My Thoughts about a Boy in Australia

Late last Friday afternoon I saw a quick news bit about a boy in Australia who has been bullied due to his dwarfism condition and that his mother posted a video of him breaking down, wishing he could die. The bit ended by praising all those who contributed to a GoFundMe campaign so he can go to Disneyland. I then Googled the story and posted an initial opinion on my Facebook feed with one story link describing the situation in more detail; I commented that I had mixed feelings about same. I subsequently deleted replies that were debating whether or not the story was true. My mixed feelings were not about the veracity of the story but rather how the mother handled her son’s distress by sharing for all the world to see…and then “reaping” the benefits of, if you will — in a more suspect way than not.

Those who know me know that I have a dwarfism condition — now for 52 years since birth in 1967. Those who don’t know me can read about me at Diastrophic Dwarfism, a rarer form than Achondroplasia, the type that the young boy has, is what I have lived with for over 5 decades. I don’t dispute this now 9 year old boy has been made fun of his entire young life. I found stories about him from a few years ago, one referencing a dog he received to be a companion and to help him deal with his different-ness. Certainly I can relate to being made fun of in public and yes, even by adults. (Some have heard and/or read about the Kohl’s story) “What’s wrong with her?” or “what happened?” are questions I heard well into my 30s, even 40s, mostly from children, but at times from those old enough who should know better. I still hear some of the former when out in public, which is unfortunately not as often these days after several surgeries went awry the past ten years. The most egregious questions were those asking about Thalidomide (a drug expectant women in the 1950s were given that resulted in birth defects) and many actually insisting that I must have been a Thalidomide baby when I stated I wasn’t. One would think I would know the cause of my condition, a recessive hereditary one.

In my presentations to school children about my life story and experiences growing up, I share that I was more fortunate than not in that I wasn’t bullied a lot from Kindergarten through 12th Grade. Yes, there were a handful of incidents that I knew about (because happened to my face), but I was mostly left alone to be just Geri. I also share that I’m grateful I didn’t come of age in the social media age. Surely I would have been targeted much more. On the flip side, because social media was not around during my formative years, there were no videos or pictures to post that may have gone viral. Nothing that would get me invited to appear on Ellen or any number of talk shows. Instead I heard and still hear my Mom’s (now gone nearly 5 years) voice that I wasn’t to expect a red carpet everywhere I went/go or that nothing that would be handed to me on a silver platter. Life was indeed tough and I wasn’t dealt a “fair hand” to be sure, but that I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself or think that others would automatically. In fact, I would more often than not chaff at special treatment such as being invited to the head of the line in a busy bakery during holidays when I was still upright and walking. (Admittedly, I don’t mind as much these days as my limitations have increased.)

In my 52 years trying to figure out my purpose, I have wanted – and this is not easy to type – to die at various times. The few times I was made fun of especially in Middle School I didn’t tell anyone, not any of my sisters let alone my parents or teachers. Life is definitely more complicated these days especially with the blessings and curses of social media. Bullying can be rampant, anonymously so. Praise and positive attention can also result from postings of good and bad behaviors.

I do not believe this young boy made up stories of being mistreated to the point of him wanting it to end…to the point of him declaring he wants to die. And while awareness continues to be needed of all those on the outside, on the periphery, those to be targeted because of differences, I disagree with how this mom went about to bring her son’s experience to light. In my opinion only, I felt she exploited her son’s pain and made it very public to intentionally garner sympathy that would perhaps result in enough attention to “reward” that pain. I don’t know if I’m making sense. And I absolutely know my Mom would never have done similar even if an option back then. No doubt some reading will take exception to my take on this story. Some might even argue that I’m jealous (I have even asked that of myself) that social media can shower praise and vacation trips on various folks with various kinds of trying circumstances these days. I wrote similarly after the Boston Marathon bombing that suddenly turned those significantly injured into heroes.

There are countless folks around the world who live in trying circumstances, due to congenital disabilities (either physical or developmental) or acquired life changing injuries who the public will never know about. Do more folks described above deserve GoFund campaigns to send them on trips to Disney or other destinations, no. Is this a nice perk of being different, perhaps?! Should it come about by exploitation … no … again, not in my humble opinion. When there is a legitimate need for assistance, then folks should ask.

I sincerely hope this boy’s experiences are “real,” not because I want him to have suffered or continue to, but because I don’t want people to have been fooled and more importantly, I don’t want folks’ generous natures to have been taken advantage of so that they may be less generous in the future. I do not believe people deserves rewards just because. I sincerely hope, too, that others do not take this as an example to garner sympathy for a magical trip. After the high of such a trip, the underlying behaviors remain. I hope the mother, school officials and parents involved handle such bad behavior with those perpetuating such first and foremost.



“…who has friends…”

Christmas Eve 2019, approximately 10:55 PM, I lay here in bed on my right side, holding my tablet in my right hand and typing with my left…watching the last few minutes of the Yuletide favorite of millions (while a must avoid at all costs to others) IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Without fail, several tears escape and roll sideways down my cheek at the few words I actually like from a character I mostly dislike…from Harry Bailey, “to my big brother George, the richest man in town!” Then the camera pans to the Tom Sawyer book and the inscription from Clarence, “…no man is a failure who has friends…”

Decades ago I first saw just a few minutes of the then oft seen movie because TV stations across the country could air it for free. It had not been a commercial success when released in 1946 due to its dark and desperate tones through the final hour despite the joyful ending. After Thanksgiving in 1982, I underwent my first spinal surgery. I had, a few nights prior, learned in the darkened hospital room that I would need the prayed for NO body-cast body-cast. In another room in the wee hours I was unable to sleep and held the TV remote switching channels, trying to find something to watch. Another patient was bedded nearby so I knew I couldn’t turn up the volume much. 37 some years later I still recall seeing the final 30 minutes or so when George Bailey is his most hopeless till Clarence drops in…in the water for George to save him. For the following few years, I would look for the movie…not knowing its name and usually only catching bits and pieces. I wish I could recall how long it was before I was able to see the movie from start to finish, but when I did, I knew I would always need to watch. And watch I have…innumerable times since, but less frequently each season since NBC obtained exclusive rights to air. Nevertheless, I would watch the first December airing and tape (nowadays, DVR) the Christmas Eve program as I was usually attending late Candlelight Church services. Those days, or rather nights, are long gone as several surgeries over the last 9 years have left me much more incapacitated than I ever was for the first 43 years of my life even with congenital deformities of all parts skeletal. The details do not need to be explained here. Suffice it to type that my world is much smaller…the world I can manuever in. And this 2019 year was particularly hard…as hard as 2015 was when my then world crashed around me. Then I lost both my parents, a cousin and any “smitch” of independence I had left after bad hip surgery in 2010. I felt lost all over again this year.

A never could be started surgery occurred in January…a traumatic experience that left me scared, furious and despondent. I was told the surgical team had decided to stop for fear of my coding on the OR table. Please bear with me, I wish the attempt had been made regardless of the risk…and if I had coded and died, then obviously I wouldn’t be typing this now…but I had been prepared. Another incident a couple of months later rocked me more. I felt utterly worthless. Finally in late June, the procedure was performed in a different hospital…a complicated success. Took more time to intubate me than remove the cyst that hadn’t been where it was scanned to be. At least my discomforting pain was validated as the cyst was even larger than thought. The Depression I had fallen deep into didn’t lessen after though. I let several matters go unattended which left me in even worse shape mentally and emotionally.

Watching George Bailey once again realize he wasn’t a failure (as he thought others think of the standards) filled up my well even more…the well that had run dry but that I had finally began filling again myself back in September. I had a choice one day whether to give up …for instance my presentations and much more. But even with short arms and stubby fingers, I “clawed” my way up enough so I could begin to refill my soul well and I chose to continue trying.

This Christmas …not in the song sense…had gotten away from me…decorations were missing …two stockings, too. Sitting up is more and more difficult …no window light were hung, no wreath on my front door…

And yet in the past 3 days as well as over a week ago, I received comfort by the visits of friends…Saturday, Monday and today, Christmas Eve. 3 separate visits today along and then I was able to visit other friends’ home with steps. And while very different, I attended early Candlelight service …thanks to the willingness of friends making sure I could get in despite the steps to and in the Church itself. Hmmm…3 visits in my home today…the same as we imagine certain visitors to another laying in a bed of sorts….hmmm

I may not be exactly where I long ago thought I would, much like George Bailey. He even has wife and children. No spouse or children of my own…not even a failing like the Building and Loan business. My “business” isn’t even big enough to be a failure…

Yet, I know I have friends, old and new, near and far…virtual and face to face…so for now, I’m not a failure.

Hope, Peace, Joy and Love … May all these gifts of Christmas be with you now and throughout the coming year…

Birthday Blues and Blessings

Birthday Blues and Blessings

Can Birthdays continue to be special no matter one’s age? Or do they cease to be a cause to celebrate in a certain decade? Perhaps only special when reaching a milestone year? I remember years ago being told by someone I thought thought of me as family that she had no reason to note her birthday anymore, she had children after all. I understood the subtext, that I was silly to still want to have my birthday mean something. As if I wasn’t already little in physical stature, I felt even more belittled. ‘Tis true that I’m not married nor have children yet I still hope my Birthday to be special. While I may cringe at the increasing number every October, nonetheless I do look forward to each October 22nd. There is another reason why I want to celebrate…as more of a diversionary tactic. If I don’t have anything to look forward to, then I’ll look back and ask questions that I’ll likely never receive answers to.

Because of surgeries gone awry over the past 9 years, I am no longer independently mobile. But I would definitely make sure to be helped get up and into my current mode of transportation, a wheelchair, to celebrate. If no reason, then I would certainly stretch out on my comfy bed which is much easier and not as painful. Then I would think all the thoughts that I’d rather not and wonder if they remember what this day is. Do they remember me this day … do they remember October 22nd, 1967…do the man and woman who left me at the hospital remember… questions I have asked every year since I was fully aware that there was another couple responsible for my being born…questions I’ll always have, especially every time the 10th month comes around. Do the Cosmos know? If they are still living, do they wonder if I am, too?

All the above doesn’t mean I haven’t had great birthdays with the family that chose me and in the years since growing up. But it is hard to separate the conflicting thoughts and memories in my head. Two weeks ago while watching Hoda Kotb and filling-in-for-the-on- maternity-leave Jenna Bush Hager Maria Shriver on (the only hour I watch) Today Show I felt uncomfortable pangs as the discussion turned to the importance of skin to skin touch between a newborn and a parent. Any other season or month this topic would not have unnerved me. New questions coming upon my birthday. A few days later a friend shared her daughter recently trained to become a surrogate “rocker” for babies born to perhaps drug addicted women who are unable to be there themselves. From Erickson’s Stages of Development and innumerable research we all understand that babies need cradling, snuggling, nesting just as animals of varying species do …a primal need for all living creatures.

So was the 6 lbs. 6 oz. misshapen newborn ever held skin to skin by the biological mother on her breast? Did somebody hold my face up to their face, cheek to cheek? Was there ever a kiss on the forehead or on my nose that first day, that first week, the next two months until I was transferred to Blythedale Children’s Hospital? I’ll probably never know.

To avoid these painful perennial questions, “the birthday blues,” I need to celebrate so I can end the day having blessings to be thankful for. Mom and Dad never considered the day they brought me home as a special occasion. My Birthday was the date to celebrate. Mom planned several parties while growing up …treasure hunts, sleepovers included. Three months before he died in 2015, Dad treated me to a Birthday dinner while he was up in New York from Panama…the last time I’d see him in person.

The first time I heard Dennis James read the poem “Heaven’s Very Special Child” on the United Cerebral Palsy Telethon decades ago, tears trickled down my cheeks. All the stanzas are meaningful but these excerpts especially resonated then and now still:

“A meeting was held quite far from Earth!
It’s time again for another birth.
Said the Angels to the LORD above,
This Special Child will need much love

Please LORD, find the parents who
Will do a special job for you.

And soon they’ll know the privilege given
In caring for their gift from Heaven.
Their precious charge, so meek and mild,

If indeed there is a Master Plan, then Doris and Bill Mariano were chosen to be my parents despite an initial misplaced delivery.

And for my 50th in 2017, I celebrated big, having planned for a shindig for nearly a year. I knew I needed to do that for myself. Yes, even if some may scoff that birthdays are not important, I disagree. I will always want my birthday to be special, to remind myself that I was one Heaven’s very special child. While at 52 I still haven’t figured it all out I have to believe that I’m here for a reason… and so I will continue to celebrate every year because every year that I am here must mean something.


Full Disclosure: Thoughts on Depression & Suicide


Many people have asked me to write a book. Below would be part and parcel of any book I am finally currently working on. My truth. Some may be surprised, perhaps disappointed, but I cannot be phony.

Full Disclosure: I was not an active follower of either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain. In this day and age of social media and celebrity, I certainly knew who both were and what each brought to the table, pun intended. Enough money was never enough to purchase the eponymous bag that made Miss Spade a household name and worthy to be Jeopardy clues. I should have been quite a fan of Mr. Bourdain, but truth be told, watching his programs discouraged me in recent years. I was reminded of all I have lost since the first of three major surgeries left me even more mobility impaired than I had been for the first 42+ years of my life. Additional truth be told, I’m a fashionista wanna-be born in the wrong body and a frustrated hostess with the mostess not to mention a grounded adventurer.

The two recent high profile suicides this week have raised the serious topic of depression once again. Seems that it takes the hard to believe self inflicted deaths of the famous for this to be covered across all media save the occasional news reports of rising incidences of teen suicide as well as those among veterans. A few years ago, the death of beloved Robin Williams highlighted the topic that still today seems taboo. Not only suicide but the underlying issues of mental illness which includes depression. The term “mental illness” can conjure up negative images, even severe conditions such as schizophrenia, psychosis or perhaps a murderous Hannibal Lector. Depression is a condition under the vast umbrella of Mental Illness and should be appropriately discerned. With Robin Williams, the vast majority of fans who only knew him from the small or big screens making us laugh found it unbelievable that such a person could be desperately unhappy, depressed. Do we really WANT to know that friends and family or celebrities can be feeling hopeless?

For those who know me or have read previous blogs or followed my Just Call Me Geri FB page, you probably know that my Mother (the one who chose me from a picture in the newspaper), from my earliest consciousness, impressed upon me the importance of not feeling sorry for myself. The message included the tacit warning that no one would like me, that showing self pity would give reason for people to turn away from me. Would be decades later that I would learn that there is a significant difference between whining and legitimately feeling down due to my circumstances.

By no means have I had the worst life, far from it, but I started life with strikes against me, first being born in a deformed shell that would embody my soul and personality. Being abandoned in the hospital by biological parents who left instructions behind that “no pictures to be taken of this baby” added 2nd and 3rd strikes, yetvi was never out.
I won’t list the entire litany of hardships faced through now 50 years but some include:
Being told to accept I would never get married;
Being asked why I would want to have a baby and do to them what happened to me;
Being backstabbed at a summer camp by someone supposedly to have been family;
Being backstabbed by that same person when she lied to my parents about supposed injustices inflicted by me (in my perspective, was quite opposite);
Hearing sighs, groans and whispers when people had to help me in/out of cars or up stairs (who’s going to help Geri?”);
Being advised it’s easier if I stay away so no one would have to deal with me during emergencies;
Being “gently” told I could never provide a home for a man I had feelings for;
Being “harassed” by a married man who knew I would have little to no other intimate opportunities;
Being belittled and disrespected in hospital facilities when known I was on my own;
Having inappropriate medical treatments or not having appropriate medical interventions (that led to my current incapacitation);
Being at mercy of caregivers who can be rude, rough and larcenous;
Being at the mercy of Government restrictions; and
Being told I’m too depressing to talk to…

When at 40 I had finally obtained a Master’s Degree to begin a long in trying to figure out career, I was soon stymied, having that career cut short by 3 surgeries that left me in worse shape than before. The last two surgeries I never would have consented to had I been warned my mobility would be all but lost completely. I would have opted for shorter life span over non quality of life. When over 10-30 years ago I’d fall into pits of despair, I struggled mightily, conjured up plans, fingering bottles of medication, really my only option. Remembering the haunting conclusion of Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” always prevented me from trying anything self destructive with my car, the only other possible tool at my disposal.

796AB887-BC2C-4222-BA44-9D6D4CF62A3AYet, I always dug deep, as far inside as I could to keep the wavering flame from going out. Once such night in the wee hours, I remember sitting on the floor by my bed sobbing with heaving muted screams. What brought me back was thinking of “my kids” and their parents …how would they explain to them that I gave up? When I was still able to sit up prior to first spinal surgery of 2015, I willingly put my meds out of reach. My evening pills then were set aside for only one night at a time as I no longer trusted myself. I was still trying to hang on. And now when many days, especially recently, when I really want an out, there is no possibility that I can do anything to harm myself. My therapist and I have laughed about this ruefully. A cosmic joke?

This disclosure can possibly hurt my alternate career in the making …aiming to be a successful inspirational speaker but this is my truth. I’m not asking for people to feel sorry for me, but to understand that there are no easy answers.

More additional truth be told, I’d much rather laugh than cry. I actually enjoy having others laugh at my sometimes corny, other times bawdy, humor. I really should find an amateur Stand Up/Sit Down Comedy venue. Ridiculous irony from the universe, I’m rather an extrovert. God couldn’t have made me an agoraphobic?

I have my “highs” when I have several engagements booked, when I do feel of use and that my life has purpose. But then the lows come rising up (oxymoronic?) when I can’t seem to break through, catch that one break. My life is not one that made headlines because of national crisis such as the Boston Marathon Bombing. I didn’t lose otherwise normal limbs while fighting for my Country. Am I making sense? I didn’t come of age in Social Media where Promposals to kids with Special Needs go viral or a child on the spectrum shoots multiple baskets to close out a final game of a season. I DO NOT begrudge these later generations of kids who have benefited from widespread inclusion. In fact, I’d like to think I helped pave the way. Perhaps I have been “of use” to quote John Irving’s Dr. Larch.

Depression can take deep hold of anyone. For those suffering, suicide can seem like the only way out. Others may see it as selfish. Feeling like a burden is not easy even as many will proclaim one isn’t. Once a person experiences that initial thought, sometimes from earliest memory, it’s impossible to entirely erase from one’s mindset.

Please have compassion for those who have left via their own actions. And if you can handle the truth, unlike those whom Jack Nicholson’s character claimed couldn’t, reach out to those who may be struggling. As I suggest to students during school presentations, when encouraging them to look after each other, wouldn’t you want someone to look after you? For those who are struggling, please try to let someone know you’re hurting, reach deep down inside to find the courage to reach out for assistance. If Jesus cried out to his Father with no shame attached, so may we cry out for help.

Beauty and the Beast – More Than A Fairy Tale

MeThis weekend opened the long awaited live action “remake” or re-imagining of the Disney animated modern classic Beauty and the Beast, a movie near and dear to me for many and some complicated reasons. No longer a “cartoon” film but one with live actors, this version is likely to affect me even more.

The “original” premiered back in the day – a phrase I use too much as I get closer and closer to 50 this coming October. And really 1991 wasn’t all that much back in the day considering I started out in 1967. Disney’s great new era of animated features began two years earlier with its release of the fabulously entertaining The Little Mermaid. I don’t remember why I wasn’t fully enticed by Ariel (though I can guess) at the time but when Beauty and the Beast was released, I became a grown up fan of each new annual animated feature. Brain cells storing the memory of my first viewing of what would become an Academy Award Best Movie nominee are long gone, but I do remember being as enchanted as countless little girls wanting to be Belle. And I remember being hopeful for the message that I spread today…that people need to look beyond what is on the outside…that people who look different are regular people …not to be afraid of but worthy to befriend and perhaps even love. I didn’t relate so much to Belle (though I loved her love of books and her feisty independence) as I did to the Beast. Though many believe I have self-acceptance of my body differences there was a long time when I thought I was a freak, a grade or two below Beast level and to be honest, those thoughts rise up every now and again.

Belle, the plucky village girl dreams beyond the typical role of a woman in a provincial village with “stuck in the past” residents including the overbearing and chauvinistic Gaston. Gaston only wants Belle because Belle doesn’t want him. And later when Gaston discovers the Beast, he becomes enraged – how could anyone turn him away for a head horned pawed covered with animal fur man beast? This story “as old as time” does not need me to recap how it ends. Instead I write this about how Hollywood and Society still don’t understand how this is too much an one sided story and why it affects me so personally.

The summer before I was to enter college a well-meaning important person in my life had wanted me to be careful at campus parties. Though Smith was and still is a women’s college, male students from surrounding colleges as well as town residents were known to attend house parties. For various reasons that can wait for another blog, I did not participate in usual HS social activities. My inner party animal (pun intended) was waiting to get out. This person knew I was excited to leave home and enjoy all that college had to offer yet worried I was too naïve and inexperienced with partying situations. She later told me she agonized over how to properly prepare me for potential danger. She finally blurted, “Geri, be careful at parties where guys are likely to drink too much and become drunk. A group may see you and decide to make wagers as to who can fu@& the handicapped girl…” Horrified is too much an understatement of how I felt in that moment. I could be seen as a freak experiment? I had finally emerged from my almost 5 year self-imposed moratorium on talking to the boys in my class because in 7th Grade the all too common puberty related self-doubts took a stranglehold of my self-esteem.

I had always known I was different – having congenital deformities of all parts skeleton. I wore unbending prosthetics and my malformed arms/hands/fingers only reached below my bust line. My below the waist body is even more weird — my ugly legs and feet that don’t allow me to walk. I had been used to stares in public and questions of “what’s wrong with her?” as early as I had conscious awareness. I was actually an outgoing little girl, as plucky as Belle herself I believe until adolescence and hormones took over. And I had talked to, even kicked at times, the boys in my classes up until 6th Grade. Finally by the time 2nd half of HS Senior Year arrived, I emerged from my shell and began communicating, however difficult, with some of the guys. Yet I waited too long and I was not invited to my Senior Prom – again chalking it up to that no one wanted to go with the funny looking Geri even as I had grown up with all my classmates in our small school district.

And now this special woman was warning me that again I could be seen as freak just as I was keen to start a new chapter of my life, determined to push myself out into the world – even if it was an all-female college.

See the connection now as to why I feel a kinship to the Beast? Yet life is not a fairytale with all happy endings. No magical transformations swirling in cinematic glory. And the Beast was a guy who was loved by a woman – the way it is generally in both reel and real life. Many more men with physical disabilities are likely to be married. We see this in many more feature films and our everyday world. Women are traditional caregivers. In my many hospitalizations over the years, several in rehab settings, I’ve seen women therapists have relationships with their male patients. The Boston Marathon, while horrendous in its initial terror and tragedy, has in time brought out stories of nurses and other health care providers who have married male survivors with various life changing injuries/conditions. And while I, embarrassingly, have never been in a romantic relationship, I have nonetheless been interested in a few gentlemen over the years. And a couple of times, mothers of a two men I liked would intimate that I should not get my hopes up, that I was not wife material and could not provide a home – in other words, I would be a burden. For those who don’t know my background, I was abandoned by my biological parents at birth – was I too much a beast baby and perhaps would be a burden? These questions have followed me throughout my life.

I still want to see this new version of Beauty and the Beast, for the music I love, for the banter between Lumiere and Cogsworth, for the fairy tale ending that true love sees beyond the beastly exterior. I still want to have that hope for myself.

Thank You, Mr. Pryor: An Apology, An Appreciation

J. Allan Pryor’s Life Legacy

For all the tributes I share on FB, most are for celebrated or noteworthy people in public life, whether an actor of yesteryear or an actor gone too soon or a beloved astronaut, etc. These are people who made an impact on my life one way or another…whether nostalgic memories or of historic importance.

This tribute is for a gentleman who is noteworthy to thousands of students he taught, of which I was one and is worthy of a blog entry dedicated in his memory. He made an impact on my life in ways he probably wasn’t aware of and I regret to this day, now that it’s too late, that I never thanked him for. And nor did I apologize for behavior I am not proud of looking back on. In fact, I have not been proud of myself for a long time now and which I have known for years I should have asked forgiveness.

J. Allan Pryor’s obituary notes him as a teacher first…”teacher, advisor, friend, beloved uncle and brother…” Mr. Pryor taught seminar style around a large table (or two pushed together?) in a room off the Library.

Believe it or not, I was a very shy insecure HS Student, especially after returning Junior year having missed the latter 2/3rd of Sophomore year to first hellish Spinal Surgery. I was accepted into Junior’s Advanced English Class only after my 10th Grade Teacher/home tutor – the lovely Mrs. Levy who made delicious brownies – “recommended” me to the teacher. For all of Junior Year I never felt as though I belonged (another story for another time). So when it came time to apply for AP English, I was nervous but knew at least I would have to go through the same process…essay writing and an “interview” (I think though can’t exactly remember). And there were fewer slots available. Not everyone from our 11th Grade class would move on. My only hang up was that I knew Mrs. Levy and Mr. Pryor were close colleagues. I truly wanted to be accepted on my merit. Long story a bit shorter, I was accepted into AP English …a class of Classics and European Readings mostly, taught College style. Several of my friends, girls of course as I had barely talked to the boys since 7th grade, were in the class, too, so I felt “safe” as long as I would sit next to them. Didn’t always work out that way naturally.

Senior Year had barely started when I intuitively knew Mr. Pryor liked me …admired me. I was a wee one when I first detected these types of reactions from people. This kind of – what seemed to me – unearned admiration was not welcomed. I’ve always wanted to be liked for my intelligence, my caring, my humor (as lame as it is sometimes), my writing, and my outreach.

Now comes the hard part …I took advantage of Mr. Pryor’s good will. I’d turn in papers late several times. And I’d never be penalized (not that I can remember which is why I’ve always felt guilty). In all the 30+ years since, I was and am embarrassed that I never apologized. Had looked forward to him coming to our HS Reunion in Oct. 2015 thinking I’d finally do what was right. Sadly, Mr. Pryor wasn’t feeling well enough that day to come in the evening and sent his regrets. We always think there will be another opportunity to say what we know needs to be said. One would think I finally learned the painful truth the last time I spoke to my Dad on the day he died, leaving the most important statement unspoken. There is no excuse for not picking up the phone save sheer cowardice and shame.

With the long overdue apology comes appreciation that has grown with each passing decade…never more so than when I watch Jeopardy and Franz Kafka/The Metamorphosis is favorite question to clues every few months. As much as I am happy I know the question, I still cringe as that story has haunted me (the reason why is for another time) from our reading of it for an overnight assignment. And possibly one of the best Pop Quizzes ever was Mr. Pryor having us “draw” main character Gregor after he wakes up. A teacher would certainly know immediately if any student had not done the homework. All the other works we read come to mind during countless Jeopardy clues, too!

There were many more memorable plays and books we read Senior year. And though I never knew why (another reason I should have made contact), Mr. Pryor inexplicably chose me to read one of the most famous soliloquies in all of literature…Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” Me of the shrill squeaky voice who practically never raised her short hand to answer a question. There were a few guys in our class with wonderfully expressive voices. And not to be sexist, I can think of a couple of girls who would have been great, too. I can’t imagine what my classmates thought. I knew I was horrified and practiced all that winter weekend, the cadence, the pronunciations, the inflections… What was he thinking? And now all these years later, I’m a public speaker. Can’t say that was precisely the beginning but perhaps Mr. Pryor saw something inside of me I was too insecure to at the time. Isn’t that what a great teacher is…one who sees what a student can’t see of oneself? I wish I knew if he knew what I’ve been doing with my presentations.

Another lasting lesson I learned the hard way was how to read peers’ work and offer comments. Simple “this is good writing” notes would not suffice. We were graded in part on our “critical review” of each other’s assignments. Yea, that was fun – Not! Unsurprisingly, I nearly always picked my friends’ papers – the girls! Until one day myself and another student were directed to the cafeteria to read one another’s papers (I think on Zorba the Greek – nearly 50 year old brain cells have been lost) since we had both turned in our assignments late and had not been in the binder left in the Library for classmates’ comments. Yep, the other student was one of the guys…one of the good guys, one of the cute guys. I enjoyed what ever book we had read and though I didn’t think my paper was all that, I did guess it was likely better than the one I was tasked to read. How could I write comments on a paper that wasn’t very good? And of a cute guy sitting across the table from me…one I barely said two words to ever. As I wrote above, he was one of the good guys and at one point he piped up, admitting his paper wasn’t great and I shouldn’t feel bad for being “critical” — a gallant gent letting me off another mortifying hook.

Madame Bovary proved to be a revelatory read as I actually had comments in response to Mr. Pryor’s questions – only as usual I’d whisper them to whichever friend I was sitting next to. This one friend this one time I caught began to yawn and stretch her hands as Mr. Pryor called my name. Seemed that M was pointing down at me…curse of being much shorter than everyone else. No one would ever admit how many times this had occurred previously but I then learned not to whisper anymore!

Back in the day, early in the school term, Seniors were assigned to write an autobiographical essay. I think (who knows – my timeline may be mixed up) this was to help us with our college essays. As usual, I procrastinated and struggled with what to write. There was the obvious topic but I tried to stray as much as possible. I wrote first of my Grandparents and eventually got around to the obvious. I was truthful no doubt about the pain, but I also ended the paper on an optimistic tone as I do believe that is what keeps me going. And I actually handed that paper in on time! I was, however, absent when graded papers were returned. Dear Mr. Pryor had suggested that classmates ask me to read it. Those assigned personal essays had not been left in the library binder for comments. I didn’t know until the next day when I sat down and another classmate – and a guy even — asked me to read my paper. I was very confused till somebody explained later. Oh the embarrassment once again…what did my classmates think…that I was the teacher’s pet? And this could be why I began to “test” Mr. Pryor’s good will…I wanted him to get frustrated with me. Probably didn’t help either that Senioritis set in early after being accepted to college in December. Yet I never succeeded because J. Allan Pryor was a generous soul…one I didn’t fully appreciate then.

Besides the serious topics of AP English, we also had fun. Mr. Pryor gave our class permission to celebrate Birthdays! My 17th Birthday came in October on a Monday and I was extremely grumpy that morning because no one had wished me a HB yet. Second period I came into our classroom and actually slammed my books on the table, a rare display for me at the time. Truthfully, not sure anyone noticed. Wasn’t long, though, before Sarah, Lisa and others brought out the baked Birthday goodies, singing along. Needless to say, I was delighted even if embarrassed while a year long tradition was started. Somehow it was always us girls who brought the snacks and desserts until Mr. Pryor shamed the guys. Last day of Senior Year, the guys went all out with fancy foods (with some help from Moms and Grandmothers), drink, and a coffee urn. What a feast we had to end a terrific year with each other.

AP English with Mr. Pryor was a highlight of my Senior Year at BHHS even as I didn’t fully embrace it till too late. The lessons I learned those months from a passionate teacher whether from literature or of life are timeless. I can only hope hundreds of other students thanked him enough so he knew what a great force he was at Byram Hills. And somehow I hope the indirect messages sent to him with the apology he was due from me were received. Even if they were, the message of thanks were not, save now here …where I believe he can still see what is being written, I pray.

Mr. Pryor, thank you for being one of BH’s beloved Teachers …you had quirks for sure and a wicked sense of humor, with a great intellect and a gentleness that could help the hardest to reach students. Don’t worry, I won’t include here that last question I asked you in the main office on final day of Senior Year when some had arranged a Hawaiian theme complete with plastic leis. I think I finally did shock him with my tongue in cheek potty mouth. Thank you for being one of my biggest fans when I didn’t deserve it. And thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zones (several times!). You were a teacher in the best sense, teacher and advisor. My condolences to your loving family and friends and to all the students who made the extra efforts to exchange correspondence with you these many years. You were a treasure here on earth. Enjoy reunions with all the former BH teachers gone …some long ago, others more recently. Please give my regards to Mrs. Levy if possible as I owe her an apology as well. Enjoy all the spiritual reunions with loved ones and happy encounters with any you may wish to discuss why this or that with!
“I was happy, I knew that. While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realize – sometimes with astonishment – how happy we had been.”
Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

Musings on Birthday #49

Since Sunday, I have shared a slew of Baby Pictures on my personal FB account. The Baby Pictures only begin at approximately 12 months though. I’ve definitely been looking back at a time I don’t remember. I’ve also been reflective as my 49th Birthday approaches Saturday. Some friends who I adore believe in the idea of a month long celebration!! Being a middle aged single woman sans partner of any kind, being motherless and currently being more housebound than not means I don’t have lots of ways to celebrate for long, let alone a month, but I will admit I DO LOOK FORWARD to my Birthday each year.

Quite a while ago, a person commented that Birthdays really aren’t that important – and she doesn’t care much when they roll around… the underlying message being that I was too old to want a big deal made of my special day. This person also demeaned me and a dear friend who came to share in my grief when my Mom died last year, sneering when knowing we were sharing a King size bed in the hotel.

Yes, I do look forward to October 22nd each year – though the day comes with sad thoughts and lingering questions that will trouble me to my end of days. I was born unbelievably at 5:15 AM (never again would I arrive anywhere so early!) at White Plains Hospital to an Italian couple. I will likely never know if I was ever held by either the man or woman – or if only by the delivery doctor and nurses and later nursery staff. I’ll never know if there were any tears of joy (doubtful) but rather tears of shame or dare I wonder, horror. Logically and intellectually, I can understand the fear and disappointment of the couple who had already lost a baby daughter a few years earlier to the same genetic condition. That baby died within a few days. For whatever reason unexplained, my internal health was sturdier if not my skeleton make up. Diastrophic Dwarfism (as I first remember the condition being called) or Dysplasia is a recessive hereditary condition so both haywire genes were present from the egg and sperm in the embryo that resulted in me. Having taken Anatomy and Physiology some time ago now for my MS Ed/CTRS requirements I was amazed how the slightest change can result in either life threatening illness and/or body malformation, even something as seemingly minute as a missing protein.

Many people know by this blog and website that I give school presentations and give older students an overview of my life story including details of being given up by my biological parents. Thankfully, I was given the chance to live out in society rather than an institution as was the usual decision through the end of the 1960s. And despite an handwritten note of instruction “No Pictures to be taken of this Baby” put atop my Hospital records (copies received when in my mid 20s), Department of Social Services workers decided to put my picture in the local county newspaper seeking a family. The family decided upon was the Marianos, then of Bronxville, NY – Doris and Bill with their daughters Joanne, Beth and Andrea.

Sadly, I lost both my Mom and Dad in 2015 so my main story tellers are silenced forever but I have memories of the stories told to me and pictures that accompany the story. An official family portrait and individual baby pictures were taken soon after my arrival. And there would be many more pictures over the years. What a gift of acceptance and love.

Ironically, I developed a love/hate relationship with pictures. After my cute baby days were over and I entered the awkward teen years and adolescence doubts took hold, I really did believe I was a freak. I so wanted people to want to take my picture and then when they did, I would pick apart each photo to decide if I looked weird or not. I’m particularly sensitive to anything shown below the waist. Last year was my HS Class of 1985’s 30th Reunion. Though not pleased I was confined to a wheelchair and slouching back, I nonetheless decided to glam up as much as possible and was thrilled when friends/classmates wanted to take pictures. Ridiculously, I still remember there were no candid photos of me in our Senior yearbook. Of course I was never a cheerleader or played on sports or part of the popular cliques but I still wonder why I didn’t rate one candid back then and chalk it up to my not being pretty enough.

Once during a summer camp week away, fellow campers convinced two sweet boys with developmental disabilities from Long Island that I was cute and interested in them; the message being that only those with diminished capabilities would be interested in me. I never told anyone about that until a year or so ago, but the humiliation has always stayed with me. That and women whose sons I “crushed” on would subtly tell me that girlfriend or wife material I would never be…messages I can never shake though I desperately wish I could.

Now back to my Birthday …the big 49! 49 is big, one might ask? Well considering I have vivid memories of wondering if I’d make it to 50, yes, 49 does seem to be a milestone. A few times over the years I asked a couple of doctors, two women actually (maybe I felt safer asking the tough question with them), what my life expectancy was. Both times the responses were “Don’t really know.” Yet, doctors have looked after me and have done what’s needed to prolong my life. During 10th Grade, I underwent a tremendously difficult spinal operation that left me in a body cast for 6 months and cut short my Sophomore year. The reason given was that my spinal curvature was increasing and would “crush” my heart. In 1992, a C3-C4 degenerated disk was removed before it could slip and slice through my spinal cord. In 2015, there were two more arduous and complicating spinal surgeries to allow continued breathing and hopefully a return to mobility. 50 doesn’t seem to be much of a question mark anymore though my other questions of whether I’d still be scooting and doing acrobatic leaps on/off the Throne and over the tub wall are more or less answered.

The weeklong retrospective back to baby pictures day has helped me realize how far I have come. I may not be so adorable anymore (really what 49 year old respectable woman wants to be cute?) but dang, when I try …I can be pretty and even sexy! Happy Birthday to me!

Happy July 4th, America!

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write. ~ Elie Wiesel

Today is July 4th, 2016, 240 years after the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence – for the 13 colonies, from that point on to be known as the United States of America, to sever ties with England, from their oppressors, to rebel against taxation without representation among other iniquities.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”

Can’t help but read these words with new appreciation and insight. These are tumultuous times we live in. Within the past week, we saw our original Sovereign power declare its independence from a modern international union.

For all of America’s current faults and divisions, and they are plentiful, I am grateful to be an American citizen. Am grateful to have been born on this land. Am not sure how or when exactly I became a mini Yankee Doodle Dandy and Patriotic fool – was as far back as Elementary School. My parents were always involved in politics and we celebrated the 4th of July each summer with cookouts, sparklers, fireworks over the Hudson River and later right over Orange Lake. Dad would buy us Commemorative Coins – including the 1976 Bicentennial Set. I’d read books set in the Revolutionary Days, including one about a little girl living in Bedford (and for the life of me, I can not remember the title or the character’s name). I read biographies of important Americans. I delighted in the Bicentennial Celebration during 3rd grade with Miss Partalis. Holly Hobby, Martha Washington, Betsy Ross were a few of my “idols” – yes, I was a bit of a geek way back. 6th & 8th Grade Social Studies classes brought more American History and my fascination grew.

Then came 9th Grade Non Western Studies with Mr. Klinger. Herbert Klinger who wore drab olive green sweaters and slacks. He was a world traveler and had made numerous educational films. (Seriously, what kid wasn’t thrilled to see the projector set up when entering the classroom?) We learned of the caste system in India I remember. And surely we learned something about ancient China (I think?). What I remember most, though, is sitting in my mid row seat hearing and seeing about babies in Africa that were left out for Animals to eat or to die in the elements – the babies that weren’t healthy or “normal.” I remember shifting around in the chair, not knowing what to do ..wanting to cry but not wanting to draw attention to myself. Back in those days there were no such thing as “trigger warnings,” not that I do think it was or is necessary. Life happens and survival of the fittest means rising to the occasion and facing difficulties when they come. If we were all to be warned ahead of time, where would our strength develop from? Back to the point at hand, 9th Grade Non Western Studies Social Studies Class was when I knew for sure I was blessed to have been born in America. Sure I was left in a hospital by my biological parents, but I wasn’t put outside to perish.

And I wasn’t even left in a hospital forever because wise women (and I do believe the powers to be at that time were wise women) decided I should have independence to a degree, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness out in society – my unalienable rights as much as the next baby.

Our government is not perfect, there are the pros and cons to Benefits – but I’ll save those for another time.

For this July 4th, 2016, the 240th Anniversary of this great imperfect nation, I am grateful to be an American and I pray to be here in 10 years for the 250th Celebration!! Regardless of my physical independence, whether it bounces back some or not, I am still of Independent Mind and that is everything.

Geri does the ALS Challenge!

Finally! The #ALSChallenge for raising awareness for ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Mr. Gehrig from the earliest time I heard of Yankee lore was my hero …his grace and dignity in the face of “bad breaks.” I know all about bad breaks, too, but like Mr. Gehrig, am lucky to have so much support from here, family and friends and my community of classmates from K to College and my town.

Now Hundreds of Thousands have taken part of this fun challenge …imagine what hundreds of thousands could do if we take part of of many challenges — to help raise awareness for all sorts of debilitating conditions but also more importantly — Peace in our World.

Freddie, Or, Why I Talk With Children

How we think of ourselves is often at odds with how others think of us. In this short memoir, author and diagnosed Diastrophic Dwarf Geri Mariano shares an encounter she had with an open-minded, inquisitive young boy named Freddie, her seatmate on an hours-long flight.

#EqualityIs: acceptance of differences of all kinds.


As digital communication becomes faster and more accessible, we are given a window into the lives of others, and given the chance to better understand differences. As TV shows like “Little People Big World” showcase people living “ordinary” lives simply in differently shaped bodies, I believe that opportunities for women with disabilities will continue to grow. As a woman with a disability, I look to women like Illinois Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee now serving as a leader for our country. I draw strength from examples like hers in my work raising awareness about disability.

In my experience, sometimes the simplest of interactions can affect great change, particularly with children. Children can often see beneath the odd-looking exterior a person might have and to see what’s inside. They are more open than adults, until they are taught that they shouldn’t be. These few moments with this little boy named Freddie remind me that the work I do speaking at schools is worthwhile. I remain hopeful that there might now be countless other open-minded children like Freddie out there.


Still adjusting myself in the spacious accommodations, I shifted back and forth, trying to get comfortable.

“I love first class,” said the child seated next to me.

I nodded, heartily agreeing with his declaration.

“I do it every time I fly,” he continued.  “Do you?”

I wish. I had only gotten this seat assignment five minutes before. Still weary from worry, I wiped away a stray tear of grateful relief over finally being able to relax on the second leg of the flight home, after a three-and-a-half day whirlwind trip.

Shaking my head no, I responded, “Hardly, but when I do, I like it very much.”

“My mom works for the airline,” he revealed, “so we get whichever seats are left open after everyone has boarded.” He looked at me expectantly, ostensibly awaiting an explanation as to why I was privileged to be in the airplane’s front cabin.  “Usually, whenever the airlines mess up my seat assignment,” I began, trying to make it sound simple, “they end up moving me to first class.  It doesn’t happen very often though.”

Satisfied for the moment, he went on. “My parents are divorced. I’m an only child, you know, so my mother takes me to a lot of places! And we always go first class. I guess I’m pretty spoiled.” He stated this so matter-of-factly, as if it were the most common state of being for a child.

How does one respond to such a proclamation?  And what was this kid going to be like the whole two hour flight to LaGuardia?  I shifted around to look at my neighbor more closely. He certainly dressed well–Lands End shirt, khaki baggy pants and a World War II type leather flight jacket. He had a small, round face and frame, pinchable cheeks, and cropped brown hair.

Before I could gather my wits for a response, he was already fidgeting with a hand-held Nintendo computer game, complete with different game cartridges and a re-charger apparatus. He then turned back to me and focused on my “legs” over which he had climbed earlier. His mother had seemed annoyed that I couldn’t move them out of the way.

“They’re prosthetics,” I started. “They cover my own legs, so I can walk. They don’t bend at the knees, so I need to sit in the first row, the bulk-head, so my legs will fit sticking straight out.”

“Oh.” Like most kids, he looked as if questions were bursting out of him.

The flight attendant then came with my complimentary pre-take-off drink, one I hoped would push me into the sleep which I had missed over the past few days.


Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my neighbor watch as I juggled the drink, a purse, and four fast wilting roses. Spotting my flower predicament, the flight attendant promised to come back with wet napkins for the flowers after we were airborne.

“Just came from a wedding and plucked these from my bouquet to bring home,” I offered, attempting to direct the course of conversation.

He nodded understandingly and with piqued interest. “Whose wedding?” 


“A friend from college,” I replied enthusiastically, happy for an opportunity to talk of the grand wedding, my first as a bridesmaid.

He eyed me suspiciously following that last answer.  “How old are you?”

“Twenty-five. How old are you?”

“Nine. You don’t look that old,” he pressed.

He was right, though. Even sitting down, I still looked shorter, younger and I sounded younger–my short vocal chords give me higher pitched voice, a physics phenomenon I learned in high school. And my arms were also shorter than normal. In medical terms, I am a Diastrophic Dwarf, but to kids, I’m an odd looking package. I didn’t blame him for wondering and staring. And he wasn’t rude about it like the kids who pester their parents with “Mommy, look at that girl.” Parents could be the worst offenders though, when they shame their kids into silence, thus perpetuating the “different equals freak” credo.


In medical terms, I am a Diastrophic Dwarf, but to kids, I’m an odd looking package. I didn’t blame him for wondering and staring. And he wasn’t rude about it like some kids.



Being nine, the boy’s interest immediately changed to a more urgent matter–why the flight attendant hadn’t asked his meal choice yet. On her next walk-by I flagged her down and explained the young boy’s concern. Once he finally gave his selection, he turned to me with a new look.

“Hey, thanks for getting her attention.”

“No problem,” I said, taking pleasure from my all too infrequent role as helper as opposed to help-ee. I suddenly felt very protective of the lad and wanted to know his name. “By the way, my name is Geri.”

“I’m Freddie.” He held out his hand to shake my offered hand, like a well-mannered boy. Most grown-ups are usually much more tentative during an introduction.

For a self-proclaimed spoiled kid, he was turning out alright.

The flight attendant returned with the promised napkins and Freddie asked about the wedding again. I gave a brief summary while he listened intently.

“Are you going to get married?”

He certainly was direct. A very good question though, one that had swirled in my head a lot over the past weekend. Some people didn’t think so. “Hope to, but you know, I’ll need to have a boyfriend first. Right now I don’t have one. But how about you? Do you have a girlfriend?”

He smiled shyly then took me into his confidence about his girl back home.

Later I asked Freddie about his travel plans.

“We’re going to New York for New Year’s. I have cousins on Long Island and we’re going skating at Rockefeller Center,” he bubbled with anticipation.

Above the clouds, Freddie and I dined together. When lunch came, Freddie was the perfect gentleman, offering to open all the plastic wrappers. The packages I could open with my stub-like fingers I did. The ones that were more difficult, I turned over to his eager hands.


When lunch came, Freddie was the perfect gentleman, offering to open all the plastic wrappers. The packages I could open with my stub-like fingers I did. The ones that were more difficult, I turned over to his eager hands.



From that point on we covered a range of topics, including my possible graduate school plans. Freddie assured me that if I ever chose Emory University, he’d fill me in on all the hot spots to go in his hometown of Atlanta. We didn’t talk the whole time though.  He played some more Nintendo and even offered me a turn which I graciously refused. Once, while he dozed for a few minutes, his mother came forward, leaned over me and checked on him. Smiling, I said, “Your son has been very friendly and helpful.  I’ve enjoyed talking with him.”

No smile, no nod of agreement. Nothing. Was I invisible?

In due time, we arrived in the air space over LaGuardia only to circle for an hour. The whole eastern seaboard had been fogged in for over 24 hours and the delays were endless. After a while the captain announced that the fog was still very heavy, that some planes were being sent to other airports. We had enough fuel for one landing attempt and for flight to Boston if need be.

Feeling uneasy, I turned to Freddie and grinned, to reassure him, just in case he might have been worried. He just nodded and then we both braced ourselves.

The plane started its descent but then the pilot pulled it up suddenly. “Sorry folks for that last jolt. I tried to land, but I couldn’t see the runway down there,” the captain apologized over the intercom. “We’re off to Boston. We won’t know for a while whether we’ll stay over there or try to come back here again later,” he explained further.

Freddie still appeared nervous, even after we were safely above the dense clouds. He went back to talk to his mother and returned dejected. “She won’t go to New York now,” he reported.

After finally landing at Boston’s Logan’s Airport to a round of applause, the captain came on with more apologies and advised us to wait for instructions. Clearly vexed over this detour and with apparently no patience to await word of our fate, Freddie’s mother came forward and hauled him out of his seat. He had accurately predicted that they’d be headed back on the next available flight to Atlanta. In whatever class seats were open, I figured.

Freddie loaded his belongings into his backpack and climbed over me for the last time. Shrugging his shoulders, he looked forlorn, and even apologetic. Before disappearing into the jet way, he glanced back, his eyes a bit brighter. “I hope you get married someday, Geri. I think you’re a nice lady.”

Maybe, someday. If there are more like you, Freddie.

About the Author 

Geri Mariano is a 46 year old woman with congenital defects of all parts skeletal. She was given up by biological parents of Italian heritage in 1967, when despite changing attitudes, shame and fear around babies who were not “normal” was still prevalent. Social Workers responsible for Geri’s care placed her picture in a local county newspaper, seeking a family for her and though never legally adopted, Geri was raised from 18 months old with a mom, dad and three sisters. She attended public school in New York State before the 1973 Rehab Act mandated that public schools accept students with special needs and she was “mainstreamed” before mainstreaming was a term used in education. Geri went on to attend Smith College and later graduated with a MS. Ed in Therapeutic Recreation. It was at Smith that she began talking with campus pre school students to promote awareness and understanding of those with differences. In the years since then, Geri has been interviewed for TV and newspaper outlets and taken her talks around the country. You can read more about Geri and her work at her website,