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Preparing Your Son Or Daughter for College: Suggestions for Parents of Children with Intellectual Disability


Last month, when Liz Plachta and I traveled to North Carolina to observe the UP Program in action at WCU, I took lots of mental pictures of what I saw–a promising future for Nella and a target more clearly defined for our hopes that consequently guides our actions today. It’s important to note that college isn’t the be-all and end-all of life, even for kids without intellectual disabilities, but it does represent something that we all want for all of our children–learning and opportunity, not to mention a fulfilling social life and independence. Whether one pursues these things through college or not, what we saw at WCU provided meaningful inspiration for me and Liz–moms of kids who, twenty years ago, would have had a different outlook for the future. Because I’m a nurturer by nature, I often have to remind myself to step back in parenthood–put my worries aside so that my nurturing doesn’t hinder my children’s ability to fly and figure things out for themselves–flying that will, no doubt, deliver experiences that are hard, that hurt their feelings, that don’t go perfect on the first try. With Nella, these reminders are even more critical for the success of her future. If I constantly view her opportunities through the filter of “she’s going to need us more,” I will clip the wings she was given to fly.

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What we observed at WCU was truly beautiful–a microcosm of what we want to see more of in the real world–inclusion at its best–students of all abilities working together and learning from each other. Zach and Ali both live fulfilling lives of independence that are seasoned with friends and learning, failures and success. There were several things I witnessed that I asked about later–“Wait, who’s helping them with that? Do their parents know they’re making plans for the weekend? How are they going to get there?” Dr. Westling and Dr. Kelley smiled at our questions. “They have to learn how to do these things like everyone else. They’ll figure it out. We don’t jump in to do it for them.”

Liz and I joked that we’d get kicked out of the program after they found us in camouflage, hiding in the bushes, spying on our kids to see if they needed us. Letting go is hard, especially when disabilities have required more of our support over the years–but I don’t ever want to hinder my kids’ success. We now promise to hold each other accountable and to meet for donuts and coffee when we’re feeling the itch to shadow our kids in college. Nella will mostly likely kick me out anyway. “Mom, get out of here. You’re embarrassing me, and I need to study for my exam.”

Nella might not be a Zach or Ali someday, and that’s okay–she’s Nella. But the world of opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities continues to expand with more knowledge, more stretching, more chasing, more asking, more letting go. The fact is, college is possible. Independent living is possible. Fulfilling employment is possible, and these things were hardly existent years ago. With a glass-half-full perspective, I’ll choose to see that word as beautiful: possible. And with our family’s efforts and our community’s support, we can fill that glass right up to the top. Likely.

It’s clear after spending a day with Dr. Westling and Dr. Kelley that they not only have years of experience with individuals with intellectual disabilities and a deep knowledge of special needs education, but they have a remarkable passion to help individuals succeed. They believe in inclusion in education and the workplace with all of their hearts. They’ve given their life’s work to helping individuals with intellectual disabilities soar, and they want to help others do the same. I’m so honored to have their words and hearts in this space today. Their advice is so valuable, I found myself shaking my head through every tip, pertinent not only to Nella but for each of my children.

For every one of us…a brighter future starts today.

Preparing Your Son Or Daughter for College:
Suggestions for Parents of Children with Intellectual Disability

David L. Westling, Ed.D. and Kelly R. Kelley, Ph.D.
The University Participant Program
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC 28723

It is not uncommon for us to receive each year five to ten times the number of applications to the University Participant Program, our postsecondary education program for students with Intellectual Disability (ID), for the number of slots we have available. Parents are quickly learning about the availability of college programs for their children with ID, and they are seeking admission to them at an unprecedented rate. As they do, they often ask us, “What can we do to increase the chance our child will be admitted?”

Unfortunately, when they ask the question, it is often too late for them to do the kinds of things that will ready their child for college. The kinds of attitudes and activities that are most important should begin early in life and continue until the young man or woman is ready to enter college. So through this paper, we are reaching out to parents to tell them what we think will best prepare their child for college. We hope you will find these suggestions useful.

1. Know that the family is the key to success.

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Photo by Kristina O’Brien, courtesy of Lauren Perlin

The clearest lesson we have learned is that the family is the key to what their child can accomplish. There is nothing we can teach in our program, or that students can learn, that will lead to positive outcomes if families don’t support these outcomes. Families have to realize the potential of their son or daughter from early in life and promote their full participation in life so that they can achieve as much independence as possible. Without this attitude by families, there is little we can do. So if we do not recognize this attitude in the family, and know that it has been present from the beginning, we will likely not admit an applicant.

2. Know that the role of parents must change during the child’s life. 

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Photo courtesy of Shannon Blaeske

It is very natural for all parents to want to nurture and protect their children. This is what good parents do. But good parents also give their children lots of chances to learn, let them find their interests, let them practice their skills, encourage them to try new things, and let them test their wings. If parents stop at the point of “nurturing and protecting,” their children will not gain in learning new things or acquiring independence. Even though the mental development of your child may not be the same as that of others, your development as a parent must progress so that your child can progress as much as possible. We are most interested in applicants who have done as much as they can with what they have to work with.

3. Be future focused. 

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Photo courtesy of Colette Cosky

If you have not already noticed, soon you will: Life happens very fast. For many parents, the activities of life are so overwhelming that it is difficult to look beyond each day. But days go by and before you know it, you have a young man or young woman living under your roof, and you are trying to figure out what the rest of his or her life will be like. Even though you might not know exactly what the future holds, start getting ready for it. Make sure your son or daughter is fully involved in family activities, community organizations, and is taught in inclusive schools and classrooms. He or she should have chores and responsibilities, should learn that work is part of life, and should think about career options. We can usually tell when a person has been immersed in life activities, and this is the person we want in our program!

4. Have high expectations

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Photo courtesy of Heather Rodriguez Photography

Everyone progresses to the highest level they are able to achieve if there is a clear expectation by those who matter that they should do so. Not everyone will be a nuclear physicist or a Nobel prize winner. But everyone can go to school, have interests, find a career (or two or three) and have a happy life in a happy home. This is not too much to ask for anyone. The only thing that can get in the way is if there is not an expectation for this to happen, or worse, if there is an expectation that it cannot! You might not know now exactly how it will happen, but if you expect it to, it will. When students apply to our program, we ask them why they want to come. When they have a clear picture of what they want in life, we know that they are more likely to be successful in our program.

5. Let your child take chances and make mistakes

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Photo courtesy of Heather Seal

We know that safety and security is the number one concern for parents, but opportunities to take risks are also important. And sometimes these risks will lead to mistakes. But if there are no risks being taken, and no mistakes being made, there is no learning occurring. On our college campus, we expect that our students will venture into new settings and activities, and that some of these will be a little risky. We try to guide them and help them avoid big mistakes, but at the same time, we know that what they have experienced earlier in life will better prepare them for life on campus. When we view applicants as having experienced a relatively sheltered life, we suspect that our program might be too overwhelming for them.

6. Allow voice and choice. 

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Photo courtesy of Heather Seal

Individuals need to learn how to make their own decisions, have a say in their life activities, and know that risks and rewards can be a part of every decision. We often see applicants for our program who turn to a parent or guardian every time they are asked a question. They do not trust their own judgment and feel they will be more correct if they rely on what mom or dad tells them. You have to realize that you will not always be around to make decisions and that the more practice your son or daughter has, the better they will become at it. We like to see applicants who, even though they might struggle, try to figure out for themselves what they want and what they should do. And we know if this is going to happen on campus, it has to start happening early in life.

7. Inclusion is essential

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Photo courtesy of Heather Seal

You cannot teach someone to live in a typical, heterogeneous world…they have to learn it through experience. We can tell when applicants are comfortable around others on our campus, and when they have not had the experiences to help them do so. The best kind of experience for them to have is to go to school with kids without disabilities in inclusive classrooms. As we look at conditions around the country, we know that some states and school districts include a lot of kids with ID and some do not. But we also know this: if parents are steadfast, their kids will be included. Don’t accept anyone telling you your child cannot be included. With adequate support, everyone can! Even though it might take extra effort on your part and on the school’s and teacher’s part, inclusion is the best education for someone who wants to go to college.

8. When the time is right, get a job! 

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Photo courtesy of Heather Rodriguez Photography

One of our outcome goals is for graduates to work in a career of their choice in a community-based job after leaving our program. And the best predictor of getting a job later is getting a job sooner. Kids in high school work at grocery stores, fast food restaurants, and lots of other places. Having a job teaches responsibility, independence, good decision-making and a lot of other soft skills that people need to be successful in the world. Use your network of friends, relatives, and acquaintances to help your son or daughter find a job during after school hours and on weekends and holidays. We find it hard for students to be successful in our job training component if they don’t know that working is an expectation. Let them know, when the time is right, that it is!

9. Take advantage of “natural supports.” 

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Photo by Kristina O’Brien, courtesy of Lauren Perlin

Parents often try hard to get their son or daughter every type of service that is available. Either through the schools or in addition to them, they pursue speech and language therapy, physical and occupational therapy, music and art therapy, dance therapy and hippotherapy, and various other kinds of therapeutic services. Although there is nothing wrong with this, it often results in the person with ID having more professionals in his or her life than non-professional people. In our program, we recruit numerous college students to hang out with and support our UP students. You can do the same by enlisting friends, schoolmates, neighbors, relatives, church members, scouts, and anyone else to spend an hour or two with your child every week. Not only will he or she be in a position to develop more friendships, but will also benefit from learning to engage with a variety of individuals, an expectation on our campus.

10. Share your success stories.

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Photo courtesy of Heather Rodriguez Photography

Lots of times, when a person applies to our program, they have already been successful and have acquired celebrity status. When they apply, they include their newspaper clippings and their videos of television interviews, and we are generally very impressed. When your son or daughter achieves success, if you can, get it publicized. This accomplishes lots of things. It lets the world know that your son or daughter is a capable person, and maybe more important, lets the everyone learn that people with ID can be successful. It also reinforces the notion of success in your son or daughter which will help him or her grow in confidence and pride. And most importantly, it tells the world, and us, that you are a great parent who is proud of your child and will do everything you can to help him or her be a successful person! This is the type of parent we want in our program!

We wish you the best in preparing your child for college or for whatever kind of successful life awaits. For more information about the UP Program, please visit And for more information about all college programs for students with ID, you can visit

Thank you, Dr. Westling and Dr. Kelley for supporting us parents through your words and the work you do. 


An update to the Ruby’s Rainbow 3-21 Pledge you all helped make so successful.

It’s time to give that money away! The deadline for 2015 scholarship applications is Friday, May 15

Note: This scholarship can be for ANY life-enriching type class (as simple as a local art class, community college program and, of course, programs like the one we shared at WCU). These scholarships are intended for individuals with Down syndrome of all abilities, not just individuals who are pursuing a rigorous college program.

1. This grant is for individuals with Down syndrome 18 years of age or older.
2. Desire and intent to enroll in a class or program that will enhance your life through employment, independent living or life skills, or interests in any other areas.
3. Provide High School transcript or equivalent.
4. Individual’s that were awarded a scholarship from Ruby’s Rainbow in 2014 will not be eligible for another scholarship in 2015, but may reapply again in 2016.
Click HERE to apply now.

That First Day

This post was intended to be written on Friday, but Friday swallowed me whole. I was so physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, it wouldn’t have come out right–of this I am sure. And in between the first day of kindergarten and new home routines, a little storm called Isaac came rolling in this weekend, intimidating South Florida enough to close schools today. Lainey’s thrilled, thank you very much.

So, kindergarten…

After I dropped Lainey off at school Thursday and had my parking lot cry (followed by coffee shop cry, call-to-Brett cry, and call-to-sister/mom/dad/cousin cry, respectively), I set out to find her the perfect pair of gym shoes. It wasn’t really about the shoes but more about me needing to occupy my time–a mission I gave myself that subconsciously represented wanting to fix her sadness, wanting to make her happy some way, somehow. So I hit every shoe store in Naples, looking for the perfect shoes. Salesmen showed me their latest and greatest, but nothing said Lainey.

“No, no shoelaces,” I’d argue. “She can’t tie yet.”

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth store, I realized I was being silly and yet that’s part of motherhood too. We cope with things in silly ways sometimes, and Thursday I shopped for shoes like my child’s acceptance of kindergarten depended on a velcro, thick-soled, quality-stitched, not-pink, adorable pair of tennis shoes.

I bumped into Heidi halfway through my shopping, and she had news from the underground–a text from another mom who had seen Lainey at recess.

“Dina just texted me. She saw Lainey at recess!”

“She did?” I asked, hopeful. “And?”

Heidi’s eyes widened and she flashed a fake smile. “And that’s all. She talked to her.”

Rule of Life #421: When your best friend’s lying to you, her eyes get big.

“Oh my God, you’re so lying. You’re trying to spare me. What else did she say?” I asked.

“Shit. I knew you were going to ask me that.” Heidi paused for a minute, carefully planning her next words. “She was crying, Kelle. She was sitting by herself, crying.”

And that? That’s like taking a bullet.

Heidi started crying before I did. “I’m sorry. This sucks, doesn’t it? Let me go up there. Will they let me go be with her?”

“We can’t,” I answered. “You don’t know how badly I want to. But, she’s just got to go through this, and it sucks.”

Dad, I know I’ve said shit and sucks in one post, but it’s all I had last week.

It sucked.
But then it got a little bit better.


The drop-off was the hardest part of motherhood yet (give or take a couple of traumatic birth experiences, hospital stays, a life-rocking unexpected diagnosis–we can call that a given, right?). I sensed her anxiousness, I felt her grip, I listened to her soft sobs as she begged me not to leave. I hugged and reassured and prayed she wouldn’t see my tears. I brought my camera thinking if there’s one time to take pictures, it’s the first day of school. But the only time I pulled it away from me was to snap a photo looking down-the only photo we have from the morning she started school.


Two wonderful teachers who know just what to say and exactly how to comfort–they peeled her away from me while she cried, after my last quick hug, and I walked out the door where my friend was waiting. We hugged for a good minute and then sat in her car in the parking lot for another half hour before I sent her back up to check on Lainey. She returned, smiling. A good report: no crying, sitting on the carpet with the other students and a smile from the teacher who looked up from her book just for a moment to whisper “Excellent”–a word she indeed knew would be carried by the messenger back to the mama.

I thought about Lainey all day. I knew it wouldn’t be easy–lunch and recess and joining another class for art. I know my girl; I knew there’d be tears. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t imagine some Black Hawk Down rescue–running in that school to sit by her throughout the day–knowing how big she’d smile, how good she’d feel to have me there. I think I surprised a lot of people–even myself.

“I thought you’d rent a helicopter,” my dad admitted. In fact, he sent Heidi to pull me from the classroom that first morning–unbeknownst to me–assuming I wouldn’t be strong enough to peel away from Lainey myself. Moments after The Great Peel-Away of 2012, I watched from the parking lot as Heidi, practically in her pajamas, came tearing around the corner in her white minivan, and I had to laugh when she looked shocked to see me standing there. (Sidenote: That damn white minivan always shows up. Always. In fact, if you want to be “the friend who shows up,” I’d suggest you start by getting a white minivan.)

Heidi quickly explained. “Dude, I came to get you out of there. Your dad texted me that he couldn’t get ahold of you, and he was sure you were in that classroom and never leaving. I’m here on official business. I thought for sure I’d have to pull you out. How did you do it?”

We both started laughing, mine still through tears. “You guys underestimate me. I know this is part of it. I knew I’d have to leave.”


I watched the clock all day. Showed up forty minutes early to make sure I got a good parking spot, checked in as a visitor, waited against the wall outside her classroom and watched for the door to open with that final school bell. And when it opened, the first one out was Lainey, holding the hand of her teacher, swallowed by that backpack half her size, smiling her coy little closed-mouth grin when she saw me.


Lunch and recess and switching classes for related arts is hard and will take some getting used to. But in one day my girl, who last week reported she was “nervous of learning,” was proud to tell me that she loves her classroom and adores her teacher. While students walked to buses and made their way to their parents’ cars that afternoon, my girl knelt down and unzipped her backback. She couldn’t wait to show me the picture she drew at school. “It’s me and you,” she pointed out, smiling.




When we returned the second day of school, she still didn’t want to go. She cried at recess again, and I cried to hear that. But it was already different. She didn’t grip my hand so tightly, she didn’t need to be peeled away. I saw confidence that had bloomed in one short day–the same kind of confidence that has appeared, without fail, so many times in my own life when I had to work a bit to find it. It’s there.


Self reflection is so very much a part of these motherhood moments. I have thought about why this is so hard, what I could have done to make it better. We chose not to do daycare or preschool for Lainey, and I don’t regret that decision at all, even though it may have made this transition a little easier. I wonder what things we can do to help smooth out these first few weeks, and we are trying lots of fun ideas–some our own, and some wonderful suggestions of yours. The thing is, there are a hundred billion ways to raise a child–to nourish them, to teach them to think on their own, to instill confidence, to show them kindness, to challenge them to be respectful, to educate them, to show them the world. And when you choose a way to do these things–a way that fits and feels good for your family and your child–I think it’s only natural to wonder if maybe one of the 99,999,999,999 other ways might have worked better.


A wonderful friend e-mailed me on Thursday after the morning report, and her reassuring words spoke right to my vulnerabilities:

This is NOT the report I was hoping for. And yet…it makes sense, sister. You have created such a heaven at home that everything without you is going to feel a bit hellish at first, right? And isn’t that sort of perfect? She’s gotta find her little slices of heaven without you. She’s gotta grow eyes like her mama’s eyes–eyes that find beauty in the little things in her own little school life. You’ve been finding joy for her, and now she has to channel her mama without her mama.”

What a challenge that is for all of us as parents, no matter how old our children are or when and where they go to school or how shy or outgoing they may be–encouraging them to find beauty in their surroundings, even if we are not there to point it out. As we get ready for the rest of the week and the four school drop-offs we face in the next four days, I’m thinking about opportunity. For Lainey, of course, it exists in the classroom, through the insecurities, and moment after moment at school when she continually recognizes ways to be happy and learn and make friends and find reassurance in her own abilities. For me and Brett, that opportunity exists at home–in seeking creative ways to talk about school, to role play scenarios of timidness and confidence, to prepare her every night and every morning to give it another shot.

This is all new territory, and hell, are we ever learning. It feels good though. I knew it was coming from the day she was tiny, when kindergarten seemed nothing but a far-off dream.


And it will come again, soon enough.


The plus side? Well, there are many of them, one of them being the whole school experience. Like playing house. There will be musicals and school fairs and late night texts to other moms asking what time the field trip starts, and I’m still in that “this is so cool that I have two kids” phase. Because sometimes I don’t really believe it.

After the drop-off Friday morning, a few of us kindergarten mama friends huddled at the front of the school and rehashed. One held a jammied baby on her hip, I held my styrofoam coffee cup, and school procedures commenced around us while we made good mama conversation. I liked it. I felt like I did when I bought a vacuum for my first condo. I just felt–I don’t know–like a real grown-up. Because lots of times, I don’t.

The moral of the story:

She’ll be fine. She’ll do great.

Mark Poulin’s cupcake necklace makes things happier.

We all will.

As my sister reminded me last week, “Our job is to prepare our kids for a life beyond us.” What an empowering task.

Oh, and the gym shoes? Found ’em. They are perfect. They are Lainey.


Friday Photo Dump:

Friday Phone Dump photos are taken on the Instagram iPhone app (free) and dropped into a 12×12 collage using a photo editing software (Photoshop Elements works). I am @etst (enjoying the small things) on Instagram if you care to follow the feed.

And your #enjoyingthesmallthings photos. (If you use Instagram and have a photo that makes you happy, share it by using the hashtag #enjoyingthesmallthings. Yours may be chosen to be shared in a Friday post.)



Dashing Bee online children’s consignment shop is returning in sponsorship with a newly renovated site and new inventory. You can search items by size, by brand, by gender and clothing article and get what Dashing Bee is known for–quality, brand name gently used children’s goods at a fraction of the price. Dashing Bee updates their inventory daily and is a great place to shop for inexpensive outerwear for the coming season.

A few of my current favorites on Dashing Bee:



I’m still settling in to new routines. I have clothes to lay out, a lunch to pack and a girl who needs a fully present mama for bedtime tonight. Goodnight.


Daniel Blue


I first heard the name Daniel Blue after last year’s Write Doe Bay retreat. I knew he was an amazing musician, a creative force, an alluring combination of talent and story and rockstar. I found his Seattle-based band, Motopony, online, listened to his music before heading into our experience last week, and was equally captivated by his songs and intimidated that I was presenting directly after him.

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Photo by Jesse Michener


Daniel and a friend pick me and Heidi up from our Seattle hotel and drive us two hours to the ferry and into Orcas Island.

Enslaved to Comparison, I measure our differences immediately. Two of his nails are painted a deep metallic blue. He’s wearing a scarf. So am I. Mine’s from Target, and I’m pretty sure his isn’t. He speaks like a poem. He kicks doors open with his foot. He doesn’t seem to care about anything but the song that’s playing right now, and I, without even realizing it, make the choice to label him as mysterious and distant, too interested in being cool. He’s a rockstar.

He entertains a group of presenters and early arriving participants in our cabin that night. He tells stories that make us laugh and delivers them as soulfully as he sings his songs. He acts them out, owns every word, every flaw, every amazing thing, every awful thing. He hides nothing, submits to nothing. There’s a sort of freedom that he breathes as if the gates between his true creative self and what he expresses are not just open–they’re non-existent, and I envy it. Someone asks him to sing a lullaby before we head to bed.

“This is the first song I ever wrote,” he says. He sings as if he’s telling a story, and I swear his voice is the only sound on the island at that moment. He sings about his mother, and I cry.

Daniel opens the workshop the next morning, and I no longer see mysterious and distant and cool, but kind and vulnerable and confident. He tells his story through his music and his writing and his gift of quickly drawing in every different person in the room with his preacher voice. He tells his story with his blue nails and his rockstar boots and the song he sings about his mother.

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Photo by Jesse Michener

“You know why people write?” he asks the group later.  “Why we sing, why we share, why we put ourselves out there?” People throw out answers. We want to help people. We want to connect. We want to get better at things. We want to entertain. We want to accept things.

“We want to be seen,” Daniel answers.I want to be seen.”

Blue nails don’t bullshit.

He hides nothing, submits to nothing and in doing so, removes all barriers, all voices, all censors to his creative self—what he really wants to say.

I hug Daniel before we left. “You’re the real deal, dude. Thank you.”

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Photo by Jesse Michener

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Photo by Jesse Michener

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Photo by Jesse Michener

I knew I was going to share what Daniel brought to the workshop, and after hearing from the songwriters who participated, I have a much deeper appreciation for music and lyrics and the processes we share in transforming what’s inside to words and melodies and books and essays and songs. My Motopony album has been on replay since I’ve been home, and I’m eager to share it (Wait for Me—download it. Trust me.), but I wanted something more personal from our week to share with readers.

“Can I share the lullaby you sang?” I asked Daniel.

He had never recorded it, but within the four days I’ve been home, he made it happen, just for you.

We are not defined by our titles, by what we want people to see, by what we think people see. We are defined only by who we are inside. And if we can let that flow freely in our work, in our writing, in our songs, in our conversations and interactions, the way we love our children, our lovers, our friends, our communities—that would be awesome.

A lot of work goes into writing and producing songs—a lot of emotional work. I value that art so much more after last week and want to be better about sharing good music.  My creative world is better for having Daniel Blue’s craft beside mine, and I hope you’ll believe the same when you hear his song, his music. Luckily, a vehicle for support and connection to musicians exists in Ziibra–a way to sustain artists who change our worlds with their gifts alone. Dig deeper into Daniel’s story and connect with him here.

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I’m thrilled to share the art of Daniel Blue with you and hope you enjoy.


Daniel’s story of his lullaby:

This is one of the first songs that comes to me. I am in a warehouse I had rented in gritty Tacoma WA.  It’s after midnight on June 30th, 2007 and I’m feeling totally alone and really lousy for having chosen to be a starving artist in such a seemingly pragmatic blue-collar city.  

Alongside the typical “fake-artist-loony-worthless” thought trap, I am simultaneously filled with grief for my mother who we lost to pancreatic cancer five years previous on that very night.   I’m not quite sure if it’s the anniversary that is triggering the loneliness or the loneliness that is making the anniversary unbearable, but either way I’m in for it.   What I like to call an “episode”.  

At this phase in my life I see myself as a poet and a fashion designer, but for the moment I’m just a child who is faking manhood in a decaying brick husk of an industrial boom town. I’m truly alone and with no one to call and ask for encouragement or direction. 

Now comes fear. 

I’m starting to get the creeps and jumping at shadows and phantoms (there are a lot of dark corners in this old trash heap). This shadow theater winds up to a fever pitch while I’m throwing myself around the cavernous spaces, rearranging furniture and binge cleaning and running from my own thoughts. Suddenly I’m filled with a desperate sort of hope as I see an old dust-covered pleather guitar bag in the corner and pretty much rip it open to claw at the songs I can almost see glowing inside.   

I have no idea how to play the guitar but I know what music sounds like and so I turn the knobs on the cheap thing until it sounds good when all the strings play together. It’s missing some parts and I have no clue what I’m even singing about, but I’ve nothing else to combat the looming death in the empty places of that night and somehow filling my enclave with such simple sounds seems to transform the doom. 

The noises I’m singing start sounding like words, and the words start to shape themselves into a story, and the story starts to truly soothe me. I sing this lullaby to myself over and over again, really believing that I am not alone. I know that whomever is singing “I am here, my son” is using my own voice to sing it to me.  

I’m crying and asking whatever power is offering me this song to also allow me to remember this night and this song so that someday I’ll be able to share it and the peace it brought me in that moment.  

Six months later I am recording a “demo” that I will never use, but I’m full-time learning to be a musician mode. I have decided to sing my own songs for a living, and I give away the contents of my warehouse. 

Two years after that I’m in NYC at an industry showcase having just signed my new band Motopony’s first record. We are playing to a full house at a legendary (to me) rock club called the Mercury.  The lullaby didn’t make the cut, but that’s okay with me since I want to be a rock and roll band. 

Several years later, I am nearing the finish line on the band’s second album.  I’ve toured the country several times and had my songs on cable and network television and even in a few movies. When a friend asked me to come and teach a workshop on creativity for writers, I jumped at the chance.  I absolutely love talking about and teaching the creative process. 

This is where I meet Kelle and before we head to our cabins on the first evening of the retreat, someone asks me to sing a lullaby to cap the night. This song springs up at me from my heart, but I haven’t sung it in years so I hem and haw about the lighting while I get ready to be so vulnerable with strangers. Someone turns all the lights in the room out….and I just sing. 

I know the words like they were written on the back of my eyes. “I am here my son”, my mother and my maker sing to me from beyond the veil of death….with my own voice. It was a powerful kind of moment, when the lights go back on, there are quite a few tears graciously decorating the beautiful faces around us.   

A few days later Kelle and I are talking about the moment, and she says that she wants to share the song. I sheepishly realize I’ve never properly recorded it. Inspired by her desire to share it, I take the money that I earned from playing music at the retreat and book my friend Graig’s studio for the next day.   

That was yesterday morning.   

When I sit down to record I take a sip of my tea and try to get my mind and body to cooperate with one another. Recording is kind of like coaxing a goat onto a bicycle. You take something wild and naturally ornery like a performance and try and get it to sit just so and balance just so and play nice with the microphones and the amplifiers. For whatever reason, I just don’t feel right.   

I’m suddenly inspired to “go jog around the block” (which if you knew me would surprise you as much as it does Graig). I plod out of there thinking that I just need to get my blood going, and head directly down the street toward what I think is a park on the next block. The tall wire fence around the park seems a little fishy but for whatever reason there is a me-sized gap right where the road dead ends into the grass. I’m already through the fence and a few steps in before I realize I’m not in a park at all and my mind does that funny flip-flop feeling while it registers what it can’t seem to compute.  A huge headstone looms out from behind a tree with the word “MOTHER” blazing in granite from the top.   

I kind of just stop there.   
Stop jogging.   
Stop posturing.  
Stop trying to “get my blood going”.   
This isn’t about my blood.   
It’s about my heart.   

I’m a child again, pretending to be a man.  

I sluff about the graves for a bit like a wet muppet. I’m seeing the “mother” word over and over. Instead of asking myself how there could be a whole graveyard of mothers down the street from Graig’s house, I find a bench to sit and consider the magic that has lead me to this moment.   

They aren’t all mothers you know, sometimes you just see what you want to see.  I totally believe in this kind of magic; in fact it happens to me like this all the time. I take it in. The death, the memories of being alone in Tacoma, the tears I saw when I remembered the song.   

I let myself be grateful for the past seven years, and realize that this day is sort of an answer to a prayer I prayed when the first song came. I head back to the studio in a kind of daze and spend the rest of the day really letting myself feel this song for you. Letting myself believe that I have the right to share it with you.  

It has taken me seven years to record this and I now understand why.  

That night seven years ago I felt so much peace from the song, and I instinctively hoped and asked that I could be the kind of person who was able to share the same peace with people.   

It may seem obvious that the way one would share that peace is by singing the song, but I guess it took me a while to see myself as a singer who has the power to channel something that wonderful, even though I had just been the singer that channeled it for myself.  

How do I get to be the person that is willing to believe that much in myself?  How do I stand in the shoes of the man who brings peace and healing and hope into the world?  

So much of this industry is built on sexy rock-star dreams. There is this pervasive idea all around me that I am a machine to make money. Fans are for using and taking fame from and songs are for selling automobiles and cellphone carriers.  

But that’s not how it started for me. I wanted to HEAL! Just like the music was healing me. I guess I’ll have to listen to the voice in me that says I am not alone, the voice that says I was loved before I was even realized.  

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share this song with you and for Kelle seeing it for what it was. The reminder of who I am at my core is precious and I will thank her for it for the rest of my career.  Please enjoy and share it with anyone you know who needs to be reminded they are not alone.   

“A wizard is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to.”  -Gandalf the Grey

Hero’s Lullaby:

I found a quote on Motopony’s site that ironically pulls it all together. It’s about the music, but it also explains our experience—last week, today, tomorrow: “A lot of the harmony I see in nature is that strange juxtaposition of worlds that don’t seem like they should collide, that effortlessly seem to be happening in tandem and you can’t take out one piece. You can’t run from it.”