Message To A Younger Me

Yesterday on Twitter I saw a tweet asking what you’d say in a message to your younger self, and thought this would make an awesome blog post.

Dear 13 Year Old Brooke,
Despite what everyone says, the world is not a perfect place. Even if you follow the “rules”, you will still have to struggle for independence and prosperity. The world is not made for people who are “different”, but instead, caters to those who fit into the mould of “perfection” and “normal”.

You will find out through trial and error, who is worth making an effort to keep in your circle of friends. You will be surprised at the outcome. You will feel guilty for cutting ties with some, but you will quickly learn that it is necessary in order to live a stress-free life.

You will find it difficult to watch your friends date in high school and university, and wonder if you will ever find someone to love you as more than just a friend. It will happen though. You will meet him in your second year at the University of Guelph, and your friends and family will wish they could clone him. He will treat you like a queen, and stand by your side through the good times and bad. He will never make you feel inferior to him, and even though others outside of your relationship will try to come between you, he will stay true to you. Together, you will build a life full of love, compassion and adventure.

Life will not be easy. You will get frustrated by the limitations you encounter, and you will become discouraged by all of the closing doors around you, but you are strong. You will move beyond the disappointments and find a way to make a difference through your love of dogs, and your desire to help others.

No matter how often you are told by family members and friends that you need to change, you won’t. You know who you are, and know you are meant to become more than just another statistic. Your passion and determination for life is what will keep you going. You will never accept the status quo, and you will never stop marching to your own beat.

As Dr Seuss once wrote: “Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive, who is youer than you”.

No matter what life throws at you, just keep on swimming.

The 32 Year Old Brooke

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

This past week Huib and I watched a movie on television called the Memory Keeper’s Daughter. It’s about a doctor and his wife who have fraternal twins, a “healthy” son and a daughter who has Downs Syndrome. The doctor had a sister with Downs Syndrome that only lived to be twelve years of age, so remembering the agony his mother went through after her death, he decides to tell his wife that their daughter did not survive. He asks one of the nurses in the delivery room to take the infant to a home for the mentally ill, but the nurse ends up keeping the child, and raising her.

I was so angry watching the movie. To think that such practices existed troubled me. I am not naive. I know this happened and still happens today. But, it really bothered me.

Huib and I are in the process of completing a home study to adopt through Child and Family Services. We began this process almost two years ago with the goal of first fostering and then adopting, but given the obstacles of my visual impairment, we’ve decided to just adopt.

The worker who is doing our home study is great. She asks a lot of questions about how I will do this or that with my visual limitations, but she’s honest about the reasons for her questions and is quite willing and eager to learn.

It’s exasperating to know that people still think individuals with disabilities cannot successfully raise children, but I also recognize that there are people out there who should not be doing so and understand why the questions are asked.

Huib and I are close to finishing our home study and should know by May whether or not we are accepted. We are hoping to adopt a young child around three years of age or younger, so know that it will take time for the right child to enter our lives. From what the worker has said, it is quite rare for children as young as we’d like, to come into care and go up for adoption in this area (which is a good thing), but she has said that other agencies will also have our information on hand.

Now that all of our background checks, reference checks and basic interviews are done, Huib and I need to start child-proofing our home so the worker can give the agency the all-clear. It’s kind of strange to know that we have to spend the time child-proofing before we even know whether or not we are officially accepted, but then I’m sure the worker would have told us by now whether or not it’s not going to happen.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter angered me so much because Huib and I would love to have a child of our own, but due to unforeseen circumstances this is not going to happen, so to see someone give up their child because of idiocy is just infuriating.

Huib and I would never consider such a heartless act, and would love to adopt a child with special needs.

Book #1 Of 2012

I’ve observed a lot of people posting summaries and thoughts on books they’re reading, so I thought I’d do the same.

Almost a week ago now, I finished reading my first book of 2012!

I read all of my books in Braille and I am not a fast reader so, I probably won’t get even close to the numbers of books read this year that others do, but I still think it’s a neat idea to keep track and share the good and the bad points of books I’m reading.

In 2011, I read about seven books. This year I’m hoping to try doubling that, but we’ll see how things go.

The first book I read this year was “Birthright” by Nora Roberts.

This is my second book by Nora Roberts, and I really liked “Birthright” as much as I enjoyed her book “Blue Smoke”.

The book starts out with a young mother (Suzanne Cullen) and her two children (3 month old Jessica and 3 year old Douglas) lined up to see Santa. Doug really has to go to the washroom, but also really wants to see Santa so decides to wait until he’s done. As they approach Santa, Doug begins to feel nervous about the jolly man in red, but goes up and allows himself to be picked up and placed on Santa’s lap. Then, Santa lets out a loud, jolly “Ho, Ho, Ho” and Doug tries to get away, falling on the floor and wetting himself. Suzanne runs to comfort her son, leaving Jessica fast asleep in her stroller. Second later, Suzanne begins screaming because Jessica is gone.

The book then moves to a construction site where ancient bones are discovered.

Callie Dunbrooke, a successful, young archeologist is called in to head the excavation with her ex-husband Jacob Graystone, an accomplished anthropologist.

At first it seems as though the book will be similar to one by Kathy Reichs, but then there’s a twist. Callie is approached by Suzanne Cullen, who has seen her on television and believes she is her long-lost daughter, Jessica.

I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of science, mystery and romance, this book offered. I’m not usually one to appreciate romance novels, but felt Nora Roberts did an excellent job at blending the personal lives of each character into the twists and turns of the journey Callie embarks upon to solve the mystery of her past.

I couldn’t help wondering what I’d do if I were in Callie’s position.

Would I have the same burning desire to know the truth, even though it would almost certainly change every relationship I had ever known…?

Would I want to have a relationship with my biological family?

Would I be able to trust again?

The next book I’ve decided to tackle for 2012 is 4th Of July by James Patterson. I’ll post a summary and my thoughts when it’s complete.

A new Semester

On Monday, I started another online course through the University of Guelph. There weren’t too many options for winter semester, so I chose Business & Consumer Law, through the Department of Marketing and Commerce Studies.

From reading the course outline, it looks as though this course will be a little tougher than I had hoped. In addition to my online participation, there will be an assignment, a midterm and final examination. I’m not too worried about the online participation or assignment portions of the course, but am not too excited about the midterm or final because both will be multiple choice.

I’m hoping that as long as I study hard, that maybe I can defy the odds and for once, actually do well on a multiple choice exam.

Please wish me luck!

Birthday

Yesterday, November 29th, was my 32nd birthday.

It’s hard to believe that I’m already two years into my thirties. I don’t really feel like I’m older than 25 to be honest. I remember feeling older when I reached my 26th birthday, but since then I really haven’t felt much different.

When you are a young child, you can’t wait to be a teenager. Then when you are a teenager, you can’t wait to be an adult. Once you hit 25, you are no longer considered to be even a young adult – you’re just an adult.

Adulthood comes with so many responsibilities. So many regrets. And so many dreams for a better life.

When I was a young child, I dreamed of being a veterinarian, with a husband who wanted to stay home with the kids and dogs, in our beautiful, huge home, while I brought home the paycheck. When I was a teenager, I still wanted the husband, kids, dogs and huge home, but I now fantasized about being a successful lawyer.

Now that I am an adult and the world is real, not just a fantasy, my dreams are different. I already have the amazing husband and dogs, but instead of fantasizing about the huge home and high paying job, I think about realistic things.

I no longer dream, I hope.

I hope for a better future. I hope for a time when Huib no longer has to support me. I hope for the opportunity to do more than just take care of the dogs and go through the motions of being a happy stay-at-home wife.

I hope for realistic things.

Gone are the days when I fantasized about the wonderful world out there, that would give me everything I needed, as long as I put in the effort. The fantasies are now replaced with dashed hopes and the sad reality of a world that only rewards those people who are “normal”. A world that closes doors in the faces of people who cannot meet its expectations. A world that places undo hardship on those who choose to open the door for the “different”.

My first 32 years were filled with ups and downs. I would never trade my life for anyone else’s, but I hope the next 32 years will include a few more ups and a little fewer downs.

November 29th, 2011 was a good day though. I woke up beside my smiling soul mate and rambunctious retrievers. I opened my e-mail to find messages upon messages from friends wishing me a happy birthday. The Rogue puppy allowed me to finish off the second last assignment of my course. Then it ended with a delicious spaghetti dinner The promise of new clothes!

Thirty two may no longer be the age of dreams and childish fantasies, but if yesterday was any hint of what is to come, I don’t care…I’m ready for thirty three.

Independent Woman

I’ve never taken part in the Disability Blog Carnival, but after reading this round’s topic, I was inspired.

I lost my sight in the summer of 1993. I had just finished grade 8 and was excited to begin grade 9 at a new school. It was a total shock. My parents weren’t sure where to turn. I spent my summer indoors, trying to adapt to a life without 20/20 vision.

September arrived and students returned to school. My mom didn’t know what to do with me. She kept me home the first day, and called our region’s Board of Education. She talked to a woman in charge of organizing special services and was relieved to learn that there was a department of sorts designed to help visually impaired and blind students.

That afternoon, I met a woman who would forever change my life.

Stephanie Sommer arrived around noon. She sat with my mom and I, at the kitchen table and asked questions. She had come to assess whether I truly required her assistance. The phone rang at some point during our meeting and after watching me reach past the phone, she took my hand and placed it onto the receiver with a smile.

After mom was finished with the call, Stephanie told us she would start working with me the following day.

Over the next five years, Stephanie would teach me not only the usual lessons of Braille and getting around safely with a cane, but she would inspire me to be an independent woman.

Stephanie never once treated me like I had a disability.

She expected me to act appropriately and study just as hard as every other student in my high school.

She always expected me to give eye contact.

She wouldn’t help me unless I said please or thank you.

And if I got frustrated and attempted to give up, she’d walk away and wait for me to get over it.

Stephanie and I developed more than just a student-teacher bond, we became friends. She told me about her own vision problems and told me how she embarked on an educational journey that led her to working with students like me.

I remember the feeling of comfort that would come over me each time I smelled her perfume, and the smile that would sprout on my face, no matter how bad the day, when I heard her voice. Stephanie was my navigator, guiding me through a world I now found scary and full of unknowns.

She taught me how to read Braille and how to fully utilize the vision I still had.

She showed me how to travel safely throughout my community with a cane, and then when I told her I wanted to apply for a guide dog, she challenged me to first move outside of my comfort zone. I learned how to take the bus to a neighbouring town to attend movies and shop alone in their mall. Then, she gave me the biggest test of all, she asked me to learn how to take the bus to Toronto and then learn to take the subway to the largest mall of all (at the time) – the Eatons Centre.

Once I entered my final year of high school, Stephanie was there to help me reach my goal of attending university. She read through university brochures and program descriptions. Then she helped me fill out application, after application because I couldn’t decide on which one to attend. She was there when I received each of my letters of acceptance and then took it upon herself to arrange campus tours so that I could better decide upon the school for me.

After I began university, Stephanie and I talked a couple times a year, but after she attended my wedding in 2006, we sadly lost touch.

I still think about the lessons she taught me. She inspired me how to be the woman I am today, because when no one else did, she believed I could be better.

Is It Me?

I’m frustrated.

I’m discouraged.

And, I’m not sure how to make things better.

Over the past month or so, I’ve been trying to set up a training session with the Border Collie Lady. We haven’t had a chance to continue our agility lessons since the end of May because of various scheduling issues. She competes in agility and conformation with her dogs, so a lot of her weekends were full. Then when Phoenix got sick, I really didn’t want to be away from him more than necessary. Over the past month though, I’ve been trying to set up a couple of sessions with her, but keep getting this excuse and that for why she cannot get together.

I understand that she is probably busy, but I also feel as though she is not truly interested in helping me. During our training sessions, I got the impression that she didn’t feel as though I could truly succeed in agility with limited sight, but I thought I could prove her wrong with time. I really enjoyed our sessions and felt as though she had tons to teach me, if I could only get past her preconceived notions regarding my abilities.

As far as I know, she has a sister who is blind, so I thought it would only take a bit of effort to win her over.

Well….

I’m now feeling as though I was sadly mistaken.

I don’t think she truly wants to help me. And I’m feeling discouraged.

I really, really want to compete in rally obedience and agility with Canyon, Cessna and Rogue, but I feel as though my skills are somewhat limited. I feel as though I need someone to watch me in action with each of them, and offer suggestions and advice regarding the areas we are struggling. I know I can succeed in these dog sports, but am really not sure I can do it without guidance. I find it helpful to have someone providing training structure and suggesting areas for improvement and new ways of overcoming challenges, but there really is no one else in our area except for the Border Collie Lady and a training program which seems to constantly cancel group classes they advertise on the radio.

After my experiences with the Border Collie Lady and previously Sue Alexander, I’m really beginning to wonder if I’m just too much work. I know Sue didn’t ask me to leave her program because of disability related concerns, but having negative experiences with two dog training programs, has really done a number on my self-confidence.

Is it me?

Are there things I need to change about myself?

Is it them?

Am I expecting too much of other people?

Should I just avoid dog training programs all together, and just educate myself?

These are things I need to consider, because the status quo is not working. If I want to achieve my dreams of competing, then I’m going to have to figure out where the problems lie. And, if it is me, then I need to figure out how to stop and change whatever I’m doing to scare off the people who can help.

Or, figure out a way to teach myself the things I need to know.

Any thoughts? Or words of wisdom?

Back To School

In June, I talked about wanting to return to school. I had decided to register as a non-degree student, and am hoping to take a course or two each semester between now and the fall of 2013. I’m tired of doing nothing, other than training with my dogs, reading books and cleaning the house. I know Huib does not hold my inability to get a job against me, but I still feel as though I’m wasting my life, sitting around.

Yesterday was the start of course selection, so Huib logged into my student profile, and registered me for this course.

When I was a student at the University of Guelph from 1999 to 2004, I majored in Criminal Justice & Public Policy, which primarily meant I took courses from the sociology and political sciences departments. I really enjoyed the political sciences, so focused mainly in this area when I had a choice, so there are actually very few courses left for me to take now that I am re-entering student life.

I was attracted by this new course, Governing Criminal Justice, because not only will it focus on areas that interest me, but it is also primarily writing based, and there is no final examination. I haven’t done a final exam in over four years, so I thought it would be best to start off taking a course that was writing based, since this is something I’m quite good at. I am not a creative writer, but give me a topic to research and I have no issues producing a paper that might just knock your socks off.

I’m not sure what the future holds in terms of my ability to find employment, but in the meantime I think I’ll try and better my educational background, so that I might be able to complete a masters when we move back to Southwestern Ontario.

Cane-Free

Exactly 14 years ago, my Mom, Dad and sister dropped me off at the Lions Foundation of Canada training centre, in Oakville Ontario.

I remember being so excited about the upcoming adventure.

I had waited for this day.

When I lost most of my sight at the age of 13, I didn’t know what the future had in store for me.

I remember the day my vision services teacher gave me my first white cane. She gave me general instructions on how to use it, and then left me to get used to the feel of it for a couple of days – at this point, I was just instructed to hold it slightly out, across my body. She then explained on how to do the sweeping motion and then explained when it’s best to tap, versus slide it across the floor.

I remember hating the feel of this “thing”, that was supposed to keep me safe.

It was just so cold and unnatural.

I remember the day I learned about guide dogs.

I remember wanting to get one immediately.

I remember being told I would have to work on my orientation and mobility skills first.

I remember getting a chance to work with my vision services teacher’s German Shepperd in harness. She had briefly worked with Leader Dogs For The Blind while going to Michigan State University, and had taught her own pet dog how to guide so that her students would get a feel for what it would be like before applying.

I LOVED IT!!!

About an hour or so after I had arrived at the LFC, the other students began to arrive as well. There were six of us in total; two guys from Alberta (a 60 year old and a 25 year old), a 49 year old woman from Toronto, a 35 year old man from Kitchener, and a 35 year old man from Newmarket. At dinner, we were split into groups of three, I sat with the man from newmarket and woman from Toronto – we got along really well. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with what our trainers had to tell us. We were told what the schedule would be like for the first couple of days.

And, were told that as of tomorrow, we were no longer allowed to navigate the facility with our canes – they wanted us to get familiar with the place on our own, since we would not be allowed to use them once we got our dogs.

I remember the sense of relief I felt, the moment I put my cane on the shelf.

It felt like I was beginning a new chapter in my life.

This was the moment I had been working so hard for.

It’s hard to believe that this moment was fourteen years ago.

Ever since that day, my cane has remained on a shelf or in a box.

I have never once taken it out.

I have never once had the urge to use it.

It’s a chapter in my life I never want to revisit.

I know that working with a dog isn’t for everyone.

But, it’s definitely for me.

Agility

Cessna and Canyon had their second agility lesson on Tuesday. It was pretty sunny, so both were a little slower.

Cessna seemed to remember almost everything she’d learned on the weekend, so we started teaching her jumps and weaves, as well as, starting to ask her to do two jumps before being sent through a tunnel or shoot. Cessna and I learned jumps while taking lessons with Dogs In the Park, so it was nothing for her to start jumping 18 inches right away. We’ll raise the bar a bit further during her next lesson, but the Border Collie lady (Dawn) thought we’d start lower while we were teaching her what’s needed.

I didn’t need Huib’s help as much this time, so he took some pictures.

Cessna loves the Dog Walk and A-Frame, so even before I asked her to “walk on” or “climb” she was running towards the other end.

Cessna was a little warm by the end of her half hour, so she lazily walked through the tire.

Huib had to help me with the weaves, so didn’t get any pictures. For now, Cessna is just being asked to walk through a channel of poles that are about three or so feet apart. As she gets used to the poles, they’ll be brought in closer to one another. Dawn told me that her two year old female (Ruby) is just now starting to perfect her weaves after an entire summer of working on them four days a week, so she said we’ll take it slow. I think the weaves and teeter will be the main areas where Cessna and Canyon will need time and tons of practice before competing. They were both quite nervous walking along the teeter – I held their collars while they walked along and Dawn and Huib held the other end and slowly lowered it as we reached the other side. Cessna was the only one who didn’t try jumping off at the middle, she decided it was best to just get it over with and walk quickly lol!

Canyon didn’t have as great a session, he was really distracted!

He walked confidently along the A-Frame and Dog Walk. Loved running through the tunnels and shoots. And had no issues going through the tire and weaves, but he refused to go over the jumps and continually got off the teeter around the centre.

I really think I need to start using a leash with him when we’re in the arena though, he would do the piece of equipment I asked him to attempt and then run over to this place or that to “mark” or sniff.

Here are a couple of pictures Huib took of Canyon during his lesson.

Dawn is away for the next two weeks – attending a show in Sudbury with her younger dogs (Ruby and Tay) this weekend and then the agility regionals in Sault Ste Marie next weekend with two of her older ones (Gracie and Echo) – so we won’t have another lesson until the beginning of June. I think I’m going to try and build a makeshift jump for Canyon and Cessna to practice.

Before I go though, Dawn has asked me to come and participate in a demo she is hosting Canada Day weekend!! She thinks it is important for others to see how my disability isn’t deterring me from doing agility with my dogs. I know this could be seen as bad (you can insert whatever word you want here) to others, but I don’t mind being used for education – just weeks ago she didn’t think we could do it and now she wants us to show others we can, so this opportunity means a lot to me. I also found out that her sister is blind (or visually impaired) so I’m wondering if this is where a lot of her understanding and/or beliefs have come from. Maybe her sister isn’t as able or willing to participate in traditionally sight-oriented activities. I’m glad I’ve been given this opportunity to teach her that not all blind/visually impaired people are the same.