Give a Little Bit (or a lot!)

For anyone who reads my blog pretty regularly, you already know I write a lot about Eric and how awesome he is. Well, today I am writing about Eric’s school, Pattison’s Academy – and how awesome it is!

Most of you know that Eric came to live with his Dad and I abruptly – and I had no previous experience with caring for a special needs child. As I wrote in my last blog, I welcomed Eric with all my heart – I knew I was all in, but that didn’t mean I knew exactly what I was getting into. I was apprehensive, and at times fearful, of what was ahead considering how little I knew about how to actually take care of Eric.

From the moment Jerry and I stepped into the doors of Pattison’s Academy (this picture was taken on our first visit), we instantly felt a sense of community and love.

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Our first day with Eric at Pattison’s Academy.

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Eric’s teacher Zach and his assistant Ryan welcomed us with open arms, and we felt a sense of relief immediately and knew we had a lot of support to help us through a tough transition. Zach told us about their big “spin” fundraiser that was taking place a week later – and we jumped right in and helped raise about $1,000 in about a week’s time. At the event, we met a lot of the staff – Eric literally stopped in his tracks to give a beautiful young woman a giant bear hug – which is how I met Coley, who has since become almost an extension of our family.

That first year, Zach, Ryan and Coley taught me how to push Eric to achieve his potential. We knew Eric was not steady on his feet and not physically strong, so we were very careful with him. We set up Eric’s bed without a box spring to make it easy for him to get in and out of bed. Well, imagine my surprise one day when I saw Ryan encourage Eric to lift himself onto a changing table that was more than twice as high as his bed – and he accomplished that with no problem at all! We ordered a box spring that day, and Eric has never had a problem getting in or out of his typical sized bed ever since. I used to carry Eric into the car – until I saw Ryan walk Eric to my car and tell him to climb in all by himself… Carrying Eric into the car ended IMMEDIATELY! From them, I learned the phrase “you do it” – which we use TO THIS DAY to encourage Eric to do more on his own.

Because of Pattison’s Academy, I have learned how to be the best mom I can be.

The Pattison’s staff knows how to safely push Eric to do more, to bring him out into the community more – and are kind, patient beyond measure, and nonjudgmental in their communication with me. I call his teacher Lisa and her assistant Tina my special needs “mom coaches” because of how they have helped me to learn and grow as a mother. This Christmas, I was so nervous to take Eric on my first plane ride together to LA – but I knew Eric could handle it – and I knew we could too. The support I received from the entire teaching, therapy and nursing staff was immeasurable. We have such a special relationship full of trust – it is truly priceless to me!

Pattison’s Academy has made such an impact to my life that I decided to join the board about a year ago. We have a vision for Pattison’s to become the model in our country for educating young students with severe and multiple disabilities in an integrated therapeutic environment. I know this model has worked for Eric and our family – and I want to help Pattison’s to impact more children that would benefit from its programs. As our fundraising chair, I spend most of my spare time helping to raise money for our mission. Once again, I have found myself “all-in” because in my heart I know I am doing the right thing by giving my time, treasure and talent to this organization.

Because the state funding in South Carolina is abysmal for students with multiple disabilities, Pattison’s relies on donations to help fund our programs – which include the charter school, therapy services, early intervention, and an AWESOME and unique summer camp. We also provide bus transportation for our students – which in a county that is over 1300 square miles – is no easy feat.

We would like to be able to grow to serve more children, and to add music & art therapy among other initiatives. All these things require generous donors and patrons to help us to achieve our potential…so that students like Eric can achieve theirs.

I ask you… if you have been moved by my stories about Eric, his accomplishments, and the impact he has had on our lives – please recognize that Pattison’s Academy has been an important factor these last few years.

Please consider supporting Eric and our fundraising team, and make a generous donation to this amazing organization! Our team goal is $4,000 – and we need your help to make it!

https://ktp2018.everydayhero.com/us/laurie

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The Warrior (Wonder Woman)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have been a fan of Wonder Woman for a long time. In the 70’s, Wonder Woman was the one of the few shows we watched as a family. For some reason, my dad never complained when our family sat down together to watch Lynda Carter change into the various Wonder Woman outfits to kick some butt and save the day.

Since then, I have been looking forward to her movie for many years. I have seen countless Marvel and DC movies over the years – and enjoyed most of them – and I could not have been more excited to buy tickets for opening night of Wonder Woman this week. Don’t worry – I won’t reveal any spoilers. I don’t intend for this to be a movie review…in short – go see the movie. It’s highly entertaining.

I do feel compelled to explore why I feel a connection to Wonder Woman – and to describe how the movie made me feel…and to find some meaning about my own life in some way. As I often do, I write to try to figure these things out.

Wonder Woman (Diana) stands for peace and justice. She is the first person to fight for it when no one else will. I got goosebumps when Diana says, “I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Having my step-son Eric in my life has made me become a fighter in this way.

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Eric and my Wonder Woman Bobblehead – a gift from his dad (Jerry) who knows me very well.

 

Let me explain. A little more than four years ago, I was a single, divorced woman who always wanted to have a family. I embarked on a journey to make that happen – exploring international adoption, private adoption, foster care…Today, I have a family made up of my partner Jerry, his beautiful twin 23-year-old daughters (Chelsea and Kaitlyn), and his 18-year-old son, Eric, who has multiple disabilities. There are a LOT of stories in the “…”, and a lot to learn from that journey. However, that is not my focus today.

When I think about fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves, I immediately think of Eric. Eric, who now lives with us full-time, is non-verbal. He relies on us to take care of him and his basic needs – and to also be his voice. Having him in my life has changed me forever. Eric’s teachers wrote me a note on the last day of school this Friday where they called me “an amazing mother, and a fearless advocate for Eric.” I cannot think of a better compliment I have ever received.

No one needs to feel sorry for me. In fact, when people do, I am almost offended – like they don’t really get who I am and what I stand for. Eric has brought so much joy and meaning to my life – I don’t need or want anyone’s sympathy. Instead, I want their support and recognition that Eric and other people with disabilities have so much to offer the world – and they deserve to be an active part of their communities. I fight for that every day as Eric’s step-mom and as a board member at his amazing school, PACE Charter school, a program of Pattison’s Academy.

Another thing that Diane says in the movie is this: “It’s not about what you deserve.  It’s what you believe.  And I believe in love.” I do too.

When we make choices from love instead of fear, we make our relationships better. We make ourselves better. One tiny step at a time, we change the world for the better. I believe that each one of us has the power to change the world, and that we should never give up trying. Anger is a fuel – that is certain, but it is a fuel that leaves us on “empty” – more tired than we were when we started. Love is a renewable fuel that not only keeps the tank full, but fills other tanks. It grows exponentially and will never run out.

Since the last presidential race, I have been overcome by “noise” on a regular basis. I try to deal with this noise by focusing on what I can do to live my values, and to try to make a difference in any small way that I can. I try not to succumb to fear by contributing to the noise. It is not easy, and I don’t always get it right – but this is what I try to do. Loving my family and doing what I can to fight for what is right is keeping me centered and hopeful for our future.

As the movie concludes, Diana says, “I used to want to save the world, to end war and protect mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives inside their light, and learned that both will always be inside them, and that is something no hero can defeat. They must always choose for themselves. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be. This is my mission, now, forever.”

This is my mission too. I may not be a superhero, and I certainly don’t have any special powers. But I do have the most important thing – love, because as Wonder Woman says, “Only love can truly save the world.”