Today, SNSS is going hyper-local. My guest today, Michaela Searfoorce, is someone I actually met first in real life and not the bloggosphere. (What? It happens!) She lives in my neighborhood and our sons were in the same special needs "challenger division" basketball league.
Furthermore Michaela is a major force in the New York City Upper West Side Special Needs Parenting community. I had found out about the basketball league at one of the regular monthly informational meetings that Michaela organizes.
Her blog The Foorce (a fun play on her name) is mostly focused on providing support and resources for our local New York City special needs community, but is also a place where Michaela shares some of her personal story from time to time.
She is the mother of three children: 11 year-old James and his two young sisters. James has a rare chromosome defect which has resulted in numerous medical issues, global developmental and physical delays, and labels such as PDD-NOS, Sensory Integration Dysfunction and ADD.
Chances are, if you have a special needs child(ren), they have at least something in common with James. I can tell you firsthand he is a delightful boy with a huge heart and I was always happy when he and Jake were paired up together in basketball practice.
Read on, now, for a glimpse into Michaela's wonderful family, a pair of life-slices that add up to a beautiful thought:
The Bucket and the Mandrake: Two Small Stories, One Big Lesson - by Michaela Searfoorce
James looked tearfully after the preschooler who was sauntering away with his bucket. Though he is 11 years old now, James is unable to stick up for himself in many circumstances, even with children half his size and age.
After asking politely (meekly, in my opinion) for his bucket back, the boy who grabbed it said "no" and walked over to the other sand area, leaving James to dig around pathetically in the sand with his shovel. I could tell he was upset, both frustrated and embarrassed by his fear of confronting the other child.
"Give James his bucket back right now!"
No, that wasn't me. It was my 2 yr old daughter, jumping down from a nearby jungle gym and charging after the offender. She reached him and ripped the bucket from his hand, yelling "Leave my brother alone. That's his bucket!"
The boy stood there, mouth hanging open. So did I. My daughter marched the bucket back to James and proudly announced, "Here James. Here is your bucket! It's okay!" James wiped his eyes and said gratefully, "Thanks, Margaret."
"Mom, help! No - don't do it!"
Flash forward to the Harry Potter exhibit in Times Square. I had decided to brave the trip alone while Ryan was at work, and as a consequence was having trouble keeping as close an eye on both James and my 2 year old as I would've liked.
The exhibit was a cool collection of trinkets, costumes and props from the Harry Potter series. James has read all of the books, seen all of the movies, and was even Harry Potter for Halloween last year - I fully expected him to be in love with the place. And he was, aside from some initial anxiety when the sorting hat was placed on peoples heads and loudly started sorting them into Hogwarts houses.
About halfway through the exhibit, Margaret and I were standing by the mandrakes while she eagerly pulled each model plant out of the soil to hear it screech.
For those of you who are not Potter fan(atic)s, mandrakes are small, ugly potted creatures that live in the soil - when you pull them out they emit a cry that renders a person immobilized. Full grown mandrake cries will kill you (don't worry, I'm not ruining a big part of any book!), and in the books students would wear special head gear in order to protect themselves.
So when James saw Margaret across the room, gleefully pulling mandrakes from the soil to listen to their cries, he flew into a total panic. He ran to the far side of the exhibit (self preservation) while screaming, "No! No Margaret! Stop touching them! Mom! Help Margaret! Don't do it, Margaret!"
Everyone froze at the sound of the screams. Tourists young and old looked around the room for "Mom," probably wondering whether this was part of the show or if this large pre-teen was actually terrified of a fake potted plant.
I rushed over and explained to James that they weren't real and that it was okay to pull the mandrakes out, but he wouldn't hear of it. He remained hysterical until we moved Margaret out of danger.
Five minutes later they were both throwing quaffles at quidditch posts. (I don't have time to explain everything about Harry Potter here!)
I know that some day Margaret will bear the brunt of the "hero responsibility." At 2 years old she already looks out for James in a way that makes me proud.
But, it is my most sincere hope that when she's older she will still be able to remember these times when James bravely tried to come to her rescue as well.
Reading this lovely post, I found myself once again wishing I had somehow been magically able to provide Jake with a little sister to look up to and after him.
And then I read some of Michaela's "Patience and Foortitude" posts on her blog about the challenges of life with a big special needs kid, a toddler and a baby... and I rethought that one.
Having had a little glimpse into Michaela's family here, you should definitely follow her home to her blog, The Foorce, to read more. If you are New York City local, read it all, there's some great resources there. If you're from elsewhere and want to skip the local stuff,, the posts in the "General" category are where you'll find the personal, family ones.
Start here with this one, about a particularly exhausting evening: Patience and Foortitude, Part 3: Just Foortitude This Time, With Special Guest Appearance By Windex (and yes, I've finally found someone who makes my often long post titles seem pithy).
Also, try this post about a milestone - riding a Ferris Wheel - that may seem small to some, but we special needs parents know better. Or this one, a letter of appreciation on James's 11th birthday.
Finally, if you want further proof of what a supermom Michaela is, read this pair of posts about James's heartbreaking massive "poop incident" at his school (due to his medical issues) and how his mom talked to his inclusion class about it (and answered other questions about James' differences) so that he would be safe retuning to the school, afterward.
Thank you so much, Michaela, for sharing your wonderful son James, and the rest of your lovely, special family with us today.
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