Losing More than My Mother

Losing More Than A Mother But Maybe She Wheel Julia Rodes

 

 

A week ago marked the 10 year anniversary of losing my mother.

 

These past ten years of grief have shaped how I see relationships. I’ve fallen in love, made the lasting friendships that’ll stay with me, became a wife, a sister and an aunt. But in the first six years after she was gone, I also endured the worst experiences I know I’ll ever live to have. There wouldn’t be any waking up from experiences harder than assault, a traffic accident, a spinal cord injury, waking up to a paralyzed body. What I missed most in those moments was the ability to call my mom, have her take me into her arms and make it all better.

 

I’ve learned I grief much more than just not having my mom in my life; I also grief not having A mom in my life. Because when you lose a mother, you lose so much more than having that person. You also lose the security that a mother gives her child, the comfort that there is someone wiser and always available to help. When a daughter loses a mother, she loses the relationship between mothers and daughters AND she loses the security a mother provides her daughter. My mother surrounded, protected and loved, sometimes judgmentally or intrusively, but with well-meaning and adoring  intentions. I miss the person my mother was, but sometimes more than anything I miss knowing my mom would be there any time I needed her. And how I’ve needed her.

But Maybe She Wheel

I needed our mother-daughter relationship when I fell in love with a soldier and made the choice to be an Army wife. I needed the security my mother would’ve brought when I couldn’t pull pants over my paralyzed legs. I needed her smile when I embarked on mentoring other disabled people on traveling, a passion I inherited from her. I needed her wisdom in medicine to help me manage the chronic nerve pain. I needed her pride when I walked across the stage at my college graduation. I needed her for every milestone in my life and for the lives of my siblings and now her grandchildren. What losing her meant that she’ll never be there to see the adult she helped shape me to become. And I’ll never get to turn around and thank her.

 

In the Hindu religion, time is thought of differently. Hindu’s believe time is not linear like most of the Western world believes, where days and months march forward minute after minute. In Hinduism, time is cyclical and revolves through the four phases, or yugas, of Sat (or Krta), Treta, Dvapara and Kali that repeat themselves endlessly. Think the only period of awkward insecurity is when you’re a teenager? What if we revolved around a period of awkwardness in the circular time when we’re 15 and then revolved through time to again move through that phase at 24, 43, and 68 years old? What if I moved back through the childishly sweet phase of falling head over heels in love with Dusty when I’m 31 and 59 like I did when I was 17?

But Maybe She Wheel

If time is circular, then I will continue to move through phases where I have a mom and where I don’t. Her death is a permanent fact of my life, but that never meant my life would be absent of her presence. As I revolve around and around the circular timeline of my life, I’ll move through periods where her presence is so acute it’s as if she’s alive and then phases where her absence is like a widening void. It’s comforting to think that when I feel her presence, it may be because I’m revolving through a past time as a teenager or child when she was alive.

 

In the linear timeline of my life, my mother is gone and abruptly removed. But in the circular way of thinking, I both have a mother in one phase of a revolution and then do not in another phase. For fans of the Big Bang Theory, this is what I’d call my Schrödinger mother. In circular time, her presence will still be there at each milestone. Her absence will be felt but her presence will still be alive. I can have the relationship, but still have lost the realistic security. I can still look up and thank her.

But Maybe She Wheel

I am an overly fortunate person in that I’ve had multiple women step in and provide that missing security of a mother. Army wives all over the world have taken my husband and myself in to provide comfort and help during our crises, actions that I will not soon forget. Her fellow nurses were there when I fell in love and married my soldier, hosting bridal showers and hastily tying the back of my wedding gown so I could dance. The wives of Army chaplains were there when I awoke paralyzed, patiently explaining that everything would be okay while they fed and comforted Dusty. They were also there to smile with pride when I graduated college two years later. I have incredible, strong, and passionate women who have surrounded me and won’t be quick to let go.

But Maybe She Wheel

 

The cycles of grief have moved through me over the past 10 years and have subsided to echoing ripples in my day to day. She’ll always be painfully missed in my accomplishments, adventures and pitfalls and that’s when the waves will splash over my head. But I know now that she can be both present and absent, gone and alive, in the circular spinning of my life. I’ll be glad the next time I move through the phase where I can feel her presence again.

But Maybe She Wheel

 

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Finding Ethel: Part 3, What I Didn't Know

But Maybe She Wheel: Finding Ethel

Untitled4It seems like most of my adult life has been a series of learning that I know.. well, really absolutely nothing. What? You mean insurance won’t take my word that I wasn’t truly speeding? I didn’t know that. You have to actually pay the tuition not covered by a loan? I didn’t know that. Sometimes you’ll owe taxes at the end of the year and you won’t get a refund check? I wish I didn’t know that.

 

When I became a paraplegic, suddenly the whole world was a minefield of hidden I-don’t-know situations. Is pain right there okay? I don’t know. Is there a way for me to go rock climbing? I don’t know. (Spoiler- there most definitely is and it’s awesome). Is there an easier way for me to carry all these medical supplies every day? I don’t know. Is it always going to be this hard? I just don’t know.

 

When we tooled around Europe, the list of what we didn’t know became much, much longer. No one believes in 24 hour gas stations? I didn’t know. Landlords don’t have copies of your key when you lock yourself out? I didn’t know that. You’ll get fined for running the lawn mower on a holiday? Well, now I know that. Our last group dinner we had with our friends in Germany, we compiled a list of these things that we didn’t know and quickly, painfully learned about living in Europe.

  • Real men drink red wine. Unless you’re in Scotland, where wine means whiskey.
  • Toilets only have 1/3 of the water in their bowl than the toilets in the states, so every public toilet has a shared toilet bowl scrubber. Peeing suddenly becomes pretty intimate.
  • To flush these toilets, you play a game of “Where’s My Handle?” to find the button, lever or automatic sensor whose location changes depending on country. German toilets do not have handles, but some in Portugal do. France loves the automatic sensors and Denmark hides the button in remarkable locations. Always humorous, there must be a European engineer somewhere making sport of Americans sweating over a toilet trying to find a way to flush.
  • In some countries, people are passionate about everything from love to coffee and will tell you with loud voices and (passionate) hand gestures. In others, it’s customary to be stoic and reserved even when Germany wins the World Cup. People of Europe are as varied as Americans; a Southern gentleman is a different breed than rugged Jersey boy and as such a Frenchman is not a Scandinavian.
  • No meal is complete without conversation. Breakfast, lunch and dinner require conversing as much as they require the meal.
  • Being good-looking and young can either get you into a lot of cool places or really get you into a lot of trouble.
  • The universal response to “Yes, I’m an American” will be “Oh ya, I love New York!”
  • Most men of the southern countries have body odor. We don’t know why. It’s still great.
  • Credit card and debit cards are useless pieces of plastic unless they have a microchip.
  • In the states we say “really? ” as an affirmation, meaning “wow, what you’re saying is really interesting to me”. That positive intent is lost in translation in many countries of Europe, for “really?” is taken as “I don’t believe you. You must be lying so give me three more examples until I believe you”
  • No one really knows there are states in between New York, California, Texas and Florida
  • Most US appliances and lightbulbs will not work here and vice versa.
  • There does exist European versions of rednecks, hicks, suburban moms, city kids, punk, hippies and every other stereotype. People are still people everywhere you go.
  • No one is here to cater to your needs.
  • Western pop hits play on every radio and Justin Beiber is just as hated in Europe as he is in America.
  • You have to eat slowly. It’s embarrassing to be the last ones to sit down and the first ones to go because you don’t know how to enjoy a meal. But the food is so delicious it’s. so. Hard. To. Eat. One. Bite. At a. time.
  • The further south you go, the better the food and the smaller the coffee cups.
  • The no such thing as personal space. You simply make friends wherever you go. No matter what they smell like.
  • Water is NOT free. You pay for a glass and you specify if you want it “with or without gas” (carbonated). Free water is a thing of the past.
  • “EG” in an elevator means first floor. The first floor in Europe is our second floor in America. Ground floor is the first floor.
  • Public bathrooms are NOT free. Most stores will not have a public bathroom and for many malls and public transportation, you pay a Euro or two to enter and use their toilets.
  • People value healthy lifestyles in ways I wish we could adopt in the states. Sundays are days for walking trails in the woods, biking, or simply being outside with family or friends. Smaller portions of food are served and GMO’s are outlawed in most countries. Binge drinking is not a common practice, even for the enthusiastic drinkers of the UK, so teenagers grow up learning how to drink responsibly from watching their parents.
  • To fit in you need a pair of skinny jeans. And girls should wear them too.
Nyhaven, Copenhagen
Nyhaven, Copenhagen

Overall though, it has been our attitudes and Dusty’s mechanical mind that have carried us from researching every medical need to having a really clutch wheelchair decked out with military hooks and doodads to carry everything I need. I’ve scuba-dived off the Greek coast, rock climbed Canadian cliffs, hiked Spanish volcanos and kayaked with Atlantic dolphins thanks to having the “we’ll figure it out attitude”. We intend on carrying on that attitude permanently but this newest addition to our lives of me having a service dog is proving to be different in the best sort of sense. There’s nothing for me to “figure out” or push myself against, no roadblock or challenge. Unlike every other change Dusty and I have had in our life together, Ethel only helps. She gives, more than I knew a dog could. The I-don’t-know’s of having a service Dane don’t require the same resiliency or strength of will that every previous situation has called. The things I don’t know this time around are usually goofy things about Great Danes or perks that come with having a service dog. This time, these I-don’t-knows are easy.

There are, however, quite a few of these things about Great Danes that I just didn’t know. The most prominent one being their, um, distinct smell. Ethel is beautiful, patient, regal…. and gassy like no one’s business. Both her trainers Kati and Megan warned me of this little trait early on and I assured them I’ve been living with and around Army boys for a good while now, nothing would surprise me. And while she really can stink up a car like I’ve never seen (or smelled), it’s absolutely the most adorable thing. We’ll hear a loud ripping and look over at her, laughing, while she looks around startled at whatever made that noise. I’ll be in the study working and I’ll hear an unmistakable “pffffttt” from her bed,

“Ethel! Ewwph, that’s smelly!”

“Arrumm phumppphh,” she’ll say back to me. Then her nose will perk up, sniffing, and she’ll grumble away as she gets out of her bed to lay on the other side of the room to get away from the terrible smell. That she caused.

“Try some Gas-X”, Megan once suggested as we once covered our noses in the guest house at the farm where I trained. But I can’t. I actually don’t mind, it’s another endearing part of what makes my girl so, well, Ethel.IMG_20150526_183426

 

Ethel was accompanying me on a speech therapy appointment last week and was sprawled out in boredom on her mat in the office where I was doing exercises. I was sitting across from a speech therapist and concentrating on the exercises she was asking for my brain injury rehabilitation.

“Give me three definitions of the word court in sixty seconds”

“Court. To court someone is similar to dating someone but with intention of marrying. Then there’s the judicial court where sentences on lawbreakers are passed..”

“ffffrrrrpppttttttt”

My face turned red. “Andthelastisthekindofcourtyouplaysportson” I finished quickly. I looked down at Ethel, still sprawled out, and wanted to laugh but I had never met this therapist before and she had already proven to be a very strict, no nonsense type of person. She acted like she hadn’t heard anything in response to Ethel’s contribution to my answer.

But before she could ask me the next question, I started to smell it wafting up from below the table. Ethel’s unmistakable mark. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep myself from cracking up.

“Ahem. Now tell me everything you can think of that is blue in sixty seconds.”

“Blue. Um, blueberries. The sky. Bodies of water…” I saw my therapist give her nose the slightest of wrinkles and I knew the smell had hit her too. “.. Donald Duck’s shirt. Sometimes Christmas lights….” She got up from her seat and moved to the doorway where she, without a word, opened the closed door to give the cramped office some ventilation.

I finished that exercise and soon I was released, where in the hallway I buried my face in Ethel’s neck to bust out laughing. Later that day I was finishing up at the Rehab Institute where I get all my medical treatment and had just been handed a copy of my appointments for the following week. I knew I was going to be scheduled for speech therapy again but I started laughing when I saw I was not going to be seeing that therapist again. Maybe she didn’t find my girl’s uniqueness as adorable as I most certainly do.Snapchat--7909754257345803981

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Finding Ethel: Part 3, I'm Hers

imhers

After I did my inpatient rehabilitation for my injury, I was impatient to go right back to college with the promise that I would continue physical therapy. Getting back to life was incredibly important to the both of us. We both knew that walking again may not be possible but getting a college degree could be. I was scared to go back to college and the question of whether or not I could finish tortured me the entire summer. I spoke with therapist after therapist while I was in inpatient rehabilitation about attending college as a paraplegic and I was hesitant to believe their encouragings. But while I was learning to tie my shoes, lay down in bed to put pants on and take a shower the new way, Dusty was working on my fall schedule at college with my advisor and making sure that the financial aid portion was still intact. I hadn’t been convinced yet that I was capable of finishing college but Dusty knew that I was.

 

Fort Jackson, South Carolina
Fort Jackson, South Carolina

As the beginning of the fall semester neared, we said goodbye to the therapists at Shepherd Hospital and with the attitude of “nothing is impossible”, I went forth into college. We were met with a community of love unsurpassed by any other that I’ve ever known. I had gotten to know some of the local women of Fort Jackson in South Carolina in a Bible study called Protestant Women Of the Chapel and two women in particular took me in as their own. They adopted me as my new Army moms and as they listened to my worries and fears, they gave me the humor and the courage to be able to face any trouble about the Army could and would bring in our future. Just a few weeks after my new moms and I met , they rose to the occasion of my accident and rallied behind Dusty every minute of every day. Dusty was able to come and go from the hospital due to the schedule they made to have someone by my side, whether it be a chaplain, themselves or another one of our many Army friends that they brought into our lives. Dusty didn’t spend a single dinner alone but was surrounded by Army families night after night. It was truly a miraculous time of the Army surrounding one of its own. When I awoke and learned all this, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more loved.

 

Graduation with Honors 2012, University of South Carolina
Graduation with Honors 2012, University of South Carolina

We had motorcycle escort leaving the hospital to take us all the way home to Fort Jackson. The Army and Dusty had worked hard to find us an accessible home on post and the women of PWOC had unpacked us, decorated and moved us into a beautiful, settled house. Even my underwear had been folded. I got out of the car in our new driveway to cheers and shouts of love by the Buffalo soldiers, PWOC women and Army family that had come by to greet us. I surprised the crowd by showing them that I could stand up with my four arm crutches before being lifted by Dusty and carried over the threshold to our new home. And what a beautiful house it was. We both felt too young to live in a house this organized and picturesque, reminding us more of a Better Homes and Gardens ad than our previous college apartment. How blessed were we.

 

Presidential No Limits Student 2012, University of South Carolina
Presidential No Limits Student 2012, University of South Carolina

College started and there are volumes to write about those first few weeks. But quickly I learned one thing, that I was terrible at pushing my wheelchair through anything that wasn’t pavement. Sidewalk cracks? Fell right over. Cobblestones? Don’t ask. The lip from exiting the elevator to the tile? Yep. For some strange reason, seeing a girl in a wheelchair fall on her face out of her chair really freaked some people out and they thought they should probably call the ambulance. Dusty would get weekly phone calls from some stranger who’d taken my phone to tell him that I was on the way to the emergency room. Again. Soon I began to recognize and know the EMTs who’d pick me up,

 

“Well hey Julia! Looks like someone fell again, you do know that wheelchairs only work when you stay in them.”

 

“Hi Joe. Shut up.”

 

I was always fine but with a new spinal cord injury and fused vertebrae, falls meant X-rays and double checking. Dusty would have left his meetings, briefings or yelling at some basic trainee to arrive at the hospital to take me back to get my car. Eventually he started designing inflatable cushions that I could deploy from my chair and would poof! surround and protect me. Or tried convincing me to wear a bike helmet to class. I squashed both those ideas and promised him I’d get better at paraplegic-ing.

 

One of the hardest things to learn in rehabilitation for my spinal cord injury was learning how to fall. It seems counterintuitive to try to fall from a wheelchair, but falling properly will save a head and a neck from further injury. I rolled down hallway after hallway with physical therapists who had me on a gate-belt leash and tried tucking my head and rolling forward from my chair to the floor. Absolutely terrifying every time, no matter how prepared I was for the fall. I thought I’d grow use to seeing the floor rapidly approach my face and feeling my elbows scrape the ground, but here I am four years later and I’m still scared. I know I’m only a few feet from the ground, so it’s not as big of an impact as if I were one of those standing people but the floor has not yet become my friend. So when I was told about my options to get a service dog, my first thought was “Aha! A bodyguard to protect me from my nemesis!”

 

Some people are bad at swimming, some people are bad at dancing, I’m bad at being in a wheelchair. I was clumsy before the accident but now add clumsy with four wheels and sometimes it spells disaster. I’ll routinely forget to lock my breaks, I won’t look when I’m turning a corner and I’ll smack into a wall, or I bend over without checking to see what direction my wheels are pointing in to only forward out of my chair. So when Carlene told me during my applicant process that the main responsibilities of the dog would be to help me transfer, stabilize me and help me get back into my chair, I was ecstatic. Someone to help me dummy-proof being a wheelchair-er? Sign me up!

A wounded vet's  emotional therapy dog, Stuttgart Germany
A wounded vet’s emotional therapy dog, Stuttgart Germany

 

Fast forward a year and I now have by my side the most beautiful Great Dane I’ve ever seen. She watches me all day and trots along beside my chair whenever I leave the room. She gets upset if I go into a bathroom that’s too small for her and will try to stick her nose or paws under the door to reach me.

IMG_20150523_143715 IMG_20150515_152714 IMG_20150429_214020

 

But the first scary medical emergency cemented a bond between Ethel and myself that I didn’t know we could have. I was home without Dusty and blaring Taylor Swift in the bathroom as I took a shower. I had my wheelchair by the tub and was sitting on a sound shower bench, but I’m not ashamed to say I was also doing a good amount of dangerous dance moves. Ethel had fallen asleep on the fluffy in our connected closet while she waited for me. The song changed to Katy Perry and I turned off the shower,

 

“You hear my voice, you hear that sound,” I sang along, badly, grabbing a towel.

“I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything…” I reached for my chair and grabbed the shower railing to lift myself to transfer, but the railing was slippery from spilt conditioner and my hand came slamming down on the edge of the tub as I tumbled down to the floor.

 

My legs had been twisted painfully in the fall and the shoulder I landed on was throbbing. I gasped a breath and opened my eyes to Ethel standing over me, her nose in my face. “Ethel, lie down”, I commanded from remembering that lying down was the first step in the procedure for helping me back into my chair. She pushed aside my chair to make room for herself to lie beside me next to the tub. She crossed her paws and watched me trying to slow my breathing down and stay calm. “Thank you Ethel, okay sweet girl. Okay, we’re okay. I’m okay. It’s going to be okay,” I spoke between deep breaths. I had landed on the same shoulder that had been injured in my spinal cord injury accident and it was starting to radiate pain down my back. “Okay.. It’s going to be okay”, I put my arm around Ethel and held her, burying my face in her neck. When I felt calm enough, I asked her to stand and brace, pulling me up to knees and able to grab my chair and transfer safely. I got into my chair and exhaled and then hugged her as tightly as I could while she smiled and wagged her tail. She got a Kong full of peanut butter, her favorite treat, before we went to bed that night.

 

But that experience flipped a switch for Ethel and I. When I’m stressed, she’ll come to my wheelchair and paw at my hands with her nose or lay down in front of my wheels. She watches me and knows my mood sometimes as soon as I do. She’ll relax when I relax and open her paws when she’s lying down so that I can rub her tummy. She knows now just how much I need her and I believe that makes her happy. When she’s free to roam around a nearby field and sniff to her delight, her mouth opens in the biggest grin when she gallops back to me when I call. She asserts herself into every interaction I have with the world, not so much for me to know that she’s my dog but for her to tell the world I’m actually hers. I’ll lean down and rub her ears, telling her she’s my good girl but when she reaches out to put her paw on me, I believe she’s telling me that “no, actually, you’re my good person.”

Rehabilitation Center of St. Louis, Washington University MO
Rehabilitation Center of St. Louis, Washington University MO

 

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you WHAT?! Arguing In Our Marriage

Marriage is an adventure, like going to WAR 

– Gilbert K. Chesterton

I love to raise my voice. Take things personal. Leave the room. Bring things up two years later. Yell at Dusty in my head all day after he forgets to take out the trash. All the terrible, awful habits of hurtful arguing, I love to do.

There’s a reason there’s good and bad arguing in relationships. The “bad” arguing are the tendencies we have to want to be RIGHT, no matter the cost, to be HEARD without trying to listen and to be LOVED regardless of whether we love in return. I’m guilty of doing all three and more when Dusty and I get into arguments. Some of the mistakes I make include:

  • saying “you ALWAYS…” I’m pretty sure there’s never anything that Dusty ALWAYS does, so it’s not fair for me to accuse him
  • holding grudges “Well, when you did this two years ago…” Holding on to a grudge is toxic to any relationship
  • not speaking up when something bothers me by saying “Fine. Go ahead.” Those three words are Dusty’s signal to run and duck for cover.

Moving to Europe is stressful. Moving and traveling in Europe with a disability as a couple is very stressful. Sure, it’s also incredibly rewarding and once in a life-time experience, blah blah blah. We frequently argue when we travel, because it’s no easy feat to navigate an ancient city with modern medical equipment. We were in Brussels for the first time (our second trip was worlds better) and I was being thrown left and right in my chair from the crazy, bad cobblestones. These walkways shouldn’t even be called cobblestoned, but instead “designated walking areas similar to walking over rubble from a stone quarry”. I had had enough and wanted to stop, Dusty wanted to keep going and was trying to carry a rucksack full of all our things and help push me. Our conversation went a little like this:

“Dusty, can I grab your arm instead of you pushing me? I think that will work better.”
“Sure, but watch out for that grate! Baby, be careful!”
“Stop! I am being careful! What does your phone say our next turn is?”
“Oh shoot, I wasn’t looking…”
“Stop watching me and navigate us! You ALWAYS watch me and it’s not helpful. Please just pay attention to where we’re supposed to go next”
“Alright, alright, I got it. Ok, we missed a turn but now we’ve got 3 blocks until we take a left and then I think there’s a train involved… is that going to be ok?”
“Fine.”

Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium
Waterways of Bruges outside of Brussels, Belgium

Not the best way to communicate but we learned a lot about our own limitations that trip, how much sightseeing I’m comfortable doing in one day and how to walk together in a way that doesn’t make Dusty nervous for me yet I’m still able to be independent. While it’s not the only way to grow, there is tremendous growth that comes from conflict when resolution is found. And we did grow from this conflict, enough so that the second time we went to Brussels we had one of the best trips we’ve had in Europe (click for itinerary). View more pics here!

There’s a bad stigma about arguing and marriage. There’s an idea that a good marriage is one without arguments or conflict and people count the days between arguments to mark progress. I used to buy into this; I wouldn’t admit to anyone that Dusty and I fought. I didn’t want them to think that I had anything less than a wonderful marriage and that meant they couldn’t know we just had a spat over whether to use the self-checkout at Target. I am by no means an expert, but when did knowing that growth comes out of conflict get forgotten? Dusty and I began going to pre-marital counseling when we were engaged, as a requirement to get married in my church. And we loved it. We’re two young kids in love, nothing more. We’re not marriage geniuses full of wisdom or even truly experienced in being in relationships, so how in the world are we supposed to know what to do? There’s plenty of marriage wisdom online, but the truthful answer is that Dusty and I don’t know what we’re doing so we ask for help. We kept going to counseling after we got married and five years later, we haven’t stopped.

The lessons we’ve learned in counseling helped us to navigate some of the awful things that have happened in the five years of our marriage, like my accident. We saw divorce papers flying at the rehab hospital where patients and spouses were learning how to live as paraplegics and many couples justifiably fell apart. And we loved, cried, laughed and argued our way through it.

We argue still today. Because when there’s something wrong, we speak up about it and make time to fix it. But we’re not perfect; I’m better at speaking up, but I’ve got a temper and little tolerance. Dusty’s quieter and works on speaking up, but he’s the insightful and calm one in an argument to keep us rational and on point. We didn’t come into our relationship knowing our strength and weaknesses, we were counseled. And I’d recommend that to anyone in any relationship, but being in a relationship with someone with a disability takes some real relationship tools. We’re a blessed couple in that we’ve learned about these tools and God’s given us the ability to communicate well enough to use the tools. We’re 5 years married now, but I’d gladly go through 100 years of love and arguing to spend 105 years married to him.

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FIRST SEMESTER ORIENTATION GUIDE

Welcome to College! It can be a little intimidating going to college with a disability, so here are some tips for having the BEST first semester of your college career!

USC President No Limits Student because Ms. Wheelchair SC
Presidential No Limits Student 2012, University of South Carolina

 

1. High school students who transition to college find themselves facing a whole new set of challenges. Unfamiliar with the college system, they are prone to making poor judgments. Because college proceeds so rapidly (a typical semester is fifteen weeks), a few poor decisions can produce dire consequences. The list below should help students make decisions that bode for success.

2. Students who received learning support in high school usually require tutoring three times per week… until they get their “sea legs”. For each college credit, students have 2-3 hours of work outside of class. Unlike high school, college assignments require interpretation and inference. Tutoring improves these skills and gradually readies students for independence. After several semesters, students may need tutoring less frequently.

3. Practice for college placement tests: English, math and reading (Google “Accuplacer” practice). Placement tests determine the level at which you may begin your courses. Find out in advance if a calculator is permitted for the math exam – many colleges do not allow it. In that case, you need to review long division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, etc. the old-fashioned way – don’t be caught off-guard. If you are not satisfied with the results of your exams and feel they are not representative of your abilities, ask if you may take the tests again.

4. Update your documentation, if it is older than three years, and submit it to the Disability Services office at the college of your choice shortly after you receive your acceptance letter. High schools often assist students in updating their documentation for students transitioning to college, but you will probably have to request it. Check with the university/college you are considering for their documentation guidelines.

5. Unlike in high school, you can rest assured that your disability will remain confidential. You will attend regular classes; none of your peers will know of your disability unless you decide to tell them. What are the benefits of disclosure? It allows you to receive accommodations (i.e., extra time, a distraction-free test environment, assistive technology, etc) and services, such as specialized tutoring, that level the playing field, boost your confidence, and, hopefully, start you off with a strong GPA (grade point average). In addition, students who disclose receive protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, unlike those who do not. Those who try things on their own first, without disclosing, often do poorly because they lack knowledge of college protocol and sensible navigational strategies. By the time they ask for help, it is often too late. The result can be that it takes many semesters before they are able to raise their low GPAs.

6. Attend freshman orientation.

7. Register as early as possible each semester . Some schools give priority registration to students with disabilities. Early registration provides the most choices.

8. Never register yourself (self-advise)! Always check with your academic advisor.

9. Schedule school according to your biological clock . In other words, take classes when you are most alert and know you can get there on time.

10. Take more difficult classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and easier classes on Tuesday/Thursday. Even though your time spent in class is the same, it is easier to maintain attention for the shorter three-class-per-week schedule. Be sure to keep your schedule balanced, so challenging classes are offset by easier ones.

11. Schedule classes five days a week. Being in school every day serves as a constant reminder that education is your full-time job. It also allows you to partake in extra-curricular activities that increase your connection with school.

12. Listen to students’ recommendations of professors and courses. If they match your learning style, ask your advisor about them.

13. Beware of summer and online (E-learning) courses. While it is natural to want to pick up additional credits in the summer, know that summer semesters are short, and the work load is much more intense. It is advisable to take summer courses only in easier electives or areas in which you excel.Mostimportantly, if you failed a course in a 15-week semester, DO NOT retake it in the summer! How likely are you to understand it when it goes 2 ½ times as fast? Online courses carry their own risks. Generally, they are for the extremely disciplined student who doesn’t need the structure and interaction of traditional classes. Also, for students accustomed to using tone and facial expression to augment comprehension, online classes will put you at a distinct disadvantage.

14. When you choose a major, base it on something you love to do and do well. Believe it or not, hobbies can easily translate into careers – even video games and shopping. If you need guidance, go to Career Services and ask them to administer an interest and/or personality inventory, such as Strong or Meyers-Briggs. This can be helpful in finding your direction.

15. Head to the library between and after classes. You can read over notes you just took. Reviewing notes within 24 hours helps material start its journey towards your long-term memory. Even if you have your own room at home, there are has more temptations than at the library, where you can get a carrel with sides or a private study room to stay focused. Ideally, you should study for as long as your attention span allows, even if it is just 20 minutes. Follow that with a 5-minute break and return to work. Research has shown that effective studying is done in short, frequent sessions when our attention is at its peak.

16. Study using flash cards and the coordinating website that appears on the back of your textbook. Flashcards worked in third grade, and theystillwork. They are effective because they show you what needs further review. If your handwriting is poor, find a free online site where you can make flashcards. For a one-time nominal fee, you can print out your cards. In addition, make use of the coordinating website that most textbook publishers now offer. These sites contain interactive activities and practice tests that provide feedback on how well you know the material. Also, some books come with CD-ROMs containing interactive exercises. The last step in the study process should always do a practice test – it is a “dress rehearsal” for the real thing!

17. Get help at the first sign of confusion. Problems don’t resolve themselves. With fewer tests in college, each one carries more weight. You can either make an appointment to see your instructor for clarification during his/her office hours. Evidence shows that students who have even just one close faculty contact have greater odds of success. Also, in class, sit near the most successful students who can help clarify things. Take their phone numbers. “Why would a successful student want to take time to help me?” you might ask. First of all, he/she will be flattered by your request. Secondly, helping you reinforces the information for your classmate, so it’s a win/win situation.

18. If you do poorly on a test or quiz, determine why. If you do not find the source of your errors, you are destined to repeat them. Did you study the wrong material? Did you not study long enough to really learnthe material? Did you misunderstand the directions? Did you cram? Were your notes incomplete?

19. At any time during a semester, you should know where you stand grade-wise. If you are unsure, ask your professors privately. You can also ask for suggestions on improving your grades.

20. Keep employment to a minimum. Students with learning differences need to allot more time to studying. Sometimes organizational issues accompany a disability as well. Work is a distraction to students who have trouble “switching gears”. College presents enough challenges without the added responsibilities of employment. Work should be restricted to no more than fifteen hours per week. Students can make up the money during lengthy winter and summer breaks.

21. Ring out the old, ring in the new! Forget your habits of the past. No one knows you — wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Above all, get serious – this is the official start of your adult life!

In short, because of the vast number of differences between high school and college, all new freshmen are prone to unintentional navigational errors. For freshmen with disabilities, however, the consequences of these mistakes can be severe.

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