Look around you. What a remarkable group of women. Together, you have shaped our future. You have honored your own mothers’ with service, compassion and, I dare say it… a sense of Humor.
Let’s face it, motherhood is messy and YOU have faced life’s messiest challenges with grace. I am a “Special Needs Mom.” When you are a Special Needs Mom, you expect things to get a little messy.
At the age of three, my oldest daughter perfected the art of flying Mac & Cheese in a Cracker Barrel. I’ll never forget the diners as they ducked and scrambled out of the way of flying ooey & gooey cheesiness. We were award winners when it came to making a mess.
My daughters have taught me that Life Is Washable. By the time my girls were two and four, we had two diagnoses of Cerebral Palsy and we had many therapy appointments. I am pretty sure some of you in this room know exactly what that feels like.We love our children, and we grieve for their challenges. There were moments where I wished for a magic trick to brighten our days.I found that magic trick in the giggles of my little girls, and we called it The Magic Paintbrush Project. We engaged other special families with drop cloths and paint bottles. We encouraged them to embrace the mess and literally roll around in the paint.
It had the same effect with each family we shared it with. No longer did families grieve what they could not do, instead they saw that their possABILITIES were as bright as the colors.
The Project has expanded to peer programs which build friendships and supports youth mental health. We’ve added adaptive sports in conjunction with Binghamton University wherein special needs kids help collegiate athletes see that scoring goals, on and off the field, can change lives. The thousands of Special Moms, and their families have inspired me to create an accessible playground which invites everyone to play, no matter their age or ability. Beyond the paint and play, I developed Friendly Access Sensory Kits which welcome fans to arenas from Washington, D.C. to LA.
As the Executive Director of the American Special Hockey Association, you might say I am a very special hockey Mom. My job is to advocate for remarkable teams across the country. Special hockey is a very special famous. It has been remarkable to watch children score their first goal and see their Mom’s cheer as if they’ve just won the Stanley Cup. I work with over 70 teams from Alaska to Florida, and I might have the coolest job in America where at every game, every Mom is their child’s greatest fan.
My girls are now 15 and 17. Over 55,000 people have come to The Paintbrush, Thousands more have visited the park, and we’ve cheered at the stadiums alongside champions. But it began with just two children, when our life was at its messiest. The Mac and Cheese has been replaced by flying bottles of red, blue & yellow. Instead of scrambling, families have captured their abilities with memories they will never forget.
When raising children, we do the best we can, but even in a crowd, we can feel quite alone.We raise our families up around us, and we are often the last one to turn off the light after we tuck our hearts in at the end of the day.
But we aren’t alone, look around, all of YOU have created a better tomorrow. We have seen the needs, We have served with compassion, and We have never ceased to care.
No matter where I go, or what I have done, being a Mom is the best job I’ll ever have. Each of you shown me that Motherhood isn’t messy, it is beautiful, and our stories touch the hearts of our communities and nation.
Jen O’Brien is the 2018 New York Mother of the Year. You can read more about Jen HERE.