Id like to share an article written by Canadian Olympian Silken Laumann.
by Silken Laumann
Today I stopped complaining about pace, and lost swimsuits, and too many hours driving kids; today, through Kilee, I remembered that there is joy in every experience, if we just get up when the music begins and start dancing.
Patch and I have four kids between us: two of his, two of mine. Each morning (in June) I have woken up and braced myself for the day; reminding myself that it is June, a month that next to September, parents just hope to survive. The list of special end of year events feels endless and almost undoable. Our 15 year old special needs daughter Kilee has less on her plate, and her opportunities to attend parties are few and far between.
So you can understand, why on Saturday night, having already attended two dance recitals the night before and knowing I would need to rise at 6am Sunday morning for my sonʼs triathlon, I offered to take Kilee to a teen dance. The dance was part of a day called Operation Track Shoes, a chance for very special children, teens and youth from BC to enjoy a full weekend of athletic play and competition.
That day Kilee ran the 50m and initially leapt out ahead, and then she decided to stop, turn around and wave at the other competitors, run backward awhile and then finish with her dad running beside her. She wasnʼt the fastest on Saturday but when she came home with her dad she proudly wore her nine ribbons, whose colours had nothing to do with winning, but indicated which colours the kids and young adults liked best!
As a competitive athlete, I couldnʼt help but be alittle interested in how fast she ran, how much she had shot putted, and how high she jumped. I wondered why she hadnʼt entered the swimming in the afternoon because with her strength and technique she would be sure to garner a medal. I made a mental note to begin to plan next yearʼs lessons for our kids to include a competitive swim program for Kilee. That was before the dance.
A few hours later, Kilee wore a pretty flowered shirt and her favorite shorts and we arrived at the dance. The DJ announced the music would start and there was great cheering and hoopla, and then the music started and something amazing happened. Every single teenager in the room, every single one, leapt out of their chair and ran, wheeled, jumped onto the dance floor. Within a few seconds every seat in the house was empty and everyone was dancing and singing and jumping around. I have never seen anything like it. There wasnʼt an ounce of self- consciousness in the whole room put together—some kids got so excited they screamed out loud!
Kilee suddenly flung her arms up and squealed while parents got into the bogey with kids that needed some extra help. The first dance was ABBAʼs Dancing Queen, Kileeʼs favorite music ever, so right then and there I started crying. My heart grew two sizes in that instant: I was filled with the love and energy in that room. I had so much fun dancing with Kilee and the “twins” Scott and Neil who both had Downʼs syndrome and were amongst the most happening and least self- conscious boys their age I have ever seen. After two dances a young man joined our little dance group and started spinning on the floor. The only child I had ever seen do this before was Kilee. She watched in amazement and then she got on the floor beside him and started to spin at high speeds.
And right then I got it—this had nothing to do with who was the best runner, and who was athletic and autistic, or a great swimmer. This was about joy, pure and simple. The organizers of this Operation Track Shoes offered an opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities to play, to run and jump and dance and connect with a community of people who embraced them without judgment or fear of proper appearances. These teens and adults live everyday in a world, where they donʼt “fit in” not because of anything that they are doing, but because of our own discomfort with looking different acting different, speaking too loudly. These young people have the real gift, the gift of expressing themselves authentically, without a self censoring process that sifts out so much of the joy. It is we who have the disability, the inability to express ourselves authentically in our life, the attachment to fitting in that is so near and deep inside us that we rarely can let go of it.
Just look at the daily gossip television shows, and current events to see how desperately we are all working to look and act the same. Originality, creativity and authenticity are being eroded by a huge wave of homogenous thinking, acting and appearing. On Saturday night I couldnʼt help but wonder how often does our need to not stand out, prevent us from experiencing joy?
These kids wonʼt be the ones straightening their hair, getting their teeth whitened, and wearing expensive designer jeans. They will never fit into societyʼs idea of “normal”. Their energy isnʼt spent on conformity—it is redirected to more important activities; the expression of love, joy and happiness.
When you have a special needs child, you stand out the minute you walk into the book stores or your local coffee shop, but before long, you stop caring. You know you have been chosen to travel a special journey with your child and however difficult and wonderful this journey is, it is a journey of a lifetime. Today I stopped complaining about pace, and lost swimsuits, and too many hours driving kids; today, through Kilee, I remembered that there is joy in every experience, if we just get up when the music begins and start dancing.