Monday Morning Message

[This piece was sent to University of Colorado Denver graduate students in the School of Education and Human Development this morning.]

“An Open Door: Learning from a Winter of Limitation”
~ Laura L. Summers, Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Learning Design & Technology

How do I greet you with a Monday Morning Message when I know many of you are feeling stressed, unsettled, or uncertain during this unprecedent time? We are facing challenges that we have never faced before, and we know we do not have all the answers.

“Limitations of nature cannot be controlled or transcended. They can, however, be endured and survived. It is possible for there to be a dance with life, a creative response to its intrinsic limits and challenges ...” writes Welch (2000), a social justice scholar. We, as a collective, may feel like we are living a spring of “limitations.”

In January 2009, I faced what I wrote about at the time as a “winter of limitations.” I remember feeling like it was the worst experience I had ever had in my privileged, middle-class life. Each day still brought sun with ice-blue Colorado skies, and we, as a family could still leave our house each day to go to work and school. Yet beyond what appeared to be normal to others, internally my husband and I were afraid of an unknown as we waited for our thirteen-year-old son’s juvenile court hearing. It was during this time of waiting that I journaled the question, “How does one see limitations as an opportunity for growth?”

One evening while I was changing bed sheets, I found myself hitting my pillow against the mattress. Wham. Wham. Wham. My son appeared in the doorway. I smoothed out the pillow against the headboard pretending what had just happened was normal. I smiled, “Just making sure the pillow feathers aren’t bunched up inside.”

He smiled and came up beside me. His small hand reached out and patted my lower back. “Mom, are you stressed about work? Don’t worry, Mom. It will be okay.”

I swooped down and hugged him close around his shoulders even as he squirmed to break free of my sudden embrace. He repeated, “It will be okay, Mom,” for added reassurance before he left the room.

“Will it be okay?” I have been praying this question since my son was four and his preschool teacher pulled me aside as I watched him play in the sandbox and whispered close in my ear, “Your son had another accident today. You need to get him tested. He should be potty-trained by now.”

I was reminded of his “limitations” again at six.  “I think there is something more going on with your son than just Sensory Integration Disorder. He walks the parameter of the playground at recess talking to no one, and during the fire alarm test, he hides under his desk,” his teacher explained at our parent-teacher conference. Children’s Hospital confirmed a diagnosis of Asperger’s; high functioning Autism.

I wrote down Helen Keller’s reminder, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”   It would be three months until we would be on the other side of our family’s experience with the judicial system. Charges would be dropped; the experience expunged from his records; and new opportunities would result from a better understanding of Autism.

January 2009 would become known for the “Miracle on the Hudson” when Captain Sullenberger safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. Yet I am pretty sure during the investigation of his actions, he asked, “Is it going to be okay?” It would take some time for it “to be okay” even with the “miracle” that occurred. It may take some time for us to understand our current experience – maybe more than the three months I waited for understanding in 2009.