Her Shoes, My Shoes
Meg wins silver medals for skating in the Special Olympics but does not qualify to go on. Her mother, Noriko Ohsada, is crushed. It takes hard work and professional advice for Noriko to realize that her life is separate from Meg’s. Meg finds a new passion and will go to the Special Olympics, this time as a dancer. And her mother buys dancing slippers for herself.
This is my second Shoe Project story. The first one was about my unexpected life as a young mother in a new country and the white figure skates of my oldest daughter, who has Down Syndrome. That story ends with the phrase, “Meg and my journey continue.” She is now 22.
Special Olympics is a global, non-profit organization that provides athletic opportunities to people with intellectual challenges. Meg had a glorious experience on a world stage with them in 2013. With her winning of two silver medals, I pictured that Meg’s future life would be full of friends, flowers and medals. I felt that Meg’s figure skating was everything for her and for me. And, I secretly hoped Meg’s success would carry on without me someday. I was determined and invested a great deal of time and money for her to gain a spot for the next opportunity.
Meg did her best, and in the winter of 2015, she won the qualifying competition at the provincial games. Then? She wasn’t selected to compete for the next level because the selection committee decided that someone else was more deserving. I was devastated.
To be honest, I still feel something I don’t want in my stomach. I couldn’t tell Meg that she had no more maple-leaf red jackets and airplane rides. I have tried to understand why I couldn’t get over it. I was sad, mad, and most of all, jealous. In my dreams, I watched a streak of light in the dark, far from me, shining somewhere else. I was screaming, “Over here! Find Meg, find me!”
While I struggled to find another purpose for Meg and for me, her behavioural problems increased. Soon, she was diagnosed with social anxiety, obsessive slowness, and selective mutism. New complicated English words, again. I blamed myself. Had I pressured Meg too much or babied her like a princess? I wanted to cry for help in front of my parents in Japan, but I couldn’t, and I didn’t.
From her diagnosis at birth, I felt too responsible and couldn’t share my vulnerable feelings with anyone. But doctors didn’t judge me. Instead, they made me feel optimistic. The situation could have been worse if I hadn’t done what I did for Meg. Look at her smiles of happiness and pride! I was a good parent behind these smiles. This affirmation helped me overcome the non-stop secret doubt that I had had for 22 years. Meg started taking a mild medication while I listened to professional advice.
One quiet spring night in 2015, something urged me to watch a reality dance show recorded for Meg. I followed my instinct. It made me discover a possible opportunity for Meg to dance for Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles. The deadline for the audition video was in 24 hours. Until late that night, I frantically dealt with YouTube, half crying and half smiling. A few months later, Meg was on a dream Hollywood stage, back in the spotlight, in front of her favourite dance professionals. She passionately performed a dance choreographed by her sister and charmed the audience. She wore her tiny dance shoes instead of figure skates.
Meg showed me freedom and joy through dance movements, and it inspired me to try it myself. I realized it’s important for me to separate her goals from mine. I was determined to undo the spell of “Meg is me, I am her.”
At my first adult ballet lessons, I wore my old black socks. I didn’t take enough care of myself to get the proper footwear, while Meg had many different shoes. Yes, it’s time to buy a brand-new pair of pink ballet slippers for myself.
NORIKO OHSADA immigrated from Japan in 1991 and built a family of three daughters with her husband, Kaoru. She is a Japanese calligraphy artist and works part-time in the accounting field. She is currently exploring her love of writing.