I Would Never Change Her

As I shut my computer after making the $87 online payment for Lucy’s first gymnastics class I said, “Well, she better love it.” After all, $87 is an incredibly large sum of money to me in which I could easily find other uses for. But even though I was apprehensive, I know how important it is for Lucy to experience new things.
Some time before Lucy’s 2nd birthday, Devin and I noticed two things; 1) she could correctly identify the entire alphabet, and 2) she loved jumping… a lot. During her two-year check-up, her Doctor suggested we see several specialists to improve her (almost) non-existent speech. We began with the audiology department- Lucy had several ear infections as a baby resulting in the placement of tubes. Doctors had thought that because of the ear infections she wasn’t hearing correctly, therefore, prolonging any speech. But as it turns out, her hearing was fine.
The District referred us to the Early Childhood Special Education program where, for almost three months, Lucy had been testing to see if she would qualify for any services. I remember watching Lucy’s Special Education Teacher, Speech Therapist and ECSE specialist as they clapped and cheered as Lucy recited her alphabet and told me they’d never seen a just-two-year-old that remarkable. As I beamed with pride, they continued to say, “She has beautiful eye contact. She’s very pleasing, but you can tell she doesn’t understand most of what you’re saying. And when she does, it takes her a few extra seconds to process the information.”
For the next few months two specialists continued to see Lucy on a bi-weekly basis. They’d come to “play games” with her- to keep her focused on one task and teaching her how to speak when she wanted something. Toward the end of the summer, thinking Lucy was making great progress, they had been working with the Autism Specialist in hopes she could observe Lucy. After graduating with a Special Education degree in 2010, the word “Autism” was not far from my reach. I’d worked with several students on the spectrum and thrived on researching different theories and therapies. But… my daughter? No way. Not Lucy. Remember months back when you had just told me she was brilliant? That she had beautiful eye contact? Do you remember telling me she “probably wouldn’t even qualify for servicing?” She would begin preschool in the fall and as Devin and I sat around an oval table, feeling overwhelmed and unqualified, Lucy’s IEP team began to tell us that her strengths were incredible, but her weaknesses were holding her back entirely too much. They recommended she continue attending preschool in a “self-contained” classroom (solely Special Ed students all with 1 on 1 para support) four days a week, to provide maximum consistency and support going forward.
Their words became slush to me and I thought of 101 places I’d rather be than hearing that my child wasn’t “typical”- that she would likely experience life much differently than other children. Though they assured me she would be on the higher functioning side of the spectrum, my mind raced with fears of bullying, tantrums and flapping. I had remembered earlier this summer watching Lucy at the zoo; the more excited she became, the stranger she would walked. She ran toward our next stop, as high on her tippy-toes as she possibly could. I pointed it out to Devin and in the back of my mind I prepared myself to hear the exact words they murmured around the oval table.
We became positive and proactive, taking every step necessary to do what’s best for Lucy. Knowing she was always “quirky” (but hilariously adorable to us) we wanted to make everything as easy on her as possible. Katie, a college friend of mine who is an Autism Specialist in St. Cloud, became my go-to person along with my sister and good friends I was able to vent to. Knowing one of Lucy’s biggest weaknesses was transitioning, we decided to  get Lucy involved in lots of new things, allowing her to experience different places and people. Her new school was the start, followed by trips to the library and a figure skating performance. Earlier this spring, I began to look for more opportunities for her to grow and shine. Gymnastics, bowling, swimming and Vacation Bible School were quickly added to our calendar and I was ecstatic to watch her experience it all.
For months I’ve prepared myself for the inevitable; ignorant people who don’t understand ASD and quick judgement of parents for their children’s (sometimes) strange behaviors. But as the number of diagnosed ASD kids is rapidly rising, I was confident the world was becoming a much softer and warmer place, full of empathetic and loving people….
Lucy began her first week of gymnastics and though she refused to wear the black leotard we’d picked out together, she went in with a smile. Of course, we’d spent days preparing her for the first night, easing her into a new place. Even though I had thoroughly explained Lucy’s needs to the staff, I reminded one gymnastic coach that she may need extra time and may need to keep Woody and Jessie, her most prized stuffed friends, for comfort. As I tried to sneak away unnoticed, I heard Lucy yell out to me, “Bye, Mom!” I watched her from the balcony with tears in my eyes as she continued to follow directions. She set her friends aside as she attempted a cartwheel and took off for the next part of the obstacle course leaving them behind. My heart skipped a beat. HOLY COW PEOPLE!! ARE YOU WATCHING MY KID? LOOK HOW AMAZING SHE IS!! Following the session, I got Lucy out to the car and she told me she “loves gymnastics” and I was super excited to take her the next time.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t leave our next session with such happiness. They began the session by taking away her friends and setting them aside. I waited for her to completely melt, but she followed the rest of the class. I’m not sure if it was the absence of her friends, but Lucy was having an off-day and her instructor was visibly frustrated at the amount of times she’d had to refocus her attention. She got up on the balance beam, jumped down and wandered around for the 100th time. The woman next to me looked down and said, “Wow, that little girl in the pink has NO idea what she’s doing. Good thing she’s cute.” The words completely stopped me in my tracks and I began to feel a big lump in my throat emerge. I wanted to cry and yell out, but knowing it would all have come out in blubber, I turned my head as the tears welled in my eyes.
And there it was. The first time I’d ever hear someone make a judgmental comment about her being different. I thought I’d prepared myself, but I had no idea the amount the sting it would leave on my heart. When the session was over, I ran downstairs to get Lucy as quickly as I could. We got in the car and I had to tell myself, ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry. Don’t let Lucy see you be upset.’ When I was able to calm myself, I looked at Lucy through the rear-view mirror and said, “Lucy, do you love gymnastics?” “I LOOOOVE gymnastics, Mom!”
Sure, I’ll say it- that was a bitch-comment. She was being ignorant, rude, hurtful and pretty stupid to mutter those words not knowing who was in an earshot. She had no idea that I beamed with pride as I watched Lucy do one thing after another exceeding my expectations.
So… to the woman with the bitch-comment,
Getting my daughter dressed in different clothing, tying her hair back and buckled in the car on time was a victory. Getting her in the door to a new place, with new people was a victory. For her to sit among a group of peers and listen to instructions is a victory. You must not have any idea how extremely proud I am of this little girl whose world looks much different than yours. How sad that you feel the need to make comments about a three-year-old at her second day of gymnastics.  Maybe you said that comment to be funny or just have something to say but no matter the reason, it was completely unnecessary and inappropriate. It hurt me, leaving pain that will take a long time to melt away, but I just want you to know that I would never change her.  And I hope that someday you will gain some empathy and understanding for others.

 

xoxo

 

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How M & D Came To Be Part II

June 20, 2009.  Choosing the day was simple; we wanted a June wedding.  The 13th and the 27th were automatically avoided because those are on my list of “icky numbers.”  June twentieth just seemed to perfectly roll off my tongue, so that was it!  The weathermen predicted rain throughout the whole 10 day forecast, but it was beautiful. It was perfect.

The hustle and bustle of the morning kept my mind from becoming nervous.  I knew inevitably something would be a disaster, but even after our photographer died just a few months before, after we forgot the flowers in Grandma’s fridge and not putting any thought of church decorations, I was relatively calm.  I wanted to see Devin.  I wanted to party.  I wanted to be his wife.

The entirety of the service lasted 27 minutes.  We walked down the isle, said our vows, had a little kiss-kiss and bad-a-bing bad-a-boom we were outta there.  From the church we traveled to the Dolven-Kolle home to take wedding party photos.  For the first time in a while, we were all so…relaxed.  We were just having fun with our favorite people and feeling the blessings flow.  Once we arrived at the reception, the party really started!  The food was excellent (though I wasn’t able to eat much and Kendra was ecstatic to finish my plate), the family and friends were fabulous, and we were ready to dance.  Ohhhh, the dance.  Let me briefly explain to you that we decided to perform this dance medley BEFORE it became popular, overdone and kind of stupid.  We thought it was an exceptional idea at the time and now I’m only slightly embarrassed by it.  I guess it made the wedding more… memorable?  I guess Kristy’s Maid of Honor speech spoke true when she quoted “Love is being stupid together.”

Looking back, it was the most perfect day we could have asked for.  It’s funny, though, to think about how completely different our wedding would be now only five years later.  Now, it would be at Christ the King, performed by Pastor Patrick.  Kristy would be in charge of all the decorating (2009 was pre-pinterest, remember).  But none of that matters, I still would choose Devin.  I still would choose to share the special day with the most special people in our lives.

Though we may seem like “honeymooners” to some, I’ve learned a few things in the past five years of marriage.

1.  Regardless of what everyone says, I do go to bed mad and I think that’s okay.  I figure if I am still mad about it by the time I wake up, it can be an issue to discuss.  Surprisingly, it’s rare and I wake the next morning relieved I didn’t make a big deal out of nothing.

2.  Knowing Devin doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body, I don’t expect romance out of him.  It’s a personality trait I cannot change, so I don’t try.  I revel in the fact that my husband is an incredible man; he works hard to provide for his family, washes the dishes, puts away the laundry, and is by far the BESTEST BEST daddio in the world.  That supersedes romance any day!

3.  I never ask Devin “Does this look okay?” because he doesn’t know.  He just really has no clue.

4.  We are goofy together.  I guess if you know us well you’d not be surprised by that.  We play games together.  We watch movies and TV shows together.  We laugh a lot.  We make sure to eat supper together as a family, even when our nights are hectic.  We laugh at each other’s farts.  We team up and depend on each other’s strengths.

5.  Most importantly, I learned that “happily ever after” doesn’t exist they way I’d always believed.  We have bad days and happy days.  We love each other through it all.  We invest time in one another, we let ourselves love and be loved.

 

From June 20, 2009:

“Here’s a little story for you… when I first brought Devin home I asked my mom what she thought of him. She said, “He’s fun, but it’s not like you’re going to marry him!  He’s just your high school sweetheart”  If we were keeping score, that would be Mandy:1 and Mom:1 million.  I’m happy I was so right about this one.

So here I am on my wedding day and I cannot tell you how much I am blessed. God has given me the most wonderful friends, family, and now the most perfect husband. I never believed that I would be so lucky to find my true prince charming; someone to love The Beatles with, someone who  always makes me laugh, and someone who would love me despite my most annoying qualities.

I want to thank my parents for their love, guidance, and patience. To our wedding party; we love each and every single one of you. You’ve made this day so special for us. And lastly and most lovingly, I thank Devin; for loving me like I’m perfect, for making me laugh, for all you do. I promise to love you all the days of my life.”

I love you like Kelly loves Zach, like Rachel loves Ross and like Topanga loves Cory.  You are my one and only.  I will love you all the days of my life.

xoxo

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How M & D came to be… Part I

It was just another cold, December night when my friends and I gathered in “The Basement” with Dr. Pepper’s and Reese’s peanut butter cups to celebrate the new year.  2005 was about to be the best year of my life; graduating high school, spending one last summer with my friends in our hometown, and beginning college at MSU-Moorhead all seemed incredible, but so far away.  I wanted to fast forward through those last five months of high school.  I had no idea what life had in store for me, but I was excited to begin.

Devin was awkward.  Really awkward.  We had been in the same choir class for the past two years, but I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a crowd.  I knew who he sat by, but couldn’t remember his name… Dylan? Derek? Whatever.  He had befriended my friends, Bo and Andrea, while working at McDonald’s in St. Cloud.  They had invited him over New Year’s Eve after his shift was over.  I remember asking Andrea who she was texting, “Devin Rubink.  From Choir?” she said.  “Oh. Why is he coming?”  He didn’t hang with us and I had no idea why they wanted to invite him, but he paraded into the basement and joined in our games of pool of DDR [and no, I never played either of those].

As the night went on, I was reminded of how all of our friends had already been paired up.  And then there was me… and the awkward kid.  We watched The Wizard of Oz (I presumably forced everyone into that) way past the midnight hour.  Devin made his infamous “Tinman face” and I was hooked.  He made me laugh.  His awkwardness turned into charm and I couldn’t get enough of him.

For the next few months we were inseparable.  We, along with a few other friends, spent my 18th birthday at the casino at Mille Lacs.  He asked me to prom, we spent Valentine’s Day together (at Perkins around 4:00pm and I paid for my own meal) and I watched him bowl with his team every Monday night.  My “theater friends” and I convinced him to audition for Into the Woods, our spring musical.  Our auditions went well and the following Friday the list had been posted on the big, theater doors.  I scanned for my name, hoping for the part of Little Red, my favorite character.  Nope… wasn’t there.  As I continued to scroll, I spotted my name on top of Devin’s….

Rapunzel                        Mandy Spiczka

Rapunzel’s Prince        Devin Rubink

Well… I didn’t get what I’d hoped, but this couldn’t be bad, right?!  We spent even more time together at rehearsal and everyone knew how infatuated I was with the goofy tenor.  He was captivating and I was altogether preoccupied with him.  We laughed.  We laughed so much.  After a trip to St. Cloud on March 31, 2005, he asked me to be his girlfriend.  I spent the night with Kendra, watching the boys bowl in their league and he won a stuffed pig from the claw machine.

unnamed (6) still have the pig.

Our first summer together was absolutely magical.  One night before I headed off to college, we moved my queen-sized mattress onto my parent’s porch and we spent the night underneath the illuminating stars.  I had become devastated to move to Moorhead in late-August.  After moving me in and dropping me off at school, Devin stayed until I was settled.  I walked him out to his car and I said, “I think I’m gonna marry you…” I’ve often asked Devin when he knew he was “in love” with me.  The truth is, we both have no idea.  We never fell “in love at first sight”.  We were compatible, we gave it a shot, we became invested in each other and love appeared.  School was much harder than I had anticipated and being away from Devin was even more difficult.  During finals week, I decided to give up.  I quit school and moved home, even leaving tons of my stuff in my dorm.

In the summer of 2006, Devin and I had the opportunity to move to Mankato with Nick and Kayla.  We loved it here!  We both worked and went to school full-time, dreaming of days when we’d be husband and wife.  Okay, I was probably the one doing the dreaming, but I was assured he was the one for me.  I pestered him a lot… I couldn’t wait for a ring!  Kayla and I would stay up late talking about how perfect ‘the boys’ would make it.  I dreamed of a whimsical proposal; complete with a flash mob, horse and carriage and an applause when I would accept.  Shockingly, Devin did otherwise on March 27, 2008 when he asked me to marry him at our duplex home.  We had planned to celebrate our three year anniversary that evening.  Years ago, he’d bought me a necklace that I somehow lost in the MSU parking lot.  I had been telling him for months that I wished for a new one.  When he returned home from work that evening, he pulled out a necklace box and said, “Happy Anniversary!”  I opened the box and watched him get down on one knee.  Inside was a beautiful 3-stone diamond ring, not a necklace.  Those moments are all a blur to me now, but I remember him saying something about how he loved me and wanted me to spend the rest of my life with him.  I screamed, said yes, and couldn’t wait to tell EVERYONE.

We were young, clueless, thin(ner), poor and absolutely in love.  Still not knowing where life would lead us, but perfectly happy knowing we’d adventure together…

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If I Wasn’t a Mom

If I wasn’t a mom I certainly wouldn’t be a flight attendant.  I hate to fly and I’m quite the homebody.  As much as I’d love to visit an Australian Kangaroo, the Egyptian pyramids and whatever that’s cool in China, there’s something amazingly peaceful and perfect about my own backyard.

If I wasn’t a mom I certainly wouldn’t be a doctor.  Besides my mind being completely inept of all scientifical things, I am a dreadful wreck during any kind of distress.  I panic, over-think, speak too fast and (believe it or not) talk too much.

If I wasn’t a mom I certainly wouldn’t be a nun.  There’s the whole Catholic part, but more importantly I’m not sure life is worth living without a pillowtop mattress and chicken strips.  Maybe they eat chicken strips… I’m not sure.  Everything I know about nuns comes from Sister Act.  Let’s also not forget how unflattering their wardrobe is.  Couldn’t do it.

If I wasn’t a mom I certainly wouldn’t be an artist.  I’ll just leave that up to my sister.  My mind desires to think creatively, but the end result is far from pinterest-worthy.

If I wasn’t a mom I certainly wouldn’t be a chef, baker or culinary-lady.  Unless it was solely based on the act of flipping pancakes.  I can’t actually make the pancakes, but I have absolutely breathtaking flip skills.  Always the exact medium gold color on BOTH sides.  Always.

Whatever.  Anyway, there’s quite a vast list of careers that would not appreciate what I can bring to the table (which I wish would be a lengthier list).  If there was a job where one must exclusively flip pancakes, recite movies and play Tetris, that job would be mine.

I remember 8th grade English class with Mrs. Johnson, being asked to write a list of 101 things that we were good at.  I took the assignment home in bitterness and despair as I came up with a list of six attributes.  “95 to go,” Mrs. Johnson said the following day as I tried to turn in my college-ruled paper with the fringes torn off.  I had rewritten the list at least five times trying to make it look pretty.  I wrote it in a fuchsia-pink gel pen (because.. what else?) and a heart was drawn over my name in the upper right hand corner.  I sat back at my desk I remember thinking I’d never be good at anything.  Sure, I was mediocre at a LOT of things, but I’d never be a star of any high school sport.  Being mediocre at a lot of things didn’t lessen the hunger to be phenomenal at something… anything.

We were asked to sit down while she explained the next assignment.  “Many of you were unable to come up with a list of 101 things you were good at.  Now I’d like you to come up with a list of 101 things that you are.  See if that’s any easier.”  

Okay…

I’m a girl, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a granddaughter…

I could actually do this one!  I made this assignment count, including things on my list that weren’t exactly desirable.

I’m a sinner, I’m a liar, I’m a failure, I’m a complainer…

Mrs. Johnson made it clear that the two assignments were designed for us to see the importance of who we are rather than what we’re good at.  She spoke to me afterwards in the hallway to tell me she admired my latest assignment.  “There are a few things that you put on your list that are not-so-great, but look at all the things on your list that ARE great.  You wrote: I’m a Christian.  I’m a friend.  I’m a dreamer… the complete make-up of this list is you.  And you could write 101 times that you are good at being you.”

Good point.  I’d still like to be good at something though, I thought.  Nine years later I’d become a mother.  In just that moment my list would have looked much different.  I could be so much more, do so much more, believe in so much more.

I’d fly around the world for you, I’ll make your pain go away, I’ll teach you about Jesus, I’ll paint your skies blue, I’ll make you lunch!  I won’t ever be the best, but that’s okay.  I’ll keep trying and trying to get it right.  There’ll be days when I go to bed and say, “I really sucked today,” and I’ll wake up tomorrow praying I’ll do better.

If I wasn’t a mom my list would be nothing special.  You make my list extra-ordinary.  You make my list exciting.  You make my list worth living for.

xoxo

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