Fighting off Bah Humbug

The Holidays are bitter sweet. Being blessed with a Public School schedule with two weeks off, makes this job worth all the late nights, long hours and emotional investment into the lives of young adults with special needs.

Yet there is a draw back, the investment creates a bit more stress then the typical classroom teacher experiences. I am not done at the end of the contracted duty hours. It has been my choice to become fully invested in this career for the past 27 years of my life. A choice that is brings consequences that affect me profoundly at this time of year.

A longing to travel and skip Christmas has been inside me for the past few years, yet I do not give in. I plug away, put up the tree, ship the gifts, try to coordinate schedules with my small family in TN. and push the Bah Humbug feeling away. I operate on what Christmas is “supposed” to look like.

The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in my business are the hardest, in my opinion. The return to the classroom after Thanksgiving is like a hard sprint, put my head down and run to Dec. 20th, sliding into my bed to sleep for two days! After that I wake up and work on recovery in order to return on Jan. 6th for the downhill slide to Spring Break. Christmas and its goodwill sometimes gets set aside in my personal life in order for me to make it through and that makes me sad.

I have neglected my small family, missed life events (Graduations, Military Awards Ceremonies, Birthdays) of my nephews because I was unwilling to take the time away from the students (substitutes are not easy to find for this group and sometimes destroy what took months to accomplish). Until a few years ago I did not have funds to travel from this island I choose to live on, which made it hard to be involved in the families lives in Nashville.

My choices to focus on this career, have consequences today. Now that I am slowing down and can take the time to be with my nephews and their children, have some funds to be able to travel, they are adults and have full lives, responsibilities  and Aunt Ruth is not someone they know well. Their priorities are with their families now, as it should be. That is ok, that is the natural way of it and I rejoice for the two boys who will carry on our family legacy.

I redirect my bittersweet  feelings and dive into the what is going on with my students, savoring the time with them and enjoying Christmas through they’re loving spirits.

My adult students have the childlike wonder of the season, and are learning the adult life lessons of responsibility. They are continuing to go to the job sites, do their grocery shopping and all of their college assignments, things that are not as motivating as Santa Claus and Christmas Cookies!  As a leader, I feel that it is important to keep us moving forward with the IEP goals, keeping in mind that a two week break is on the horizon. Therefore the focus is on lesson plans that are highly engaging for students and staff. This has yielded some awesome student gains in these past few weeks!

While making plans for community based vocational sites and college access, the two week break must be planned for also. The business world that the students interact with is sometimes confused when we stop attending the internship or community learning site for two weeks. It is so important to maintain our relationships with them for the benefit of the students, but so hard to do on this school schedule. Sometimes students choose to participate in the “office parties” on their job sites and need support. It is always fun to witness the communication breakthroughs that emerge via the interaction with natural supports. The relationships become solidified via the Holiday Spirit the students exude.

Keeping my emotions in check, there are some very important decisions that I am making that will affect the quality of my life in the near future, along with affecting this program that has been an extension of me for the past 7 years.

In the recent weeks I have learned that the magic age of 55 gave me some options in my retirement funding. It seems that the 403b that my father insited that I start many years ago is going to come in handy. At 55, it can be rolled over into the FRS system to “buy” the three years of bad choices I made during an attempt to live in Ohio. This means at in June 2014 grand total of my FRS service credit will be 28 years! Which means I work 2 more years and in June 2016 I can retire with 30 years of service or enter DROP.

This is the best Christmas Present ever! I can count on one hand the time I have left to serve in the Public School System! This does not mean I will “retire” from my “kids” It does meant that I will have choices in how, when and where I serve.

As I sit here on my front porch, reflecting on the implications of this news, I fight off the temptation to run away from Christmas. I find joy in knowing that the my service time has helped many others, yet also come to a new resolution that the next two weeks will be about taking care of me. Taking care of my needs for play and healthy eating. Taking time to reflect on how to use the next two years to leave a legacy that the Public School System can sustain if it chooses to. Taking time to create an action plan that will enable me to share all the knowledge gleaned from my students with others.

Counting the blessings, feeling the warm island breezes and taking time to watch the sunrise is driving the Bah Humbugs away!

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The Next Chapter

Working in Public Schools my entire career has given me security and unpredictability at the same time. A paycheck that is predictable every two weeks, insurance and knowing that I have a job until I choose to retire gives me security in an ever-changing world. Yet each year the new curriculum, staff changes, latest fads and the newly created systematic policies cause stress. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, know which piece of paper to turn into the proper administrative office to get something accomplished for my kids, it changes and I am required to redo my efforts. As I get closer to retirement, I am ready to let go of the security and release the frustrations that are brought on by the systematic yearly changes. The NEXT CHAPTER is in sight! I have earned it!

My students also receive security in the Public School System, receiving services they are entitled to by law. Yet as they get closer to age 22, the loss of security is scary for them and their families. As they reach the NEXT CHAPTER in the life of a young adult they want all the things a 20 something wants–college, independent living, to drive a car, to have friends without a paid person accompanying them and they have earned it!

The loss of my time in accomplishing administrative tasks in the never-ending changes of Public School,  is not one that my students can afford. My students, ages 18-22 with special needs are in the final chapter of their school career. The lines between IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) entitlements and ADA (Adults with Disabilities) rights are getting firmer and darker. In their younger years, my students have been entitled to every service imaginable and the law supported their requests. As they move into the adult world the rights that they have as adults are not guaranteed, their IDEA services do not transfer over to the adult world.

They may or may not qualify for funding to continue with speech therapy, occupational therapy, a job coach, unpaid work experience sessions or one to one instruction in the adult world. Most likely they will not qualify for those services under the adult providers on our island. Maybe in the “Real World” of the mainland or other states, but on our island the adult services are limited to what our local ARC  provides, which includes Adult Day Training (ADT)  program, Supported Living, Group Homes, Community Inclusion Activities and limited Employment Services. All the services are contracted via a provider that may or may not exist on our island. My young adults are limited by funding sources, if they want to be in an activity that provides independence and individuality, the funds may not support that desire.

Special Olympics has become a VERY important part of the lives of these young adults, giving them a FREE year round sports and social opportunity to be active in the community without a paid person controlling their time. Each athlete can be an individual and explore things that they would never have explored in the ARC or Adult Provider model of services. This is why I am so dedicated to giving Special Olympics countless hours of my unpaid time. Yet, this organization, as a non-profit has its systematic challenges and does not offer the security of the Public School System, I am finding that I am drawn to exploring the options Special Olympics volunteering can offer for my NEXT CHAPTER —— Retirement.

Recently I realized that I have spent my entire career giving others an opportunity to have a life, working to move systematic mountains to give them their dreams. Helping them open the doors to the NEXT CHAPTER of their lives. I am getting tired, yet I do not want to stop doing what I do for “my kids”. I am exploring my early retirement options and trying to figure out how to have a life of my own. This is scary for me. I am addicted to predictability, security and situations that offer me a sense of control.

As I move forward into the Early Retirement plan, I am learning that there are some secure things I will need to let go of. The idea that I will receive a cushy pension and that my insurance will be fully paid for was something that hooked me into this career in the 1970’s. That promise is changing for all of us. How we deal with it is an individual choice. I choose to take action and responsibility for my NEXT CHAPTER of life, not sit and complain or try to make the union take care of me. I am not sure where this will go or how it will look, all I know is that I am ready. Since the start of this school year, I have heard these words during my early morning coffee/meditation time:

“You have spent enough time giving others a life, it is time to get your own. Actively pursue Early Retirement”

I am going to honor that inner voice. There is more to be revealed as I take the actions needed to find out how I can exit this profession prior to age 62.

Flashbacks

For some reason I am having flashbacks to my other lives. Thanksgiving seems to bring glimpses of the lives I have lived….some good, some disturbing….a writer could make these pondering  into a 4 book series–20’s, 30’s, 40’s and now midway through the 50’s!

I am grateful for every moment t it took to bring me to this glorious island, where I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams!

As I sit on the screen porch, watching the winter light emerge in the sky, feel the cool breeze, hear the birds awake–experiencing the magic of a Key West morning— thoughts go to the people and places that influenced me, hurt me and guided me along this path–people who I am not in contact with anymore, places I have left and will never return to, I ponder on how live is for those people in those places and wonder if our paths will ever cross—I have heard it said that if you sit still on this island, eventually everyone will pass you on the road in and out!

The baggage that was left behind, the emotional investments that were not returned, the financial losses, the personal items–things I thought I could never live without, all that is  left behind–takes its toll, and yet, I am alive still creating chapters in this recent book,  full of gratitude because I choose to believe God has a purpose — which I continually seek.

I wish I had stayed in one place, stayed in one relationship that would have developed roots, grown strong and developed branches of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren—for some reason those desires, no matter how strong did not materialize. Maybe my people chooser was not developed or the instincts needed make good choices were not strong enough–for what ever the reason, my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s have all been lived as separate books, now into the middle of the 50’s edition–with starts and endings that brought me to this spot.

One commitment has stayed constant, no matter what turn the relationships or financial investments took–marriage, step children, parents, in-laws, step grandchildren, boyfriends, business investments, houses purchased and sold—As each book ended and another one started…..

My commitment to Special Education–all the bad choices I made, the joys that tried to distract me, the brilliant ideas that caused me to look away, the self delusional moments, did not erase the deep-seated commitment in my heart to special needs youth.

This is not a bad place to be–in my mid 50’s, looking at 8 years left of a very satisfying and constructive teaching career. The blessings that my students have given me through the years have  come back to me 10 fold!

Gratitude for the privilege to experience the subtle and sometimes minuet  learning moments in each child’s life overwhelms me. Realization that I have been blessed with moments in the lives of my students that others will never see.

I am pondering starting another book—-going after my Doctorate Degree, putting my life’s work into a dissertation that will be my legacy. This is not societies norm–most folks leave a legacy in their families–children, grandchildren and marriages–mine will be in the world of academia–where I have grown deep roots, roots that hold a huge tree of children, young adults and their families.

On Their Watch

On their watch, we enjoy our freedom. As American’s we are free to choose, we are free to disagree, we are free to not like each others choices, we are free to love—-Because of their watch.

The past few months have been a blur for me. School starting, big Special Olympics SUP event and home responsibilities have steamrolled me. As I emerge from the dust cloud of being way too busy, as I resume taking care of me and redefining some goals, taking stock of where my path is and what my choices are, I am missing my family. With both parents passed, no kids of my own and my brother’s family living in Tennessee, the family circle is very small.

Living on this island for the past 13 years has removed me from being involved in the day to day events of my family’s lives. There are many regrets that I missed the milestones in my nephews lives, and now I am missing those same moments in their children’s lives.

As the Holiday Season approaches, I get melancholy and wish I had made different choices that would have landed me closer to family. Yet I must remember that each time I try to leave this island, something keeps me here–finances, job responsibility, weather–every time I have tried to leave, something happens to keep me here. There is always a choice.

Reflecting on the times the choices have presented themselves, it becomes clear this where I am supposed to be and I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, so I stay, the island holds on to me. That knowledge does not make it any easier as my heart misses the things that happen in day to day relationships that families have when they live near each other.

Today, Veteran’s Day–causes me to reflect on these young men and their fellow comrades.

This sideshow pays tribute to my nephews and their families. I am so proud of them! I hope they know how much Aunt Ruth loves them and supports them, even though she is not there for their graduations, birthdays, military ceremonies and children’s births.

The music is from Mike Corrado— “On My Watch” and “Stand”

Featuring Retired Sargent Marine Jason B. Finch, 8 years of service as a Scout Sniper, wounded August 2004 at Ar Ramadi and Army Captain Michael S. Finch, currently serving, one tour in Afghanistan completed—these are my nephews.

In honor of all who stood watch, fought and served

In honor of all those that continue to ensure our freedom to choose.

Consolidating Information

I have been working on consolidating information regarding the process of Transition.

“The term “transition services” means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:
Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment); continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and
Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.”

The area of Transition has become my niche, my speciality area of expertise. I love learning about this process. It seems that personally,  I am always in some state of transition and always learn more about myself every time I assist a family to prepare for their child’s post-school adult life.

At the beginning of this school year  I got tired of searching, trying to find document, web links and resources when people asked me for them, or having them get lost in the digital no mans land. I will be using three places to post these goodies as I find them. This is going to be a work in progress and I hope it will benefit others.

Source One:  My KWHS teacher web page

Source Two: The TIES Facebook Page

Source Three: The Transition Resources Page on this blog

Keep checking on these three links—-this will be a work in Progress.

Please let me know what resources you use as a teacher, family member or a person with disabilities—I love learning new things!

Half Way Point

The half way point of summer has been reached. This year I choose to stay close to home and enjoy the paradise of the island. I have accomplished the art of living with the sun. Going to bed when it is dark and rising with the sun.

The biggest joy of the summer is being part of the development of our Monroe County Special Olympic SUP (Stand Up Paddle) Team. It is becoming apparent this is not just about learning to paddle and standing on a large board in the middle of the ocean! I am watching youth, who have unique learning abilities conquer fears, put aside behavioral issues, make changes in nutrition and lifestyles.

Amanda was afraid of the deep canal water. Casey from Lazy Dog helped her overcome the fear!

As these young adults experience the freedom of being on the water, without parents, teachers, therapists of others who control their lives— they are becoming confident to make choices, to speak up and to find out how to live more independent lives. They are becoming part of our island community and developing individual identities as athletes.

I too am learning more about myself and how to ask for help. I am not an athlete, I am a teacher, planner and visionary. AND A VERY PASSIONATE WATER WOMAN! But in order to give these athletes what I have so freely received from the ocean, I need help from skilled paddlers. A BIG THANK YOU TO THE LAZY DOG PADDLE TEAM! Without these ladies, the history that is being made in Monroe County Special Olympics could not be happening.

When I opened the current issue of the Standup Paddle Magazine, I cried, seeing the photo of our athletes. These young people are sharing the pages with legends, along with becoming legends in themselves! I realized that this has become bigger then Special Olympics—this SUP program has now become proof that this sport is for EVERYONE!

I personally have had my life change due to the empowerment that paddling has given me. When I go out on the water, paddle along the edge of the ancient mangroves of the Keys, finding places to dock the board and walk onto the old road, I am connected to those that lived on these limestone islands long before my time. My spirit is fed.

Walking from Old Road back to my board. Years ago, someone lived in this cove!

We are beginning the planning sessions for our First Annual SUP Invitational  on Oct. 14, 2012. There is so much for me to learn about putting on an event. More will be revealed!

It is humbling to have so many folks jumping in to help.

Ultimate Athletics–Race promoter Bill Elkins is teaching me how to stay focused, work as a team in order and plan with the big goal in mind in order to have something that will become established annually.

Lazy Dog-Race Trainers, Coaches and Board Suppliers—these ladies are teaching me to watch and listen, to slow down and not worry so much.

YOLO— Donations and Raffle Items–Jeff and Mitzi Archer teach me to enjoy each moment and to live life to it’s fullest!

Key Largo Bicycle Tours,–Donations and Raffle items –My new friend Mark Terrell is teaching me to keep it simple and explore this paradise I live in.

SUP Key West–Donations and Raffle Items—Megan is teaching me to slow down, that the journey IS the destination!

Paddle The Florida Keys–Donations and Volunteers—My new friend Scott is teaching me that a leap of faith is all it takes.

Let us know if you would like to join these awesome folks in helping us put on this upcoming event by emailing monroeSUP@gmail.com

The focus of this event is providing competition opportunities  for Special Olympics Athletes in the State of Florida at no charge, along with providing fun races for women, men and kids for a $25.00 registration fee to fund this First Annual SUP Invitational.

Save the date –Oct. 14, 2012—we will have hotels offering discounted rates for that weekend–come hang out with some awesome people!

Inspiration from Athletes

In the past year I have had the blessing of being involved with the development of Stand Up Paddle as a sport in the Florida Special Olympics.

The athletes have always inspired me, yet there has been something missing in the Monroe County program. We were offering the sports of Bowling, Biking and Bocce only up until September of 2011. We live on an island and I always wondered why we did not offer swimming. I was a sporadic volunteer and could not raise the passion needed for the commitment it required to give up weekends and countless hours to be fully involved in our Monroe County Special Olympic Program.

As always, my personal growth seems to overflow into my “job”, things I get passionate about seem to become part of the “lesson plan”. There is a lot of truth in the saying, “We teach what we need to learn.” In this case for me it is SUP (Stand Up Paddle) and all the stoke, ohona, spirit and love that goes with it.

It started in Oct. of 2010 when I took a Paddleboard Yoga class from Lazy Dog at Hurricane Hole on Stock Island. From the moment I paddled out into Cow Key Channel I knew that I had found my way back to the surfer girl who grew up on the beach in Jupiter Florida. I reconnected with the Florida water ecosystem, I felt the water rushing under the board, welcoming me home. The water that flows through Cow Key Channel, into the Gulf and Atlantic on it’s ancient pathway through the Everglades, past the Reef, into Hawks Channel, into Lake Okeechobee, through the Kissimmee River, into the Panhandle waterways……the water is what brings life to all of Florida, and in turn brings life to me!

As I stood on that board for the first time, the instinctual knowledge of the Florida Waterway system that I traveled as a young girl with my father, from Jupiter Inlet, to the Bahamas, throughout the locks of the Lake Okeechobee, through the Sea of Grass via airboat….flooded through me! I knew that I could access any of those places again from that board with a paddle in my hand. Never again would I have to depend on a boat, or spend money on maintaining and engine I know nothing about to access the water.

When I started riding motorcycles a good friend once told me ” When you ride in the car, you look at the scenery and when you are riding the motorcycle you ARE IN the scenery!”

And so it is on a board with a paddle. “When I am in a boat, I am looking at and skimming over the water, paddling a board I am PART OF THE WATER and all life in it!”

With this realization and utter freedom from all my self imposed ‘disabilities” and faulty thoughts that creep up to disable my dreams — “you are too fat” ” you are not good enough”

I realized that the people I have dedicated my life and career to CAN enjoy this too. So I started a google search of Special Olympics and Stand Up Paddle. I found a link to a fundraising paddle board race in Collier County, proving to me that this dream was possible!

Then I went to our Monroe County Coordinator and asked her if she thought this would fly here in the Keys…..for goodness sake we live on an island and why not!? was my thought. She was a bit apprehensive at first, and told me that our program had not ever tapped into the water sports areas because we do not have a swimming program….WHAT!??

So jumping in with both feet, I volunteered to start an Aquatics program for Monroe County. William Elkins from Ultimate Athletics has been a God Send! I find myself involved in not only the Special Olympic politics that comes with a huge non profit, but having to learn about competition swimming—- again the young high school girl who is on the swim team comes back to me, starting with the old faulty thinking and tries to derail me with her high school insecurities!

As we identified those athletes that can swim exceptionally well, we introduced paddling to them in a fun event. Michael Westenberg (Westy) a YOLO Board team racer brought boards out and we went for it. Our athletes, coaches, volunteers and families said that day was the most fun they ever had with Special Olympics! That was in August of 2010. We proceeded to have some training’s and SUP fun as part of our Aquatics Program, entering into discussions with the state office to entertain the introduction of SUP to the SO sports line up.

I started a conversation via Facebook with a fellow SUP enthusiast and she introduced me to MJ, the Aquatics coach in Collier County. I began finding out more about the fund raiser they hold each year, I entered a few YOLO sponsored races myself…..again having to deal with those faulty thoughts and personal insecurities that I consider to be my personal disability!

In April of 2011 myself and two other Monroe County Coaches took one of our Athletes to the Collier County SUP race/fundraiser. The vision I held was ignited in the two coaches and we returned to Monroe County ready to do whatever we needed to do to make SUP a reality for our athletes.

The SUP community in Florida started knocking on the state sports directors door asking to help, at first he was resistant, but the SUP community kept knocking and telling him that there is a place in the sport for ALL people. SUP is for everyone! Through Special Olympics these awesome athletes can safely learn the sport, meet mentors and enter races alongside world class competition athletes.

To date two of our Monroe County Athletes have paddled in WPA (World Paddle Association) point races! YOLO Board has stepped up and helped us with equipment, training coaches and mentoring me along the way. Yes, I have been teaching what I need to learn!

Let me win and if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt!

Our oath speaks to me in the fact that bravery is getting out there and doing it, making healthy choices, wearing a bathing suit in public, developing an exercise routine and training when I do not want to……silencing those faulty thoughts that tell me that I should do more, be more and am never good enough.

I am so blessed! Each day I pray that I can keep focused on the visions and dreams of others in order to conquer my disabled thinking!

Check out Florida Special Olympics Monroe County and keep an eye on this SUP group!

Locals Guide coverage of our preparations for the Key West Paddleboard Classic: