million, much less than universities, governments of other nations, businesses and donors offer to maintain the Fulbright program.
I was once a young man who dreamed of studying and living in a German-speaking country to embrace my heritage and language of my forefathers and foremothers. To my great shock, I received a Fulbright to study in Austria for two years. I stayed for a few after that to work in an embassy. I still have poems from that time that I wrote in English, German, and French. Receiving the Fulbright changed my life. It made me strive to be a citizen of the world and inspired me to make a career of helping young people achieve their dreams through education.
There are thousands of former Fulbrights who have a more important voice than I, but I want to add my words to their efforts to lobby for full funding of the program, perhaps for even an increase, so the world has a better chance to advance.
Has nature won or I?
Is my image of a family too clear or bleared?
I have wished for neither a princess
nor a fearless warrior,
only an unwritten book with pages
for all ages full of promise,
chapters with light miracles and wonders,
calm struggles, minimal thunder!
By Rüdiger Rückmann
Written on 4 May 2017
I know we are coming ever closer to the French Open. At least I’m pretty sure we are. The redesigned Women’s Tennis Association website is so hard to follow that I deleted it from my browser!
But before my readers think I’m posting again about tennis, I need to change the subject quickly because my thoughts about professional tennis tours can wait. In fact, I began this post about a weightier subject, to use Quakerspeak, on Friday evening after I read this horrifying news report:
The 11-year-old girl was relentlessly bullied. And the culprit, police say, were her teachers. One of them told the girl to “go kill herself” and threatened to fail other students if they didn’t fight the girl, police said. And when that teacher was removed from the classroom, a second teacher allegedly kept up the abuse.
The local sheriff who was notified said he learned about the accusations a few months ago after the girl’s mother filed a complaint. She did so again in April because her daughter’s abuse continued. Deputies said a teacher at the girl’s school “threatened to fail three of her students if they didn’t fight the girl. She allegedly told the bullied girl to ‘go and kill herself.'”
The teacher was finally removed and the class was taken over by a former teacher’s aide who allegedly retaliated against the bullied girl. Cameras caught the aide pushing the girl onto school bleachers.
The sheriff said the girl’s mother was right to report the bullying.
I’ve been an athlete most of my life, but I wasn’t exactly encouraged to be one. Most young kids when I was growing up played hockey or baseball. Many hockey stick bruises preceded by “hit the fag” puck shots scarred my legs and brain. But I still love skating! There’s nothing like muscle memory.
Tennis was a different story. “Hit the fag where it counts” was a common refrain by even my own teammates in high school, but the added dimension here were coaches who either pretended not to hear or did but asked the guys “to respect tennis etiquette.” Why yes, rather than suspend my teammates for at least one league match or for the rest of the year, the coaches reminded them about etiquette!
The head tennis coach was also one of mother’s teaching colleagues and was actually a nice guy. Years later, when my mother mentioned how grateful she was that he encouraged me in tennis, I burst out laughing. I told her that he and many of my teammates made me mentally tougher.
No laughing matter, though, was my swimming instructor. He would have all high school boys sit on the bleachers, ask a few stars from the swimming team to demonstrate how to do the butterfly or a new crawl, and then have almost all the students get in the pool to try the new strokes.
Almost all the students.
I was usually told, along with another student who was a very talented musician, to stay on the bleachers. The swimming instructor, who was also the high school coach, would then tell me and the other young man to get in the shallow end and walk to the other side of the pool. He would cross his arms and encourage the students to laugh as we walked through the water.
I hung in there for a while. Finally I told my mother, a teacher legend in her school, why I was skipping swimming class. I thought she would be upset with me as I was the kind of student who turned in homework early! Instead, to her credit, she was livid with her colleague, the swim coach.
I was lucky. In my era, many young gay guys might not have had understanding parents. I’ll never forget one evening as a teenager, in tears, telling my mother I hoped I was not a homosexual. She hugged me and said she knew that I would be someone very special.
No bullying should be tolerated — ever — and adults should know better, especially teachers. I’m proud of the 11-year-old student whom I read about on Friday. I was that 11-year-old student, and for that matter 14-year-old, even 17-year-old student. I’m grateful for all the teachers, including my mother, who looked out for me, especially in an era when many of their colleagues stood by or to some degree encouraged the bullying. Many thought I would grow up to be a real man for getting through it. I’ll forgive the coaches and teachers who stood by without saying a word, but in today’s world in the United States, there should be no more excuses.
Just one year ago, Ben and I cheered our daughter on during her class performance of The Rainbow Fish. This year, we’re cheering her on to embrace math. Children do grow up way too quickly! Have a wonderful weekend, dear readers, as we soon head into our first week of May.
I’ve always loved numbers. Had I not majored in journalism and creative writing (dual major) in college, I would have taken many more accounting classes. Go figure. (Ha, ha, ha!)
Rafael Nadal racked up some impressive numbers this weekend. He won the Monte Carlo Masters for the 10th time, his 50th clay court title on the men’s professional tennis tour, his 70th title overall for all surfaces that include hard and grass courts — good, clean figures!
In a few weeks my daughter will be seven. My husband and I together or individually have spent every night of her life with her. In other words, she has always been with one or both parents for 2,555 consecutive days and nights. That’s an impressive figure, and one we did not plan, but grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins live thousands of miles away. At some point, Ellen will be invited to a sleepover. It will be our first night without her and we’ll probably be awake most of the night thinking about her!
Speaking of numbers, late last week Ellen’s teacher made it clear that for second grade, Ellen will need to embrace math as much as she does reading, writing, science and history where she is holding her own.
Yesterday, for Earth Day celebrations, Ellen and three other children brought plants to ministers for a faith service. I worked that number 4 as best I could with addition, subtraction, multiplication, even division! It was fun for a while, but I’m asking my readers for suggestions on how to make kids love math. Let me know and I will share your suggestions in a new post.
It takes a village to raise a child. Thank you, followers of this blog, for joining the team.
Seventeen hours ago my husband and I sat at a long table with Ellen’s classroom teacher and other experts who support her at her school where she is mainstreamed. Team Ellen is preparing for second grade!
I came in to the meeting optimistic, but when your child is born with an extra chromosome, to some degree you always hold your breath.
All credit to my husband, Ellen’s teachers, counselors, and, of course, Ellen. Education and raising children are marathons, not sprints. Every mile covered is an achievement knowing that you need to conserve your energy while you are putting out a lot of energy!
Ellen needs to embrace math to keep pace with it in second grade, and we will train every day so it becomes as exciting for her as the subjects we heard she is right on board with: reading, writing, science, and social studies.
The other good news from her teacher: Ellen is proud, engaged, and respected by her classmates. Not a bad foundation for the distance ahead! We’ll make sure adding and subtracting the miles become as fun for her as running them and the foundation is firm enough to hold her even with all its twists and turns.
Wyeth, A. (1948). Christina’s world [Painting]. Retrieved from http://www.moma.org/explore/collection/index
Ellen and a friend
In my last post before my weekend pause for this blog, I wrote that this picture of Ellen with a friend is one of my all-time favorite photos of my daughter.
Because I drive many people bonkers, including myself, by analyzing and, for good measure, analyzing some more, I asked myself after I posted why I so love this photo of Ellen.
A day later, it dawned on me.
For years in my parents’ home, my sister, whose name is Christine, had a reproduction of Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World in her bedroom. I saw it nearly every day.
My sister has been blessed with general good physical health. She is one of the most sensitive writers I have ever known. Her writing flows from her heart, she has been a voracious reader all her life, and she teaches languages. Christina’s World was the perfect painting for my sister’s gentle soul as she was growing up.
As my own daughter grows up, I see much she shares with her aunt: a heart that is strong and tender at the same time, a love of and facility with languages, a natural desire to write, toughness, tenacity, and vulnerability. Both Ellen and my sister drive me crazy at times, but I love them to bits.
The subject of Wyeth’s painting, Anna Christina Olson, actually lived with a degenerative muscular disorder. In spite of my daughter’s extra chromosome, she can run and climb with the best of them!
Wyeth was inspired by Olson’s “extraordinary conquest of life.”
Before my daughter was born and a few months thereafter, a few well-meaning people said to me, “Oh, she will be such a joy! People with Down Syndrome who pack my groceries always bring a smile to my face.”
I would breathe hard but try not to show it. I would also try hard to smile and say, evenly, “Well, let’s get to know Ellen before we already assign her place in life. Maybe she’ll manage a grocery store some day. Maybe she’ll bring a smile to your face in other ways.”
I would cut myself off before I became too preachy. Sometimes I had to kick myself hard.
Like Olson, my daughter has traveled many a field. She runs through them, sometimes at school in the company of friends where she has more than held her own in first grade and is reading perhaps a grade level above that.
Something tells me years from now I will still consider Ellen’s world to be limitless.