I met Carol 30 plus years ago. She was my high school social studies teacher. While she expected a lot of her students, Carol embodied what a strong work ethic and determination looked like every single day. Carol made us better students and better people. At the same time, it was abundantly clear how much Carol cared about her students. Honestly, she was all heart on the inside. Little did I know back then how much that combination of strength and heart would serve Carol in life.
When I became a social studies teacher a handful of years later, I found myself teaching alongside Carol. Transitioning from Carol’s student to her colleague and friend afforded me the opportunity to see a whole new side of her—the side with a hilarious sense of humor and an occasional potty-mouth (thank heavens, because I have one too!). I also had a chance to witness the many challenges Carol had to face. I doubt when Carol and her husband adopted their two daughters from a Russian orphanage in 2001 they imagined the trials ahead of them. It turned out that their youngest daughter, Lera, had a significant form of epilepsy—one that would require numerous brain surgeries and leave her with cognitive challenges. Carol received many calls from her daughter’s school alerting her that Lera had yet another seizure. Quickly, Carol had to alter her lessons, leave substitute plans, pack up her things, and go to Lera. As I watched Carol do this time and time again, I felt so helpless. I wanted to make things better, but I didn’t know how. When Lera needed not one, but multiple brain surgeries, Carol tried to make the fact her daughter had to have her head shaved fun by distracting Lera with hat or scarf headdress options. Even when Carol smiled and tried to use her sense of humor to cope, I saw the fear in her eyes. How could any parent faced with their child’s impending brain surgery not feel terrified? Brain surgery. Multiple times. Carol’s well of strength ran incredibly deep. Oceans don’t even run that deep.
Epilepsy, brain surgeries, ensuing cognitive challenges…that would leave any parent worried about their child’s future. Parenting can make every mother or father worried at times, but parenting a special needs child can bring that worry to a whole other level. As the mother of one neurotypical and one neuroatypical child, I can personally attest to this. Worry can quickly devolve into anguish in the sleepless hours of the night when the parents of special needs children can go to some pretty dark places—asking questions like…Will my child be able to survive on their own when my time on this earth is done?
Carol is a different kind of parent though. Carol is the kind of parent all kids deserve. She didn’t wallow and she didn’t waste time. Instead, Carol took fate into her own hands. When Lera graduated from school, Carol retired from teaching and created a business to give her daughter and other adults with special needs meaningful work, a sense of pride, and the opportunity to live out their dreams. Thus, the Love, Lera Bakery was born. With a mission of preparing quality baked goods and providing adults with special needs lasting employment, a meaningful wage, and the chance to operate a successful business, the Love, Lera Bakery is unique and heartwarmingly beautiful. Today was the Love, Lera Bakery’s opening day. With delectable baked goods and a soothing atmosphere adorned with the family photos of its employees, the Love, Lera Bakery is perfect. While you can get yummy treats at many a bakery, the baked goods at Love, Lera have a special secret ingredient…I think it just might be a mixture of strength and heart. It’s palpable and it’s something you won’t find anywhere else. It’s Carol. And Lera. And all of the other adults with special needs that have lived the bakery’s mantra… “NEVER GIVE UP!” Stop by and check them out at 344 Washington Avenue in North Haven, Connecticut or online at https://love-lera-bakery.myshopify.com/
You won’t regret it.