Monday, August 15, 2011

A Playground for All

Water bottle? Check. Snack? Check. Tweezers? Double check. 

For six years, this has been my mental checklist when I've taken my kids to play at the Cornelia School playground. I have wheedled, needled and coaxed so many slivers from my kids' fingertips, elbows and knees that I think I have earned some kind of honorary surgical assistant degree. I am thankful to say, however, that my nightmares of needing magnifying reading glasses prematurely are at an end, and a new day has dawned for our beloved but dilapidated recreational area. 

When news of a new playground circulated throughout the school, I marched myself right up to the Principal, Chris Holden, and said “I’m putting down my tweezers and picking up my sledgehammer! Where do I sign?”

The process was a little more daunting than I had originally hoped. There was little to no money for this task, which meant that we needed to do some serious fundraising. If anyone knows me, they know that my talent does not lie in this area. Give me a paint brush or a party to throw and I’m a workhorse, but tell me to ask for money and I’m useless. Mercifully, I was not expected to be the muscle in this arena, as we had already secured a lot of necessary capital through PTO allocations, a sizeable grant from The Edina Education Fund, and some wonderful private family donations. Additional donations from all over the community came in, from generous sponsors, engraved brick sales, lemonade stands, and even a birthday party where two students raised over $600 in lieu of gifts. 

During the design process, I learned another disturbing fact about our old playground: a large percentage of our special needs students couldn’t even access the structure because of the surrounding pea gravel. Wheelchairs and other mobility aids were unable to navigate through this slippery mass of rocks. And I was annoyed from constantly having to empty shoes and pockets!

One rainy Saturday in June, a crew of highly-motivated community members, along with experienced construction experts, rallied to tear down the old playground to make way for a beautiful new  structure (watch some video here). The new design is more inclusive and has accessible areas for students with physical disabilities. It is surrounded by special woodchips designed to interlock into a flat surface for wheelchair accessibility. The structure includes a Sway Fun, a Spacenet climber, a roller table and so much more.

Our Grand Opening celebration will be held on Wednesday, August 17th from 5-7pm, and will include special performances by the Edina High School cheerleaders as well as The Bleacher Blasters, so pack a picnic dinner and come on over to cheer on this amazing community collaboration! I am really looking forward to spending a glorious evening surrounded by wonderful friends and, for once, leaving my tweezers at home.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Don't Say He Can't Do It

 Sometimes it's a leap of faith to send your child to public schools--especially if you have a child with special needs. Will a large public school be able to meet every individual child's needs? Read more about one family's search for the right school for their child here; read about their decision for next year below.

Don't say he can't do it! This was my reaction to one of William’s siblings when they expressed the idea that William would never be able to slalom water ski, and therefore shouldn’t try. I know why they said it, they were worried he’d fail. How he’d feel. How we’d feel. Sometimes it’s easier not to try.  But the advocate in me spoke up. I’d like to say I knew that William would be able to do it, but I didn’t.  It just felt unfair to not let him try something any typical child could attempt. What’s the harm in trying? If he’s not meant to slalom ski, he can keep skiing with two skis. Or just go tubing.  

Of course, he showed us. He did it. He tried every time we were at the lake this summer. He didn’t get discouraged. He didn’t doubt himself. And he did it.  He did it his way, by “dropping a ski” instead of being pulled up on one. Once he got it, he did three laps around the lake, until we cut the engine so he could stop and rest. Then three laps again later that afternoon. And again that evening. And the grin on his face could have cleared a cloudy sky.

This story illustrates why we have decided William will attend public middle school in Edina this fall, instead of the small private school for kids with disabilities we were considering. Simply put, that’s what he wants.  Desperately wants. So much so that he said “Please, Mom, I’m begging you, let me try South View!”

What would I possibly say to that? “You can’t try it?” “You’re too disabled?” “You won’t be able to do it?” No, I can’t say that.  

We’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to two skis.

And we’ll remember to wear a life jacket.
Laura Nisi

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

May They Bloom and Grow

Like many Edina families, we have a small yard. 0.15 acres, to be exact. But, within this tiny plot, I have been amazed this season by the symphony of change that has been orchestrated. First, an April appearance of pink blossoms on the crabapple tree. Next, a few May weeks of fragrant purple lilacs. Enter in a couple June weeks of blazing pink peonies. And now, the bursts of Hydrangea.

These blooming moments have been fleeting. Favorite flowers make their appearances, then leave us within weeks. During their peaks I try to soak them in, appreciate their beauty. I know they come in phases and won't stay for long. 

I guess our children aren't much different? Recently, my mom and I got into an interesting discussion. She said if she could have just one wish, she would ask to go back in time and spend a day with my sisters and me at each age and stage of our childhoods. While mothering four children, the days sometimes seemed long to her. But she says the years were in fact short. Very short.

My oldest son, J.J., turns eight-years-old tomorrow. At 5:59am, to be exact. The 5:59am moment of his arrival was breath-taking. I never knew I could love anyone so much. I am feeling sentimental.  How could that little 8-pounder now be eight years old? He seems so different lately. He is now big enough to hit a 40-mph baseball. He can make it on a 15-mile bike ride around the lakes. He helped his tentative mom ski down a black diamond in Colorado. He tells a mean joke. And, he shows me how to work features on my iPhone. 

Like the hydrangea, he is entering into yet another fleeting phase of his childhood. With every different age and stage, he has revealed more of himself--who he is and glimpses of what he is to become.  I am excited about what is in store for him this year. And, feeling a bit sad about leaving age seven behind.

So, I leave us parents with a wish and a few quotes to reflect on. May we soak in the "seasonality" of our children, realize that each stage is fleeting, that they are constantly growing and changing. And, may all of these changes come bearing gifts.

"We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves." -Lynn Hall
"Change always comes bearing gifts." - Price Pritchett
"Change may come to you in trinkets and I hope it adorns your life gracefully." - Dodinsky
"Growth is the only evidence of life." -John Henry Newman

Jen Dewing