When one door closes...

FYI:  Having a “PATH” done in this post refers to a graphically facilitated brainstorm session where a person hashes out plan for the future with friends and family in attendance.  The “North Star” refers to the positive and possible goals decided on during the PATH meeting. Every Starfire U member is offered a PATH in their second year.

Kathleen and I decided to write this blog together.  She is a fourth year member of Starfire U, and is in quotations.

Kathleen calls Starfire her second home, and the people here her other family.  As a new staff, her hospitality to me was abundant.  Locating her voice in the hallway calling out “Hi Miss Katie Katie!” and finding her warmly waving behind a smile, it makes my day every time.  This ability to make people feel instantly liked at a new place is a tremendous gift to others, and Kathleen is naturally good at giving it.

For the last year and a half, Kathleen has been a volunteer at a preschool.  She loves kids and is an aunt to four little ones, so naturally, the opportunity to gain work experience with preschoolers was thrilling.

“It all started with my North Star.  My hopes, my dreams my high expectations. That’s what got me thinking in terms of helping and giving and caring and having integrity. Having the guts to try new things. So it was there, as I was brainstorming through the blue print of my life, my PATH… Not to steal words out of Nikki Booker’s (a fellow fourth year member) mouth,” she laughs.

Always eloquent and able to speak her mind, Kathleen never fails to impress me with her composure.

“In the back of my mind, when we were doing my PATH I not only had kids on there, I had other things. Like leadership and doing things with my church like the Pregnancy East fundraiser.  We collected money and were greeters.  Also doing more with the Board of DDS. I do a lot with them. I see myself actually working there, I don’t know why, but I do. SO maybe that might be another alternative. And I see myself as an event planner, too…”

During Starfire’s Annual Meeting this year, Kathleen made a beautiful speech.  Leading the committee of event planners for the Annual Meeting was part of her final project for Starfire U.  She planned out everything from venue (they picked the 20th Century Theatre) to appetizers.  So seeing it come to fruition was a powerful moment for all of us.  Kathleen can now proudly affirm to everyone that she indeed is an Event Planner.  During that speech, she stood in front of over 200 people and exclaimed how it felt to finally be at that moment. She said it was like standing on a rock at the water’s edge, getting ready to jump.

Kathleen at the Annual Meeting

Kathleen is at a crossroads in her life. With the end of her Starfire U experience approaching, and many accomplishments to look back on over the past four years, she is heading in a direction that looks much different than she might have ever dreamed.

“At my PATH, we were just transforming my plans for the future into something bigger, dreaming big, and putting it all into different categories…And my PATH wasn’t just about kids.  It was about being a leader, working in various fields of interests, being active. What I’m saying is, I want to still be on my journey from where I first started with my PATH. I still want to find other jobs, instead of just being with kids.”

While I can see Kathleen in various roles, and would have loved to have her as part of my wedding planning committee had I known her a year ago, I still saw her work at the preschool as the most practical role for her.  It seemed like the most sensible fit for her future.

However, recently Kathleen had been making mistakes at the preschool, and she was beginning to overstay her welcome.  This news came to me as an alarm, as the next step I hoped for her would be working more full time with them after Starfire U.

“I don’t want to say that I was bored at the Church of Redeemer, I had to find things to keep busy. I always got a hug from my co-workers and the little ones.  I’ve had an experience- a great experience at the Church of the Redeemer.”

Much of what she did at the preschool was what she called “down time,” and her real wish was to have more responsibilities, like the teacher.

“I need more hands-on-actually doing things. I want a brand new position, somewhere that overlooks my old mistakes. There’s more to me than doing what I did at the church. Doing more with speaking, being more pro-active. That’s something I think people were missing, and I forgot to tell anyone. So I pushed it too far.”

It reminds me of the dozens of times I have grown tired of jobs, where not much is involved with the work.  The people are nice, the pay is steady, but there’s just something missing.  From bagging groceries to pulling pizzas out of the oven to canning fish in Alaska, after 30 + jobs I am not one to say: “stick it out, you’ll grow to like it, find a way to make it work.”

The difference between me and Kathleen’s experiences might be that no one ever expected me to stay at these minimum wage jobs doing repetitive tasks. When I quit, I did so on my own accord, and after leaving I always had the option to turn to people who supported me and start a dialogue about what my next options could be.  I always had the option to jump in somewhere else.

Next, Kathleen uses a reference here from My Best Friend’s wedding to describe how she feels about options in her own life.

“Let’s say for example I want pudding.  And let’s say there’s something else, an activity in my life that also love, and that’s jello.”

The way she describes everything is with her hands, placing one hand on my desk near me, and the other in the air in front of her.  Her tone is not frustrated, but passionate, and our eyes are locked.

“Since the jello is up here, and the pudding is down here, sometimes I am pinned and stuck with pudding when I really want to be up by jello…

“I’m lacking because the pudding is making me want even more opportunities, and even more activities. And even more things that eventually I get bored with. But I still want to be up by jello. If I’m up by jello, that makes me still the popular and typical adult that I am. But hun, I’m never going to get the jello. I got out of the phase of being on pudding. Now I’m losing the contact to where I was.”

When I first heard that Kathleen would have to leave her internship, initially my heart sank. What else will she do? Why miss out on an opportunity to do something you love? Being with kids is what she loves, right? My knee-jerk reaction was to think of the possibility of stability, security she would now be missing out on…

“I mean, yeah I blew my chance at the Church of the Redeemer,” she said. “I’m now ready to move on. I know it sounds stupid, and it sounds kind of dumb. But I don’t know, it’s just something that I think would be a good use of my time if I tried something else.”

Kathleen and I are both approaching thirty.  I would like to believe that just like any thirty year old, she’s at an exciting crossroads.  But my reality and hers are not the same, and it’s not the simple fact that she has Down Syndrome.  Kathleen’s opportunities to make life decisions look different than my own. They entail a whole web of dialogue about her, and what she should and can do.  Often, this dialogue occurs without her own voice being heard, or until she makes a mistake. Or several.  These are the circumstances that dictate her PATH in life.

Kathleen’s story here reminds me to be a better listener. It reminds me to recognize when someone has determination in life, and support that person when they make a mistake. And believe that when one door shuts, Kathleen, just like myself, can find an open window.

katie bachmeyer