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Saturday: My second basketball game in as many days.  No, I haven’t gone over to the dark side (excuse me, my basketball-loving Hoosier friends).  Julia is cheering.  Not perfectly by any means although pompoms hide many a sin, cheerleaders stand to one side of the basket and cheer from the side, and most folks are here for the basketball players. She is very happy.  Tonight she doesn’t even have ear plugs in. The gym’s echo is quite pronounced and the buzzer is incredibly loud and annoying.  No complaints from the girl.

I realize that it is me that wants and expects perfection before performance.  Julia and her cheer coach do not.  Julia is out in front of the crowd on her own terms.  Sometimes she perseverates on how she holds her pompoms and she does not stand as still as the other girls. And people do notice.  As we left on Saturday, various people told Julia that she did a great job.  Some of the compliments were accompanied by a knowing look to me.  She is being congratulated for her chutzpah, her sheer and absolute nerve to insist on being herself even in a line up of girls all the rest doing the exact same thing.  If there is pity, I refuse to see it.  This is a hard lesson for me—a lesson in letting her go and letting her be herself.  I would prefer that she show her independence by cutting up her food and sleeping in her own bed every night. I would prefer to let go of reminding her to go to the bathroom and listen and respond to people talking to her.  Instead, she insists on my letting her go in front of crowds with pompoms.

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Observation:  Cheering was for JV boys of Friday; varsity girls on Saturday. I also watched the second half of JV girls on Saturday before the varsity game began.  To a person, the girls are neater and more put together. West wears white uniforms.  The girls’ uniforms all look like they’ve been recently washed, socks match and hair is pulled back and neat.  The boys are pretty much the opposite. No critique on the playing. Everyone seems to be working very hard. I wonder how varsity boys measure up, self-care not playing?

We had this week.

Last Saturday, we went to the organizational meeting of Penguin Project , a group that produces a yearly musical for kids 10-21 with disabilities.  There are many volunteer mentors and lots of adults.  This will be their third year, third production.  They are doing School House Rock this year.  Rehearsals begin mid-February and performances are in June.  Kids don’t audition, instead they learn songs and dances. Parts are cast when directors have a good idea of what kids do.  During the intro meeting, the kids learned a dance to Don’t Stop Believing. Julia loved it.

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Back to the game: Middleton, the visiting team, has black uniforms.  They are very good looking!  Am I being disloyal?  National anthem and about half our cheer team kneels. Julia kneels. I have to ask her later if she knows why. Umm, the varsity teams are much better players than their JV counterparts.  And the Middleton team is much stronger than ours.

Last Sunday, we woke up to our first snow.  The first real snow.  I checked Facebook and, as expected, some of my lovely Badger friends had already posted skiing, sledding, sunrise over frozen pond, snow-covered porch with bird feeder pictures. Me? I had to get up and out for milk, bread and gas.  I could have foreseen these needs and usually by this time of year, I do, but . . . we’ve been spoiled by mere dustings of snow this season.  Even this one should have been considered a warning snow fall, a few inches on a national holiday, no worries about school buses or icy roads for most of us.  Julia and I were very happy inside.  Happy about being inside, not necessarily about doing what we were doing.

Julia studied for her first final — Biology.  Her modified study guide was five pages long and although she’s learned all the information before, the remembering curve was steep.  She also had her first high school research paper to draft.  Again, the requirements for her were modified, a single page (she went a bit over), four paragraphs (she had six) on a topic related to the Sierra Leone Civil War.  She finished the research last week.  We struggled on Saturday with organizing information and some kind of rough draft.  After a few failed attempts with a graphic organizer, I finally printed out the research, had her cut the pages into bits of information, lay out an outline on the floor and put the pieces of information into the outline.  When she was finished, I went through each proposed section with her and we talked about order.  I made some executive decisions.  Then, she wrote.  We went over what she wrote as she finished each section.  Some of the corrections and clarifications that we did in the first paragraphs, carried over to writing she did later on, so the intermittent checks were a good idea.  I stressed that she had to give the information in her own words and to do that she looked up synonyms when she could.  They didn’t always work, but I admired the effort.  Later on during the week, she had time to work on the paper in school.  She had the strips of research taped to a paper in a good order to write, but when given the chance to write, she copied her notes.  Writing was one of the topics during her IEP on Friday. I want her to get shorter, more frequent writing assignments and help in school until she gets it. She will get it.

Still at the game and I am doing what I used to make fun of an old boss of mine for doing.  His boys played hockey and during games he brought his lap top and worked.  I believe my iPad is a bit less visible than his laptop but my attention is absolutely no better. I sat through yesterday’s game. Semi attentive.  I just couldn’t do it again today.  Admittedly, this girls’ game is more interesting than the boys’ game.  More running, more changes in ball possession.  And even at half attention, we have a few players worth watching.  If Julia keeps cheering, who knows?  But I’ll bring my iPad.

Julia’s 17th Birthday was Tuesday, the day before her exam.  She agreed to put off celebrating for a day and on Wednesday, family friends came over for take out Chinese and chocolate cake. Julia becomes more aware and more social every year, but it is never like “everyone else,” I am so grateful for friends who take her as she is and celebrate with us.

On Friday, we had yearly IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting.  To those blessed to never have to attend one of these for their children, be so very grateful.  These meetings are attended by parents, a teacher or two, therapists (if any at school) and some administration.  These meetings are long and can be torturous as parents ask for what school districts are unwilling to give.  We have been fortunate that even when meetings were difficult, the result had been rewarding. And for us, many times, teachers asked for more than I did.

This was the first high school IEP.  The basis of the IEP was the last one written in middle school and I wanted to make the most of what West has to offer.  I’m also enough of a lawyer to know how important language is.  We went over half the 20+ page document, clarifying and, at times, changing. I had a few themes that carried through the meeting: Although high school is a time of growing independence, Julia is not ready for all of it.  We still need open lines of communication with teachers as well as her case manager.  Julia needs extra help in reading, writing and math.  I think we are getting closer to an excellent schedule.  Julia’s biology class has a special ed co-teacher and this has worked very well.  Next year, we will look for mainstream classes with special ed teaching presence.  This coming semester, Julia will have two art classes, drawing and photography.  She has done well in the 2D/3D class that is ending, I am hopeful that the new classes will go well.  If they do, I’m hoping for three art class next year.  Right now, I hope that one of them can be pottery.  I’d love to see her learn the wheel.

Amidst the last week’s relentless flow of living, on January 14, 2018, my dear friend, Carolina Mancuso, died.  Her dear husband shared the news on Facebook but my week did not allow for deep diving into my feed. Then on Wednesday, it was back on top. Carolina had been gone for 4 days. Hers was not an unexpected death. Still, I lost a best friend.

Carolina and I  shared so much before she was silenced by Alzheimer’s disease just after Julia came home.  We moved to NYC around the same time, joined the same downtown theater group, acted, directed, wrote together and for each other. In the plethora of odd jobs we all held to support out art habit, she hired both David and I at various times and she also worked for me.  She was my first reader for years, every week we sat together reading and critiquing. She was more politically savvy  and active than I ever was.  When my oldest daughter was born, Carolina was my mentor in mothering.  She danced at my wedding and I was a final reader for her dissertation. She didn’t really understand that we went to China to adopt Julia.  She  wasn’t told about David’s heart transplant or death.  Even if she could understand, it didn’t make sense to upset her.  We have not exchanged ideas for 11 years and I still miss her terribly. While a part of her was in the world, there was some insane, crazy chance.  Of what? I don’t know. Have I been waiting for a miracle?  Not consciously.  Maybe somewhere.  Now, she is who she once was in my heart and sometimes the conversations continue.

So many birthdays, Julia’s, her godmother’s, friends, a cousin’s and mine soon.  So many reasons to celebrate life and one reason to remember a most dear and wondrous experience of a beloved soul.