Monday, March 2, 2015

Jaden's Family: A Safe Place to Be #becauseY

Mine is not the only Y story. I want to share some others, too, but to protect their owner's privacy, I will take a few liberties. I have made up names for them. I may also consolidate experiences of several people into a single tale. But rest assured, I will not make anything up. These are true accounts of how the Y has touched the lives of people I know and care for.

Click to learn more about Aspergers.
Jaden is small for his age. At 10, he looks more like 7 or 8. The doctors have told his parents Jaden has Asperger's . He doesn't know his diagnosis, but he does know he's a little weird. He knows because the kids at school won't let him forget. He gets teased because he sometimes wears funny looking outfits to school, and gets distracted a lot. He hardly ever looks right at you when he talks, and sometimes the things he says don't have anything to do with what's going on. In class, he is sometimes so shy that he can't even speak to answer a teacher's questions. At other times. he acts all crazy like he wants to be the center of everybody's attention. Every now and then, even his teachers have trouble concealing their frustration with him. Jaden feels like almost everybody in school has picked on him or made fun of him at one time or another. He tries not to think about it, but it still hurts.

Jaden's parents try hard to help their boy, but their lives aren't perfect either. His mom's health is very poor. She had a stroke a few years ago, and became very depressed and obese. Her heart is weak, and she needs a walker to help her get around. Years of smoking left her with COPD, and she uses an oxygen tank nearly all the time. Sometimes she forgets and lets it run out. When that happens, she gets very sick, and even falls down. A few weeks ago, the doctors discovered a lump in her breast. She wonders how many more things can go wrong. And she is very afraid she is going to die before her boy grows up. Jaden's dad works hard to keep his family together. He drives a school bus, and stocks the shelves at a grocery store in town. He hurt his back at work a few years ago, and it still bothers him, especially when the weather is cold or rainy. Sometimes the pressure of loving a sick wife and raising a strange, frustrating child makes him wonder if he isn't going crazy. Sometimes, he wishes he could just run away. But he never does.

Soon after her diagnosis, Jaden's mom learned about a program at the YMCA for cancer survivors. She and her family could have a free membership, while she worked with a group of people who had also had the disease. The trainers taught her exercises she could do, even with her walker. At every meeting, the group would gather and talk about life with cancer. It made her feel like she wasn't so alone.

Jaden's dad hadn't really exercised for fun since he was in high school. A member of the wellness staff at the Y met with him and they talked a little about his health and things he might do to reduce the pain in his back. As he come to the gym, lifted weights, swam, and chatted with other dads in the lobby, Jaden's dad started to feel like he was finally doing something to take care of himself, not just the people who needed him. It made him feel stronger. He realized that he wasn't going crazy after all.

Jaden's parents signed him up for a group that runs outside three times a week. The coaches know his name, and are always glad to see him. During warm-ups, he clowns around when he feels like it, and nobody tells him he's weird or to sit down and shut up. Jaden is always one of the fastest runners.  His mentor asks him how he's doing, and really listens. Some days, they laugh and talk the whole way. Other days, they are just quiet and the only sound is the pat-pat-pat of their feet on the pavement and their deep, easy breath as they run along for up to five or six miles. They always sprint the last 50 yards, and Jaden almost always wins. When it is Jaden's turn to lead stretches after the last runner finishes he takes the responsibility very seriously. He doesn't feel self conscious at all when he is leading the group. His coaches tell him he is a natural leader. Jaden thinks he might like to try doing a triathalon someday. His mom signed him up for swimming lessons, and she loves to sit on the bleachers and watch as he gets stronger and more confident in the water. One of the staff asked a local bicycle shop to donate a bike, and dad taught him to ride outside on the basketball court.
Click to read a great story about learning to ride

The Y is a safe place for Jaden and his family. They can be alone here. They can also find companions who listen and understand. For the first time in years, each of them feels like they are making friends. Mom and Dad are losing weight. The kids at school are still mean to Jaden, sometimes. But at the Y, he knows there will always be people who care and encourage him. Jaden's parents aren't kidding themselves. They know life is always going to be hard for them. But they also know that the Y is a place where they can do things together that they never thought they had time or energy to do before.

For each of them, in the ways they need it most, the Y is a safe place to be.

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