“Hand in Hand” with Elayne

Elayne Pearson

From Planting Seeds to Harvesting Success

The other day a neighbor offered me some fresh garden produce and I happily accepted. My husband and I haven’t taken the effort to build up our rather alkali soil to produce a decent garden, so I truly appreciated the gift.

Later, after I saw the box of zucchini squash and some odd looking green bell pepper-looking things, I realized I would need to actually create meals with them. (Silly me, I had imagined my delivery box would contain picture perfect long carrots with the frilly green stems on top like Bugs Bunny eats, and shiny red tomatoes that make any salad or sandwich even better — both requiring little preparation.) Heck, I wasn’t even sure if some were cucumbers or zucchini and if those odd looking green items were mild green bell peppers or hot and spicy peppers. Yet, I felt compelled to use them. You see, I was raised with the old pioneer adage: “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

The busy lady and convenience-loving woman in me quickly realized I’d have to take the time to go through the recipes books, ensure all of the ingredients were available, and bake it to just the right time — without being sure if I’d have success with the effort. (Frankly some of my experiments have been eaten with great anticipation, then when the meal concluded, the leftovers were quietly transferred to the trash.)

Though I wasn’t itching to cook from scratch that day, it just felt like the right thing to do. So I combed through the zucchini recipes, matching them with my ingredients on hand, and—low and behold—they turned out to be the best muffins I’ve ever made. They were melt-in-your-mouth amazing.

Munching on them, I marveled at what a journey I was a small part of, from that humble seed, into the soil, to the farmer’s harvest, and then my effort leading to a bounty for our plates and palate.

Seeds are interesting things. I recalled a time in our life with Heidi, our daughter, who was born with Down syndrome was a happy little toddler. I took her to the local schools.  First, as “show-and-tell” for her very proud sisters, and later, we presented positive handicapped awareness classes. (Over 25 years ago, it was perfectly acceptable to use the word handicapped; in fact, it was politically correct to say instead of mongoloid or retarded. Every several years it changes.) Heidi, her sisters and I were symbolically planting seeds of awareness and achievements. Our family hoped our efforts would pay off, and gratefully, everyone accepted sweet little Heidi. Life was good.

As a teenager Heidi still had the darling munchkin look, but had become severely affected by autism, with high anxiety manifesting in repetitive actions, heart-breaking emotional indifference, and frightening impulsiveness. I had to stop the class presentations, life was just too complex. All I could do was hope that other parents, teachers, and leaders watered and weeded those early seedlings and perhaps plant fertile new seeds of understanding and support.

When Heidi was about 15, I recall seriously doubting that she and I were good advocates for the disabled community any more. I was still in survival mode, longing for the years of opportunities to make a meaningful difference.

One hot August afternoon, the friendly blonde teenager bagging my groceries at the local store had asked, “So, are you Heidi’s mom?”

“I am! Let’s see,” I stalled trying to place her face and put it with a name, but to no avail. “I’m sorry, so how do you know her?” Smiling I asked,  “Oh, were you one of her peer tutors at school?”

“Oh, I wish I could have done that. No, my schedule wouldn’t let me. Actually,” she chuckled, “I was a first grader, when you and Heidi came in and spoke to our class about being nice to handicapped kids, and how they are actually quite talented in different ways. Stuff like that.”

“Oh wow, you can remember us from that long ago?” I asked in amazement.

“Yep, I never forgot both of you or your message,” she replied. “You were so happy in spite of the challenges.”

“Really? Wow, how kind of you to share that,” I quietly replied. “Honestly, it all turned out to be harder than I thought.”

“Well, Heidi was just cute and so, well, lovable. You know, I had never seen a real child with Down syndrome before her. You taught us that she had to work twice as hard to crawl and walk, because her muscles were soft. I remember she was super flexible and could even do the Chinese splits,” she gushed as we walked into the scorching parking lot with my grocery cart.

“True, Heidi was amazing,” I said with a dash of bittersweetness. I couldn’t tell people that I missed the gal she used to be, but it was true.

“Anyway,” she confided while lifting the grocery bags into my car, “I just wanted you to know that your little class presentation positively impacted my life. I’m seriously thinking about going into the disability field.”

“Hey, do it,” I heartily responded, “We need good people like you in the trenches. Oh how we need good folks helping these kids. It’s an uphill climb. Wow, you’ve really made my day. Thanks so much!”

As I pulled my car out of the parking lot, I realized I had forgotten to ask her name, eventually knowing it wasn’t necessary. Deep within I knew it was important to continue communicating about disabilities, whether it was Down syndrome and autism, or anything in-between.  Each conversation, class or interaction would symbolically plant, water, weed or cultivate additional seeds of advocacy — and I’d do it wherever I could. This was a day of harvest for us; an emotional bumper crop of many years of laboring in the vineyards of life, for those who courageously live with constant challenges every day, every minute, every second.

I believe individuals within the autism spectrum disorder quietly beckon the rest of us to stand a little taller and be a little better. Hopefully, because of folks like Heidi, we’ve not only joined this field to earn a living, but also joined the greater movement to become better human beings.  That’s the true prize to be won.

So tonight I’ll serve my hubby the last of those zucchini muffins. We’ll savor the yummy homemade, home grown food. It’s another example helping me realize that by small and simple means, great things are coming to pass.

Keep it up, friends. It’s all good. God bless.

Elayne Pearson, Special Needs Preparedness Specialist, is an award-winning writer, speaker, and poet. As a dedicated disability advocate for over 27 years, she currently is a special needs newspaper columnist in the Rocky Mountain region, and is working towards her Autism Certificate from IBCCES. Additionally, as a Special Needs Preparedness Expert, Elayne recently spoke at the prestigious Autism Society of America National Conference in Denver, Colorado. To contact or invite her to your school/business/organization, Email: [email protected] or [email protected]


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