“Let’s go Switchbacks! Let’s go Switchbacks!” Sports events can be exciting, especially when the crowd stands together, claps and hands and joins in cheer for the team on the field. A buzz goes through the crowd when everyone is together in sync. It’s hard not to enjoy the moment.
Take a second and imagine that the cheers from the crowd are for you. You’ve made the final shot to win the game, scored a goal to break a tie or ran for a touchdown. The crowd goes wild chanting your name.
It’s easy to see why athletes and performers come back to the stage – they get instant feedback when their efforts go well. They have people lining up to take pictures with them and to have them sign just about anything – jerseys, shoes, scraps of papers and even arms and foreheads.
As parents of a family member with a disability, we rarely get that instant feedback. Strangers don’t come to us in restaurants and tell us how much they loved that time we drove to a therapy appointment. They don’t clap and cheer when we finish an IEP meeting and hold the school accountable about educating our children.
It’s up to us to cheerlead our lives, to give ourselves the applause and credit we want and to recognize our own actions. It’s easy to go through each day focused on our tasks, supporting our family members and working to provide a stable home and an environment where our family members can thrive. It’s not so easy to embrace those moments as wins for us and our family members. It’s hard to think that the work we put in today will be important and celebrated later.
It happens. My daughter has played soccer for most of her life both on community and Special Olympics teams. This year, she had a unique opportunity when her Special Olympics unified team gained support from the local pro team – the Switchbacks. They played one home game against the team affiliated with the Denver pro soccer club, the Rapids, and one away game on the Rapid’s turf. The pro teams held signing days and provided jerseys, visibility and a big stage for the games.
This was a win, for her and our family. She heard the cheers when on the field and felt the love from her teammates and coaches.
This win was not expected and as I think about how it came to be, several thoughts jumped out about how to have more of them and how to enjoy those moments that lead to them.
- Put energy towards activities designed for positive impact. Playing soccer was a way to stay active and have social interactions. It wasn’t designed for a moment on a pro field and that was a huge surprise and joy for us.
- Choose where you want to put your energy. Time is limited and between the required moments – schools, doctors, therapies – we engaged in activities that we enjoyed not because we expected the big opportunity but because it was fun for our family.
- Celebrate big and small. We celebrated every soccer occasion, from good traps and passes to goals to standing on a field with hundreds of people cheering. One of my daughter’s true skills is to celebrate moments and it’s become infectious.
I wish I could tell you I’ve learned to enjoy and appreciate each moment of each day. There’s work to be done. Yet, on those occasions and dates I do remember to do so, the days are better. Driving my daughter to her day program and back could feel like a chore. These days, I try to remember that it’s time together and that it’s a choice I make whether to spend those times crabby or appreciative, to complain or to celebrate each moment.
Maybe one day as I drive to the program, or to a doctor’s office, the supermarket or the clothing store, there will be a group out there cheering me on, waving signs and chanting my name. Until then, I will remember to do it for myself and appreciate the effort and drive that it takes to be a parent of a daughter with an intellectual disability.