When we asked for recommendations of an extraordinary mother to feature this month, Alicia Keenan got more nominations than Everything Everywhere All at Once.
She was described as “mom of five, including one with special needs, rock star, friend, mentor, advocate, substitute teacher, dynamic, impactful and just a wonderful human.”
You had us at “mom of five.” Here’s our delightful, insightful conversation with the amazing, inspiring Alicia Keenan.
How long have you lived in Orinda and what brought you here?
My husband David and I met in high school in upstate New York. We’re East Coast transplants who first moved to San Ramon when David transferred with Twitter.
What we had in San Ramon was a great school district, but not a community. Everyone said if we wanted a community, we should be in Lamorinda and that’s exactly what we found when we moved to Orinda in 2016.
You have five kids, including triplets, one of whom has Down Syndrome. What are their names and ages and how do you and your husband manage it all?
Our oldest, Ania, is 19 and finishing her first year at NYU. The triplets, who are 13, are Lorelei, Grayson and Simon who has Down Syndrome. Our youngest, Rowan, is 11 and was born 20 months after the triplets.
When the children were younger, we lived within 15 minutes of both sets of grandparents, so we had some help. The key is David and I have a relationship in which we are true partners.
Be it paid work or sitting in an IEP (individualized education program) meeting or managing a team activity, we value the work the other is putting in for our whole family. Another mantra we practice, especially having a child with special needs, is that he, Simon, [and all our children] are a part of our circle, not the center of it. We are all a part of our family circle.
Tell us about your involvement with POISE.
When we first moved to Orinda I heard about POISE for parents of children with special needs. I was approached six years ago and asked to revitalize it as a support group for parents.
It’s hard being a parent of a child with special needs. It’s difficult to navigate and POISE is a place where parents can talk to each other and share and collaborate.
We have monthly coffee chats and parents with children with autism or dyslexia, for example, can form their own little support groups. It’s about making connections, which is the community I craved.
What’s it like to raise a child with special needs?
It’s a lot like raising any kid. Each one is so different. Two typical kids can be so drastically different.
For example, Simon has buckets and buckets of confidence. He walks into a room and he’s the first to tell two jokes. We tease each other that Simon got all the confidence DNA.
Logistically it’s harder. Simon has more doctors appointments than the other four combined.
Having an IEP (a document that’s created through a team of the child’s parents and district personnel) for Simon is also different. The EIP dictates what’s provided and worked on with a child from age three to 22.
What has been your greatest lesson in this journey?
People often talk about the children who didn’t fall far from the tree, the kids who are just like us. When you have a child who falls far from the tree, it’s pretty crystal clear, the things people think are most important-making great grades, getting into an elite college, being the number one on a sports team-none of those are really important.
What is important is why you become parents. The “why” is to love somebody and have them love you back. You want them to be part of the community and to have goals to achieve.
What do you wish other people knew about kids with special needs?
It doesn’t take a lot to include people with special needs in our everyday lives. Sometimes we have to be a bit more patient, but being inclusive is not always the laborious ordeal it is believed to be. And a small effort of inclusion can go a long way in a child’s or a family’s experience in school, sports and community.
Simon is in the musical at OIS and he’s on the track team, because the school district is making an effort to be inclusive. Before Covid-19, Simon was a part of the Peter Pan Foundation musical and has participated in several community activities within Orinda, so my experience is the community as a whole makes an effort to be inclusive.
What are you doing for Mother’s Day?
I always get stuffed French toast on Mother’s Day. Last year we all worked together in my vegetable garden afterwards. It was a really good day. Maybe we’ll do that again.
Kathy Cordova can be reached at email@example.com.
Parents of Orinda Individuals in Special Education (POISE) is a support group for parents in Orinda schools seeking support, guidance and resources for their children with IEPs and/or a 504 plan. Any parent whose student needs additional support – reading, behavioral, speech, academic, etc. – is welcome at POISE. Visit https://www.orindapoise.org/ for more information.