What an amazing weekend!
I am so blessed to have been a part of the You Can Do It pageant this weekend, a pageant for girls with disabilities. It is not so much about the competition than it is about having fun, building self esteem, and enjoying an experience one might not otherwise be able to have. The girls had disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy, deafness, rare heart diseases, and autism.
On Friday night, I was deemed "camera girl" at the pre-pageant rehearsal. Cheri Kennedy and I helped the girls practice their walking and smiling at the audience. The girls were SO excited to be there. They were all smiles. At the end of the night, we celebrated with an ice cream social. YUM!
Today (Saturday) I drove up to the cities to first, pick up my dress from Bunny (it finally fits!!!) and then to Atonement Lutheran Church in New Brighton, MN where the production was held. From noon on, I helped set up, get the girls ready to be princesses and get MYSELF ready to perform. You could see the glint in the younger girls eyes when they found out I was a princess to! I was asked countless times how my crown stayed put on my head. I told them I had impeccable balance!
Once the show finally started and that first girl walked out on stage, and once the sound of supportive family members cheering came from the audience, I choked up. As one of the girls told me at the end of the evening, (paraphrasing), "When you're disabled, you never expect to have an experience like this. To feel beautiful. To be the center of attention. It's truly a gift." Watching these girls walk out onto that stage into the spotlight made me think of my brother Trevor. Trevor is in the middle of his fourth year on the speech team and it has been a great year so far. He has already placed 3 or 4 times in his category, Great Speeches, this year. And when he get's up on that stage, and he realizes he's won, and he gets his ribbon/medal/trophy/whatever, he is SO proud. (He goes as far to shake his fists in the air and yell "Bravo!") Who EVER would have thought that someone with Autism, with social skills problems, who is "disconnected" from the external world, would ever succeed at speech, or in the minds of some, would ever succeed at all. I can only imagine the pride these girls' families must feel for their beautiful daughters, granddaughters, nieces, sisters. I am touched.
Another defining moment of the night: I was talking to one of the younger girls backstage who was quite immobile, and she asked me to hand her her t-shirt since some of the other girls were getting dressed into their opening number outfits as well. I asked her if she wanted me to go get her mom, and she said no. Then I said, okay, well you get dressed and I'll just go let your mom know you are starting to get ready for the pageant in case she wants to come help and she stopped me again and said, "No!... No!" (she is very clear when she speaks, but it takes her a while to get the words out), "I...can...do it!... Don't... tell mom... I can... do... it myself... I... CAN... DO IT!" And she did. This small notion of getting her t shirt on by herself is so representative of what she and others with disabilities go through on a daily basis. "I can't. I'm limited." I do not believe in barriers. Trevor has proven that all barriers can be overcome in countless ways his entire life. But now I truly believe it applies to ANYONE and EVERYONE with challenges. They can do it. YES, then can. (One of Trevor's favorite books, "The Little Engine That Could," comes to mind: "I think I can. I think I can. I knew I could! I knew I could!")
Tonight, the Princess, Ms., Miss, Junior Miss and Little Miss You Can Do It Minnesota titleholders were crowned. They, along with Trevor, are my absolute heroes. Congratulations girls. You are all winners. Thank you.
What an amazing weekend!