Thursday, January 21, 2010

We Got Lost on the Detour, Part III

Part III of last week's post, We Got Lost on the Detour, Pt. II.
This post written by Sandra and Murray MacDonald.
Excerpt from "The Ideal Way to Cook: Food for Thought".

The Nature vs Nurture detour, on the other hand, was extremely gratifying and I believe, highly successful! I sincerely believe we cheated Nature (somewhat at least) and found that overloading on Nurture produced wonderfully educated, socially adept, very interesting and self-confident kids, not to mention many memorable family experiences. We have literally taken the kids everywhere and done everything while we were there. We spent summers doing eight-week road trips in a tiny VW camper, cruising throughout Canada and the U.S., from Florida to Alaska and from New England to Vancouver Island. We've poked our way through the Caribbean, Mexico and New Zealand. The kids have hiked into the inside of a glacier, canoed and portaged through God's country, trekked up mountains to see spectacular views, dug dinosaur bones in the Badlands, fished for salmon downstream from Kodiaks, floated next to big whales, panned for gold, spent hundreds of hours in museums and aquariums of every kind, watched sunsets over oceans, lakes and valleys, roasted a million marshmallows in campfires, swam with manta rays and sharks (the ones with small teeth!), cycled through national parks, swam in clean, clear, sparkling rivers and waterfalls, watched local history and stories unfold in interactive theatre, caught all kinds of critters in their dip nets, and met many strange and wonderful people along the way.

As a result, all our children, and especially Neil, have such a rich and varied general knowledge of geography, history, science and nature. Neil can understand and relate to a huge variety of subjects and topics, mainly because....he's been there and done that! He has loads of material to converse to others about and people marvel at all the tidbits of trivia he is able to discuss. Being able to have a decent conversation with others is a valuable skill when you are mentally handicapped.

In another effort to overload on Nurture, we got all the kids involved in many sports. We had no way of knowing how absolutely crucial to Neil's development this detour would turn out to be. In the last 20 years, he has played in hundreds of regular and Special Olympic games and competitions in soccer, baseball, floor hockey, as well as powerlifting, curling and downhill skiing. He's competed at provincial and national levels and been very successful. This has served to give him an enormous well of self-confidence. He is almost too confident!

There's nothing he can't do (according to him!). Teaching him how to play different sports has been a double blessing. Not only has it given him a powerful platform from which to continually draw self-assurance, but it has, time and time again, proven to be the most important social leveler he has. In integrated settings, his peers look at his facial features, assume the worst, and write him off. He joins them in a game, or races past them on the ski hill, and in the male world of machoism, they suddenly are forced to readjust their opinion of him. They immediately accept him into their circle, and now they are open to interacting with him. I sit back and smile. Life can be sweet sometimes!

Sports also provided us with our own personal detour. We learned to be Special Olympics coaches. For 12 years now we both have coached soccer, baseball, curling and skiing, and we've learned so much from our athletes. They always, always try their hardest and they love you to pieces for giving them your time. What else can a coach ask for?

We also decided when he was young, that Neil had to be included in everything we wanted to do as a family. We were not going to not do something because Neil couldn't join us, nor were we willing to leave him behind. More Nurture work. Don't make excuses for him; teach him how to do it! His siblings learned to ride a bike in less than a week. Four years later, running alongside of him and experiencing many face plants in wet, dirty ditches or crash landings into hedges or telephone poles, and umpteen scraped knees and hands, Neil finally managed to stay upright on two wheels. I thought it would never happen! We've ridden our bikes together as a family on many exciting adventures in so many different places. I am so glad we persevered.

It was the same for skiing. When the kids were teens, we wanted to resume that sport we so enjoyed before the kids were born, but would Neil ever be able to learn it? The other two were wonderful skiers after just one season. It took three years of me cajoling, and skiing backwards, holding his tips together, and him screaming, "I can't do it!", but eventually he was able to ski on his own and not cream anybody on the slopes. Ten years later, he won three Silver medals in the advanced race division at the Winter Provincial Games. He skies with us in the East and in the Rockies, on blues and on blacks. He's poetry in motion on his skis.

So it's a funny thing about road trips. You can sometimes get onto some pretty rough roads. You often find yourself having to detour, and then you get lost. Too many detours and you really get lost! God never made a GPS for the road trip of life. Our crashed road trip didn't suddenly end in 1982 as we thought. We're still trying to find our way back, so in a way we are still lost. But it's been one heck of a trip, so far!



Don Yeo said...

As life’s chances have blessed Neil to be born into the ultra-nurturing MacDonald family, so have life’s chances blessed Robert to be born into the ultra-nurturing Hajjar family. Would that it were so for all of those born with Down syndrome, Autism, etc.

It has been my good fortune to know each of these wonderful young men. In their different ways, each provides outstanding living proof that, to quote Robert, “When people like me are given love, encouragement and opportunity, amazing results are possible.”

By letting the world know about the inspiring accomplishments of their sons, these families are offering, much needed, genuine hope to other parents of “special” children.

Bravo MacDonald and Hajjar families! And, I say, “Bravo” Ideal-Way for providing good outlets for amazing and inspirational stories like these, that need to be told and, thereby, giving Hope that is very real to a, too often, despairing world.

Maureen Lee said...

Thank you, Don, for your eloquent words. Yes, "bravo MacDonald and Hajjar families" - "would that it were so for all of those born with Down sydrome, autism, etc." And I am grateful that Sandra and Murray MacDonald chose to share their story with us. Their story is one of hope, for to quote Robert Hajjar, "when people like me are given love, encouragement and opportunity, amazing results are possible."

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