Thankful for Rachel’s Opportunities

I haven’t had a chance to write much about Rachel’s sophomore year. I know many of you read in order to keep up with her.  Many of you read for ideas on how to make inclusion work in the parameters of school, community and life. I thought you were due for a little update on Sophomore Rachel, and I want to stay in line with my goal of giving thanks this month.

It has been a busy fall. Between school, jobs, task forces, church, volleyball, CYT (Christian Youth Theater), Razorback football, Down syndrome walks, church — well, I think the idea is clear. The past week to ten days has been a different kind of busy as Rachel prepared for a Shakespeare monologue and prepared to audition for her first high school play sponsored by her school.

Volleyball banquet. The manager and the coach.
Volleyball banquet. The manager and the coach.

Memorization is very difficult for Rachel. It is for many people but memory issues are commonly associated with Down syndrome. That said, she can recite many scenes from Shrek and High School Musical. She can remember when I had a meltdown in a store (word for word) and when her daddy busted her for not following the rules at a church event when she was seven. That was nine years ago and she can still recite the event in detail.  I don’t think she has selective memory, but I do find it a little uncanny that she can remember tiny details of certain things and others go right over her head. I am known for having a good memory, yet I would struggle to tell you how to do an algebra problem though. Her English teacher, who is totally awesome, sent me a message and said they would be choosing between three Macbeth monologues, and she wanted me to know so Rachel would be able to get started. Rachel had to do two Shakespeare monologues last year in drama class. I still remember my sinister thoughts when the acting teacher said he thought Rachel could memorize most of what was required. He really wanted her to try. I have to admit that Jonathan and I were both surprised. While she was no Richard Burton, she did pretty good.

So here we went on the Macbeth piece. We started by taking a picture of it and putting it on her iPad and iPhone. That way she could practice if she hasd free time. Then, we wrote the first two lines on her dry erase board in her room. This is where we write things she needs to practice like choir music and audition pieces. Each day we added a line or two on the dry erase board until all the lines were there. We’ve had fun listening to her read Macbeth. She has been reading it from her iPad and she tries to get into a British accent and adds drama. It is quite entertaining. The first few lines of the monologue she did the same way with great enthusiasm. For some reason, lines five and six just didn’t come to her. It was like a psychological block. As she continued to learn it and practice she would often skip these lines. When we prompted her with them, her cadence would be totally off and she would mess up the remainder of the monologue. In the final day or two before her recitation, we didn’t prompt her on those lines. She had a few others spots where she stumbled but she worked very hard. I would hear her in her room and then peek in to see her sitting by the dry erase board closing her eyes tightly and trying to say the words.

She did her recitation on Wednesday. Her biggest disappoint was that because school was closed Tuesday for the World Champion Kansas City Royals Victory Parade and Celebration, she didn’t get to do her monologue for the whole class. In order for the class to stay on schedule the teacher changed it to an extra credit assignment and students performed monologues for her. Rachel is a diva and she does love a stage. This is the message form the teacher:

“Rachel performed her monologue yesterday and she was amazing!! I loved how she had actions with the specific lines and was extra dramatic. She makes my English teacher heart happy =).”

That made mom and dad’s heart happy. She did her best and it wasn’t perfect. But I think it is a great example of how we worked together with her teacher to challenge Rachel, and she was successful. Having a good teacher is something to be thankful for in itself.

The other major thing happening this week was Rachel’s audition for Grease at her high school. Rachel was in one Middle School play (Guys and Dolls) and she was involved in community theater in Memphis. Most of her shows have been through the gift of Christian Youth Theater though. She really wants to be in a show at her school and has worked for months. She loves her school so much and has amazing school spirit.  We wanted her to wait until she had a year behind her before she auditioned. We spoke to the theatre director and determined this would be a good time to audition. They could pick any song and she picked Good Morning Baltimore. Her wonderful voice teacher, Ms. Phyllis, worked and worked with her on her piece. She practiced and practiced and practiced. She worked on her dance moves. In anticipation of the audition, our talented friend Jentry did some private dance lessons with her. Our amazing friend Andrea was also trying out for Grease, and she was Rachel’s buddy at auditions. I’ve blogged about Andrea before and I will again, but I will just say that amazing is not a strong enough adjective to describe Andrea.

Andrea helping Rachel with dance steps for The Prince is Having a Ball.
Andrea helping Rachel with dance steps for The Prince is Having a Ball.

Grease came out when I was in high school. It is one of those pop culture shows that people love across generations. Rachel attends a school of 2,100 students that has a strong theatre program. There are lots of talented kids and lots of kids who want to be in the musical production of Grease. As we always do before any audition, we talked through all of this. We told her that she might not make it. Lots of talented students and not enough spots for everyone. We discussed that the important thing was to do her best. We talked about the fact that if she didn’t get a part, God had a different plan. We discussed how it is truly an honor to have the opportunity to try out for a show and to get any part. She agreed. Auditions were Monday. Call-backs were posted and Rachel didn’t get a call-back. This doesn’t mean she wouldn’t get a part, but we used it as another opportunity to remind her about the very real possibility that she wouldn’t get a spot. She has had a good attitude all week but her self-talk has been on warp speed. We have overheard the discussions.

I picked her up at school and the cast list had just been posted online. I told her to wait to look at the list until we were together. She read through it and stopped at each person she knew and commented on how excited she was for them. Then, she came to the crew advertisement and she looked up at me with sad eyes. I said, “Honey, you did not make it.” As is her way she started reasoning that it was okay and that she was really happy for her friend Andrea who got the lead!  And her friend Kylie who is Rizzo and on and on. When we got home, she went straight to her room. I gave her a bit of time to herself, and then I checked on her. She said, “It’s okay. I texted Andrea. I’m so happy for her. And Cody (CYT Director, teacher and actor) told me if I didn’t make Grease, there is always another show. There is always another show mom.” I smiled and fought back own tears.

Rachel in the CYT Grease Class Beauty School Dropout.
Rachel in the CYT Grease Class Beauty School Dropout.

I’m a realist. I knew it was a long shot that Rachel would get a part. She wanted to try out and we put in place what we could to help her to do her best. And I think she did do her best. They have an enormously talented cast and she will go and be the first one up for the standing ovations. She will try out for a CYT winter show and hopefully get a part in that. Like everyone else, she will move on. This is one of those parts of life that we all deal with whether is a show, a sports team, a job or some other thing that we want but don’t get chosen for. While I would love to have seen that beautiful, infectious smile on that stage, I get to see it on the stage of life every day.

On this November day I am thankful that Rachel has these opportunities.  Lots of other kids with and without Down syndrome don’t have these opportunities or aren’t able for whatever reason to be a part of so much. When we are busy, my friend Theresa who also has a teenage daughter with Down syndrome often says, “Aren’t we blessed that our girls can do so much and have so many amazing opportunities?”

Yes, yes we are blessed.



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