Theater Arts Camp – A Success!

Today was the last day of theater arts camp. Riley was the only kid with special needs and she was with an aide she didn’t know previously and kept the fact she had an aide undercover. Her aide was young, and everyone thought she was just another conselor. Riley’s super duper memory and ability to easily learn lines is no doubt what scored her the leading role. The play was an original story with a hodge-podge of familiar songs and show tunes. Riley played “the teacher.”

Eariler in the week it was touch and go. She had an issue with her microphone, and almost couldn’t get past it, but she was able to articulate her feelings and we came up with a solution, and she got through it.

She had a beautiful solo in the beginning, and here she is in one of the numbers which she performed with the camp counselors. This one blew me away, because just the noise at the beginning of the scene would have derailed her not so long ago.

Yes. I cried.

And Seth. My baby. Look at him attack the mic and do Michael proud. I love this boy. I love everything about him. I love him and I like him, and I think he’s cool.

And how cute were the tiny kids? Impossibly cute. Our friend Jancy came to cheer the kids on. It was so nice of her to want to be there. The kids had only seven days to actually rehearse.

The Cleveland Music School Settlement is a place which truly supports those with special needs. It is an organization with a heart. A lot of people jumped through a lot of hoops to make this camp happen for Riley. They were all rooting for her to even get into this session, and then…she blows us out of the water by auditioning for the lead.

Riley has no concept of how amazing she is. She doesn’t know she’s breaking down barriers. She doesn’t know she’s a freaking miracle. She’s just plugging along, being Riley. Doing her thing. Full of sweetness and love.

I am so blessed to be her mom, to have front row seats to watch her fly.

Thank You North Coast Men’s Chorus!

This weekend was so much fun.

Windsong was invited to perform with the North Coast Men’s Chorus, and those men are some of the most gracious, kind, generous, sweet people I’ve ever met. Men with big open hearts. Humor. Talent. Loads of fun. The group in the photo above did a number called Ladies Who Lunch, originally written for Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” Their rendition was hillarious.

Our chorus did some of our own pieces and some combined with the men. Standing on the risers, lights glaring, singing all out with Windsong and over 100 men, audience having a blast, I couldn’t help say to myself, “Good manifesting, Michelle.”

Life is supposed to be fun.

It Gets Better

This weekend, Windsong, Cleveland’s feminist chorus is getting a wonderful opportunity to perform with The North Coast Men’s Chorus.

They have roughly 125 members. Windsong has about thirty. Rehearsing, we are crammed together so tightly on those risers there is not a speck of space between us. Shoulders pushing against shoulders. The men’s choir is really something. They have a whole dance number lined up to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and one can only guess what else they have in store. Their director has wonderful energy. Strong but kind. It’s fun having our director hop on into the choir and sing with us during pieces she is not directing.

One of the songs we’re singing is It Gets Better, which is the anthem for The Trevor Project, an initiative to put an end to the tragic suicides of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender youth around the country.

I’ve got to say, standing there singing with so many gay men and women, just lightly noting and touching what each one has been through, living in a world where so many condemn them for being “different”…I got a big lump in my throat. Out of the corner of my eye I was kind of looking around, wondering….why isn’t everyone just a blubbering mess?” ‘Cause I’m ’bouts to go there.

It gets better.

A good thing to remember no matter who you are. It would have helped me a lot as a child if someone had said it to me, growing up in poverty under the cloud of alcoholism. At the time I couldn’t imagine anything different. I couldn’t wrap my brain around growing up and having my own life. It would have helped me a lot as a parent of a toddler who screamed non-stop. Because I could mostly handle the screaming. The hard part was imagining the screaming lasting for the next 21 years or more. That’s when I despaired.

Yesterday, we were in the car and the rain came down so hard we had to pull over. Traffic lights went out. Tree branches fell. An hour later, we were having dinner. The sun was shining brightly. I said to the kids,

“Remember this day. Every time it feels really dark, every time you have a problem that brings you to a halt…remember the sun always comes after every storm.”

Seth grinned, and holding his fork in the air said, “Literally and metaphorically,” at the same time his sister said, “Great metaphor Mom!”

Metaphors covered? Check.

But truly, I want them to know this.

It gets better when you step out of the problem and into the solution. One solution is The Trevor Project which offers a hot line for GLBT teens considering suicide. One solution is visualising a better life for yourself. One solution is putting the problem aside and taking a walk, giving your brain a rest while focusing on something else. One solution is avoiding negative people who perpetuate your feelings of victim-hood. One solution is surrounding yourself with people who love and support you. One solution is meditation, and prayer of the listening variety. You don’t have to jump from despair to joy immediately. Just take a tiny step in that direction. Do one thing differently, then another. One solution is looking around and making a list of things to appreciate. One solution is to sing…

Hey friend

When you feel like you’re alone

And the world throws out a lot of hate

It’s not the end

You’re not out there on your own

There’s still so much in life to celebrate

Just look up

Cause those skies are going to clear

There so much more than just the here and now

Just look up

Cause a better day is here

Tomorrow feel the sunlight shining down

It gets better, better, better

The pain will let up, let up, let up

If you fall just get up, get up, get up

Oh, cause there’s another way

It gets better, better, better

The world gets lighter, lighter, lighter

So be a fighter, fighter, fighter

Oh, just live to see that day

Yeah, live to see that day

Live to see that day

Hey friend

We used to feel like you

No end in sight

Fearing everyday

Just defend, the part of you that’s true

Find yourself and you will find the way

Don’t give up

Just take another look

And you can shine

It’s time you took the stage

Don’t give up

Cause your life is like a book

All you got to do is turn the page

There are friends yet to meet,

There are songs to be sung

There are beautiful sunsets

And battles are won

There’s love to be found if you just stick around

Don’t give up

Your life has just begun

It gets better, better, better

The pain will let up, let up, let up

If you fall just get up, get up, get up

Oh, cause there’s another way

It gets better, better, better

The world gets lighter, lighter, lighter

So be a fighter, fighter, fighter

Oh, just live to see that day

It gets better, better, better

The pain will let up, let up, let up

If you fall just get up, get up, get up

Oh, cause there’s another way

It gets better, better, better

The world gets lighter, lighter, lighter

So be a fighter, fighter, fighter

Oh, just live to see that day

It gets better, better, better

The world gets lighter, lighter, lighter

So be a fighter, fighter, fighter

Ohh, just live to see that day

It gets better, better, better…

Music Sharing Day

Saturday was the kids’ music sharing day at The Cleveland Music School Settlement, where those receiving music therapy showcased their talents. It had been a very stressful week and the weekend was jammed full of things we needed to do. Todd was working, and I was feeling very overwhelmed. Music sharing day was one more thing to tick off my list.

Todd slipped in just as it was getting started, and Riley was one of the first to go. She showed a music video she’d worked on with her therapist Sarah. Riley played the music in the video. She planned the whole thing. Every scene. Every prop. The story line. She and her therapist introduced it together and the crowd loved it. She was so proud.

Seth, is the “typical” volunteer in Riley’s therapeutic dance class, and they included something of Seth’s in Music Sharing Day, so he would not feel left out. Seth’s video appeared right after Riley’s. In it, he danced full out…demonstrating his impressive MJ moves. The audience raved. It was so sweet. Both kids basked in all the positive attention.

Most of the other students played instruments with or without their music therapists. One student, when her name was called, came running up to the stage area, like a contestant on The Price is Right. She grabbed the microphone and jumped up and down repeatedly like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch, saying, “I’m so excited! I’m soooooo excited!” She was so excited, and her joy was infectious. I don’t know what her “disability” was. It wasn’t Down Syndrome, but perhaps something similar. I could not tell you if she was 15 or 50. All I saw was joy, just beautiful joy exuding from her.

“I’m sooooo excited!”

Every care I had coming in dropped off, and I was excited for her too. Her light was contagious. She already had me. Then for her second number, she sang, The Rose.

I sat there, tears welling in my eyes, thinking of all the hard work every one of the precious people with special needs in that room had put in. Not just in music therapy, but in life. How many therapies? How many treatments? How many misunderstandings? How many obstacles had each of them overcome? How much had they taught their families and communities about unconditional love, about joy?

A little later, it was Ronald’s turn. Ronald is a beautiful young adult. His dance class is right after Riley and Seth’s and I always enjoy talking with his mom.  Ronald loves Jingle. Just last week they brought her a huge bone, which she devoured. Ronald is sweet, polite, and kind. And he likes rap music. He took the microphone, turned to the audience, and said, “I like to sing! I like to sing!”

Ronald went on to to performed Jay-Z’s New York, substituting “Cleveland, Cleveland, Cleveland!” for “New York.” The rest of the lyrics were also his own. He rapped about all the things he loves. His mom. His teachers. His sister. High school.

I seriously could not take it. I couldn’t look at Todd for fear of losing it completely. A huge lump sat there in my throat. I looked at the ceiling blinking away tears. It was the kind of thing where if  let it go…I didn’t think I’d get it back.

My kids sat there rapt. Seth bopped in his seat. He wasn’t being polite. He was loving it, for real. They cheered enthusiastically for Ronald. We all did.

What a gift it was to have the opportunity to be right there in the moment with nothing but love in my heart. Love for every student, every therapist, every parent, every family. I felt such gratitude for those who do this work. Those who recognize music is for everyone.

Ronald’s mom gave me permission to share his performance with you. I hope it blesses you as much as it did us:

Love.

Plans for Camp

A friend recently sent me an e-mail about Bittersweet Farms. I love knowing a place like this exists. In looking for the YouTube code to embed the video above, I came across a number of programs which beautifully serve kids and adults with special needs. One after another the videos popped up.

Riley has attended an inclusive music day camp the last two summers. She’s done really well, but felt a bit left out because the special needs kids were relegated to mornings only. All the other campers got to go full day. She was adamant she go full day this year, and I knew if I couldn’t get her in full day, she would likely balk at going at all, because she’s “not a baby.”

At every turn, people show up to help.

The wonderful aide who accompanied her the last two years has agreed to go full day with her, but still…the structure of afternoons is completely different. Would she be able to handle it? And what about the hurdle of the policy in place… about special needs kids only going in the morning? There has been a lot of discussion amongst the camp powers that be.

Riley’s music therapist…the one who teaches hip-hop dance, has been working to prepare her. She’s been teaching her various steps in isolation, then throwing them together every which way…to get her used to thinking on her feet and being flexible. To get her used to being unsure, and frustrated, and be able to recover quickly. The whole time, I’ve felt whether or not she gets to go full day, everyone was rooting for her and looking out for her best interest. It would not make sense to send her full day and set her up for failure if she truly wouldn’t do well.

Riley’s other music therapist has also been working on recovering from mistakes,…(acting like it’s nothing and moving along) while making music recordings and videos, letting Riley have all input into the creative process. Riley plays the drums, the piano, lots of other instruments, sings into the microphone, etc. She loves it. She’s doing well.

So.

The camp has made the decision to let Riley go full day this summer. She is the first camper with special needs to do so in their very,very long history.

And I think of all that has gone into this. And I think of the video above. And I think of what goes into parenting and supporting all of the kids with special needs who are here on the planet in droves, and I feel so much love for parents and professionals, friends and neighbors, who open their hearts wider, and make room for our kids.

And I have faith.

Virtual Choir

Okay, I know this is really gorgeous, but it’s also somehow unsettling to me. Yes, the music is hauntingly beautiful. But I have to admit, the balls floating around with all those faces in the videos do wig me out a bit. All those heads bobbing around reminds me of the pictures hanging on the walls in Harry Potter, where the people in the paintings are alive.

It also drives home the fact that we are, have already, moved into a different world. It makes me think of a time in the future, when the earth is uninhabitable and we’re all floating on space ships or something. Perhaps Mommy’s watched too much Wall-E? I heard somewhere recently (was it Gayle King on XM radio?) that people today receive 300 times more information in a day, than they used to in an entire lifetime.

Technology.

I love it. I love how we can connect with people all over the world, but it seems vitally important to deliberately make time to back away from the screen and connect with real people. And I know that sentiment isn’t anything new. We all say it. And I am a big offender of too much computer time.

It’s just, no matter how beautiful a “virtual” choir is, you can’t beat the real thing.

But then again, that kind of thinking is limited. It isn’t either/or, it’s AND and MORE.

In the ever evolving expansion of the Universe, there is room for it all.

We get to have both. We get to have everything.

And that is good.

Would the teenage part of yourself be happy with who you are now?

Last night I had the good fortune of seeing Troubadours of Divine Bliss at Unity Center of the Heights. They are hard to explain. Kind of like The Indigo Girls but their songs mostly speak of Divine love, and with an accordion.

They were awesome! I have to say, I’ve been manifesting so many wonderful things as of late. I’d never heard of this band before, and suddenly there I was, blissing out listening to their inspiring music! Honoring the concept of Law of Attraction, whenever I am enjoying something lately, I’ve taken to appreciating myself for manifesting it. Go me! I figure I blame myself enough when things go wrong, it’s only fair to take credit when they go right!

During the set, they mentioned a question asked of them in a recent interview:

Would the teenage part of yourself be happy with who you are now?

Food for thought, no?

Not trying to sound conceited, but I believe my teen self would think I’m awesome. I have busted through so many barriers. Physically, mentally, educationally, financially, emotionally, spiritually. My teenage self didn’t think she was worth a damn. She had no idea Who She Was.

I’ve become the parent my teen self wished she’d had. I say that not with blame, or to inflict shame. My parents were 17 and 18 when they married. My father suffered horrible abuse as a child. My mother carried her own pain. They were unhealed kids, hoping the other would fix it, and neither had any tools.

Back to me….LOL. I’m so much more free now than when I was a teen, and I keep on growing in that area. Riley did that. Oh how I fought against it at first, but my daughter taught me how “different” can bring great freedom with it. She can’t be like everybody else. It’s not what she came here to do. Parenting her like “everyone else” was never going to work. Letting go has brought such richness to our experience.

My teenage self was dealing with so much. She acted tough, but she was always so afraid. I think she’d be happy to know I led her safely to 42. I think she’d love the kids. She always loved kids. I think she’d tell me to dress cooler and wear more jewelry. She’d appreciate HT’s integrity, and love who he is as a father. She’d insist I dance more.

I think she’d say, “You’re doing good.”

She knows proper grammar, but has never been a stickler for it. Kind of an “in your face” to a system that underestimated her.

She’d be glad I write.

She had a lot to say.

True Colors Gay Men’s Chorus of LA

Watching this video took me on a huge roller coaster of emotions. I love the slow face shots at the beginning. Each person…all of these men, what they have been through personally in a society which discriminates against them for simply being who they are. Their bravery.

As the video progresses, my heart just seemed to open wider and wider. Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors, written for her friend with HIV. The despicable history of our government in the 80’s not giving a shit about the AIDs epidemic because it was primarily affecting gay men. As if they were disposable. The continued battle to help those affected get the services they need.

The love I have for my daughter and anyone who is at all “different” in some way.

The physical beauty of these men, all of whom appear lit from within, and how could they not be in the context of this video, and the “it gets better” reason for doing it.

The joining of more and more supporters and loved ones.

The healing, spiritual power of music, singing, voice.

The deep knowing that in my childrens’ lifetime, this BS is going to stop. As a society we’re not going to put up with it anymore.

My absolute certaintly that love prevails.

To the gay people in my life, I admire you and I believe in a day when no one will have to hide or hurt for being who they are.

Love.