Happy Mother’s Day to My Friend Consuelo

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I met Consuelo two years ago when I first moved to London. The name “Consuelo” means comfort or consolation in Spanish. We met while walking our dogs in our neighborhood. She is a nanny for a family with two children and a handsome black Labrador Retriever. Her dog and mine took an instant liking to each other. Her dog is 11 years old and still looks very youthful. Consuelo shared that the secret for her dog’s youthful look and good health was that she had fed him freshly cooked chicken and rice since he was a puppy. Spoiled boy!  Consuelo shared that she had moved from her native Ecuador to London over 30 years ago. So we had always chatted in Spanish. Over the months, we would run into each other with our dogs. Most of the time Consuelo would be pushing a stroller with an adorable little girl who is now 3 years old. One weekend afternoon I ran into Consuelo with the family that she works for and I found out that their older son had severe disabilities. Consuelo also cared for this little boy.

The months would go by and we would continue to meet each other and share pleasantries on the street. Then Friday morning was a special day. I was on my way to a coffee gathering when I ran into her with the little girl. We said our hellos and the cute little girl who recognizes me gave me a huge smile. It turned out we were walking in the same direction so off we went to the St. John’s Wood high street and chatted for about 15 minutes.

She would share so much in just those 15 minutes. She would open up in such a way that even she surprised herself. I asked how the little boy that she watches was. She said he was doing ok. She shared that it is always so challenging to take care of his needs. It is an exhausting job for both the parents and Consuelo. I told her I so admired her patience in dealing with the boy. My friend commented that she is always so concerned when they hire a babysitter for when Consuelo cannot be there. Consuelo will review a thousand things with the new sitter to ensure he is well taken care of. You can tell she is very protective of him. One day last week, Consuelo was preparing the boy for a bath. The boy is about 7 or 8 years old. As Consuelo lifted him to put him in his bath, he turned his face, and he placed his open mouth on her cheek in what appeared to be an attempt to kiss her. She was so moved because it was his first attempt at kissing and of showing any signs of affection. Consuelo could not believe it, and even as she recounted the story she was filled with goose bumps. The little boy had not even done this with his own mother. I said to Consuelo, “That little boy loves you so much. He must sense and recognize your dedication to him.” The outside world only sees the boy’s disabilities and suffering, while Consuelo focuses on improving his quality of life while showering him with love and affection.

Consuelo then shared that she and her husband were expecting a grandchild. I congratulated her and asked if it was their first one. She said it wasn’t but that it was the first girl and she was obviously very excited. She said her oldest grandson was 11 years old. She was delighted to share that her grandson had just been awarded a full scholarship for the rest of his education in London. She commented that the family was very pleased with this since her son had limited financial resources. As we walked further, she turned and said, “You see my son is disabled, he’s been in a wheel chair since he was a child”. She went on to tell me some wonderful stories about her son and how he has tried to live independently and support his family. I asked her if he was the reason why they had left Ecuador and she said yes. Her son would not have had much of a future in her native country back then.

I turned to Consuelo and I said something like, “Dios te escogió para este labor por una razón muy especial”, which translates into “God hand picked you for this task for a very special reason”. I could not get over the fact that after raising her own disabled child she would find the fortitude and patience to repeat the whole experience all over again by helping raise another family’s child with special needs.

We arrived at the high street and were getting ready to say our goodbyes. But she had one more story to share. She told me how her son had adapted a vehicle that allowed him to store his wheel chair on the roof and was therefore able to drive everywhere. It pleases him very much that he can transport his own family. You could sense how proud she is of her son. No doubt her son gets a lot of his “can do” attitude from his mother who through her example taught him to never give up. Consuelo continues to share this love and perseverance with the children she watches. And in return those children adore her not just as a caregiver or nanny but also more like a grandmother. Not to mention the family dog who also adores her because she showers him with love and attention too, oh and with freshly cooked chicken and rice, as well!

My heart filled with such joy to have met Consuelo and to have run into her on that particular Friday morning. I turned to her and said, “I must hug you”, and I did. She thanked me for listening to her and said she shared these stories with me because she felt I was a special person. I was very moved. We said “Hasta Luego” (See You Later) and went in our different directions. It may be the last time I run into her since I will be moving back to the US. I often wonder why people’s paths cross. I like to think that it is not just coincidence but that somehow it is meant to be, that there is a reason for it. Even if it is just to say, I am so proud to have known such a special person and role model like Consuelo.

Happy Mother’s Day

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The London Paralympics

2012 London Paralympics
The Olympic Flame

There are times in our lives when we are impacted by something. Well, one of those moments for me was when I attended the Paralympics on September 6th in London. It was one thing to watch the various events on television and it was another to sit in person and cheer these men and women on. It was both sobering and moving to see the Paralympic athletes compete in athletics, track and field. Once you get past feeling sorry for them because of their disability, you begin to admire their physical and emotional strength and there’s only room for pride in your heart.  I could not help but think as well of all of the amazing parents, families, friends, and coaches who have supported these athletes. By now you are all familiar with the South African blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, who also ran in the Olympics. I loved hearing what his mother would say to him and his brother growing up, “Carl put on your shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs”. Pistorius grew up not really thinking he had a disability. He grew up thinking he had different shoes.

The blade runners get ready to run. T44 100 meters
Pistorius standing in the middle behind runner #3.
World-record holder Peacock #6 of Britain standing behind Pistorius won the race.

It is about focusing on the abilities and not the disabilities.  I was so happy to have shared this experience with my children. I do hope that the younger generations are growing up with more empathy, understanding, and acceptance of people with differences. Attitudes have come a long way since I attended Public School 151 in Queens New York in the late 60’s. I remember we had children with Down syndrome in the school but they kept them completely separate from the rest of the students. I suppose that the fact that these children could attend public school was at least a trend in the right direction.

Visually impaired runners prepare to run.
Some have guides with them.
The guide is also awarded a medal if their runner wins.

I also took the opportunity to learn about the differences between Paralympics and Special Olympics. Both are non-profit organizations. The Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities (ages 8 and above) and all levels. This organization helps develop children and adult’s self-confidence and social skills through supporting sporting events held throughout the year in different locations.

David Weir of Britain winning the T54 800 meter race.
The audience roared!

The Paralympics is for high performance athletes with physical disabilities however, beginning this year mentally disabled athletes qualified for some events. The overall categories of allowable disabilities are: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, visual impaired, and Les Autres (meaning The Others). Included in Les Autres are dwarfism, multiple sclerosis, and congenital disorders. These categories are further broken into classification. The athletes must conform to strict criteria regarding their disability and all receive a classification before the beginning of the competitions. The Paralympics follow the same schedule as the Olympics.

Women Blade Runners
On Your Mark, Get Set…

Some athletes were born with their disability and others obtained their disability later in life, either through an illness, an accident, or a war injury. And although, I don’t know every athlete’s personal circumstances, I do know that at some point in their lives they made the critical decision to focus on their abilities and pursue their athletic dreams. Knowing what these courageous athletes have done serves as an inspiration to me.

The women wheel chair runners get ready.

To read more about the London Paralympics go to: http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports/

To read more about the Paralympics go to: http://www.paralympic.org/

To read more about the Special Olympics go to: http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/What_We_Do/What_We_Do.aspx