Saturday, November 29, 2008

Supporting and Lifting - Like a 42DD

My friend, Kim Stagliano, the mother of three girls with autism is the managing editor of Age of Autism. Her husband recently lost his job, and they're wondering how they're going to afford to provide for their family including ongoing treatment for their girls - a pretty crappy card to be dealt especially during the holidays. When I'm tempted to wallow in the mud puddles that inevitably appear along my path in life, I think of Kim and all those like her who stealthily maneuver around their puddles despite the seemingly endless spotted road ahead. It gives me strength, fearlessness, and resolve.

The autism community is one like I've never seen before. The support generated among club members is equal to a 42DD Victoria Secret Miracle Bra. So if you need a lift today, don't go buy a new bra, read here instead Age of Autism. It will put some warmth in your Thanksgiving dinner left overs.

Now this is what you can do with your Miracle Bra...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Becoming Fearless

I’m a treadmill reader and when the black lines smear into each other and all different prism-like directions, or I start thinking cut the crap, where’s the beef, I either toss the book into the “maybe later in the bubble bath” pile, or the “give to thrift store,” pile. On occasion if the book and I keep pace together and we become running partners, I consider it a stellar read – not because I have cheetah-like strides, but because I’m so lost in this new world, I forget that my thighs are burning, and my cheeks jiggling (both sets).

The latest book that has survived the treadmill test – On Becoming Fearless by Arianna Huffington. It kept me so involved, it rivaled running to the song “Holiday” by Green Day or “Holding out for a Hero” Bonnie Tyler – two goodies that nearly jolt me from fat burning speed to aerobic in less than 15 seconds.

After lapping up On Becoming Fearless over a five day treadmill stint, it became decorated with post-it flag markers in all the Crayola crayon colors, and a few ripped up gum wrappers after I ran out of flags and had to scrounge up whatever I could find within reach.

Fearful by nature, but with a temper that can be ignited by only a mere spark, I was the little girl who trembled if anyone raised their voice. When my fourth grade teacher, a giraffe-necked guy with red hair and a mustache, threw me in front of the class and said, “Leeann, I know you can talk louder than that. Now, pretend your horse is down there and you’re yelling its name. What’s its name? Barron? Okay, come on. Like you mean it now. Yell it. You can do it.” I just stood there in my pink Ricks College sweatshirt that I wore every other day. My cheeks burning as the kids in my class stared at me and laughed.

I couldn’t do it.

So this book was written for me two decades too late. For the one who didn’t try out for the basketball team in high school because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. Then when the coach who was also my P.E. teacher saw me shooting hoops one day, she screamed, “Holgate!” loud enough I almost jumped out of my shorts. “Why, girl, didn’t you try out for the team!”

“I didn’t think I would make it.” I told her. She punched my shoulder and rolled her eyes. “Geez, Holgate. I didn’t think you were that stupid.”

Where was this book during those hormone inducing acne, mean girls suck days?

Why do we as a collective “body of women” worry so much about what others think? Why are we afraid of having a different opinion? Offending someone? Why do we live our lives wondering if we’re failing to measure up? To what? Is the fear of rejection so great, we can’t even try? Why do we feel we need to acquiesce? In order to be a leader we’re going to piss off; we’re going to have to go against what is generally accepted as “appropriate behavior”; we’re going to have to live our lives like this is the only chance we get – because it is!

Today, our fearless days begin as we stand in the mirror and imagine ourselves in our elasti-girl under-roos with a tiara on our heads, and a make believe sword in our sheaths ready for the draw. We’ll do our hair to The Gladiator soundtrack and worry more about what we’re living for than who we are disappointing – since the most important person not to disappoint is ourselves!

Fear swallows our passion and quiets our inner voice. By overcoming our insecurities and deepest fears, our passion and inner voice align, and it is then we know our true purpose and mission.

It is only then we are truly…fearless.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Stranger's Kind Deed

Four weeks ago over breakfast at Mimi’s, Senator Howard Stephenson fervently agreed to sponsor a bill that would require insurance companies to pay for medically necessary autism treatments. Upon hearing the tear-inducing good news, I went against all natural instincts, and instead of jumping up in my chair and doing air push ups above my head, I clenched my glass of orange juice tightly and graciously thanked him from my deepest well of passion.

Saturday morning, we, along with nine other volunteer legislative district captains from all over Utah, piled into the Original Pancake House in downtown Salt Lake City for a grassroots launch campaign. As we sat down at our table, I handed each of them their nametags complete with the autism awareness ribbon on the side. Though I had corresponded with many of these eager and equally passionate parents, this was my first time meeting them in person. Each of them shared their stories. And though each situation was unique, their pleas were the same.

“How can we afford treatment that our mainstream doctors are prescribing for her?”

“What is going to happen to him if he doesn’t get the intense treatment he needs?”

“Do you think he’ll ever talk to me?”

“I’ve had to go back to work, but I’m barely making enough to pay our regular bills let alone the treatment he needs.”

“I wonder if she’ll ever know who I am?”

As I traveled through time I heard myself echoing those same fears. I looked down at my plate. I couldn’t force another bite.

Our table grew quiet. I could barely hear the otherwise loud bursts of laughter and utensils clanking on dishes permeating from other parts of the large room.

Finally the waiter swung by and handed each of us our checks. Just as we reached for our wallets, a gentleman approached our table.

“Do you work with kids with autism?” he asked.

“Yes, we do. We’re parents trying to get some legislation passed,” someone answered.

“Your check is on me,” the man said. Then he walked around the table and began collecting our checks, which totaled around $100.

We were stunned into more silence. I looked around the table at each of them through my tear-distorted vision - their eyes were also spilling over.

This man will never know how much he buoyed us up that day. He’ll never really know that with that simple, unassuming act, he helped build my resolve to bionic strength. He’ll also never know that because he touched our lives, we in turn want to touch so many others.

And we intend to do it.

Thank you, Sir.

PS: If any of you are reading this and live in Utah (affected by autism or not), please send me an email so you too can get involved and help these kids get the treatment they need and deserve.

LeeannWhiffen at gmail dot com