How Does Your Story Play Out?

Once upon a time, long ago and not so very far away, there was a young girl and her name was Tracey Hanratty.

Tracey lived with her mom, dad and sister and had a happy home life. Back in the day, as with many families around where she lived, Tracey’s dad worked full time and her mom worked at home. Her dad came home everyday shortly after 5pm and supper was placed on the table. If they were lucky, after supper they’d get to go out for a drive. They’d go downtown to count the buildings and make sure nothing was out of place. They’d talk about their days and maybe play some little games while on their adventure. Then they’d head home for some family television time before she and her sister went off to bed. Tracey held these times fondly in her heart.

School was another story. Although Tracey loved school and always enjoyed learning, what went on for her first ten years of being at school will always remain in her heart, but for a completely different reason.

Tracey was, for ten years, teased, tormented and picked on. Today the term is bullied. It wasn’t called that in the mid 70’s and 80’s.

At first it was nothing major. Tracey was teased because of her last name. Hanratty was shortened to Ratty. Not a big deal, but it was the way they snarled when they said it.

As the end of elementary neared, Tracey and her family moved which meant she had to change schools. By this time her sister was ready to start school. Tracey was excited, hoping that she’d finally be able to make some friends. But that wasn’t meant to be. She was the ‘new girl’ and rather than being viewed as the ‘cool’ or ‘popular’ new girl, her fellow classmates saw that she was easier to pick on, tease and torment than include her in their circle. Why? Why was it easier for them to tease instead of embrace? She was friendly, if only they would have given her a chance. It was easier to see the skinny, lanky, uncoordinated girl who was a little bit shy going into new surroundings. It was easier to see the girl who had a no defined jaw line that made her look like she didn’t have a chin. It was easier and funny to nickname her Beaker (from the Muppet Show). That was a lot more fun for her classmates than getting to know who this new girl really was.

The name calling continued and expanded. Douche Bag became a true term of endearment. Beaker the Douche Bag. She soon longed to be called ‘Ratty’ again.

Through all this her mom and dad encouraged her to just ignore it – or call them names back. She couldn’t. Tracey’s downfall was that when she was called these hurtful names, she cried. She couldn’t help it. As much as she tried to be strong and ignore them, she just couldn’t. Her feelings were crushed and she couldn’t understand what she ever did to be treated this way.

There came a time when the name calling was replaced with more physical ways to pick on her. Walking to and from school became almost unbearable. Even though she’d try hard to dilly-dally at lunchtime or the end of the day so she didn’t have to walk home at the same time as they did, they’d wait. Throwing snowballs and rocks at her as she walked home was much more enjoyable for them. If they were really wanting to show her the love, they’d spit on her some days. It became a game. Let’s see how quick she’ll cry today. It didn’t take very long. She was walking home with copious amounts of someone else’s saliva rolling down her cheek and all over her jacket.

She often wished she had the strength of her sister. One particularly bad day, she had barely made it off the school grounds when she was being pelted with snowballs as her sister existed the school next door. Nothing doing, her sister put the run on about four of them. Tracey’s hero came to her rescue. There was only one problem. Tracey’s sister was almost five years younger than her. As much as it meant to her, having her sister pick up for her only made things worse, as you can possibly imagine.

They were on a mission after that. One night, upon returning home from a family drive, Tracey’s dad slowed down as he approached their home. Something didn’t look quite right. All over the front of their house and dripping down their front window was easily one dozen eggs. Similar events played out a few more times and always by the next morning, the mess was cleaned and Tracey hoped tomorrow would be a better day.
In the classroom, it was always much the same when the teacher wasn’t looking. One girl in particular taunted Tracey beyond words. If someone did actually want to speak to her or ask her a question, the minute Tracey opened her mouth she was interrupted by a loud “Ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” every single time. And it wasn’t bad enough that she was shushed, but it was at such close range that again, she was often covered in spittle. More than once her mother suggested that Tracey offer a comeback. Stand up for herself. “Do you supply towels with your showers?” was what Tracey’s mom encouraged her to say. Could she? Could she be so brazen as to stand up to this girl? She waited and her heart pounded. It didn’t take very long for Tracey to be shushed again. With her heart beating in her ears and her face turning read with fear she echoed what her mom told her to say. But she screwed it up. “Do you supply showers with your towels” broke the classroom into choruses of simultaneous laughter. That was the last time Trace ever tried to defend herself or come back with a smart-ass comeback. It was easier to stand there and cry.
During that grade six year the class started public speaking. They had to memorize a passage and stand in front of the class to recite it. The teacher taught his class how to speak confidently, with conviction, in a way that they would be listened to. Many students in the class clowned around and laughed during their presentations. Tracey was finally allowed to talk in the presence of her classmates without being shushed. She enjoyed public speaking. She enjoyed having her voice heard and she longed for Friday afternoons to roll around so she could stand up and look them all in the eyes while she delivered her piece. She felt free. Her teacher encouraged her to continue public speaking and later that year she was chosen to be MC at her school’s Christmas concert.
While she spent most of her time trying to stay away from those who tormented her, there was one girl who genuinely offered her friendship. At first, Tracey wasn’t sure whether or not this was another trick but soon enough she felt comfortable enough and trusted this person enough to look forward to spending time with her. So much so that she joined an extra-curricular activity with her friend. Navy League Cadets was a precursor to Sea Cadets which allowed Tracey a place where she could be free of the torment. Much to her surprise, each year the cadet corp held public speaking competitions with other corps in the area. Working with her teacher, she decided she would enter. Her dad was always a dynamic speaker and she always admired him for that. Within the year Tracey excelled in the corp and led her squad to first place in the drill competition and she walked away with first place in female public speaking.
It was like she lived two lives. While junior high school saw many of the same games during school hours, she held on until it was cadet night. It was there she could be free. She could lead and talk and teach without being shushed.
For a while it almost seemed as though some of the more popular girls were starting to come around. It was during her grade eight year that Tracey hoped her longing for friendship would be realized. The girls paid attention to her and suggested she start wearing some make-up and buy some new clothes. She was so excited when her mom was able to order her coloured denims and a “cool” matching shirt from the Sears catalogue. Maybe by dressing ‘right’ and wearing lipstick, they’d stop tormenting her. It seemed to work. Those girls wanted to nominate Tracey for their homeroom Winter Carnival Princess. With a few days to go before the vote they were anxiously trying to set her up with one of the cute boys to be her date for the Winter Carnival dance. Two of the boys seemed to be arguing with each other over who was going to be Tracey’s date.
Finally, the day of the vote arrived. Tracey made sure she wore the new outfit she was so proud of. At lunchtime she snuck to the washroom to put on some lipstick. Sitting in her homeroom, her heart was pounding and her palms were sweaty, but this time it was for a good reason. She was going to become a princess and the popular girls were the ones who wanted to make it happen. There was only one other girl who was nominated but she told everyone to vote for Tracey. How nice was that? Maybe they were trying to make up for all the years they were so mean. Everyone voted. Tracey’s name and the other girl’s name were put on the chalk board. The teacher started counting the ballots while Tracey sat on the edge of her seat. The first few votes were for the popular girl. Tracey was confused. Finally, there was a vote for Tracey. Then back to the other girl. Vote after vote after vote. The pounding heart full of excitement was replaced with horror as Tracey sat there with the final tally showing one vote to twenty-six for the popular girl. The only ballot with Tracey’s name on it was the one she had written herself. Again, she heard that uncontrollable laughter that some nights woke her from her sleep.
Why were the kids so mean? Why wasn’t Tracey able to stand up for herself?
Was it a bad upbringing? Was it lack of discipline? Was she not taught to be stronger?
The answer to all of the above questions is, for the most part, no.
Tracey and her family knew many of the kids’ parents that picked on her. Many lived in the same neighbourhood. They were good families. They all talked and did neighbourly things together. The kids never tormented her when the parents were around. And if they ever did get out of line, they didn’t have to wait long before they were suffering the consequences. Tracey was raised by parents who encouraged her to stand up for herself yet she still couldn’t dig deep enough to find the courage she needed to be seen as an equal.
Grade ten meant high school. Grade ten meant a new school with the opportunity to attend Holy Angels. All girls. Hardly any of the popular girls were going there. Maybe, between cadets and a new school with none of the tormentors being there, Tracey would have half of a chance at spreading her wings from the depths of her cocoon.
This is where the nightmare stopped and the fairy tale began. The butterfly that emerged from the cocoon was free to fly. What should have been allowed to happen many years before transformed almost over night. As Tracey excelled to heights she could have never imagined, high school came and went in the blink of an eye. Her final three years gave her what she longed for during the first ten years in school. She didn’t want them to end. It was there that she made life-long friends and learned what it was like to be accepted for who she was. She was finally an equal and was encouraged by her peers, as well as her parents.
And, for the most part, they all lived happily ever after.
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Some story, huh? In all actuality, I really wish I had never had to write it, read it, or especially live it.
I was that kid that was walked all over while everyone else looked on and laughed. Fortunately, I got through it.
There was no internet, there were no cell phones, there was respect for authority and one’s self (or at least more so than today). It truly was a different time.
Over the years I have been approached either in person or online by several of those kids who picked on me. I have been apologized to and told that if their children ever treated another human being the way they treated me when we were younger, there’d be hell to pay. They openly owned their part in making my childhood miserable. And I forgave them.
I don’t ever remember there being a blame-game. I don’t ever remember Mom and Dad talking down about or to the parents of the kids who tormented me. I don’t remember hostility, verbal attacks or an-eye-for-an-eye attitude from the grown-ups.
It makes me wonder how it was dealt with before everything that happened in everyone’s lives became so public and open for interpretation by people who know no one involved.
I was bullied, in today’s terms.
It was awful and my heart relives it every time I hear of another child going through a difficult time. I want to reach out to them and beg them to be strong, be courageous, and confident – be everything I couldn’t be until grade ten. I want to tell them that as hard as it is right now, it will all pass. When I think of the young people involved in hurting others I wish I could time warp them to the point in their life when they had the choice to be kind or be hurtful. I’d give anything to be able to show them a youtube video of what I went through then fast forward to the apologies I received.
Friends, we only get a chance to go through this life once. Our youth, our kids, our successors need our guidance, our strength and our support.
We all need to dig down and call on every ounce of courage and confidence that we have. We have to own our actions before we can expect our children to own theirs. We have to be accountable to ourselves and to our future generation. We have to be willing to stand together instead of spitting on each other as we walk through life.
By being the change we want to see in the world we give our young people the examples they need to grow into the adults of tomorrow who perhaps one day won’t have to apologize for the hurt and pain they inflicted on their fellow humans.
Told with thanks and respect for those who owned their actions.
Until next time…
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Happy Silver Anniversary

We did it!  

Here we are!

August 10, 2016.  25 years later.  Wow!

Do you remember talking about it?  Do you remember wondering what we would be like?  How many kids we’d have?  Where our careers would take us?  Where we’d ‘be’ in our lives?  If we’d actually be ‘we’ at all?

I’m serious.  There were days; for both of us.  Our first 10 years were rough, there’s no denying it.  Neither of us was well established with a job, let-alone a career.  I was struggling with finishing my education, we lived with my parents for more than half of our first 10 years and then we moved into a home that did us well, but we jumped too fast at it.  We went through the turmoil of our first pregnancy ending in a miscarriage only to joyfully welcome our first child less than a year later.  That brought our marriage to a whole new level that I don’t think anyone could ever be fully prepared.  We were no longer Tracey and Mike ~ we were now Mom and Dad.  What the hell did we know about being parents?  Nadda.  We struggled through it like all new parents do.  We fumbled and we made mistakes but we learned.  We learned what Matthew needed.  We learned how to grow to a family of three.  We also learned very quickly that we couldn’t imagine our life without him.

A few years later we decided to add to our family.  We excitedly anticipated our new arrival.  What we received instead was the biggest life lesson either one of us has ever experienced.  We learned that our plans are not always the plans.  While we did welcome our new arrival, we had to say goodbye to her in the same instant.  Emily was brought to us with a purpose that, for me, solidified every single day of our existence.  Emily’s birth and death defined us as husband and wife.  Nothing we experienced prior to nor anything we have conquered since has brought us together in such a significant way.  We became ‘adults’, we stepped up to the plate and we grew together on July 17, 2002.

Did she know what stood ahead of us?  Part of me thinks so.  I truly believe Emily came to prepare us, to strengthen us and to guide us through what would become the biggest challenge we have ever encountered.  The following 14 years would see us walk a road that no one ever could have anticipated.  While we journeyed through our new world we were introduced to an amazing team of supporters.  We learned what advocacy was all about and that having an autistic child was more a blessing than it was a hindrance.  Again, there were days; it certainly wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns but whose life is?  Ultimately, Matthew taught us a lifetime of lessons.  Much more than we ever taught him.  There were days that we had to dig down so deep I don’t know if either of us knew whether we’d be able to find our way back toward the light.  We learned how to draw on each other’s strengths.  When I was weak you could be strong and when you wanted to lose your cool I could calm you.  

In the midst of our adventure, we were handed another treasure.  Sure, at first we thought it was a cruel joke but we soon came to see that, as with everything, there was a reason.  After seventeen years of marriage, after losing our precious Emily, and with a son who was now eleven and a half years old, we were given another child.  Marcus was certainly a surprise for all of us.  He has continued to surprise us with his tenacity, sense of humour and pure heart since the day he was born.  As Matthew said best: he made our hearts complete.

See Mikey, little did we know twenty-five years ago what those vows would mean.  For better or worse, in sickness and health, through good times and bad.  We vowed to love and cherish each other and stand side by side in this thing we call life.  Even though we didn’t like each other many times over the past quarter of a century, I can honestly say that we have loved each other.  We respected each other and we trusted each other.  We didn’t always agree nor did we always find a common ground before we went to bed at night.  We said words in the heat of the moment that hurt and we argued over some of the most ridiculous things we could ever imagine but we always returned to each other.

Team Hilliard was formed well before we realized what we were capable of accomplishing.  Team can be defined as a group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job or object.  Team members operate with a high degree of interdependence, share authority and responsibility for self-management, are accountable for the collective performance, and work toward a common goal and shared rewards.  A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.

That’s us.  Plain and simple.  We interdepend on each other ~ all of us.  We draw on each other’s strengths and depend on each other to step in when needed.  We’re like a well-oiled machine.  If we’ve learned nothing in the last 25 years we have learned how teamwork is essential to any type of success.  We’ve even learned that teams aren’t always successful, and that’s okay.  When a team falls a little short it gives members the chance to look at how they are distributing their qualities within the group.  Every member has the ability to lead.  The hardest part is developing the proper dynamics and getting to the point to understand when the most unlikely member needs to take the reigns.  We each have strengths that not all members possess and although the presumed weakest link may not stand at the forefront most of the time, we have seen over and over how when we least expect it, our team is pulled back together by the most surprising member.  We all have a part to play.  Sometimes it’s a supporting role and sometimes it’s the lead but without the entire cast, there would be no production.

Thank you for standing beside me.  Thank you for leading in front of me and thank you for letting me walk ahead.  Thank you for knowing what I’ve needed before I did many times over the years.  Thank you for pushing me beyond anything I ever thought I was capable of and thank you for letting me learn the hard way.  Thank you for standing by me when the word ‘team’ did not exist in my vocabulary.  Thank you for being you, even when I didn’t think ‘you’ were the one for me.

You are, always have been and always will be my Dream Come True.

After twenty-five years I am truly blessed to be able to say You’re Still The One.

Happy Silver Anniversary, Mikey.

Until next time…

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From the Mom of a High School Graduate

I’ve waited a long time to be able to share this entry and I’ve dreamed about being able to write it for many years.

At one time I wasn’t even sure if I would be writing it at all.

If you’ve followed my blog, you have traveled Matthew’s journey with us.  You’ve read about the good and seen the struggles.  It’s been a long and winding road.

Today is the time for me to say thank you.  The list is long, so grab a cuppa, get comfy and please allow me to thank so many people who have been such an integral part of where we are today.

Matthew’s educational journey began when he was 4 years old – 16 years ago in the year 2000.  Myrtle MacDougall took him under her wing and began to teach him the world of ABC’s and 123’s.  One of her teachers, Michelle Allen, spent much of her time with Matthew and wiped many of his tears as he waved goodbye to either Mike or I and spent 2 days a week for the next year and a half learning about the world outside of the familiarity of his home.  While Matthew exhibited growth in many topics, his social skills of turn-taking and group play showed signs of concern as he wasn’t blending in with the group of his peers as a child his age typically did.

September of 2002 saw Matthew enter the public school system.  Delores Dilney was his grade primary teacher.  Quite early into the school year it was evident that Matthew wasn’t settling quite as we had hoped.  He was a pretty busy guy who wasn’t at all interested in sitting still to learn the fundamentals he needed during his first year of school.  After Christmas it was clear that we needed to look into this a bit further.  At the urging of Mrs. Dilney, we visited our pediatrician, Dr. Andrew Lynk who did a thorough workup with Matthew.  ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was quite evident from his findings and it was suggested that Matthew would benefit from medication.  After seeking a second opinion from our family doctor, Dr. Glen Worth, we were satisfied that, yes, Matthew should see a big difference in his ability to focus and concentrate if we were to take this leap of faith.  Almost immediately we did see that difference.  Our boy was able to sit and complete a task that only weeks previous would have caused him such grief.  Unfortunately, much time had passed in the school year and not enough of the required concepts were successfully completed to allow Matthew to advance to the next grade.  It was strongly recommended by Mrs. Dilney and Matthew’s principal, Mr. Kevin Deveaux, that Matthew repeat his first year.  As devastating as that was for us to hear I sincerely thank them for making that decision so many years ago.  He needed that second year in grade primary to build on his social skills and get the basics necessary for his remaining school years.

Matthew’s second year in grade primary (2003-04) saw Mrs. Corrine MacDonald at the front of the classroom. Having Matthew learn from another teacher who could explore different ways of learning with him proved to be quite successful.  He seemed to blend with his peers easier and successfully completed the school year.

Grade One (2004-05) began much as grade primary ended.  Mrs. Maureen Robertson was a lovely lady who had a sternness about her that I would later come to appreciate more than words could say.  Her students were getting older and had to learn to be responsible and accountable for their work space and actions.  Early in the year she suggested that perhaps Matthew could have been dealing with something in addition to ADHD.  There were aspects of his growth and development that weren’t being met.  He couldn’t use scissors, he had trouble holding his pencil and tying his shoes frustrated him beyond his limits.  At her urging, Matthew was recommended for a complete psycho-educational assessment through the school board.

Because the lists were lengthy,  after sharing her suspicions with Matthew’s medical team, we decided to seek the assistance of Child and Adolescent Services at our local hospital.  Peter Pierre was our godsend for the next few years.  He worked with Matthew diligently teaching him coping strategies for when he became frustrated.  During our time with Peter Mike and I learned just as much from him (and perhaps more) than Matthew did.  Many of the techniques he taught were so helpful and successful that I still use them to this day.  I think Peter had one of the largest impacts of Matthew’s life to this point and I often wish he could have stayed on as part of the team.  He taught me what true advocacy was all about and unknowingly set the ground work for me to walk the road I have since we met him.

Rosemary Gillis was the perfect teacher for Matthew’s grade 2 year (2005-06).  While we were still waiting for his assessment to be completed she worked tirelessly with him by incorporating slight changes to his program to allow him to see success.  Finally, mid year, he received his testing from board psychologist, Catherine Boudreau.  Matthew was very fortunate to meet such extraordinary people in the school system who saw what amazing potential he had.  He bonded with her immediately and although the testing was quite extensive, he persevered and Ms. Boudreau was able to gather the information she needed.  After meeting with her and discussing the results, our lives were opened to the world of Nonverbal Learning Disorders (NLD) and reading disabilities.  After researching and reading the material she provided for us so many of our questions were answered.  We were finally able to understand why Matthew was having so many difficulties in the academic setting.  All was not lost, however.  There were people and programs that could help.  A completely new program for Matthew was implemented almost immediately and his frustration level seemed to lower considerably.

During the summer of 2006, after talking with Dr. Lynk, we decided to have further testing done with Matthew, privately.  While many questions were answered by the diagnoses of NLD, we felt there was still something we weren’t catching.  With his recommendation, we were introduced to Dr. Reg Landry who was almost immediately able to schedule Matthew’s meeting.  To this day, Dr. Landry is an integral part of our team.  Not only did he put a name to the questions we still asked but he worked with us for many years following to help Matthew in more ways than anyone could imagine.  Ten years ago this summer, Dr. Landry said a word that was almost foreign to me.  Autism.

His recommendations included classroom support for Matthew which we hoped to get set up at the beginning of is grade 3 year (2006-07).  That proved to be a little easier said than done.  We were up against a system and that system had many layers we had to filter our way through.  Donna Dunn, Matthew’s new principal, was so accommodating.  She had gotten to know Matthew and observed first-hand the difficulties he encountered.  Danielle MacDonald was his classroom teacher that year and to say Matthew’s class was busy would be an understatement.  All the more reason for us to get him the stability he needed.  So started our phone calls to the school board offices.  A few Teacher’s Assistants (TA’s) came and went for a day here and a day there over the next week or two.  Unfortunately this was having the opposite effect for Matthew.  Having a different face sitting beside him every day did nothing but escalate his anxiety and frustrate him further.  He needed consistency.  He needed routine.  After talking with many people at the offices of the school board including Charles Sheppard, we decided if nothing could be done to help our son at that point he was not going to be at school until he had the assistance he needed.  Mike talked with Ms. Dunn and informed her he was taking Matthew home.  She understood our position and we understood hers.

Cathy Viva was the next person introduced to our team.  As the coordinator of student services she was contacted when Matthew left the classroom.  There are times when you meet someone whom you believe could move heaven and earth if needed.  That was Cathy Viva.  Within the day, the process to secure a full time TA for Matthew went from not being able to happen to having a timeline in our hands as to when that TA would be in the classroom with him.  In the meantime a temporary TA was assigned to Matthew and he returned to school the following day.

Within a few weeks Michelle Allen was the Teacher’s Assistant who would be working with Matthew for the year.  We were reintroduced to her from Matthew’s preschool days and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  He was familiar with her and her with him.  Ms. Allen and Mrs. MacDonald worked magic with Matthew that year.  What a great team they made.  Finally, Matthew was showing signs of contentment.

To make life a bit more interesting, a new school was added to the mix for Matthew’s grade 4 year (2007-08) as his entire class moved up to the next building in our school complex. Unfortunately, Ms. Allen did not move with him.  His new TA, Leona Gillis, came on board and suddenly Matthew was back to square one.  Phil Greaves was to be the classroom teacher that year and Matthew instantly bonded with him.  They had many interests in common and Matthew liked seeing the pictures Mr. Greaves would share of his home, his gardens and his dog with him.  Sadly, Mr. Greaves’ days in the classroom ended for the year around Christmas time.  The impression he made, however, has lasted a lifetime.

After having a substitute teacher for a few months who subsequently went off on maternity leave, the revolving door of the grade 4 classroom stopped spinning for the remaining few months of the school year.  Introducing Michael MacNamara, affectionately known by Matthew every day since as Mr. M.  Words simply cannot adequately do justice to what this young, vibrant teacher did for that classroom of students in a few short months.  He had a teaching flare like nothing I had ever witnessed or experienced before.  Matthew couldn’t wait to get to school.  He didn’t want Friday afternoon to arrive and counted the minutes to Monday morning.  Unbeknownst to Matthew at the time, he met a teacher that year who had one of the biggest influences in Matthew’s life during all of his school years. Mr. M. would play a huge part in shaping the mold that Matthew would build on for the rest of his life.

Ms. Allen was again by Matthew’s side as his TA for his grade 5 year (2008-09).  Along with his teacher, Mildred Parsons, the 3 of them had a year with little to no upheaval which was a welcomed change after the issues presented during the first 2/3 of his grade 4 year.

Grade 6 (2009-10) was probably the year that saw the most drastic change in Matthew.  Again, Matthew was truly blessed to have Ms. Allen by his side.  She teamed up with J J McCarthy and they were on a mission to ‘toughen up’ our boy socially as well as academically.  Mr. McCarthy also left a lasting impression with Matthew.  He taught Matthew the importance of walking with your head up; not to be walking around looking at the ground.  Matthew certainly walked strong and proud with his head held high during his grand march recently and couldn’t wait to tell me that he saw Mr. McCarthy in the crowd who gave him a thumbs-up.  It should be us giving a big thumbs up to you, Mr. McCarthy – thank you.  You played a big part in shaping that mold, as well.

Before we leave elementary school I would be remiss not to mention Matthew’s recess and lunch-time buddy on the school grounds – Jayne.  I can only imagine some of the conversations that took place over the years and how many laughs the two of them had.  Jayne – thanks for being Matthew’s first real ‘grown-up friend’.

With elementary behind us, junior high school saw Ms. Allen transfer with Matthew and join him for what would be the final year.  The 2010-11 school year was a transitional year to a whole new world.  Matthew met up with his teacher, Bill Bussey who immediately earned big points with Matt as Mr. Bussey was an avid birder.  Even though Matthew was more more interested in learning everything Mr. Bussey could tech him about bird wildlife, they did manage to make their way through the year academically, as well.

I am a firm believer that everyone comes into our life for a reason.  We can learn something from everyone we encounter should we chose to look deep enough.  2011-12, Matthew’s grade 8 year, proved that to me in a big way.  Jessica Boudreau, Matthew’s teacher, taught me more than she could have ever taught him.  Even though it was a tumultuous and draining year I hope that she was able to learn something from her time in Matthew’s life, as well.

During this time we were introduced to another key player on our team.  Louise Smith, the autism consultant for the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board worked tirelessly with Matthew to devise a program that would allow him to see success.  She organized his material, encouraged his drawing, and capitalized on his strengths academically.  She developed a program that taught the way he needed to learn.

We thought Matthew’s final year in junior high school would be a walk in the park (Sherwood Park) but we have learned to expect the unexpected.  Even though Bill Bussey was once again Matthew’s teacher for the 2012-13 school year, the environment in the newly structured learning centre proved to be too challenging for our guy.  Once again we called on the expertise of our go-to gal, Cathy Viva to assist us with our dilemma.  Matthew needed a change.  The school was not meeting his needs.  After many meetings with board officials Matthew was thoroughly transitioned to a new school for his grade 9 year.  Brant (Bucky) MacGowan promised me that Matthew would have the best year of his life.  That seemed to be huge promise to keep.  However, I quickly saw he was a man of his word.  Matthew grew in ways I could have only imagined during the following months.  Mr. MacGowan reached him and dug deep to pull more from Matthew than I thought was there.  So much so that Matthew ended the year on a high note achieving academic honors.

Mr. MacGowan also assisted with Matthew’s transition to high school.  He was the driving force behind helping us find a good fit for Matt.  He needed an environment that while supporting him, allowed him to feel at ease and comfortable.

Riverview Rural High School was were Matthew would hang his hat for the next three years.  Upon entering his grade 10 year in September of 2013 he was blessed to have Mrs. Lorna Gillis by his side until his final day in grade 12, now in 2016.  Mrs. Gillis was a go-to Mom, mentor, councilor, friend, confidant, and teacher who proved her worth several times over as Matthew worked his way through trying times and successful accomplishments.  During his grade 10 and 11 years, Mike Rolf, the liaison officer with the Cape Breton Regional Police Service emerged as a solid role model with whom Matthew instantly bonded.  Riverview’s principal, Joe Chisholm and vice-principal Michelle Coleman also spent much time getting to know our son and gave him the chance to share his world with them.  He will always treasure his days with those who the time to let him shine through as himself.

Over and above his academic life, Matthew slowly creeped out of his comfort zone an started to add extracurricular activities to his days, although somewhat unconventional for a high school student.

The bonds he formed as a junior firefighter with the Grand Lake Road Volunteer Fire Department under the guidance of Chief Adrian Langlois showed us his ability to grow.  He enjoyed his time there learning so much so that when we moved he felt comfortable enough to join the Albert Bridge Volunteer Fire Department with a crew led by Chief Jasmin Collins.

Perhaps the most pivotal, life changing experience for Matthew during his school years was volunteering at Two Rivers Wildlife Park.  His home away from home quickly allowed our son to explode in ways we had only dreamed of years before.  The Huntington Family took him under their wing and included him as one of their own.  Johnny, Kelly, Telsi-Lyn, Shyla, Phalen and John Evan welcomed him into their world with opened arms.  The other staff members at the park showed Matthew everything they could about how the park ran.  Mike, Jarrett, Wayne, Connor, Robert, Amber, Lindsay, and Jessie as well as endless volunteers expanded Matthew’s circle which to this day grows exponentially.

At the helm of Team Hilliard are our core group.  Those who have stood by Matthew through every day of the last 19 years.  Allan and Dianne Hanratty, my mom and dad have showed us what support is defined as.  Mike’s mother, Leslie has been a true keystone during our journey.  Allana and Norm, my sister and her husband have been by our side through it all.  My cousins, turned best friends, have gone above and beyond more times than I could count.  To Mike and Paula and to Adrian and Rhonda, there are no words to show our thanks.

Are there more people to thank?  Of course there are.  I don’t think I could type long enough to mention everyone who has played a part in helping Matthew find his place in this world.  Anyone who has had any interaction, be it big or small with Matthew has helped him find his way.

As Matt’s Mom I am truly humbled to see the outpouring of support and love shown to Matthew over the last number of years but especially and more specifically over the last few days.  Each and everyone of you have made the difference in the life of a child.  Our child.  Our young man.

That young man will be crossing a stage this evening to receive his high school diploma.  The world is at his feet.  He has the ability, because of what he has learned from each and everyone of you, to accomplish anything he puts his mind to – and we’ve already had a taste of what that could be.

Hang on tight, thanks for your support and keep watching.  Matthew’s not finished anything yet!

Until next time…

 

 

 

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25 Years of Service

25 years

Mike and I were married almost 25 years ago.

Mike is celebrating a 25th anniversary this month of a different sort; equally, if not even more significant than the day we were married.

As Mike was introduced to my family so many years ago he was also introduced to another ‘family’.  The fire service.

For as long as I can remember the fire service has been a part of my life.  My father and many of my uncles were members of the Grand Lake Road Volunteer Fire Department.  As years went by, my cousins grew up following in their fathers’ footsteps and began volunteering with the department.  It was a family rite of passage for many.

As a young girl I fondly remember spending many a Saturday morning at the fire station with my dad.  If he was on weekend duty, my sister and I would often join him to check the equipment, clean the station, perform small repairs that needed tending to, test the radios, and “count the trucks”.  The station always bustled with activity and was definitely the hub of our small community.

Because Grand Lake Rd VFD was a volunteer department, much of the funding they required for new(er) equipment and gear had to be raised through fundraising efforts.  There were many pancake breakfasts, coin card drives, dances, male fashion shows, ladder-a-thons, and events that saw the department partner with various businesses in the community to raise money such as a “Fill Up For Fire” Day that saw a local gas station donate part of the days profits to the department.  Firefighters were on hand to pump gas and interact with members of their district.  No task was too great when it came to fundraising.  And their efforts were always well rewarded.  Grand Lake Rd VFD had committed members and quality equipment.  They trained often and hard and were well-educated.

When it became clear that Mike was going to be joining the family he started spending time at the fire hall with my father, uncles, cousins and other members of the department.  He was drawn to the fire service immediately.  Like a kid with a new toy,  the fire service consumed him.  He wanted to know all there was to know and had the most wonderful teachers.

Because he was not yet living in the district, Mike could not officially become a member of the department just yet but he could learn, observe and help.  In April of 1991, 4 months before we were married, Mike attended his first call with my father as manpower was scarce that particular evening.  There was no looking back from that point on.

He learned how to drive trucks, he learned how to pump water, he learned how to use the various equipment needed to fight fires.  Every free minute he had was spent at the hall learning.

Once we were married and he was accepted as a member of the department he wore his new responsibilities proudly.  Of course there was the adrenaline rush that often came with the pager going off, but that was something that he had to go through to learn.  It was a rush.  And I suspect it always will be, to a certain extent.  As years went on, the adrenaline spike turned from rushing and being hyper to calculating and preplanning what was going to be necessary to successfully attack the call at hand.

In 1994, 3 years after joining the department, Mike’s efforts were recognized by seeing him named Firefighter of the Year, an honor that was given to a member who exemplified what it meant to be a firefighter.  We were all very proud of him.

Over the years, Mike’s involvement in the department continued to grow.  He was elected to the executive as secretary, a position he held for the majority of his time at Grand Lake Rd VFD.  He was promoted to the rank of Captain and was also the department’s training officer.  He had a way of teaching that drew the members in.  He made them want to learn.  He grew into a leader that was respected and valued.

Almost 10 years after Mike became a volunteer firefighter, he successfully applied for a job as a full time firefighter with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.  From the ranks of Captain/Training Officer at his volunteer department, Mike put on a different colour helmet for his ‘job’ and once again found himself as a rookie.  He started all over again but this time he took with him ten years of accumulated knowledge and experience.

Over the years he has been quick to jump at any training and courses that became available so he could continue to learn and grow and teach.  As he celebrates his 25th year of service, I am so proud of the young man who has given endless hours to become the veteran firefighter he is today.

You see, it’s not ‘just a job’ or a ‘position’ or a ‘volunteer activity on a resume’ for Mike.  It’s his calling.  It’s his place in the world.  He has so much to offer, so much to share and so much to be proud of.  And now, 25 years later, he has his eldest son beside him as a member of the Albert Bridge Volunteer Fire department, teaching him the ropes and sharing knowledge as my dad did with Mike so many years ago.  Truly full-circle.

Not only is he a good firefighter, he is a well-respected member of an elite group.  He takes pride in his position and continually tries to impart his knowledge on other firefighters who are working their way through the ranks.

These men and women of our fire services, whether they do it as a volunteer position or as a way to provide a living for their families, run towards danger as others run away.  They meet people at the absolute worst moments of their lives.  Firefighters witness many sights that no one should ever have to see.  Anyone who willingly chooses this profession, on any level, deserves to be commended.

There is a camaraderie among firefighters like nothing I have ever seen before.  They bond together as a family and no matter what, they take care of their own.  To be involved (indirectly) with such a group makes me realize how unique all these individuals truly are.

As I publicly celebrate Mike’s 25th year of service, I still hold my breath as he walks out the door to respond to a call.  I take comfort in knowing that he rides his trucks with the best of the best and that they all have each other’s back every minute of every day.  I have to trust that one of his favorite quotes is always in the forefront of his and his fellow firefighter’s minds:

“Make sure when your shift is over, you go home alive. Here endeth the lesson.”

So Mikey, from this firefighter’s wife, I salute you.  You do something I could never imagine, and you constantly work to improve yourself – even 25 years later.  What you have done for so many people over the years (both strangers and fellow firefighters) is to be commended.  Thank you seems so inadequate to say for what you continue to give.

As your wife, there is not much I can give but I’ll continue to say that even I ‘have your back’ when the hoses are all put away and the trucks are parked back in the barn at the end of the day.  I’m here for you just like you’re always there for everyone else.

I love you, I’m proud of you and I am so honored to be your wife ~ a firefighter’s wife.  Happy 25th, Hilliard.

“Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire.” ~Garth Brooks

 

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Time to Reconnect

Mike asked me last night when was the last time I blogged.  I knew it had been a while but didn’t realize it had been two months.  Sorry about that.  Guess I’ll take a few minutes to fill you all in on what’s been happening.

Matthew’s Bottle Blitz is still going strong.  Our garage isn’t ready to burst at the seams anymore but people are continuously dropping off bottles or calling to have them picked up.  I think I’ll get Mike to do an updated pic as it’s been too long since we gave everyone a total.

Two Rivers Wildlife Park partnered with the Marion Bridge Recreation Association back at the end of January and started a new fundraiser called Chase The Ace.  Cape Breton is getting well-known for this type of fundraiser and some amazing non profit organizations have made a great deal of money.  Google it if you’ve never heard of it.  We are currently at week 9, hoping to make it a 46-50 week adventure.

Marcus has been having a great year in grade 2.  More days than not he stays at school until I’m on my way home from work.  He enjoys being able to play with the kids and is learning lots of sports skills that I see improving each time I pick him up.  He’s taken a liking to basketball, as well.  The grade 2 and 3 students who are interested are getting some basic skills of the game one night/week up at the school.  Hopefully this will develop into a permanent sport for him.  I loved basketball and although I didn’t play too much because of an old knee injury I did manage our basketball team all through high school.  I love that he is so eager to learn about any sport he can get involved in.  His birthday is one month from today.  I seriously can’t fathom where the last 8 years have gone.

After Marcus’ birthday it’ll be full steam ahead to June and Matthew’s graduation from high school.  Good grief!!!  I can’t even believe it.  Grand march and prom, open house and graduation ceremony.  14 long years.  Sometimes it feels like yesterday.  I still remember his first day.  What he wore, what I wore, who was there.  All of it is ingrained in my mind.   And now he is getting ready to say farewell.  

In between everything else that has been going on Mike and I have been working on a project, as well.  It’s still in the preliminary stages but we have a good working draft which we are just waiting to hear back on.  Soon.  Please, soon.  Fingers crossed!

I think that’s about all we’ve been up to.  Lots of exciting things coming up.  I may be posting more than you want to read…lol.

Until next time….

 

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Matthew is on a Mission!

Just when I thought we were getting ready to cuddle in for a long winter’s nap, Matthew came to Mike and I during the Christmas holidays with a plan.  He has been talking about wanting to improve the raccoon’s enclosure out at Two Rivers Wildlife Park for a while now.  Talking with one of the park’s staff, it was suggested that Matthew do a bottle drive since the holidays would be a great time to collect a bunch of empties.  Matt mentioned it to Mike and I and we thought, sure, why not.  

Mike did up a poster and we started sharing it on Facebook.

blitz poster

Almost immediately there was some interest and people started messaging they had bottles for us to collect.  “How much does he have to raise?” was a common question.

Yikes.  We hadn’t thought quite that far ahead.  We were only interested in getting some bottles for him.  So, ok, he needed a goal.  Hard to say.  Let’s shoot for the stars and say $1,500.  Surely they’d be able to do a good upgrade with that.  $1,500.  Do you know how many bottles that is?  The majority of our bottles are returned here, in Nova Scotia, for .05/bottle.  In order to raise $1,500, he would have to get 30,000 bottles.  THIRTY THOUSAND BOTTLES!!!!  Good grief.  What were we thinking??

A few friends messaged me saying they would like to donate to the cause but they were either too far away or didn’t have any bottles at the moment and wondered if they could contribute with a monetary donation.  The email transfers started arriving.

By January 4th we had enough bottles that we had to do a run to the recycling depot to make more room in our garage.  That trip netted Matthew’s cause $146.30.  Combined with the few online donations he received, we posted our first total:

thermometer total

This was getting exciting!!  We were receiving messages daily from people saying they had bottles for us!  Our coworkers were bringing in bags upon bags while others were handing us donations.

Twice this past week we made trips into town to collect bags (and I means bags) of recyclables from wonderful friends who are only too eager to see and help Matthew achieve his goal.

Mike and I (with Matthew ‘supervising’) spent from 8:00 – 11:30 last night out in the garage counting (not to mention the hours Mike spent through the week sorting and counting).  We had to get another van full ready to go because we simply had no where else to put another bottle! 

Garage1

Mike was adamant about sorting and counting before he went to the depot.  It sure does make things a lot easier and saves time when he gets there.  Also, he wanted to keep a count of who gave what as we were going.  It’s quite the process!!

Our count last night was over 1,600.  A lot of bottles.  14 bags with various sizes of bottles got loaded in the van.  It didn’t even seem like we put a dent in the bags still in the garage!!  

With a second trip  now done, Matt has added another $130.10 to his total.  Plus donations we posted just a few hours ago a total that has absolutely blown us all away ~ $612.40!!!  In hardly 2 weeks!!!  Unreal.

After sharing that update 2 short hours ago I am over the moon to say that Matthew has received another $100 in donations bringing our total going into the weekend to 

$712.40

thermometer2

H  O  L  Y     C  O  W!!!!!! (or should I say Holy Raccoon??)

You, my friends, are all incredibly amazing!!!  My heart is so full right now!

To see what Matthew has accomplished and hear how he has touched your hearts makes me one proud Mama.  He has certainly taught everyone a lot about tenacity, commitment, dedication and acceptance.

With just over 21 months spent at Two Rivers, he has accumulated over 2,200 volunteer hours, was a paid employee for 8 weeks this past summer and has now embarked on a mission ~ raising money for upgrades.

He chose the raccoon enclosure as he spent a great deal of time this spring/summer helping to hand raise a raccoon that was dropped off at the park after it was abandoned by its mother.  Rocky has a special spot in Matt’s heart and has become like part of the family. See how he’s grown?

Rocky2 Rocky1

Rocky5 Rocky4

Rocky6 Rocky7 Rocky3

It’s easy to see that Rocky loves Matt just as much as Matt loves him! Hopefully by the time the spring rolls around, Matthew will be able to not only present a cheque to help with the upgrades for the enclosure but also assist with the hands-on renovating that will be carried out because of his love for and commitment to the greatest place on earth for him – Two Rivers Wildlife Park.

Thanks for reading, sharing, collecting bottles, donating and being interested in Matthew’s project!

Until next time..

 

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19 Years and Counting

I won’t lie.  I was scared.  Scared beyond words.  I didn’t know how to be a mother.  I was entrusted with this small life and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it.  The thought of having a baby was a whole lot more fun in my mind than in reality.  All of a sudden I had someone in my life that was totally dependent on me and I wasn’t too sure that I liked it all that much.  Thankfully, we worked our way through the rough patches that welcomed us and then it was one adventure after another.

19 years ago today you came into my life and as much as I loved you I was so terrified that I was never going to be able to give you what you needed from me.   Heck, some days I’m still not so sure that I provide you with what you need.  But I’ll tell you something, my ideas have certainly changed a lot over  the last 19 years.

Little did I know when you were placed in my arms all those years ago what an amazing journey we would walk together.  I know you can’t remember way back then but I remember it like it was yesterday.  You were perfect.  The most handsome baby I have ever seen.

5b1

Before I knew it we were sending you off to preschool.

5b2e

Then it was off to ‘big school’.

MAT Momma2 050902

Good grief!!  Look how little you were!!

The road we walked was filled with lots of learning along the way – for all of us.  As hard and as difficult as your journey was starting school we learned one very important thing.  We all learned how strong we were.  And are.  We learned that by sticking together as a family there is nothing we can’t get through.  The tears, the fights, the broken hearts and the constant worrying (on our part) seems like a distant memory now as I sit here and write this thinking about what a truly remarkable young man I have standing in front of me.

Our journey wasn’t just all about heartache and hurt, Matthew.  It was about growth.  It was about learning how to stand up when you’ve been knocked down and it was about believing in yourself and not settling for anything less than you deserve.  Did you always get what you wanted?  No.  And that’s because it’s not always about what we want.  Did you always have what you needed?  Absolutely.  Because your needs during your school years were all that mattered.  There were times when we had to really learn how to compromise with your teachers and the rest of your team and learn to find different ways to have your needs met but at the end of the day we all learned more during your school years than reading, writing and arithmetic.  We learned to work together as a team and we learned how to make sure your voice was heard.

This time 19 years ago I was sitting in a hospital room marveling over you.  Amazed that someone so small was mine.  I couldn’t have ever imagined the way our lives would twist and turn over the last 19 years.  Even with all the bumps in the road I wouldn’t trade these last 19 years for anything because of all that I have learned from you.  Because of YOU.  You have taught me more about life and love than anyone else before.  You have taught me the true meaning of unconditional love.

And it fills my heart with pride to look at your growth.  Good grief!!  These last two years alone have been incredible.  You have accomplished so much and grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  You make me so proud.

Who would have ever thought that just a little over a year after starting volunteering at Two Rivers you’d be standing next to the Mayor receiving and award for your volunteerism?

Matt Volunteer Award

And then a few short months after this you spent your summer living in a trailer more than you lived at home!

Matt and the trailer

Then it was home to start on your final leg of your schooling.  Grade 12.

Matt grade 12

And the milestones continue at warp speed.  Today you turned 19.

Matt 19

Even though I’m saying a lot, there really are no words to adequately express how I feel Matthew.  I’ve never doubted for one second that you had so much to offer this world.  I’ve always said that.  There’s a special place in this world for you, we just had to find it.

I’m glad I was able to help you during your search.  Keep doing what you do because truthfully I can’t wait to see what tomorrow is going to bring.

Happy Birthday, bud.  I love you.

Until next time…

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