As the school year comes to a close and our kids are bringing home all the papers that have been stuffed in the back of their desks, our intern and friend Kirsta Graf is also closing out her first year at college. If you don’t know who Kirsta is, she’s a vibrant, talented college student in St. Paul, Minnesota who is attending Bethel University as part of their 2-year BUILD program for students with intellectual disabilities. Kirsta has Down syndrome, and I was so fortunate to travel with Ruby’s Rainbow last year to be part of her college sendoff. Kirsta’s mom, Alicia, has become a close friend and my lighthouse on this journey of raising a child with Down syndrome. We’ve talked many times this year, laughing about situations that have come up at college–situations Alicia never thought to prepare Kirsta for because, as she says, “You don’t realize what they don’t know until you realize they don’t know it.” Letting go for us parents looks a little bit different as, while we want nothing more than our birds to fly beyond our nest, sometimes their wings need more support. We know that failure is a necessary step on the road to success, but it’s hard not to jump in to try to keep our kids from failing because they already struggle with overcoming challenges. This balance of letting go and hanging on and teaching independence is especially complex and emotional for parents of kids with special needs, but Alicia and Kirsta are figuring it out so beautifully, and Kirsta’s first year of college has been an incredible opportunity to practice these skills.
Today, as part of Kirsta’s paid internship with me, she’s sharing some of her life hacks she used to help her conquer this first year away from home.
But first, I’m sharing an e-mail Alicia sent me this week–what she as a mom learned this year.
I’m not a writer like you but here are some random thoughts:
I don’t know where the year went.
I thought maybe with Kirsta at college,
I’d have lost 10 pounds going to yoga 5X a week,
or have a freezer full of healthy organic meals,
or have all the video tapes of her childhood on a digital,
or the laundry room would be cleaned out,
or her bedroom repainted,
or I’d have taken up gardening or baking homemade bread or I don’t know, bird watching! something…
Turns out none of that really occurred.
She went to college to grow and learn, and I stayed home to grow and learn.
I learned not to solve for her, but to coach her to ask for help at school. (Thank you BUILD staff).
I learned no one is going to hold her hand through each moment, but they are rooting for her with all they have.
I learned not to freak if she spent her weeks spending money (30$) in 23 hours (on snacks, sandwiches, and shakes)
I learned communication is tricky when your kid is not with you #lostintranslation
I learned to try another way to teach a lesson, and another and another…
I learned there are things I didn’t teach her and didn’t know I didn’t teach her and we found that out.
I learned to TRUST the process. I learned to RELAX. I learned she STANDS ALONE sometimes. I learned she want some FREEDOM. I learned she is more LIKE other freshman then unlike.
I learned that I have to LET GO and HOLD ON at the same time. I learned this is HARD. I learned this is WORTH IT.
This summer Kirsta will continue to do tours at BETHEL for prospective Build students. She has a meeting with Dunn Brothers next y week for a possible job, and she is volunteering at Jack’s Baskets once a week.
The rest remains to be figured out.
Remember in the video last August you said, “It may be hard, but alternative is she doesn’t get the opportunity…” well that summed it up! Many times I called that to mind and it gave me strength and patience and hope in the growth process.
And all us parents with kiddos with special needs have got to keep our hope in the growth process….because sometimes it is just too soon to tell how something is going to turn out.
Today I saw her hilarious Instagram post and I laughed and smiled and beamed with pride!
Love you peach,
Kirsta shares her hacks:
BUILD Office: The teachers are really nice. There is free coffee, water, La
Croix, and snacks for the BUILD students. My favorite thing to get here is
the La Croix.
Independent Study Class: This is where we do homework on our
ipads. We have mentors here who help us do our homework.
Checkout a charger: If I forget my charger I can get one at the Bethel
library with my ID. This is a good hack because then I don’t have to
walk all the way back to my dorm. And I have used this A LOT.
My homework table: This is the 3900 Grill on Bethel’s campus. The Grill is a place you can eat chicken fingers, milkshakes, and fries. This is the table I normally sit at. I like to use this table to do my homework. After my homework I like to watch a movie, for example Moana, and cast my friends for what characters they would be in the movie.
Katie Koehn’s Office: Katie is a good family friend I know. She works at Bethel’s Admissions office. Knowing Katie’s office is a college hack because I go there to say hi to her whenever college life starts feeling overwhelming.
My Weekly Snack Bin: I get one La Croix, one Capri Sun, and two snacks every day. Some of my snacks are chips or granola bars. This has been a good hack to help me remember to eat my own food and not just take other people’s snacks.
My Pill Container: This container tells me each day what pills I need to take. This hack helps me remind myself to take my medicine. This is so much easier than having big pill bottles!
Fit Bit: My fit bit shows me how many steps I have made each day. On Wednesdays we have a meeting called Group. Group helps us to stay healthy and active. We are put on teams and if our team meets our goal we get entered in the drawing to win a prize. We get chance to win a prize every Wednesday if we reach our goals for steps every day.
My Job Mentor: This is Kelly Leonard. She helps me with my internship. She makes sure that I am on time and know what my responsibilities for the day are. It is fun having a job mentor!
We are wishing Kirsta a wonderful summer with meaningful adventures, and we cannot wait to hear more about her second year of college next year!