A heartwarming story from another Playhouse: My Uncle Mikey

We all have our heartwarming stories of acceptance, perseverance, and triumph. Here is one such story shared by another Playhouse, do you care to share your story?

My Uncle Mikey…

I struggle to think of the perfect way to start this as there are so many things I could say. BUT! If I mentioned every single wonderful thing about my uncle, the readers of this blog would have to sit at their computers, phones, or tablets for roughly a month to get to the end of the story.

Let’s start with the beginning of the story, first…

Born November 1st, 1972, Michael Edward Cota was brought into a world that was not accepting of him, a world that was full of ignorance, hate, and a complete lack of understanding of the beauty, love, and compassion that came along with his extra chromosome. My good friend, Julie Tenant, would call it the Love Chromosome – and after almost 42, Mikey has shown that love in tremendous amounts.
Thank goodness he was born to an amazing woman, Eleanor Cota, who began an endeavor to make sure the world accepted and loved her beautiful son, but that endeavor did not come without challenges. It breaks my heart and my eyes begin to swell as I think of the way in which my uncle struggled during his early years of life. After all, there was no Gigi’s Playhouse then!
Eleanor Cota is no longer with us, but her legacy lives on within her son and it is because of her that I am able to share these stories sadness, triumph, success, compassion, pain, struggle, and, love with you all.
There were no Down syndrome awareness groups, there were no service agencies, there were no teen groups, music classes, or even social inclusion. There were class rooms – four walls, a few desks, and students who were considered unequal – my Uncle Mikey being one of those students.
His spirits never dampened.
He grew, he loved, he struggled, and he persevered.
He graduated high school.
Perhaps one thing that kept his smile glowing was the special time he spent with his mother each night singing “His Banner Over me is Love”.
As a young child I can remember my Uncle Mikey going to “work” – a type of work study program for individuals with developmental disabilities in which he made very little money to sit around and do very easy tasks, to be pretty blunt about it. It was what he was offered. It was what my grandmother was forced to do for her son to promote acceptance and awareness in any way possible. It wasn’t for lack of trying, my family tried everything they possibly could to give Mikey the life he deserved.
Eventually, things began to get better for individuals with developmental disabilities, but they were far from perfect. The struggle lived on and Mikey smiled through it.
And then – Gigi’s Playhouse happened, and I think Mikey would agree that it is pretty darn close to perfection there.
His life has been forever changed.
He walked in the door to hugs, to smiles, to warmth, and to genuine love. He was accepted. He was loved. He was included. He was treated equally.
I remember the first time Uncle Mikey joined me at Gigi’s Playhouse, he just smiled, and smiled, and smiled some more… asked where the ice cream he was promised was (because Gigi’s Playhouse throws some rocking ice cream parties) and he smiled some more. He met Sonny – a young man who gave him perhaps the biggest hug ever. Mikey became like a big brother to Sonny and in just a quick moment, it seemed they had known each other for their whole lives. That was the moment I cried. That was the moment I knew my Uncle had found something he had missed out on during his childhood. He met Julie – who has the warmest smile… he met Jessica and Grace, who he thought were just too cute. In one single second, my Uncle had a whole new network of friends and people who loved him all thanks to Gigi’s Playhouse.
He met Ally and Heather, and he may have asked Heather to snap a few pictures of him.. just a few..(and by a few I mean a few hundred).
You see – Gigi’s Playhouse is not solely about programs for small children, or about teaching children and adults to cook, dance, or sing. It is about spreading HAPPINESS! I can’t recall a time I left there unhappy. It is about LOVE it is about ACCEPTANCE and it is about never forgetting that we are more alike than different.
After we left the playhouse that day, my uncle immediately wanted to know when the next party was (maybe it was because he wanted to see his friends, maybe it was because he wanted more ice cream – I believe it was a combination of both). He continued to ask about his friends – do they miss him, how is Sonny doing?
OBVIOUSLY he returned to the playhouse often and attended events such as their World Down Syndrome Day Celebration at Destiny USA – that was one of his favorites. He was so happy that there was something that was “all about him” – he must have had 30 plus people come up to him that night and I am telling you that smile never faded! Gigi’s Playhouse creates smiles – so many smiles.
THANK YOU to the playhouse volunteers, parents, friends, EVERYONE who has touched my uncle’s life and who has devoted their time to bettering the lives of others through such simple gestures. Gigi’s Playhouse is a life changing place – for all ages, all abilities, and all people. Gigi’s Playhouse is creating a powerful movement towards acceptance and achievement and lives are being changed every single day.
On behalf of my Uncle I would like to end by saying don’t ever take advantage of the wonderful things we have in our lives today, don’t ever lose sight of blessings- like the playhouse- for there was once a time when playhouses didn’t exist. There was once a time when differences weren’t embraced. We must appreciate the time we are in now and the progress that is being made all around us… For Mikey, for Julie, for Sonny, for Grace and Jessica, for everyone.
“Acceptance. It is the true thing everyone longs for. The one thing everyone craves. To walk in a room and be greeted by everyone with hugs and smiles, in that small passing moment, you truly know you’re loved, needed, and accepted.” – Rena Harmon

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  1. Deborah Wood on October 19, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Oddly I was watching season 9 episode 14 of Dallas (1978)regarding a school (Woodgrove) which specialized in Downs Syndrome – it appeared all ages but mostly kids (and some ADORABLE kids I might add!)attended and I tried to remember back that far – to remember the pervasive attitude back then – I was in college after just having spent 2 years abroad and you are right, they were largely dumped into “special education” classes and labeled “speds” – We – and with deep shame – myself included – were not kind or accepting to those children (in high school – college was different because there were none in college) – now going FURTHER back to grade school they were integrated with the student body and we didn’t SEE a difference, to us there was no color, no abnormality, no physical mental or emotional difference – we might ask “why is she darker than me” “why are her eyes different than mine” but it was curiosity not judgment and it CERTAINLY didn’t matter – it was only after we got older and those differences were pointed out to us, AFTER they were separated and labeled special education students, after our parents told us “you don’t need to hang out with “that kind” of student that we even put a value on the differences. Perhaps a BIG part of the problem is that very thing – growing up and being indoctrinated by our elders by the “grownups” in our lives.

    Your story REALLY touched me – the part where you said “I cried” well, that’s where I cried too. I’ve known many DS kids since then – as an adult – and they are AMAZING just the sweetest people I am so glad to know places like Gigi’s now exist to help then reach their full potential – that’s something that should be granted to everyone because all our potentials differ. Thank you for sharing such a warm personal story.

    • atlauthor on October 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. We, as a community, have moved in the right direction, towards a higher level of inclusion and acceptance, yet there is still so much more work to be done. Our kids have a tremendous amount of potential and we are glad to be here to help them tap it!

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