Starting middle school is a milestone in every child's life. Afterall it is the begining of "teendom" as we say.
So in August of this year, just like any typical family we as parents had our fears and concerns about Ari's leap forward into middle school. But our anxiety level was higher than normal because Ari is not just an average Kid. She has Cerebral Palsy and is Visually Impaired. How would the kids at school react to her disabilities?would she be treated ok? would she be picked on? would she be accepted??? Middle school is rough, it is the brink of adolescence and the begining of the dreaded identity crisis. It can bring out both the best and the worst in kids. Our two older children survived those rough middle school years but could Ari survive?
One week into school, it hit us like a ton of bricks that the challenge to overcome was not going to be lack of acceptance from her peers, but rather, it was Ari's lack of acceptance. Accepting her OWN physical limitations, and struggling to get beyond them. You see, we were all so overjoyed that Ari's peers at school were embracing her with open arms. She was navigating the social scene quite well. She even founded a new club, lunch time Jump Rope club as a means to interract socially. Of course she can't actually jump over the rope, but she turns it. Gleefully singing with each swing of the rope turn. She was experiencing success as she transitioned into 7th grade, but she kept voicing her frustration about PE class. We would pick her up from school and she would be overwelmed with sadness. As she spoke about PE Class we learned it was a marine style bootcamp that demands rigorous physical exercises. That, was the culprit of her tears, it wasn't the kids, nor the academics, nor the environment. Each day the tears were streaming down her face as she realized her body would not move or cooperate even a just a little bit, to engage in those exercises that were expected of her. It was a milestone alright, but not of the happy kind.
So we responded with our get up and advocate for our daughter mode. Due to years of practice, Michael & I, are very good at springing into action with our strategic problem solving. We went to school, observed PE, spoke with "coach", the name PE teacher prefers to be called by. Michael even did the "Man to Man" talk with Coach in the hopes of getting him on board by reaching out to Ari, instead of alienating her. We set up the modified curriculum for Ari with her adaptive PE teacher's input. We made suggestions, lots of them to assist Ari and improve her success rate with the Physical activities she CAN do. So the wheels were turning in a more favorable direction, but the spark in her eye and the smile on her face were not as bright.
She was still so sad, and it hurt me as a mother to see her pain. More than anything we have always wanted to protect her from the emotional pain that so often is present with the hurdles disabled children face. So on this particular day, as I tied my running laces to go out the door for a run, it hit me hard. She stopped me and said, "I want to run with you". She had said this before on many occasions, but this time it was different. It was the tone of her voice, I could hear her sadness. It was the expression on her face, it tugged on my heart strings. There was a void in her eyes and I wanted to fill it. I immediately responded without hesitation, "We will run together, we will run a race together, I will make it happen, there is no doubt in my mind. Lets run a 5K together next week!
So on September 1 2012, Team Ari was rolled out. Literally rolling that is! I pushed Ari in her wheelchair for our first race together. Appropriately it was the Balloon race, a 5k race to benefit Children's Hospital, Madera. After all, we had spent over 10 years receiving treatment from providers at this wonderful institution, so it seemed fitting that we would test our wheels on this course. It was an exhilarating experience for Ari, as she loved feeling the wind on her face, high fiving spectators on the course, and asking me to push her faster to cross the finish line! We laughed and shared a moment before we ran back out on the course to catch Michael. Ari was beaming as we crossed the finish line for a second time with Dad. I could see the brightness in her eyes and face returning. I fought back the tears, but these were my tears of joy, not sadness. Immediately Ari requested that we run another race, but it had to be 10K next time, she said. She wanted to go a further distance. Don't give up she said, just keep going! So it was official, Team Ari was born. It was another Milestone, and she owned it, with Miles of Smiles.