Don’t Accept Me, Expect Me

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One Red Fish Surrounded By Blue Fish.

I did it once. I gave in to my disability. I was struggling in college: juggling a double major, a part-time job, a sorority, and track season was right around the corner. My schedule was a breeze when going through manic mode. But when dealing with the low side of bi-polar, the battle was uphill and the finish line looked a lot farther than the 400m sprint I was used to training for.  So I gave in.

It was the end of my 8 am class and I went to my professor. It was just a general education course and I was only a semester away from graduation. I did what I had never done for any class. I told the professor about my disability. I chalked it up for all it was worth. I explained that I was dealing with med changes and my schedule was full. None of it was really a lie.

I don’t regret telling my professor that I have bi-polar disorder, but I do regret why I told him. I was looking for a way out; a way to make the day easier. The class didn’t really matter. It was just a nuisance class I had to take to graduate. I wanted an easy A and I knew that by gaining a little sympathy it would be possible.

Just to be clear, the one perk of having a disability is to use sympathy for our advantage. But taking that one gesture toward sympathy sets us two steps back in our abilities. That day when I told the professor about my disability, I was screaming for the professor to accept me for my differences. What he really did was even better; he expected me for being the same.

It’s not difficult to spin into the acceptance trend. Short or tall, red or blue, we want people to take us how we are. But when it comes to rising up to a challenge, we can be quick to remind others of our faults and excuse ourselves from rising to the top. We are no longer expected and we sink ourselves back down to the minority that is comfortable and safe.

As we gear up for the back to school season, I want to encourage all parents and teachers to not provide students with a letter of acceptance, but with an impression of expectance. There are many times that we say as novices that “we can’t” when the fact is that “we won’t”. When we decide that we won’t do something because our disabilities hold us back, then we will never really reach our full potential.

I got an A in that class. Though I told the professor about my disability for the wrong reasons, he was gracious in letting me take my time to learn in a way that was right for me. I didn’t go to class every day, but I studied, and I felt as though I earned the A.

How We Learned Happiness

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IMG_0994While growing up in a household with two brothers with Down syndrome there has always been one comment that digs under my skin. There are some comments I can let go, like, Wow. Your life must be so difficult. Or, Bless you for your patience. Yes, these too get to me. Because I don’t feel like my brothers have made my life difficult, and patience is not my duty. When these comments arise I grin a little and brush it off like hair on my sleeve.

Above all of these statements is this: People with disabilities are always so happy. Why does this get under my skin? Because there isn’t an always for everyone and everything. See, the statements above, I can see where people might get those impressions. There are times that life is difficult. There are times that I have had to learn patience. Those times felt like happiness felt as far as the East is from the West.

2016-02-21 21.41.37When our brother died in 2006 Eric sobbed. He felt the grief of losing someone close like a normal person. But at the viewing Levi didn’t shed a tear. At the funeral, Levi didn’t clear his throat or sniffle. Neither of my brothers had joy, but they expressed the pain in far different ways.

When our brother died, I thought I had to be the strong one. When I saw our dad cry for the first time in my life, I knew that I had to step up and fight for joy again. I tried so hard to stay strong that I eventually developed depression and I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

So what is my point? Everyone handles grief differently. Levi ignored the pain. Eric accepted the pain. I fought the pain. You might say it defines whether or not we fight, flight, or freeze in adversity. Whatever any psychological study might entail, all three of us have struggled with disabilities. All three of us have experienced less than joy. And, all three of us have conquered agony.

You see, when you say people with disabilities are always so happy, you infer that we are not able to comprehend pain. We must be happy because we don’t understand stress, adversity, or grief. Honestly, I speak for all of us that carry a disability and say that we understand those things better than those that don’t have a disability. For centuries we have been alienated, mocked, and condemned for simply living.

Maybe there is some truth to people with disabilities being happy. It’s not because we don’t understand, but because we know what it is like to feel both pain and joy. We have faced the worst, so we can conquer the best.

To Eric and Levi: I Give You My Dream

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To my zany, quirky, sassy, spitfire, loving, caring little brothers, Eric and Levi,

First I want to say that, from the moment I met both of you, I knew you were special. Not in the way that the world saw you, but in your character, your smile, and your ability to light up a room. You are my best friends and my inspiration. And from the moment that Gabe went to be with Jesus, you were my protection. You gave the best hugs, and you always listened. You knew the same hurt, and we took the road together.

I remember when we were young (I was around eight and you were both five), I asked our older brother Gabe to build me a bus. I remember getting chuckles from mom, dad, and Gabe, but I was serious. They all asked me, “For what?”. It was for you. I wanted to have a bus to start a school that was designed for you.

As I grew older, I stuck with this dream. In seventh grade, I wrote a paper expressing what I wanted to be when I was older—a special needs teacher, I wrote. I saw your passions, your struggles, your happiness, and I knew that being smothered in your presence was my biggest dream.

I kept this dream into my college years and I studied to become a special needs teacher. But about two years in, I got tired. The concepts I learned, the classrooms I saw, that was not where you were. I stopped pursuing that dream. In the third year, God put me on a new road—business. I could see how God had helped mom and dad start Downsize Farm. Under His hand, they made a place for you. A place where you would have opportunity, friendships, challenges, and adventures.

I remember reading your IEPs once. Eric, yours said that you wanted to be a trash-man. Levi, yours was to work at Walmart. Is that what you want to be? If that is your dream then I want you to go for it! But if not, I am making something for you—a coffee shop. (I know you don’t like coffee, but we will have hot chocolate too!) I am designing a place where you can not only work, but be the strongest, and coolest employees a business has ever seen. I want to teach you what I have learned. I want you to be able to use all of your abilities to the fullest, and be able to show them off to every person that walks into our building. Most importantly, it is my eternal dream to create and fulfill the dreams that you have.

On May 21st I will open a coffeehouse. I know you think coffee is gross, but if you join this road with me I will show you something. Every bean in that coffee has a purpose. Some beans are big, some beans are small. Some are dark, some are light—but they all create a beautiful mixture to jumpstart the day. On this Earth you could say we are all like little beans. We run around, doing daily tasks, and fulfilling our flavored lives. But God put every one of us here to do something special. I hope that by fulfilling this dream, I am following God’s vision by helping you create your own dreams.

Will you, my red and blue power rangers, take on this mission with me?

Love,

Your crazy, quirky, hopeful, inspired, pink power ranger big sister, Bobbi Myrhee

Making Memories

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Today my little brothers celebrated their graduation from high school. Just to test my theory on how big of an impact these dynamos have on the people around them, I asked everyone to explain any memory they had of Eric and Levi. These are the results!

1. 1st let me say congrats to Eric and Levi! I have a memory of Eric… I walked into the men’s room at church and there was Eric holding a DVD of Veggie-Tales. I told Eric that I liked Veggies (which I totally do!) And his reply was “Oh really? You can have them then!” He then threw the DVD in the urinal and flushed it. Only later did I find out it was Levi’s DVD!

2.  I just enjoy being around your brothers…from having them in kids church for a few years, to having them help at Day Camp…watching them around the farm…they’ve made me smile, laugh, and hunt for them, lol!

3.  My sweetest memory is the way they loved on each other during church service. It was precious.

4.  Eric came to me at church said I need to pray for you..that was so very touching to me…God always knows what we need when we need it…what a blessing he is…

5. Congrats guys!!!!! The memory I have of them is when I was at your house and they were making fun of my lack of control when trying to touch a chicken! 

6. Congrats Eric and Levi!!!! They were two of my funniest students ever. Eric was supposed to do mouth exercises for speech but oh man did he hate it. Most of the time he would look at me with a grumpy face and just not really do them! It was so hard to not laugh and just let him get away with it. LOL!

7.  Levi always ratted me out when I was late for church…LOL. Try as I might to sneak in unnoticed, there was always a cheerful, “Hi Chelle!” I also remember how he liked to jam out in my car to “Jesus Freak.” And oh my, Eric. I remember babysitting you 3 for the first time after getting Eric. It’s a good thing that you were helpful with Levi, because Eric gave me a run for my money, that’s for sure.

8. How about Levi putting all the animals in the trunk of my car and then deciding I needed a baby goat too. The said baby goat climbed on top of my car and as you and I are trying to get all the animals out of my car your mom walks by with someone and says to them “oh that’s normal around here!” … Eric and Levi locking me out of the upstairs bathroom while taking a bath during your parent’s Bible study and Eric yelling “no worries Meggie. Eric under control.”…Levi calling Ed and I “Egg and Bacon” for almost two years… Eric calling Gabe repeatedly after locking me out of the house yelling “Help Gabe! Meggie mean!”

9. Congrats guys! U made it! I loved seeing u guys at church, you were always happy and you enjoyed seeing people!

10.  I remember them as tiny little people in our church! My, how they have grown!!! 

11. Congrats to both of them! Miss their hugs…will always remember Power Rangers, singing on the swing and Eric riding up and down the driveway on the scooter with Jess!<3

12.  I think it’s awesome how unique the guys’ senses of humor are! Eric once spent a good chunk of time just ‘sneaking up’ on me to tickle me, just so he could laugh about it. 

13. Congratulations to Eric and Levi! We are proud of both of you! I have a memory of Eric wanting to give me lots of hugs and following me around to make sure he got one more!

14. Congrats to Eric and Levi!!!! One of the many memories I have of them is taking Levi and Eric to Jr. Prom with Ken. During dinner, Eric kept flirting and I asked him “Are you trying to steal Ken’s date?” He replies “Yes,” looks at Ken and then says to him daringly “What are you going to do about it?!?!” lol

15A.  I do remember Eric coming to percussion class at [my college] and being one very cool dude!

15B. He did! I was there! I’m pretty sure his paradiddle was better than mine. I was jealous.

16. Eric and Levi were the best thing in our classroom. It was a great day when greeted by both boys. I will miss them dearly and never forget them. Good Luck! 

17. This story was not written down, but I was reminded of it by someone at their gathering. Eric, Levi and I went to the zoo with some family friends. Eric and one of the friends went to use the bathroom. While in the stall, Eric reached under and grabbed the leg of the man in the stall next to him. He had never met the man in his life!

It was amazing to see how many people came to support these two boys. Some of them I had talked to maybe once or twice, but my brothers had left a legacy for their lifetime!

When meeting someone who has special needs, it is easy to think, “what can I teach them?” But the more and more I spend time with my brothers, God has shown me to look at how much they have taught me! It’s obvious by the responses above that I’m not the only one Eric and Levi have impacted. They live, laugh, love, learn, and leave a legacy– without effort, without complication, just to take each person they meet on a journey through our special world.

The Chronicles of Eric

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If you read back to the blog: “When life gives you lemons, sometimes they squirt you in the eye” you will learn a lot about my little booger brother, Eric. This blog is to show you some of the hilarious moments he has brought to our family.

Scenario one: When Eric was little, he loved to lock his bedroom door and destroy the room he shared with Levi. Obviously the parents didn’t approve of a pig sty and Levi wasn’t too fond of Eric going through all of his things. After this happened several times, my dad had a brilliant idea! He turned the door knob around so the lock was on the outside. I think you can probably see where this is going.

One night mom and dad went out on a little date leaving Eric, Levi and I with a babysitter. We were all in Eric and Levi’s room, playing with toys and having a good time when we realized… Eric was no longer in the room and the door was shut! Yep, locked in. The babysitter hoisted me out the window so I could run in the house and unlock the door. Luckily we all escaped before the house was entirely destroyed!

Scenario two: On a Saturday afternoon we were all spending time outside. Mom was in the garden, Levi and I were running through the sprinkler in our swimsuits, dad was putting new shingles on the roof, and Eric was washing dad’s car. This all went on for a few hours.

When my dad was done with the roof for the day, Eric told him, “the car is all clean and I filled it up.” Dad went over to see a shiny car, and, a shiny driveway? The hose was inserted into the car, with water and gasoline pouring out of the side.

Just when my dad thought he was done for the day, he ended up spending the next four hours under the car tinkering with the fuel cell and whatever other parts pertain to gas. Somewhere in the process a piece broke off (I don’t know what part because I’m way too involved in this blog to study up on my automobile components). Long story short the check engine light is forever gleaming. To fix the issue, my dad stuck one of those cute smiley Walmart stickers over it to remind himself daily of the wonderful Eric.

Scenario three: This is probably my favorite story. One cold February afternoon my dad was watching tv when he saw a lovely stuffed elephant leap down past the downstairs window.  Eric had decided to inspire Levi with another one of his amazing teases.

My dad walked upstairs to find all of the boys’ stuffed animals piled on the roof outside their bedroom window. Though the best punishment would be to fling Eric out after the plush creatures, my dad’s judgment told him sending the deviant onto a snow covered roof in mid-february was definitely not the greatest of ideas. So my father, barefoot, creeped out of the two story window to set foot on the snow laden roof with only a sweatshirt, jeans, and a giant soppy bunny to keep him warm. He threw in a couple animals, then whiipp! Eric slammed the window shut as fast as he could and flipped the locks over. Great. Now knowing Eric had the upper-hand, my dad tried to smooth talk him with genuine fatherly love. “Eric, would you pretty please open the window? It’s sooo cold out here!” ziipp. Eric pulled the curtains shut! Now there were two options. My dad either had to throw his over-the-hill body over the roof to the slushy ground, or knock for dear life! Knock knock knock knock!! Luckily, Levi came to save the day. He opened the window and let my freezing father back into the comfort of our heated home.

Everyday my little brothers bring a new chapter to our quirky family. There are the moments where they toot and say, “oops, I burped out of my butt” or the fact that Eric has pranked called 9-1-1 so many times that the fire station has us on a call back list to make sure there is actually an emergency. But at the end of the day, we can thank God for our events that helped us live, laugh, love, learn, and leave a legacy. In all, it’s just a beautiful chapter of God’s plans while we journey through our special world.

Down Doggy!

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For my next few blogs I am dying to share with you some of my craziest and funniest experiences that I have had with my little brothers.

This blog is about Levi.

When Levi was younger, he had a bit of an issue on making it to the bathroom. (Whoah! Gross, no one wants to hear a story about that! Bare with me here. I promise this blog has nothing to do with fecal matter.) Anyways, my parents were running out of options to help Levi with the potty training issue. The last resort: bribery. On the very top shelf in our bathroom cupboard was a plastic box filled with all sorts of goodies. There was candy, those cheap little toys you get at the dollar store, and Levi’s favorite: animal figurines. Simply, every time Levi did you know what in the correct you know where, he got a toy from the box.

Overtime Levi collected a pretty good portion of little animal toys. Every time he got a new one he would break it in by acting out some crazy story with it. There was Spirit the mustang and Simba the lion of course. Then there was the grand celebration for each creature: an entire chain of animals from one end of the house to the other as if there was a mass exodus originating from Levi’s bedroom.

One Saturday our family was doing our usual afternoon rituals. Mom was multi-tasking the garden and the laundry, dad and Eric had gone to run some errands in town, and Levi of course was playing with his animals. While I was in my room watching tv, I heard Levi call for mom a couple of times but I figured she had already taken care of it. When my favorite show had ended I still heard Levi yelling. Ughh I said, mom must be outside. I better go see what he wants. So I walked downstairs and called his name a few times, to which he responded. There was only one problem. Every room I went to I could hear him responding!

Doing my phenomenal eleven year old detective work, I discovered his voice was resonating from our abnormally large furnace ducts in our old farm house. I checked every room downstairs and finally, in the living room, I found two little legs sticking straight out of the floor. Levi had taken the cover off the vent to make the ultimate setting for his animal narratives. His new little dog figurine decided to take a dive into the great hole of soot so Levi’s natural response was to dive after his companion.

Just in time mom walked in the door. Scrambling to find words, my preteen response was something like, “Levi’s legs out of animal toy…hole in the floor…furnace..ahh!!” My mom followed my frantic pointing finger to the little legs sticking out of the floor, sending her in a dart to pull him out. For a solid ten minutes she held Levi’s legs trying to get him out of the black abyss. I asked if I should call 911.

In a few minutes the ambulance, fire department, and channel two news all appeared at our door step. In walked a deputy who ran in and grabbed Levi by the legs and in about five minutes, out of a dust of black soot we found Levi! His face was literally pitch-black with the exception of the white of his eyes and little tears lines streaming upward from them.

That evening we informed dad of our eventful day sat down for the five-o’clock news, starring the headline: “Little boy gets trapped in a furnace duct when his eleven year old sister calls 911”

When Life Gives You Lemons, Sometimes They Squirt You in the Eye

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So if you read the previous post, you are awesome! Gold Star!! If not, here’s a really really quick run through…I’m the daughter of a pastor in Ohio. I have two older brothers (that are both old enough to be my father) and our newest family addition, is my adorable little brother, Levi,  who was born with Down’s syndrome.

I guess before this point you could say we made lemonade out of a lemon. Having a child with Down’s syndrome (or in my case, brother) isn’t exactly the easiest chore, but you have to take what you have and make it sweet. Now that my family had gotten over the initial shock of being introduced to the world of raising a child with special needs, God said ahh, I see you have made lemonade; Share it! And that we did, with a new addition to the family. You are probably saying, whoa seriously, your parents are 47, they’re gonna raise more kids? Don’t worry, it was all in God’s plan and adoption spared the poor old lady’s womb.

In 1997, my parents were getting all kinds of magazines, pamphlets, etc. on how to raise a child with special needs. One of those monthly pamphlets exhibited children with disabilities that were up for adoption. And on the right inside fold was the picture of the lemony little dynamo, Eric. He was a cute little blonde, glasses, a quirky smirk, a few freckles. Yep, God said, he’ll do. It was a brilliant idea! Levi was getting older, and what better for him than to have a lifelong companion! So the family jumped in the 1987 AstroVan and took a four hour drive to Northeast Ohio to get my new little brother! Ok well, there was the paperwork, the background checks, the interviews with stuck-up state people in their golf polos, the court dates…you get the picture.

So we shared the lemonade with our new little addition.  You might even say we were experts at making at making it by now. But God brought a new lemon that put a giant squirt of humility in our corneas.

Our family soon learned an important proverb: don’t judge a book by its cover…or in our case, don’t judge a picture by its pamphlet. Eric was adorable, yes. But I was convinced the four year old had to be criminally insane, and that’s an understatement! No he didn’t make you pull your hair out, don’t worry. He did it for you! My mom told me a few years back that when he first came, she was literally afraid of him. Let me give you a clue. Eric came with a hospital crib. Like the one they use for babies that have the little lock up door. We literally had to lock him in the crib at night so he wouldn’t destroy our house. Levi and I used to run around our house pretending that he was the boogieman. (There are plenty more stories and I could probably write at least three different blogs on them.)

Speaking of blogs, in the last one, remember when I said the pastor stereotype is that he is the man known for giving 72 second chances? Well my dad fits that stereotype crystal clear. My dad saw past Eric’s terror to his broken heart. Coming from a home of drugs where he was left in a crib for days there was no question that the four year old brought more emotional baggage than he did toys. He probably had more history than the WWI, and he was four! Every time Eric went on a terrible tyrant, he would get punished, but my dad told Eric he loved him. Every night before he went to bed and every morning he woke up, my dad told him he loved him. Soon we all started to love him, and he started to love us too.

Lemonade anyone?