Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Family that Skates & Scoots Together…

Jackson and mom--skating and scootingFor the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over a post about our family’s newest hobby.  At the tender young ages of 45 and 49 respectively, my husband and I have taken up skateboarding.  I don’t mean tooling around, meandering the neighborhood, while taking in the sights.  We’re hanging with the big dogs at our local skate parks.  No.  We’re not crazy.  This came about because of the importance we place on family time.  Jackson loves to ride his scooter, and he’s very good at it.  He’s agile.  He’s graceful. And he’s FAST.  When Jackson scoots around the neighborhood, safety dictates that I run in tandem with him so I can monitor driveway traffic.  This means I’m sprinting for one to three miles at a given time.    One recent Sunday afternoon, we took Jackson to the skate park simply as an outlet for him.   My husband and I decided to give it a try too, so we could make the outings truly about family.  We’ve been hooked ever since.

 

Jackson and dad, learning the ropes.

Jackson and dad, learning the ropes.

I had so many amusing things to say in my originally intended post.  I was going to speak about the fact that I skate with orthotics in my Vans and use an SPF of 50 religiously.  I was going to talk about the fact that it takes a good 15 minutes to get the joints, tendons and bones adequately lubed in my feet and ankles.  And I was also going to mention how tolerant and even accepting most of the young whippersnappers are.  Aside from a few occasionally potty-mouthed teens (which are dutifully kept in check by fearless skate park manager Michelle), we’ve not had a bad experience.  Until today, that is.

Going down (and stimming all the way).

Going down (and stimming all the way).

As is with most Sunday afternoons as of late, we went to our local skate park following church.  Our friend, Paul, joined us.   The four of us were having a great time.  We skated and scooted hard, working up a sweat.  We were all attempting new things and chatting up the really young kids who are beyond encouraging.  Jackson was doing his thing, going up and down hills and riding his scooter around the park.  I was standing on top of a hill with my new “friend,” Sam, when a young boy ascended the ramp and stopped in front me.  The boy was around eight or so.  He mumbled something to me but I didn’t understand what he said.  I asked him to repeat himself, which he did.  He said, “Make him stop.”  I asked, “Make him stop what?”  He said, “Skating.  He’s creeping me out.”  I was utterly taken aback, but replied, “No.  He’s just scooting.”  He said, “No.  He’s not,” and skated away.  I knew exactly what he was referring to.

Sam, also around 8, overheard the conversation and asked me what the boy was talking about.  I simply explained that Jackson sometimes makes noises.  I loved Sam’s muttered reply to the already-gone boy, “Get over it.”  I wasn’t completely surprised this happened.  I expected it.  Someday.  Nonetheless, I wasn’t prepared for it.

You see, Jackson verbally self stimulates.  [http://www.autism.com/index.php/symptoms_self-stim]  He makes sounds.  All.  Day.  Long.  Seriously.  He’s done it for years and rarely stops, if ever.  I took Jackson to the skate park on a school holiday this past week.  I chose not to skate with him, as we were running some errands afterward.  As I watched Jackson from the observation deck, I heard him clearly.  He was uttering endless variations of completely nonsensical words and sounds.  I could see some of the older children looking at him with curiosity.  It was in watching the kids’ reactions that I knew someone someday would say something.  I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.  He’s only five.  Five!  For Pete’s sake, Jackson’s only five.

My initial gut reaction (which I DID NOT act upon) was to say, YOU creep ME out, you little brat.”  THANK YOU, LORD, for reigning in my tongue.   You can come at me all day long; just don’t you dare come at those I love.  I will defend my brood to the end.  I promise you that.

I’m profoundly sad about today’s event.  I get a lump in my throat every time I call it to memory.  I’m not sad for myself, mind you.  I’m sad for Jackson and the unkind people he will encounter throughout his life.  He has such tenderness about him.  Heck.  This is the boy that asks every single person who falls at the skate park (and there are many), “Are you okay?”  He’s kind.  He’s considerate.  He’s loving.  He’s trusting.  And people are going to break his heart and crush his spirit.  That’s the nature of us human beings.  As a whole, we don’t tolerate different no matter the age.  The mere thought of this shatters my heart.

A Grand Passion

When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk.  He trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes.
~William Shakespeare (The Dauphin, Henry V, Act III, Scene VII)

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Several months ago, I enrolled Jackson in an equine therapy program at Hopes, Dreams and Horses (“HDH”) of Jupiter Farms.  Prior to our initial consultation, I completed an extensive enrollment packet detailing Jackson’s diagnosis, abilities, restrictions and our goals.  Our first meeting was with Sue Copeland, Home Dreams and Horses’ Executive Director, and Program Director/equine therapist Carly Brown.  Ms. Brown immediately engaged Jackson in conversation.  We were given a tour of the facility and had a chance to meet the horses used in the program, as well as boarders.  Ms. Brown listened to my concerns attentively and assured me she would meet Jackson on his level, while working with him at his own pace and point of comfort.  I’m beyond pleased to say, this is precisely what she has done over the past several months.

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Initially, Jackson was extremely apprehensive.  He had been around horses before, however, he had never ridden one.  Instead, he was content to merely stand in close proximity, petting or grooming them—the bigger, the better.   He spent the first few sessions at HDH on the ground, talking to, petting and grooming whichever horse Ms. Brown selected for the session.  To be honest, I wasn’t certain Jackson would ever be agreeable to sitting astride a horse.  His sensory issues can be extremely overwhelming and limiting at times, which makes for a very stubborn and unyielding child.  There is no amount of coercing, bribery or cajoling that will call Jackson to action when he is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with a situation.  I will never forget the joy I felt when Jackson first mounted Bruno.  As nervous as I was, it brought tears to my eyes.

Following Instructions

Following Instructions

When I tell people Jackson participates in an equine therapy program, they presume he is taking riding lessons.  I cannot, nor will I, classify what he is doing as simply a riding lesson.  That would do a great disservice to the Hopes, Dreams and Horses equine therapy program.  What happens in these twice-weekly 30-minutes sessions is so much more.  God bless, Ms. Brown.  Seriously.  That girl has the patience of Job.  She and the volunteers are, as are all good therapists worth their salt, exceptional human beings.  Ms. Brown cares deeply about her clients and the program’s horses, so much so that I can’t tell you which she holds in higher regard.  That’s really saying something about folks with a true footing in the equine world.

His favorite horse, Blaze.

His favorite horse, Blaze.

Every single second at the stable and on horseback is an intense lesson for Jackson.  Truth be told, I think Jackson may have a minor glitch in his short-term memory.   This being said, each session requires much repetition.  Every action has meaning.  From hand, reign and body placement, to mounting the horse, to participating in the “scavenger hunt” type sessions, nuance matters.  Think about it.  How DO YOU maneuver a 1,200 pound horse alongside an arena rail, close enough to grab an item from a bucket affixed to the rail or post?  That takes thought and requires delicate finessing of the animal.  Riding requires so many subtle body movements, something that is challenging for someone who lacks intuition and has difficulty with fine motor skills.  Throw joint laxity and sensory integration/processing challenges into the mix and you can imagine how patient, tender and encouraging Ms. Brown and her staff must be.
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Perhaps one day Jackson will have that beautiful fluidity many riders exhibit atop their mounts.  In the meantime he has much work ahead of him.  I’m grateful that he’s having fun while he works so hard though.  And I find those 60 minutes we’re at HDH to be perhaps the most peaceful 60 minutes of my week.

Jackson and Blaze.  Unadulterated love.

Jackson and Blaze. Unadulterated love.

Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The following benefits are excerpted from the Hopes, Dreams and Horses website. ( http://hopesdreamsandhorses.moonfruit.com/)

Benefits of equine interaction:

  • A sense of self; personal growth
  • Develops kills for healthy relationships
  • Develops trust and bonding
  • Increases confidence for boundary setting
  • Develops assertiveness (rather than aggressiveness)
  • Improves self-confidence
  • Reduces stress by achieving peace of mind
  • Behavior modification
  • Fosters interest in the outside world
  • Develops confidence to work through fears
  • Emotional control and self-discipline

Therapeutic horsemanship involves interaction with horses, staff, volunteers and other participants.  Benefits include:

  • Improved positive communication styles
  • Increased teamwork and socialization
  • Improved verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Recognition of body language
  • Fosters respect and love for people and animals
  • Encourages friendships; facilitates an equine family
  • Inspires independence
  • Provides social stimulation
  • Increases interest and enjoyment of the outdoors
  • Increased sense of responsibility and respect
  • Develops patience and understanding of others

Happy Birthday

Britt

Today, we celebrate the birth of an utterly amazing woman who took the world by storm 32 years ago this very day.  Happy birthday to our beautiful daughter, Brittany.

Britt, seeing the person you’ve evolved into over the past three decades is what allows me to parent your very precocious brother today.  Through you, I am blessed to see the beauty that lies on the other side of the parenting mountain.

You are fierce!  You are strong!  You are brilliant!  You are light!  You are laughter!  You are love!  And you are loved.

Today, we celebrate you, my beautiful daughter.  The world is a much better place because of you.

The relationship between parents and children, but especially between mothers and daughters, is tremendously powerful, scarcely to be comprehended in any rational way.         ~ Joyce Carol Oates