Tag Archives: Relationships

Be A Kid

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Scott Drotar 'Merica
Why are we blowing stuff up? ‘Merica. That is why.

The Fourth of July is a pretty big deal across the rural Midwest. While I know that places, like New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C., may put on some impressive shows and get all of the press, but if you really want to celebrate the Fourth, you need to come to the Midwest. The Fourth of July is sort of a perfect storm of holiday festivities in this area. You get to have a cookout during the day, relax with family all evening (typically over several adult beverages), and then watch fireworks in your backyard that night. While these are activities that most everyone likes no matter where they live, in small towns across the Midwest it is on another level. This immense enjoyment stems from the fact that this holiday is right in our regional wheelhouse. Because if there are three things we do well in “Small Town, USA,” they are backyard barbecues, family gatherings, and blowing stuff up. Combining these three components into one holiday, and then adding in the fervor and zeal that comes with celebrating your patriotism, creates a trident of unstoppable holiday spirit that develops into an insanely good time. As you can imagine, many of my favorite Summertime memories occurred during these epic celebrations of American spirit, especially the years when my parents would host a Fourth get together. One of these patriotic parties in particular holds a special place in my heart, not only because of the fun and fireworks and such, but also because of an important lesson that it taught me.

When I was growing up, almost every year my family would host a Fourth of July get together at our home. Other than the fact that the Drotars know how to party, my family would host the gathering because our backyard had a perfect view of the town fireworks display. This was critical for a great Fourth barbecue, as it meant that you could continue to enjoy your adult beverage (the fireworks area is alcohol free) and the explosive show without battling through a crowd of people searching for the “perfect seat.” I do not remember exactly what year it was, but when I was around 10 or 11 years old my folks hosted one of these Fourth of July barbecues. Relatives, family friends, and neighbors came over (comfy, lawn chair in hand), and we ate burgers, played horseshoes, and lit fireworks all day. When it finally got dark enough that night, everyone picked out a spot in the yard, leaned back, and watched the colorful explosions lighting up the sky. I spent the day enjoying the festivities with my childhood best friend (his whole family was there), downing Mountain Dew, lighting firecrackers, and having a great time. As he and I were taking in the fireworks that night, and being every bit the tenacious, pre-adolescent boys that we were, I experienced a fairly trivial event that, has not only stuck with me my entire life, but has ended up having a huge impact on me.

Scott Drotar Fireworks
Every time I see fireworks, I am reminded of the important life lesson they taught me. 

As the town’s fireworks display was about to get going that night, my friend and I picked out a great spot in my yard to watch the show. My younger brother and one of his friends had set up a few feet away from us to get a good view of the colorful combustions to come, and a few adults were nearby too. As the light show in the sky started, my cohort in crime and I overheard my brother and his friend talking about each round of blasts and rating each one on a 10-point scale (1 being a lame, kiddo sparkler and a 10 being air raids over Baghdad explosive power). Being the jerky, adolescents we were, my friend and I decided to poke fun at my younger sibling for getting so much enjoyment out of some town fireworks (because obviously we were way too cool and grown up to like something like that at all of 11 years old). After a few minutes of doing our best to humiliate my little brother, one of the nearby adults stepped in and told us crossly to “leave him alone.” Not being one who misbehaved often (or at least I did not get caught often), getting this gentle scolding made quite the impression on me. In addition to making me straighten up and stop my juvenile behavior, it also impacted me in a much more profound way.

This moment has stuck with me for years. For me, it is one of those memories that you remember in vivid detail, no matter how much time goes by. I think the reason that this fairly uneventful moment from my life has remained such a clear memory is that it reminds me of an important lesson. That night, my friend and I wanted to assert our status as “big, bad teenagers” by making fun of my younger brother for getting so engaged and having so much “childish fun” watching the fireworks display. We wanted so badly to be grown up and treated like adults, that we were not only trying to act like we were not excited about the explosive show in the sky (which we both knew was a lie), but we were also teasing others for enjoying it. As I have thought about this night over the years, I have realized how truly backwards my thinking was at that age. I should not have been trying to solidify myself as an adult, but instead doing everything I could to remain a child for as long as possible. Because while we all have to grow up in terms of our lives and place in society, we do not have to completely let go of the childlike wonder and exuberance that we have when we are young. This moment always helps me remember how important it is to “be a kid” sometimes.

Scott Drotar Leaf Pile
A leaf pile is all a child needs to be entertained for hours.

When you are young, you have the ability to get enjoyment out of almost anything. Give a kid a pile of fallen leaves, a big, cardboard box, or even just a pit filled with sand, and they will be entertained for hours in complete bliss. As you grow up though, and this is happening sooner and sooner in our society it seems, you start to lose this youthful creativity and happiness. As we mature, and become jaded by life’s obstacles and burdened with the responsibilities of being a grown up, our capacity to enjoy the simplest parts of life slowly slips away. This would not be so bad, but unfortunately once you lose this childhood gift, it is very difficult to get it back. In most cases, by the time you realize how precious this ability is, it is gone forever. That is why it is so important to recognize how priceless these feelings are, cling to them as much as you can, and appreciate their impact on your life, as you carry them with you into adulthood. I am so thankful that I had this moment to show me the importance of “being a kid,” as well as the maturity to recognize its value at a young age. This has allowed me to maintain some of my youthful exuberance, even though I have had to grow up faster than most, and I am certain that this has made an enormous impact on my overall happiness as an adult.

While I needed a specific moment from my life show me the importance of maintaining some of your childhood innocence and excitement, you can see the powerful effects of these emotions all around you. Think about the happiest people you know, or better yet the people who make you the happiest when you are with them, and then try to describe their personality. More often than not, the happiest people in your life are the ones who exhibit the most childlike wonder and fun. This does not mean that they are any less mature or successful as adults, but more so that they had the vision and mental perspective to recognize the importance of these feelings and maintain them into adulthood. No matter how busy your life is or how much stress and anxiety you have as a grown up, you have to remember that it is ok to “be a kid” sometimes. In fact, it is not only alright, it is recommended. Take the time, at least every few days, to let yourself enjoy the simplest things that make you happy, the way you did as a child. Splash in a mud puddle, go play with puppies at a pet store, or go to the park and sit on a swing. You will be amazed at how great this will make you feel, and if you let your “inner child” out to play often enough, you will find that your adult world is a much happier place.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Validation (Part 1)

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It feels like forever since my last blog post, and I am really excited to be getting back to my normal routine and sharing my thoughts and experiences with you. I have had a fun-filled few days, and a lot has been going on in my life. The same can be said for Roll Models and www.scottdrotar.com, as there has been quite a bit of action on that front as well. With so much happening during my little hiatus from blogging, I thought that I would use the next couple of posts to fill you in on what has transpired since my last article. You need to get up to speed on my parents’ visit, seeing my uncle, and my exciting Roll Models news, so that you can continue to accompany me on my journey through life. I hope that you will enjoy reading about my recent adventures as much as I enjoyed having them, although I am not sure that is possible. At the very least you will be entertained by my most recent escapades, and you may even get some life lessons along the way.

Scott Drotar Validation
I had a great time visiting with my parents last week.

The main reason I took so much time off was so that I could enjoy my time with my parents, who came to visit me last week. Since it was my dad’s Spring Break, they were able to spend more time catching up with me and not have to hurry back so he could get to work, which helped create a more relaxed atmosphere the entire time they were here. This made for a great visit, and we had a wonderful time discussing everything going on in each other’s lives. Making this time even more momentous was the fact that my uncle, who happened to be in town on business, was also able to come spend time with us. Since I had not seen him in over four years, it was really fulfilling to get to show him the successful, happy life that I have created out here on my own. Living over 500 miles from any of my relatives, I typically only get to share my world with them through pictures and emails, so it is quite special for me when I get to show them my success first hand. In addition to sharing my world with him, I also got to hear about how he has been doing, his work, and my cousins. The four of us had a terrific time talking about our lives, and I am so happy we were able to all be here together.

Scott Drotar Uncle Fred
It was really special to get to visit with my uncle after not seeing him for so long.

The climax of our visit was, hands down, the multiple course meal that I prepared for them. As you are well aware, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen now, and I frequently chronicle my culinary adventures on Facebook. My mom, who has been reading about all of my delicious dishes and seeing pictures of my mouthwatering creations since Christmas, told me that I had better prepare a feast for them when they visit, now that I am such a good cook. Since I am a dutiful son that would never disobey my dear mother (even I could not help but laugh at that one), I did as I was told and planned a three course, gourmet meal. Anyone who has ever thrown a dinner party knows that planning a three course meal is much more difficult than merely preparing an appetizer, entree, and dessert. You have to come up with three dishes that are not only flavorful and delicious on their own, but also work well as a group. For example, you would never serve a hearty, spicy Indian chutney with big flavors as an appetizer for baked white fish in a light white wine sauce, because your palette would not be able to enjoy the subtle, complex flavors of the fish after such a bold start. You want your courses to work together to tell a story to create a more enjoyable dining experience. While I did not fully understand how difficult this can be until recently, I now have a whole new appreciation for people who prepare entire menus for people on a weekly basis.

Despite my inexperience and lack of appreciation for how hard it would be, I did manage to put together a delicious, three course meal for my family. It took me several weeks of strategizing and preparation, but eventually I was able to find three complimentary dishes that I thought my parents and uncle would like. After browsing through hundreds of recipes, testing dozens of different of flavor combinations, and changing my mind constantly about what would be best, this is the menu I settled on. We began our gastronomic journey with an appetizer of seared sausage medallions topped with a Venezuelan salsa criolla over a bed of rice. For the entree, I served a pear and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a soy-citrus marinade and a side of garlic-lemon new potatoes. This delightful dining experience ended with spiced wine poached pears topped with caramel sauce for dessert. Everything turned out better than I had hoped, and it must have been good because it was nearly all gone by the time the meal was over. It felt really good watching them enjoy the meal I had worked so hard to create, and I am so happy that I was able to share my new passion for cooking with the people I care about most.

Scott Drotar Pork Tenderloin
My entree of pear and goat cheese stuffed pork tenderloin with a homemade marinade.

Both getting the opportunity to share my independent, successful life with my uncle and watching my family get so much enjoyment from the meal I prepared gave me a feeling of validation. Even though I know my family and relatives are extremely proud of me, it still feels good to get to show them first-hand everything I have been able to accomplish. Although your own happiness is all that truly matters, it still feels good when you can show your loved ones all of your success. Getting some positive feedback and appreciation of your achievements in life reminds you of why you put in so much time and energy to build the world around you, and it is part of what drives you to continue to work hard to reach your goals. Knowing that your family and friends recognize how much effort you put in to achieve everything in your life, and hearing that they are proud of you, can be an extremely powerful feeling that will fuel you on your journey for future success. This is exactly the feeling I got during this visit, and I am definitely fully recharged and ready to get back to work enjoying my happy, fun-filled life and giving my all chasing my dreams.

This feeling of validation was not something I was looking for, or even thought I needed, but that did not in any way reduce how much of an impact it had on me. Visiting with my uncle and watching my folks slowly savor each bite of the meal I prepared filled me with a feeling of accomplishment that has given me a renewed focus and drive to achieve my goals. I never would have guessed that their approval and appreciation of my efforts would have such a great influence on me, but you do not always know what you need in life. No matter how much success you have or what you accomplish, we all want to feel like our loved ones are proud of us. By sharing your achievements and passion for things with your family and friends, you will often get to enjoy this feeling of validation, whether you are looking for it or not. Take the time to share your life with those who are most important to you, and help them experience some of the things you are passionate about. This will fuel you as you continue to work to accomplish your goals, and it will also help you forge even stronger relationships with your loved ones.

My feelings of validation were just starting to build after these two events though, as after my family returned home I got another dose of this powerful sensation. This second round of recognition and approval came not from my personal life, but from my professional world. Thanks to some unexpected consulting requests and Roll Models, my feelings of validation were able to grow even further. You will get to hear all about these events and how they effected me in the next part of this article.

Did this article leave you wondering something? Are you curious about a certain aspect of my life? Do you want to know my favorite color? Submit your question to “Roll Models Mail Call,” and I will do my best to answer it in a post.

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Roadtrippin’ Through My Mind

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Throughout my entire life, since flying is extremely difficult for people who require the use of a power wheelchair, if I wanted to take a trip or go vacation somewhere, I had to drive. Thankfully, my family has always been able to afford a wheelchair accessible vehicle that allowed us to travel like any other family of five despite my mobility limitations. To take full advantage of this mobility and freedom, during my childhood my siblings, parents, and I went on numerous family road trips all over the United States, and I have continued this custom now that I am an adult living on my own. Having a conversion van that gave me the ability to travel about the country, not only created the opportunity for me to see some amazing things, but it also helped me make some priceless memories with my family on the open road. In appreciation of this privilege I have had to see the world as a physically disabled person, I have decided to share with you five of my most memorable road trip moments, the number of miles driven on these excursions, and what these miles have meant to me.

Dallas — This was my first road trip without my parents. When I was 23 and in my first year of graduate school at the University of Kansas, my brother, sister, and I decided to take a “siblings vacation.” After deliberating for several weeks over where we should go, we decided on Dallas. My brother, who lived with me at the time, and I drove down while my sister flew in from New York, and we stayed right in the middle of downtown “Big D.” We ate great Tex-Mex and Texas style barbecue, went to the aquarium (manatees!), and visited the JFK Museum. It was a wonderful, fun experience with my siblings, but the most vivid memory from this excursion is making the drive home in a blizzard with my brother, and laughing nervously with him as we just hoped to get home. (Roundtrip: 1,038 Miles)

Scott Drotar Niagara Falls
That is a lot of water.

Niagara Falls — This was the first stop on our family vacation when I was 12 (Toronto was the second stop), and it was the first time that I was in awe of something in nature. The only way to truly appreciate the incredible beauty and raw power of “Mother Nature” is to see something like Niagara Falls in person. That is a ton of water coming over that cliff. What made this trip so special for me was that it was extremely wheelchair friendly, especially for a national park. I could get everywhere and see everything without any trouble, and even the famous “Maiden of the Mist” boat tour was totally handicap accessible (although I did need my rain gear). (Roundtrip: 1,032 Miles)

Galveston — This was my first solo vacation, which I made when I was 25. One of the things on my “Bucket List” was to take a trip on my own with just my nurse. After several months of research and planning, I came to realize that a cruise was the best way for me to go about this. It was a controlled environment with its own medical team (just in case), did not require any travel once you got on the boat (simplifying the logistics), and would give me the vacation experience I was looking for. So, I saved some money, talked one of my nurses into a free vacation (not exactly difficult), and we road tripped down to the port of Galveston to go on a week long Caribbean cruise. It was an amazing seven days, and I got to see and do some incredible things, but the most memorable moment was on the drive home when the fuel pump in my van went out in the middle of nowhere. We ended up being stuck in a small hotel room in Texas for two days, but my wheelchair accessible wagon held up after being fixed, and got us safely back to Kansas with a great story to tell. (Roundtrip: 1,614 Miles)

Disneyworld — This is the earliest family vacation that I can really remember. I was about 6 years old, and my family drove the entire 19 hours from Northern Indiana to Florida. I can still remember getting to meet Mickey Mouse for the first time and getting his autograph. As great as the theme park was though, my favorite memory from this trip is waking up as my dad was driving in the middle of the night and staying up with him while the rest of my family slept. That alone time with my dad on the open road was a big deal as a young boy, and remembering that time always makes me smile. (Roundtrip: 2,228 Miles)

Cincinnati — The Summer before I turned 14, my brother and sister both got to attend week long, sleep away camps, which is something that I could not do due to my disability. My parents decided that since my siblings each got a little vacation somewhere, that I should too, so they took me on a trip with just the two of them to Cincinnati for a few days. We window shopped, saw Ken Griffey Jr. play at Cinergy Field, and I got my parents all to myself. As much as I love my brother and sister and the trips we have taken as a family, this road trip will always be special since it was just my parents and me. (Roundtrip: 478 Miles)

Scott Drotar Ocean
Here I am experiencing the beauty of the ocean for the first time.

Every one of these road trips is special in its own way, and they all impacted my life and who I am today. We do not often think about how much our ability to travel impacts our life, but your experiences with the world around you plays a large part in shaping who you are. If not for the freedom to get out into the world (like my conversion van gave me), chances are you would be a very different person. Think about all of the cherished memories you have from your own family vacations and road trips. The moments fighting with siblings in the cramped back seat, and the first time you saw the ocean, breathed in that crisp, sea air, and just gazed out at that endless blue water. These memories are not only sentimental and emotionally special, but they also helped you grow and develop into the incredible person you are. All of the miles you travelled and places you saw had an influence on your life. They helped you bond with your family, learn about the world around you, and taught you many valuable life lessons that you have carried with you ever since. Be sure to acknowledge the effects these moments with your loved ones on the open road made, and also try to continue these fun-filled adventures with your own family. Most of all, remember that your mobility and ability to travel freely is a great privilege, and that there are people who do not have the opportunity to explore the amazing world we live in. Do not take this freedom for granted, and appreciate all of the incredible gifts these trips have given you.

Total Miles Driven: 6,390

Flat Tires Fixed: 3

Gallons of Gas Used: 391

Impact on My Life: Priceless

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My Other Family

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Scott Drotar Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on August 29th, 2005, and in doing so changed my life forever.

I will always remember August 2005 as the time when I moved away from home, started my collegiate career, and began living as an adult on my own. While these were all monumental moments that were major milestones in my life, there was another event that occurred at this time that was much more important and influential. The impact of this occurrence was felt for years by millions of people all over the country, and its effects are still being felt in some areas, but it also had an unexpectedly large effect on my life as well. This awful moment that took place the last few days of August was Hurricane Katrina. This terrible event killed hundreds of people, ruined the lives of thousands more, and damaged the entire nation, but even with all of this carnage and mayhem, thanks to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit some good did come out of this horrible destruction. I will never forget that night Katrina hit, sitting in the chapel with my new dorm brothers, hoping that everyone’s family and friends were alright. As I sat there with my dorm brothers from the New Orleans area, as they were watching and waiting helplessly to hear from their loved ones, I learned an important lesson about life. This tense, stressful time filled with prayer and brotherhood showed me the power of community.

I was only 18 years old when I moved away from home and began living in the dorms at Notre Dame. Like every teenager on the cusp of adulthood, I thought I had everything in life figured out, and I was certain that my transition from living in a tiny, Midwestern town to being on a college campus with a graduating class larger than the population of where I grew up, would be a piece of cake. Also like most young adults, I could not have been more wrong. Almost as soon as I got to campus and began freshman orientation, I was in culture shock. I had spent my entire life in a one stoplight town of barely 2,000 people, nearly all of whom were white, Middle-class families, and now I was in an environment with over 10,000 students from all over the world and from every background you can imagine. I will admit, I was a little overwhelmed and taken aback by this huge shift in my surroundings. I do not want to give the impression that I was not enjoying my new life away from home or that I was not making friends, but for my first couple weeks on campus, even though I was trying to be very active socially, I never felt like I was really connected to my dorm brothers and other fellow “Domers.” This all changed though on the night of August 29th, when one of the worst hurricanes in our nation’s history struck New Orleans.

While I had been aware that a large hurricane had been heading for the United State’s gulf coast area, I really had not been paying too much attention to the specifics of this storm. Since I had no family or friends in that region, to me it was just another hurricane that the weather forecasters were trying to dramatize for higher ratings (“storm of the century” and “snowpocalypse” come to mind). The evening Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, I was going to check my mailbox that was down by the dorm’s chapel, and I noticed that there was a pretty big group of guys in the pews. This seemed a little strange to me, since there was no priest in the room and was not time for mass yet anyway, so I decided to see what was happening. As soon as I entered, before I even spoke to anyone, I could feel from the atmosphere of the room that something terrible had happened. I sat in the back next to an upper classman I had gotten to know during orientation, and once I was certain he was done praying, I quietly asked him what was going on. He explained to me how bad Katrina was, that currently there was little to no communication with people in that area, and that they were all praying for their loved ones and hoping they were safe. Looking at all of the red eyes, tears, and silently moving lips of prayer that surrounded me, I immediately felt bad for my new “siblings,” and the terrifying unknown they were currently in. Even though I am not Catholic, or even what you would call “religious,” I stayed there with my new brothers of Keough Hall and silently supported them with my presence. When one of them stood up and said that some of them were going to light candles at the Grotto, I decided to go along to offer any solace I could.

Scott Drotar Grotto
The Grotto on the University of Notre Dame campus, made famous by the movie, “Rudy,” is a very sacred place.

For those of you who are not familiar with the University of Notre Dame campus, have not seen the movie “Rudy,” and are not Catholic, I will give you some background. First, the “Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes,” or just the Grotto, is a miniature replica of the French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette multiple times in the mid-19th century. Father Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, was so awed by the beauty and divinity of the original site, that he vowed to recreate it in some form on campus. It contains a stone from the original site in France, and it is one of the most sacred places on campus. Every evening, no matter how cold or wet it may be, the Rosary is prayed, and there is rarely a moment when there is not someone kneeling before the statue of the Virgin Mary, lighting a votive candle, and saying a prayer. Which brings us to the second topic to cover, the act of lighting candles in worship. I believe some other faiths do use candles as symbolic offerings during worship and prayer, but it is most widely known as a Roman Catholic tradition. While I am not Catholic, as best I can understand it, the lighting of a candle during prayer is a symbolic offering of devotion when you pray for someone or something. Generally, you light a candle for someone specific, and that flame is representative of your prayer. This is a very special and holy act that is quite sacred, and it is typically only used during difficult or trying times, like the night Katrina made landfall.

It was a dark, balmy August night as my dorm brothers and I made the quarter mile trek over to the Grotto. I do not think anyone said a word during the entire walk. There was nothing to be said anyway, as we all knew how each other was feeling, and there were no words that could make things better. When we arrived at our destination, some guys lit candles, others were kneeling with their rosary beads gripped tightly in their devoted hands, and a few, like myself, simply took a seat before the Virgin Mary, but we were all doing the same thing in our own way. We were all praying, not just for our own family’s safety, but for the safety our new brothers‘ families as well. This moment of destruction and terror had forged between us a bond that we would carry with us the rest of our lives. We now belonged to two families, our biological family and our Notre Dame family. Sharing in each other’s pain and suffering that night brought us together, and it did not matter what our backgrounds were, because we were all in the same family. Our group slowly dissipated as guys slowly trickled back to the dorm, but I will never forget how I felt walking back to my room that night. In just the couple hours I was out that evening, I had gone from a home sick, culture shocked fish out of water to a confident man with over 200 new brothers that I could count on. After that night I never felt like I did not belong or wonder if I was fitting in around the dorm, because I knew that we were all family.

Scott Drotar My Other Family
My second family is so precious to me that I have the Notre Dame logo and my graduation year tattooed on my chest.

I am not trying to compare my relationships with my parents and siblings to my relationships with my dorm brothers, as that is comparing apples and oranges, but this connection I formed that night in the Grotto is something special. It showed me the strength of banding together in a common goal, and how by coming together in your shared pain you can alleviate your suffering. Most of all though, this story teaches you the power of community and brotherhood. In that one evening, we created a union between us that to this day is extremely strong and has a major impact on our lives. If you have the courage to open up and let yourself feel with others, empathize with them, and support them without judgment, you can harness the true power within your hearts and minds. Whether you call it resilience, the might of the human spirit, or something else entirely, you will know it when you feel it, and its impact will last a lifetime. The force of this banding together will pleasantly envelope you and help you overcome whatever you are going through together. Sharing this powerful, emotionally charged experience will create a connection between you that will never weaken. It is a bond forged in the fires of suffering and despair, and like iron hammered on a hot anvil, it is unbreakable. It is a relationship you can only describe as family, and just like your original family, you will be much happier having these amazing connections in your life.

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“We Have The Technology.”

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Scott Drotar Microchip
I have always had a fascination and curiosity for technology and anything with a microchip.

My entire life I have been a huge uber-geek when it comes to computers and technology. Ever since I was 4 years old and got my very first Apple II computer, courtesy of the Make A Wish Foundation, I have been hooked. Not only have I always been interested in figuring out how various gadgets work and learning to program in as many languages as I can, but I also realized at a fairly young age that modern technology had something special to offer me due to my disability. It became obvious to me early on in my time tinkering with computers, and later on the internet, that in the virtual world of microprocessors and internet protocols my physical limitations were no longer a disadvantage that I had to overcome. For the first time in my life I was on a level playing field with the people around me, able-bodied and disabled people alike. I realized that learning as much as I could about programming, operating systems, and computers in general that I would be able to create an environment where I could operate on the same level as everyone else. Not only does technology level the playing field for me, but it also provides me with the tools to prevent my disability from limiting my world as my body gets weaker with time, which is something that I was reminded of during last year’s Holiday Season.

I have discussed in some of my earlier articles about how travelling long distances is difficult at best when you have a severe, physical disability, even if you are fortunate enough to have your own wheelchair accessible vehicle. One of the effects of not being able to make long trips is that I cannot go to visit my friends and family who live in other parts of the country. Whether it be visiting my old college roommate, attending my 10 year high school reunion, or going to one of my best friend’s wedding, unless it is less than a few hours drive from my apartment, I am probably not going to be able to make it. This could definitely make it difficult for me to maintain relationships and have a fulfilling social life, but thanks to the recent technology boom and my fascination with anything containing a microchip however, this is fortunately not the case. By taking advantage of some of the new features available on our phones, tablets, and the countless other “big kid toys” in our lives, I have been able to find alternative ways to keep my social and professional worlds from being restricted to the greater Kansas City area and maintain a very fulfilling social life.

While I have been aware of my use of technology in expanding my world for a long time now, during the Holidays last year this is something that was really brought to my attention. The Holidays are a time to be with friends and family, and since my loved ones are scattered all across the country, not being able to travel very far makes it difficult for me to share this festive time with some of the the most important people in my life, at least in person. Thanks to several different technological features that are now almost commonplace on most technological devices, I was able to share my Christmas celebration with all of the people who make my life so great. Touchscreen displays for example, which are pretty much a standard feature now, have helped those of us with weak muscles more use of technology, as they require far less pressure and range of motion than previous control options. Live video streaming, available free through programs like Skype and Google Hangout, allow disabled individuals who cannot travel the ability to still be present at any event nearly anywhere in the world, at least in a virtual sense. I was able to still share the Holidays with several of my old dorm brothers thanks to video chatting, despite the fact that they live hundreds of miles away. Even the recent advancement that allows anyone to purchase nearly anything without ever leaving their home has been a major improvement for people with disabilities. I was able to have wonderful gifts for my family, wrapped beautifully and waiting under my Christmas tree, without having to put my body through the physical toll of going out in the cold, subjecting myself to millions of new germs, and risking spending my Christmas in a hospital bed, thanks to the amazing service of websites like Amazon and Overstock.com.

Scott Drotar Social Media
The social media boom has helped open up the world for many physically disabled individuals.

I am so thankful that the various technology companies have inadvertently improved the lives of thousands of disabled people over the last several years. As they have worked to develop more and more new features before their competitors, they have also been giving new levels of freedom and independence to people with physical limitations. Although these companies will probably never realize it, and it will definitely not show up in their stock values or quarterly reports, organizations like Apple, Samsung, and Google have allowed people with severe, physical disabilities achieve goals and experience things that would have never been possible without the developments in technology that they have produced. These advances, which are so often thought of in terms of dollars and cents, to people like me are so much more than that. Being able to chat with one of my best friends about his new job and getting to be a part of my loved one’s Christmas festivities without ever leaving my home are things that are so special that I could never put a dollar value on them. These features have given me a happy, fulfilling life that I am so proud of, and that is something that is priceless.

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Di$abl€d (Part 2): Private Insurance

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Before I get into the meat of today’s post, I want to say that I am a proud American, and I feel extremely fortunate that I live in the United States. I am thankful that I was born in a country where my physical limitations do not automatically make me an outcast of society. I am also grateful that our government has implemented programs, such as Medicaid, Social Security and Disability, and Vocational Rehabilitation Services, to help individuals with disabilities overcome the obstacles they face. That being said, this does not mean that I necessarily agree with the way these programs have been implemented or managed, and it definitely does not mean that I agree with how the American government has treated the disabled community in general. Despite the fact that I may disagree with some of the decisions that have been made by the government in regards to disability rights and such, I still greatly appreciate everything that federal assistance programs have done for me. I know that without the assistance of these programs I would have never been able to achieve everything that I have or live the happy, successful life that I do. So if I come across as angry or overly harsh throughout this series, it is not that I am unappreciative or un-American, I am merely exercising my right to free speech/press and trying to create positive change for the disabled community.

All of the numbers and information I will be presenting in this series are based upon my own life and research. Private insurance and Medicaid benefits can vary greatly from plan to plan and state to state, respectively. While my experience may not be universal, it will still give you a good general idea of how these programs work in the real world.

Scott Drotar Private Insurance
Private health insurance is the best type of medical coverage in most situations, and it can greatly improve the lives of disabled individuals.

In the first entry in this series, you learned what an enormous obstacle the medical expenses that arise from being disabled can be. The large costs of many medical necessities, like wheelchair accessible transportation, attendant care, and prescription medications, put a large financial burden on disabled individuals, as well as their families. The extra costs that the disabled community endures due to their physical limitations are frequently more than they can reasonably afford, and this often leads to individuals receiving substandard care and having a lower quality of life. Fortunately, there are both private sector and federal assistance programs, such as private insurance and Medicaid, that are designed to help alleviate some of this financial stress. While these organizations do not completely eliminate the strain of these expenses, and there are often still large out of pocket costs even with the assistance of these groups, they do give many disabled individuals the opportunity to live fulfilling lives and become functioning members of society. In the next few posts in the “Di$abl€d” series, we will be discussing the pros and cons of some of these assistance programs. This begins with today’s article about private insurance programs.

Both of my parents being public school teachers, which made them state employees, meant two things for my family financially. The first was that they would be grossly underpaid, as all educators are, and the second was that they would have great benefits. One of these benefits was access to high quality health insurance coverage at minimal cost. For as long as my folks have been employees of the John Glenn School Corporation, my entire family has had great insurance. After we paid the monthly premium and my yearly deductible, 80% of all of my medical expenses are covered by my private insurance. While not all of my medical needs were always approved and 20% is still a sizeable amount of out of pocket expense sometimes (like after 15 days in the ICU), having private health insurance of this caliber gave my family enough financial relief to get me all of the medical care I needed, while also allowing us to maintain a middle-class lifestyle. To give you an idea as to the enormous amount of money my private insurance has paid for my medical needs, only taking into account my home nursing care and pain medication, every month they pay over $25,000. That means, just for those two things, that since I have moved to Kansas they have shelled out over $1,500,000. This is an enormous amount of money that my family could never have afforded on our own, and I am extremely grateful that I have access to such quality medical coverage, as it is definitely not the norm. In fact, of all of the other physically disabled people I have met over the years, I have never ran across someone with private insurance as good as mine. Thanks to my excellent health care coverage, I have been able to see the best specialists, have my own wheelchair accessible vehicle, and purchase multiple power wheelchairs, none of which would have been possible for my family financially without the assistance of our insurance plan. There is little doubt that the great health insurance I have had over the years has contributed greatly to the independent, successful life I have created for myself, and without this assistance the lives of my entire family would have been much more difficult.

While I have been extremely fortunate that I have had quality private insurance since I was about 5 years old, I do not want to give the impression that my experience with private health insurance companies has been nothing but rainbows and butterflies. Although having private insurance has greatly improved the quality of life for both me and my family, as well as having played a large part in giving me the opportunity to achieve my goals, it has not always been easy. Anyone who has ever had private health insurance knows about the irritating clerical errors that lead to problems with your coverage. Those occasions when something is denied for payment purely because it was entered incorrectly into their system, and you have to spend hours bouncing around their automated phone system getting things corrected. While I did have to deal with these frustrating moments, at least they could be corrected in an afternoon. In addition to these irksome moments, for people with physical disabilities there are a couple much larger issues that can occur, and they both can have the disastrous outcome of you losing your coverage. These two hurdles are the problems of preexisting conditions and lifetime maximums.

Scott Drotar Preexisting Condition
When my parents first started working at John Glenn School Corporation, they had to wait 18 months to see if their insurance provider would cover me despite my preexisting condition.

Thanks to President Obama, we have all heard of the problems that having a preexisting condition can cause when you are trying to get health insurance. Basically, private insurance companies say that they will not pay for anything related to health problems you had before you purchased their insurance plan (a preexisting condition). For someone like me, who has been afflicted by a genetic disability since birth, this would essentially mean that I could never get health insurance. Fortunately for me though, there are provisions and regulations that are designed to help with this major hurdle for the disabled community. In my case for example, when my parents first started working at John Glenn when I was 5 years old, even though they had a family plan for private health insurance, I was not covered. Before the insurance provider would pick me up and cover expenses related to my disability, I had to go 18 consecutive months without being admitted to the hospital. If I did not make it the full 18 months, the clock would start from zero again whenever I got discharged. Obviously, this was a very tense period for my family.

Thankfully, I was able to make it the full year and a half on my first try, but it was still definitely a very stressful and trying time. Not only was there the mental stress of seeing whether I would stay healthy long enough to gain coverage on our family plan, but there was also a large financial strain during this period. Since a stay in the hospital costs thousands of dollars, and with my health being so fragile and unpredictable, we had to purchase COBRA insurance during this period in case I would get sick. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) requires employers to provide access to health insurance coverage for a period of time after employees switch jobs or are laid off. This sounds great in theory (and it has its uses), but since employers do not have to subsidize the insurance premiums under COBRA, the insurance is very expensive. This meant that on top of paying the premium for our family insurance coverage, we also had to pay the much larger monthly premium for my COBRA insurance each month. While everything worked out for us in the long run, this was a significant hurdle that could have had a huge impact on my life. Hopefully, with the progress that has been made in regards to preexisting conditions through “Obamacare,” this enormous obstacle will not be an issue for the next generation of disabled individuals.

The second major issue with private insurance coverage for people with physical disabilities is the problem of lifetime insurance maximums. Whenever anyone signs the contract for their private health insurance, somewhere in the fine print there is a section that says how much the insurance company is willing to pay over the entire life of the plan (lifetime maximum). These maximums vary greatly from plan to plan and between providers, but usually the lifetime maximum is around $2,000,000. For healthy, able-bodied people, this number is not important because you will never need more coverage than that. For individuals with severe, physical disabilities though, this number can be reached fairly quickly, and even within just a few years in some cases. Going back to the $1,500,000 that my insurance company has spent just in the last five years on my home nursing care and pain medications, you can easily see how quickly this maximum can be reached. When you take into account hospital stays, medical equipment, and all of the other medical expenses disabled people have, it is obvious that this is a huge problem. Even if disabled individuals are fortunate enough to have private health insurance to begin with, due to lifetime maximums they would run out of coverage long before they no longer need it.

Once again, there are some regulations in place to try to help the disabled community overcome this financial burden created by their physical limitations. Luckily, there are laws that state in certain situations that if a disabled person cannot get health insurance as good as the coverage they have through their parent’s plan, then they cannot be denied coverage due to age or lifetime maximums. In my case, this basically means that unless I can find another insurance carrier that will ignore my preexisting conditions and give me the same level of service I have now (fat chance), that my parent’s insurance company cannot deny me coverage. This is why I am still on my family’s insurance even though I am over 24 years old (the normal age cutoff for dependents on health insurance) and have reached my lifetime maximum several times over. Again though, this is not the norm, and very few disabled people have access to insurance coverage as good as mine. I have met numerous individuals who hit their lifetime maximum and were forced to drastically change their lives due to losing coverage. This is a major problem facing the disabled community, and it is definitely something that needs to be addressed in the near future so disabled people can live without fear of running out of coverage.

Scott Drotar Obamacare
Obamacare is trying to remove some of the obstacles preventing the disabled community from obtaining private health insurance.

Private health insurance is by far the best insurance option as far as what and how much of your medical expenses are covered. In cases like mine for example, my insurance company has spent millions of dollars over my 28 years, and this has allowed me to lead a happy, fulfilling, and independent life. Due to obstacles like preexisting conditions and lifetime maximums however, this type of coverage is not a long-term option for a lot of disabled people. While I have discussed a couple of the major hurdles for the disabled community in receiving private insurance, I have only begun to address all of the problems with private health insurance that face these individuals. I hope that my words have made an impression on you though, and that you have a better understanding of how difficult it is for disabled people to get and keep private health insurance, only exacerbating the financial burden their disability causes. In an effort to alleviate this strain on disabled people who cannot find private insurance or who reach their lifetime maximum, the government has created several federal programs to assist with medical expenses for the disabled. One of the most well known of these federal assistance programs, Medicaid, is the topic of the next post in this series.

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Risk And Reward

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You have read in earlier posts about how complicated the nurse and client relationship can be in home care. I even have an entire Roll Models talk about these complex connections, and the key to understanding them to build strong relationships in the home care setting. Even though I have had nurses with me nearly non-stop for over a decade, and speak as an expert on these relationships, that does not mean that I have everything figured out or do not struggle at times with managing my relationships with my caregivers though. One of the most difficult parts of maintaining these bonds is being able to tell where the professional relationship ends and the personal relationship begins with each nurse. Due to the fact that my nurses are paid to care for me and be a part of my life, it is never easy to gauge how much of the relationship is professional and how much is personal, especially since it is different with each and every caregiver. The idea that plagues me to this day is determining whether my nurses would still want to maintain our friendship, even if they were no longer my nurse. Whenever I get close to one of my nurses I always wonder about this idea, and it is usually only when our professional relationship ends, and it is too late to do anything to protect myself emotionally, that I get an answer. The other day however, due to a rather random set of circumstances, I was able to get the answer to this question with one of my current caregivers. Getting this information while our relationship is still strong and healthy not only gave me a reassuring and comforting feeling, but it also gave me some powerful insights into the nature of relationships in general.

Scott Drotar Risk And Reward
My relationships with my nurses are very complex due to being a combination of our working and personal connections.

One night last week, there was a bad snow and ice storm that tore through our area beginning around sundown and continued until the wee hours of the next morning. The nurse who was with me that evening was one of my most veteran caregivers, and he and I had gotten pretty close in our more than two years of working together. He had worked a double that day with me (a 16 hour shift), and he was supposed to leave at midnight to make his usual 45 minute drive home, right in the middle of this winter storm. Not only that, but he was also scheduled to return at 8:00am the following day to work another 12 hours with me, which meant making another treacherous drive in the dark on icy roads. At around 10:00pm, we were jokingly discussing how he would not be able to make it in to work the following morning due to the weather and how he would love getting to sleep in, when his wife sent him a text about how bad the roads were getting. After texting back and forth with her for a few minutes, he looked at me and asked if he could stay in my second bedroom on my air mattress, so that he would not have to drive home just to turn around and drive right back a few hours later. Of course I said yes, as I tell all of my nurses every Winter that they are always welcome to crash at my place anytime the weather is nasty, but typically I have to talk them into not risking their lives on the roads. This was the first time that I had had one of my nurses actually ask to take advantage of my offer, and it had a surprisingly large effect on me emotionally. The true value of these feelings however, were the insights they brought with them that gave me a much better understanding of the nature of all close relationships.

I had known for a long time how I felt about my relationship with this nurse, but once you have gotten your feelings hurt a few times by nurses ceasing all contact with you when they are no longer your caregiver, you learn not to assume too much. I knew that just because I saw our connection as more of a personal friendship than a professional, nursing relationship, that did not necessarily mean that he felt the same way. Through his request to sleep in my spare room, which is something only a close friend would do, he showed me how he saw our bond. I now knew that I was not merely Mr. Drotar, his home care patient through CareStaf, but something much more. I was Scott, his friend. This information made me feel so good, as it reassured and validated the nature of our relationship, while also strengthening our connection. Additionally, having this knowledge made me feel secure enough in our friendship that I now have the courage to strengthen our bond and grow even closer. It was as I was thinking about this idea and how we will now be able to improve our bond, that I had a sudden stroke of insight into the nature of friendships.

Scott Drotar Icy Roads
Who would have thought that some icy roads would teach me such an important lesson about relationships?

After a couple days had passed, and all of these comforting notions and warm feelings had been given plenty of time to bounce around my brain, I had a slightly unsettling thought. I realized that even though I now had a solid idea as to how he viewed our relationship, I had no way of knowing if he wanted to develop our friendship further. Just because I wanted to strengthen the bond between us, that did not mean he wanted to as well. Maybe he was happy with our friendship and did not want to improve our connection further. As these somewhat troubling ideas raced through my mind, I realized that I was in the same situation as I had been before all of this happened. Sure he and I were closer than before, and I had a better understanding of how he saw our relationship, but I was still in a situation where I did not know whether I should put more time and energy into our friendship or not. It was at this point that I realized something about relationships. I learned that you will never really know how the other person feels in an objective sense, the way you know that grass is green, and you are not supposed to. You just “know” down in your gut how they feel about you, and you have to trust that you are right. Even though it is this level of trust and faith in the other person that makes relationships so difficult at times, it is also what makes them so exciting and rewarding. Sure, by putting so much of yourself into a relationship you run the risk of getting hurt emotionally, but having the strength and courage to throw yourself into the unknown is the only way to get all of the rewards that come from strong, healthy relationships. In order to get the incredible benefits and gifts that only a close friendship can bring, you have to be brave enough to open up to being hurt. No risk, no reward.

I never would have thought that a Winter storm and a worried wife would have given me such an incredible insight into one of my close friendships. I certainly would never have expected to learn such an important lesson about the nature of relationships in general, but wisdom comes in many forms and often when you least expect it. I am obviously thankful that I now feel closer to my nurse, and I am even more grateful that I now have a better understanding of all of my friendships. It is important to remember that you are not supposed to definitively know how the other person feels before investing in a relationship, as it is this unknown component of these connections with others that makes them so great. Whether it is your bond with your spouse, your child, or even a friend, you have to be willing to put yourself out there and risk getting hurt, if you want to enjoy all of the amazing and wonderful gifts that close relationships offer. The next time you find yourself being too timid or scared to take the next step in strengthening your relationship with someone, remember that without risk, there can be no reward. Take a chance and step into the unknown, and you will be amazed at how often your fears were unfounded. Not only that, but you will also be amazed at how much happier your life has become.

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An Emotional Lightning Rod

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Scott Drotar Give and Take
In order to maintain any healthy relationship, there has to be equal give and take between both people.

Pretty much everyone knows that any relationship, whether it is with a friend, family, or a romantic partner, requires a certain amount of work by both people involved in order to be strong and healthy. Not only do both people need to devote some energy to maintain these connections, but they also need to put in relatively equal amounts of effort, if they want the relationship to last. We all have had those relationships with people where you feel as if you are the only one trying to maintain your bond. These lopsided connections inevitably come to an end, because the individual putting their time and energy into maintaining the relationship begins feeling taken advantage of and resenting the other party. That is why it is so important when building and managing your relationships to remember that there has to be some give and take. While this may seem extremely straightforward and obvious in theory, it is much harder in practice, and it is something that I struggled with for a long time.

Like most people, I learned fairly early on that you have to put some energy into your relationships if you want to have any kind of social life. As a child though, your relationships are all friendships, and the effort required is as simple as watching “Power Rangers” every afternoon to discuss the next day at school or bringing an extra cookie in your lunch to give to your friend (to be a kid again, right?). As you get older and enter adolescence, your relationships start to get more complex. Your friendships become more intricate and begin to require actual effort to be maintained. Additionally, you begin having romantic partners, which brings about an entirely new type of connection to master. You go through the heart-wrenching experiences of being betrayed by your “friend,” having your heart broken, and all of the other teenage relationship issues angsty, pop groups sing about. These relationships continue to grow more and more complicated as you mature into adulthood and make your way out into the world, but thankfully you also get better at maintaining them. You learn the difference between lust, love, and “Love,” that a broken heart will eventually heal, and even though “rebound relationships” are fun that they never last. Then you finally get to the point where you have learned how to tell your “real friends” from everyone else, what to look for in a potential life partner, and that, even though you will never be able to completely figure out this whole relationship thing, you know enough to have healthy, strong connections with others.

While I went through this same social growth as a physically disabled person, or at least one fairly similar, I struggled with all of my relationships for a long time. I am not saying that I did not have any healthy connections with people, as I have always been close with my family and had a great social life, but it was very difficult for me. Internally, I had a hard time emotionally with nearly every relationship in my life, even if I did not show it on the outside. This difficulty with making and maintaining my connections with others stemmed from my feeling that every relationship I ever had would always be uneven, due to the fact that I require help with nearly everything in my life. I was convinced that any relationship I had would eventually end, because I could not reciprocate the number of things the other person did for me, and they would start to feel like they were my caretaker and not my friend. For a long time, as so often happens, this feeling of inadequacy became a self-fulfilling prophecy as I subconsciously sabotaged many of my relationships. Thanks to some great counseling and a ton of personal introspection though, I was able to gain some perspective and develop the tools to work on my feelings of social deficiency. This eventually led to an enlightening revelation that allowed me to build strong, lasting relationships and changed my life forever.

About four years ago, there was a three month period when several of my friends came to me to discuss something major in their lives. These were not conversations about hating your boss or having an argument with your boyfriend. These were conversations about things most people would not tell anyone other than their priest. I heard about how they cheated on their spouse, were abused as a child, and how they were the victim of domestic violence. I was also told about other, far more disturbing events that literally made me nauseous, but to protect the privacy of my friends, and spare you from having to envision these atrocities, I am not going to write about them. While hearing about all of these horrible memories from my loved ones was very difficult for me, and even though I would do anything to take away their painful past, I was happy that they told me. I felt honored that my friends trusted and felt safe enough with me to divulge their darkest memories. I was happy to give them an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, and a hand to hold, so they could talk about their past and begin to heal. It was after having heard several of these troubling tales that I realized something about myself and had a life-changing epiphany. I suddenly recognized that, even though I cannot help my friends physically, I can still give a lot to our relationship by helping them emotionally.

Scott Drotar An Emotional Lightning Rod
My mix of mental tools has made me an emotional lightning rod.

This period from my life made me realize that my high emotional intelligence, ability to communicate, and listening skills were a unique and powerful combination of tools that could help others. While I do not fully understand why it happens, this skill set has made me someone that people feel comfortable talking to about almost anything from their life, no matter how private or painful it may be. I am like an emotional lightning rod. I attract other people’s emotions, give them a safe, comfortable environment to discuss their difficult memories, and in turn get rid of some of their pain. Not only does this special ability help the individuals I care about cope with their unpleasant emotions, but it is also my way of putting effort into my relationships and avoiding the feeling of inadequacy that plagued my connections with others. It is how I can put something into a relationship and repay my friends for all of the assistance they give to me. It is my way of giving and not just taking, which in turn will ensure that my relationships with others will be strong, healthy, and last a lifetime.

Scott Drotar Maintaining Relationships
By putting in some effort and maintaining relationships, you will bring happiness to both your life and the lives of others.

Relationships are not easy. They are complicated, require a lot of time and effort to remain strong, and can make you feel awful when they fall apart. We are willing to overlook all of this however, because when you build one of those incredibly strong, close relationships with someone really special, you experience a feeling of bliss that is unlike any other. In order to have any chance of creating one of these life changing connections though, you have to make sure there is equal give and take. As I have said countless times before about other aspects of life, there has to be balance. Think about your close friends, your spouse or life partner, and your family, and then ask yourself whether your relationships with these people are balanced. Are you being taken advantage of by someone in your social world? Worse yet, are you not putting enough effort into a relationship and running the risk of losing someone you care about? Find the answers to these questions and take action to fix the broken connections in your life before it is too late. With just a little effort, you can strengthen your bond with others and bring happiness to the people you love most. This will bring more happiness to you as well, as these individuals complete the circle and put their own energy back into the relationship.

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Her Many Hats

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Scott Drotar Mom's Birthday
It is a big day for Roll Models, because it is the day that one of the most influential people in my life was born. Today is my mom’s birthday.

Today is a very special day both for me and for Roll Models. Today is the day that one of the most important and influential people in my life was brought into the world (many, many years ago). Today is my mom’s birthday. I was having trouble trying to decide what to write about this amazing lady, who will always be the number one woman in my life, and I thought that my writer’s block was because I had already written so many articles about my magnificent mom. I have shared with you the sacrifices she has made for me, how she is always ready at the drop of a hat to travel the 600 miles to come take care of me, and the courage she has shown in letting me live my own, independent life. I actually thought that maybe I had run the well dry on this topic and would need to come up with some other way to celebrate her birthday. After I thought about my creative constipation for a while and why I could not think of a suitable way to honor my mother on her special day though, I realized that my mental block was not because I had too little to write about, but because I have too much. There are so many incredible things I could share with you about this wonderful woman that it is hard to pick out just one. It would be like picking the best Beatles song or your favorite Robert Frost poem. You cannot pick just one since they are all great and meaningful in their own way. To solve this little quandary, I decided to not pick just one thing to write about, and instead tell you about several of the countless ways that she has made my life so successful and fulfilling.

My mother went to Ball State University and graduated with a degree in both instrumental and choral music education. While this is her only official academic training, like all mothers out there, she also has a thorough understanding of all of the various techniques necessary for raising happy, healthy, well-behaved children. Things like being nurturing and soothing when her children are upset, being the warden when they misbehave, and all of the other skills that moms seem to possess almost like magic. However, unlike most other mothers, whose role as caregiver and such decreases over time as their kids grow into teenagers, due to my disability my mom had to continue her caregiver role until I graduated and moved off to college. Not only did she have to continue to take care of me for 18 years, she also had to learn a myriad of other skills in order to keep me safe and make my life as “normal” as possible. When I think about all of the different things she had to learn to do over the years, often with no prior training or notice, I often think of her as wearing many different hats, each of which represents another part she had to play in the story of my life. Most of these roles were not things she had ever wanted to be or had much knowledge of, but if there was a hat she needed to wear to make my life work, she put it on without saying a word. To celebrate her birthday, I have decided to share with you a few of the many hats in my mom’s closet.

Scott Drotar Nurses Hat
While she received no formal training, my mom learned the skills she needed and put on her nurse’s hat to keep me safe and healthy.

One of the hats she wore the most, in fact she probably wore out a few, was her nurse’s cap. My mom has absolutely no medical training, nor did she ever plan on getting any, but as soon as I was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy she put this hat right on. My mom knows more about the respiratory system, physical therapy, and pain management than a lot of second year med students, and she learned it all on the fly, without any training, and without a safety net. Despite all of this, she absorbed it all and kept me safe and healthy my entire life. Another piece of headgear that she never would have dreamed of wearing is the trucker style hat of the wheelchair technician. My mother will be the first to admit that she is not mechanically inclined, and she has no interest in tools, axles, or motors. Even though she had little natural ability or previous interest though, as soon as my wheelchair broke down for the first time, she was happy to

Scott Drotar Chef's Hat
It is a-me, a-chef a-mommy.

put on that foam-billed cap and get her hands dirty. She is even more skilled than many actual wheelchair techs, because she often had to work with next to no tools (it never failed that my wheelchair would break down away from home), and instead just try to “MacGyver” a quick fix. One of the more fun hats she had in her arsenal is her nutritionist/dietitian/chef’s hat. When you have a physical disability that keeps you immobile and in a wheelchair, it is often very difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Most people who use power wheelchairs are either much too heavy or, as in my case, much too thin (this is a generalization not a rule). Throughout my life my mom has been painstakingly cooking anything and everything she can to try to entice me to eat more and fatten me up. Whether it was driving 30 minutes to get some fast food because that is what sounded good to me or spending hours in the kitchen after working all day to make my favorite meals, she was always quick to dress up like Chef Boyardee and put some pounds on me.

These are just a handful of the hundreds of different hats that my mom has worn over the years to make my life better. While I have taken over most of these jobs and wear these hats myself now that I am grown and living on my own, there is one role that I hope she never gives up. As great as she was as a nurse and as cool as she looked in her chef’s hat, it is the role she plays when she takes off all the headgear that is the most important to me. She is at her best when she is not wearing any hat, when she is being my mom. When she is being the person I want by my bed when I am sick and the person that texts me any day I do not post an article on my blog. When she is willing to, in an instant, learn any new skill or trade and wear any hat, if it means that my life will be better or easier, even if it is something she has no interest in. When she is being the woman who will always love me more than anyone else. That is when she is in her natural role, being my mother.

As I go about my life out here on my own, wearing many of the hats that my mom had to wear for so many years, I am so thankful for having the amazing mom that I do. I now know how hard it is sometimes to have to fulfill a role that you have no training in or desire

Scott Drotar Her Many Hats
I may be the one wearing her many hats now, but my mother will always play her most important role in my life, being my mom.

to learn at a moment’s notice, and I am thankful that my mother carried that burden for so long. I am also thankful that she not only wore all of these hats, but also taught me how to wear them as well, to prepare me for a life on my own. I am most thankful though that she will always be there playing her most important role, and one that I could never take over, of being my mom. I know that no matter how far away I move or how independent I become, that she will always be there for me, ready to do anything I need her to. She will always love me more than anyone else, and more than I could probably even fathom, and that is by far the most important part she plays in my life. To my mom, Happy ##th Birthday (I will not put the number for all to see). I hope you have an amazing, perfect day, and that dad is taking you someplace nice for dinner. Most of all, know that I love you. Even if I do not say it often, it is always true. You are, and always will be, the number one woman in my life, even if you do not get to wear any more terrific hats.

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More Than Blood

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Rarely a week goes by on www.scottdrotar.com where I do not post an article about my family and how great they are. I have written about my sister protecting me like a tigress watching over her cubs, the incredible sacrifices that my mom has made over the years to give me the opportunity to have the life I have always dreamed of, the unbreakable, indescribable bond between my brother and I, and the way my father refused to let my physical limitations prevent me from sharing his passion for sports. These posts, and countless others, have shown you how important my family is to me. While these four individuals who I am most closely linked to genetically will always have a special connection with me that no other relationship could ever come close to matching, that does not mean that there have not been other people in my life over the years that I would consider “family.” “Family,” and I mean family in a broader sense of the word, is so much more than biology and being genetically more similar to certain people than others. It is about sharing your day-to-day life with people, caring about their safety and happiness more than you do your own, and loving them in an unconditional, unquestioning way that is beyond words, yet you know it when you feel it. Relationships like this may not happen often outside of your actual family unit, but when they do, they can have an enormous impact on your life.

Scott Drotar Ed
Although we are not related by blood, Ed is definitely someone I consider family.

Whenever I think about my “family,” the first person that comes to mind is a close friend of my father’s, Ed. Ed initially entered into my world before I was even born as a lineman on one of my dad’s high school football teams many, many moons ago. After graduating and going off to college (ironically, to the same college as my father), Ed came back into my life (I was just a baby at this point) when he was hired as an assistant football coach under my dad, and eventually as a coworker of both my parents as a high school, English teacher. Even though my father and Ed were quite a bit different in age, their personalities and backgrounds were similar enough that they quickly became very good friends. For the entirety of my childhood growing up, Ed was always a big part of my life. We celebrated holidays together, he would babysit my siblings and I, and he even learned a lot of my care related to my disability. One year he even went with us on a road trip to Disneyworld for a “family” vacation, and if spending 22 hours in a car with three kids that are not your own does not make you “family,” I do not know what does.

Ed was like an “uncle” or “big brother” to me throughout my childhood, and during this time he taught me so many things about life and happiness that I still carry with me today. By living his life with a fun-loving attitude and smile on his face, he showed me that, even as an adult, it is alright to be a “big kid” sometimes. He also taught me that it is alright to like things that people think are uncool, childish, or geeky, through his love for things like “Speed Racer” and the television series, “Highlander” (he even had a replica of Duncan’s katana). Ed was a rather large man (he was often referred to as “Big Ed”), and while he was not unattractive by any means, he was definitely not a Calvin Klein model either. By getting to see him date women over the years, I learned that even though I am in a wheelchair, have a trache, and look different from what is generally considered physically “attractive,” that does not mean I cannot date beautiful women. He even taught me about how to approach and speak to women (or as he would always say “pick up hot babes”) with confidence and charm, because I have a lot to offer and the worst that can happen is they politely say no. Much to my mother’s dismay, Ed also told me that it was important to be a little rebellious sometimes, by taking me to see movies that my parents would not allow and sneaking me CDs of music with lyrics they would not approve of (he gave me a Kid Rock album in a Bon Jovi CD case for Christmas one year). And of course, the most important thing he imparted upon me was the delicate art of creating the perfect, chocolate milkshake (even John Travolta would agree that it is worth at least $5).

Scott Drotar $5 Milkshake
Ed taught me many important things about life, like how to make the perfect milkshake.

By far the most valuable thing that Ed brought to my life though was his role as a constant in my life, a “safety net,” that I knew was always there for me. I knew without a doubt that I could go to him with any problem I was having that I could not go to my parents with, and he would give me whatever help and guidance I needed. I felt this way because, just like the four members of my immediate family, we had been together for so long that we had forged a strong, unwavering connection. We had seen each other at our best, like when he won a trip to Vegas at a golf competition or when I gave my valedictorian’s speech to my high school class. We had also seen each other at our worst, like when I nearly died and got my trache or when he had some medical issues and found out he was diabetic. We had spent hours in a car together, gotten each other out of trouble, and probably more often, gotten each other into trouble, but throughout it all we always knew we had each other’s back, no matter what. Just like a toddler wants to know that their parent is sitting nearby before exploring their environment, Ed being a constant source of comfort in my life helped me expand my horizons. Having the knowledge that, if I needed it, someone was there to catch me if I fell, gave me the confidence to break some rules, take some risks, and live a full, exciting life.

Ed, or “Falcon Eddie” as I would call him, is definitely someone that is as much a part of my “family” as anyone else. While my parents, siblings, and I will always have a special connection with each other that is more powerful than any other, it is not because of blood or genetics. This unbreakable, familial bond is so special because of the time we have spent together, the memories we have created, and the unconditional love that we share. Since my immediate family has been a part of everything in my life, we share the strongest connection, but other “family” members, like Ed, who have been constants in my life are not far behind. Who in your own life would you consider “family?” Take the time to think about these people, and how much they have meant to you. Make sure that these individuals, who have had such a huge impact on your life, are aware of how you feel about them, because it is important to tell your “family” how much you love them. This is so important, since in the blink of an eye it could be too late, and you do not want to miss your chance to share your feelings with these major influences on your success. Telling them how you feel will not just bring happiness to their life, but it will also remind you of all of the happiness that they have brought to yours, which is what family is all about.

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