My daughter likes to hang a 12 month calendar in her room. Every year it is a different theme. One year it was dogs, another year it was Anna and Elsa from Frozen, this year it’s unicorns. She loves to flip it over every month and see what the new picture is. This month, for November, it is a unicorn with the words Choose Happy.
I often mention happiness when I talk about this journey. It’s ironic that her calendar should say choose happiness this month. For it was in the month of November that the person who made me understand happiness passed away.
Strangely enough she was one of my daughter’s team leaders. It’s probably not too often that a team leader makes such an impact. This one did and she made me realize the direction we always needed to go in.
We had a rough start as we entered our new world of IEP meetings and the invited guests known as “the team”. We really were clueless as we sat and listened to all of these people read their reports. We signed the first few IEPs but when our daughter was still making no progress and still miserable we started questioning everything and disagreeing with the team. The team leader would sit at one end of the table and I would sit at the other end. We would always lock eyes and try to read each other’s face. This lady was so good at not letting you know what she was thinking. She once told me she could never read my face either. We both agreed on this one.
We disagreed however on a lot of things. Because the team leader was not allowing the team to hear our voices we were forced to hire an attorney and pay thousands of dollars so that our voices would be heard. You would think under those circumstances there would be anger. Yes, in the beginning I was angry, very angry.
As time went on this one particular team leader gained my respect. There was a phone call one day when her voice honestly cracked and she mentioned something personal about her own story. It was that one personal moment that made a difference. And it’s those people that have shared something about themselves that have made the greatest impact. I understand that we all have to be so very careful about what we say and do around each other because there is always that threat of a lawsuit. I’m saying, however, it worked better for us when we gained that personal connection. In those meetings she was always tough as nails. We sat at opposite ends of the table but I respected her and I felt she respected me. As the years passed and she was no longer our team leader she always asked how Kelsey was doing and was genuinely interested.
Unfortunately cancer took her away a few years ago. The last time I ever saw her we hugged which seemed so strange at the time. Never in a million years would I have thought I would ever be hugging my daughter’s team leader. She asked me if my daughter was happy. I said, “yes,very.” As I walked away I realized no one had ever asked me that before. From that point on I understood how we would keep moving forward. Happiness would always be the place we were trying to get to.
Getting there isn’t easy. You face many bad days along the way. Happiness doesn’t mean there are no rules, boundaries and responsibilities for your child. It’s because of those rules, boundaries, and responsibilities at home, in school, and in the community that happiness is found. It’s about the consistency of those expectations that make things predictable.
This journey forces us to continue moving and unfortunately happiness is not always a permanent place. In a few months as my daughter ages out and begins to venture down an unfamiliar road happiness will be something she will have to find again. But she will. She will because someone once pointed out to me that is the ultimate goal to achieve.