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World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition


World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition

I’m not your typical Soccer Mom and Henry isn’t your typical Soccer player.  In fact, I’m not even your typical Special Olympics Soccer Mom, and Henry definitely isn’t your typical Special Olympian. 

Henry was 6 or 7 when we started Special Olympics. We only started because the coach bugged me.  I am not a sports person.  I’m a theater person.  I never played team sports and I had very little interest in getting my child involved. I didn’t want to go to practices, I didn’t want to get up early and drive 30 miles to Apopka on a Saturday morning, and I didn’t want to own a fold out chair.   But Coach kept at me, “Get Henry into Special Olympics.”  I asked her straight up, “What’s he going to do, host?” “I promise you, he loves it.”  

So off we went to our first competition, track & field.  We drove 30 miles.  I didn’t get a camp chair.  The kids ran the 50 yard dash with a helper at the finish line holding their favorite item — a bag of cheetos, a People magazine, a bag of M&Ms.  Henry’s helper held a DVD case.  On your mark, get set, go! And they were off, hyper-focused on their goodies, except Henry.  His body was running down his lane, but his face was turned to the cheering crowd.  He was on fire!  We were jumping up and down and screaming like crazy.  He ran all the way to the finish line where Mr. Eric was waving his favorite Disney DVD.  And he stopped, right before the line, then he turned and waved to the crowd.  Mr. Eric was screaming.  We were screaming.  CROSS THE LINE! CROSS THE LINE!   The more we yelled, the more he soaked it in — standing 2 inches from the finish line, basking in the glory.  

The next year, Coach Haas did get him the opportunity to host.  He led the athlete's oath on a microphone and has done so off and on for years. We gave up on Track & Field for Special Olympics Bowling, Basketball Skills and Soccer Skills.  That’s 3 times a year for those still counting. Some years we make it to State.  Other years we enjoy our sixth place ribbon.  I still have never bought a camp chair. And I admit, that on occasion I cheer for him to get 4th place so we don’t have to go on to the State level.  Honestly, going to both the County and Area competitions of an elevated game of HORSE is enough, right?  This attitude has earned me the title World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition.  

The truth is he does love it.  He loves the attention.  If he’s not the chosen host, he hosts anyway, introducing his team, taking to the court or the field when there is a lull in activities, and always entertaining the parents and the volunteers. And I remain the World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition — I forget to bring water.  I forget what weekend it’s on.  I never have a chair.  I forget sunscreen.  I forget a snack.  The times I remember to bring water and snacks we’re there for 20 minutes, up first, play, get our ribbon and go and I have to haul all that junk back to the car.  When I forget to bring the giant cooler of treats, a magazine for me, an iPad for him, that’s when we’re inevitably there for four hours.  

There are many Special Olympians that are true athletes and the passion Henry has for entertaining, they have for their sport. It’s always a pleasure to watch them in action.  Henry does ok with his sport and he’s gotten better every year.  But here’s the thing about Special Olympics that I didn’t expect.  He loves the competition.  All the kids do. It does something to them.  Their energy changes.  Their focus increases.  Their passion gets channelled.  They work together as a team. They work to best their own performance. I had no idea that team sports would do this for Henry but it has.  He’s grown as a person, his disability has been challenged and his character developed.  And sometimes he gets to host. Now to entertain myself and Henry while we wait his turn, we create live streaming videos where he turns soccer skills into a Million Dollar Tournament.  This keeps me from being the worst soccer mom on the field and enables me to maintain my title World’s Okayest Mom, Special Olympics Edition.  This year, not only did he do videos, host, and hand out a trip to Jamaica but he played really well.  He got a blue ribbon and first place in his division.  Yay!  State Competition here we come…







Every year Henry and I go on vacation to my dad’s summer home in Idaho.  Dad’s grandparents bought the property in 1937.  There are LOTS of stories. 

In the original cabin, there was a wrap-around porch where we all slept.  When the original cabin finally sank into the ground mom and dad had a nice, solid, winterized house built with 2 bedrooms, futon, cots and a fabulous deck that’s best for coffee or wine and reading.  

It took me several years to bring Henry to Idaho. I was afraid.The lake is right at the bottom of the stairs. The woods are next to the house. The Methodist camp is right behind us. The Lightning Bar is up the street. Any number of dangers await a small child with a communication disorder. 

Finally, I manned up. He was almost 10. My dad and my brother were going to be there at the same time and so between the three of us, everything should be OK.  Right?  Right?! 

When we got to Idaho, Henry’s response was the same as ours always is — total awe.  From the cabin with the many beds (Henry loves beds, for a special treat take him to IKEA where he will get into every single bed on display) to the deck on stilts on the hill to the stairs that lead to the rock-filled beach to the lake that stretches across to a mountain.  With sunny days, cold nights and sweater mornings it was as much heaven for him as it is for all of us. 

Each night he slept in a different bed (see IKEA note above). By the fourth night he exhausted his options so I put him in the first night’s bed under the window.  We woke up the next morning to find him on the floor in the front hall wrapped like a burrito in the rag rug that Great Grannymom made with her own hands.  

This got him a stern talking to.  I wrote a note for him that he was not to do that again.  So he didn’t.  The next morning we couldn’t find him anywhere.  I ran around the house screaming his name the panic rising in my stomach while dad and my brother Charles did the same screaming and running.  Then we noticed the antique handmade rag rug was gone from the front hall.  Find the rug, find the boy. 

He was under the stilted deck that provides a nice sort of shelter, wrapped in the rag rug, now more like a sleeping bag. 

Ah, ok. “Do you want to sleep outside?” Anytime I ask him a question that he has clearly been trying to communicate for a while, I get a ‘Well, duh’ look.  I’m the one with the communication disorder.  He’s been quite clear, it’s me that isn’t getting it.  

That afternoon we all drove up to Cabela’s, a store we suburbanites do not frequent, and Henry picked out acamouflage sleeping bag that came with it’s own canteen and flashlight. 

I was still pretty much freaking out about him sleeping outside. There are moose, deer, skunk, raccoons and Methodist teenagers out in this wilderness.  Charles & I devised a plan with the sleeping bag on top of the air mattress on top of the deck, the stairs to under the deck blocked off.  While we were setting up we sat down on the air mattress and looked at the sky, filled with stars.  

“Well, we’re idiots,” said Charles. 

Pretty much.  We missed out on this for the last 40 years.  

That first night I didn’t sleep much, my dreams haunted by Far Side bears eating campers.  But it’s been 10 years and from that year on Henry always sleeps outside, now in a tent in the yard with an extension cord for his iPad.

Henry’s ability to communicate his wants makes me want to be as clear and bold as he is about how I want to live.