We All Have Hard Stuff

Yesterday, I just didn’t have it in me. Yesterday, I did not have the patience that on somedays I find miles of.

Some days I wish Wil would just get up and get in the car when I ask him to. Some days I wish I could say, “We are leaving in 20 minutes,” and he’d go get his hat and shoes, and then we’d be on our way. But it doesn’t work like that.

Every time we need to go somewhere it’s a process. I start 30 minutes ahead of time with Wil. I ask him to get his shoes and pick out the hat he wants. Then I check in 10 minutes later. He may have moved closer to his destination, or he may not have. There is more coaxing. And then, eventually, he is ready to go. Or not. This is not once in awhile. This is all the time.

Yesterday Katherine and Elizabeth had driver’s education at 6pm, and that means we needed to leave at 5:30pm. I was making dinner and realized it was already getting past 5pm. It was time to let Wil know it was time to get ready to go.

I walked downstairs and told Wil it was time to go. “Ok, Mom. Hugs.” This is all normal. He’s big on hugs. I’m big on his hugs. That’s the beauty of not being in a hurry with Wil. You never forget to give and receive hugs.

After our hugs, I asked Wil to get his Crocs and pick out the hat he wanted to wear. He said ok and I went back upstairs to continue with dinner. Ten minutes later I didn’t hear any noises from him getting ready to go. I went back downstairs and he was sitting on the floor. He had been good-natured so I wasn’t sure what this resistance was about. With more hugs and coaxing, I told him it was time to go. He refused to budge. As I didn’t understand the reasons behind this particular refusal, I wasn’t sure how to talk him through it. It may have been a simple case of being a teenager and exerting his independence.

At times, Katherine or Elizabeth are able to get him moving. Katherine came downstairs. “Wil, can you get up and hold my hand? I really need a hug.” Wil looked at her and considered this, then ducked his head down. Not a good sign.

At this point, we were running out of time. “Wil, we need to go,” I said. “This is not fair to your sisters. You had plenty of time to get ready, and it’s time to get up.” He looked at me and looked back down. “Come on, one last hug. Can you get up and give me one last hug?” I hugged and tried to lift him up, which sometimes works. He resisted strongly. At this point, we were on the verge of being late. I asked Katherine for help. She asked Wil for another hug, but he sunk down deeper.

Elizabeth came downstairs to see what was happening because it was time to go. We literally had minutes left. I don’t like lifting Wil against his will, but I also don’t like sending him a message that this behavior is ok. We all need to work together – and that’s what we did, well at least three of us. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. After all of our coaxing and hugging, Katherine, Elizabeth and I lifted him up.

Wil is over 100 pounds, has low muscle tone so can wiggle out of your grip like a noodle, and he was unwilling. We made it up half of the steps to the landing and set him down. I again asked Wil to get up on his own.

“Don’t carry me. I’m not a baby.” Wil said.

“You are right Wil. You are not a baby. You are 13 years old. You are very big. So let’s stand up on your own and walk to the car like a big, grown up 13 year old does.”

No response. We picked him up again and made it to the door. Again, he refused to walk on his own. So we picked him up and made it to the car. Again, he refused to get in on his own. We picked him up again and got him in the car.

This whole process was physically and mentally exhausting for all of us. Wil was withdrawing in the backseat of the car, and I was doing all I could not to break down in a full out ugly sob. I hesitate to use the word traumatic, as that is quite extreme, but in that moment that is the best word I had to describe what I felt. It was a very heavy feeling. I just hated lifting him up like that and making him do something so against his will. But he also needs boundaries and to understand that we need to go and do things when he doesn’t feel like it; that’s just part of life. How to do that, how to balance that, I don’t know. I’ve learned a lot raising Wil, but I have a lot more to learn. And gosh does it hurt sometimes.

He was upset for some time in the car, understandably so. Katherine and Elizabeth seemed like they were fine, and we talked it out. I don’t like that they have to go through this either. This is part of their everyday life too. We never just get in the car and go. For them, everything is a process, and much of it revolves around Wil. Surely it has created great compassion and strength in them that many will never understand fully. I just don’t want this to cause resentment toward their brother. At this point, I’ve certainly seen loss of patience, which all siblings have, but thankfully no signs of resentment, and I’d like to keep it that way.

On the drive home, while Katherine and Elizabeth were at driver’s training, I asked, “Wil, do you know why we lifted you up in the car?”

“Hmph.”

“Wil, your refusing to leave was being very inconsiderate of your sisters. They cannot be late to this class and your refusing to leave almost made them late. When you have somewhere to go your sisters are very considerate of you. I’m asking you to be considerate of them, too.”

“Mom, I’m not listening to you.”

I stifled a laugh – this was so pure, typical teenager. I’m balancing Down syndrome and typical teenager with Wil. On one hand, this comment is a milestone for him; using his words in this way to express his emotions. On the other hand, the mother of a teenager in me was thinking, “Oh yes you will be listening to me.”

After I had picked up Katherine and Elizabeth from driver’s training and we had made it back home, Wil had recovered and was bouncing around in his happy state. Me, not so much. I still felt the deep turmoil in the pit of my stomach. Do you ever have this deep sob within you and it just needs to come out? That’s what I had and I was trying to hold it down in my stomach and process through it piece by piece to make sense of it. Sometimes I can do that. As I process each emotion and what it means, it eases the pain, bit by bit, until the sob has dissipated. This time though, the turmoil remained jumbled up in my stomach and I just couldn’t find the state of mind to unravel it.

Later that evening, we were all sitting on the couch and Matt asked Elizabeth how driver’s training was.

“Well, we were almost late thanks to Wil. But we made good time.” Elizabeth responded.

“What happened with Wil?” Matt asked.

Elizabeth told Matt what happened. I confirmed and filled in a few details.

“It looks like he’s fine now.” Matt said.

“He was upset for some time,” I said. “I hope the message sunk in. It was so hard. I know he’s bouncing around now, but he was really mad at me for a while.”

“Mad at you?” Elizabeth said and looked at me. How did that girl get so smart? She has amazing perspective for her age. Looking at her, and feeling how grateful I am for how both Elizabeth and Katherine roll with those tough times, and take it in stride, the sobs came up to the surface before I could even process what was happening. There was no stopping them then. I didn’t want the girls to see me like that so I went to my bedroom and I let it all out.

Matt came in and hugged me. I was so thankful to have him to hold on to. I sobbed my heavy sobs and held on to him around his waist.

We talked a little bit. I told him how I feel lost with Wil sometimes. That I don’t know the right thing to do when he’s like that. I don’t know if the message was received by him. I don’t like to force him, but reasoning with him is not always an option. And we talked some more. We are also raising two fifteen year old girls and that has its own challenges. There are days I feel like I’m failing, and this was one of them. Then Matt stood up and picked up this little note I keep Elizabeth made years ago that said, “Best mom ever.” He handed it to me. I loved him so much at that moment. More tears.

He said to me, “Everyone has their stuff, Christie. It might look different, and they might not always talk about it, but everyone has hard stuff they have to deal with. This is some of our hard stuff.”

And that’s why I’m writing this now. What compels me the most is for you to see the big picture on raising a child with Down syndrome. Some see our kids as happy all the time. They are not. Some see raising a child with Down syndrome as an always challenging journey. It is not. It’s a mix of everything, just like everyone else’s life. We all have hard stuff, even if it looks different and we don’t always talk about it.

This morning on the way to Wil’s swim lesson, he was jamming to his favorite Luke Bryan songs. The sun was shining and his high spirit was contagious. I couldn’t help but sing with him, as we ventured forward into a fresh, new day.
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The Stage is his Playground

I was listening to a podcast and the host said that when he started speaking publicly, he was terrified of the size of the stage. There was too much room, too much space. So he started awkwardly, standing in his spot. He looked awkward, sounded awkward, moved awkwardly.
When he started to view the stage as his playground, all of the awkwardness disappeared.
Wil is not a good singer. But he sings loud anyway. When he hears a new song he likes, he will find it on his iPad. He will play it over and over, rewinding in certain parts as many times as he needs, until he knows every word. Or what he thinks is every word. He’ll play the song so many times, and sing the song so many times, that if he has a lyric wrong, when I hear the actual song in the car without Wil, I’m like, “Luke Bryan, you are singing it wrong!”
Almost every morning, Wil has his iPad on full blast, his voice on full blast and his dancing on full blast. Though none if it comes together in beautiful symmetry, I would never define it as awkward. He is free and full of the moment. The stage is his playround, and that makes you want to jump right on stage with him. And I do.
I am not a good singer, and my dancing could use some help. But when Wil is rocking out, I rock right out with him. When there is a guitar solo, we are head-banging with the best of them, even if it is country music.
If there was any sense of a bad mood, it falls right off the edge of the stage. It’s a beautifully freeing feeling, full of authenticity, even if we may sound and look ridiculous. But that is part of its charm.
On the drive to Wil’s swim lessons, he is DJ. He turns up his favorite tunes on Amazon Music, and with the windows down, we are jamming. When we pulled up to the stoplight, some utility men were working there. I turned down the music and Wil turned it right back up. One of the men looked over with a frown, then saw Wil singing and grooving in his seat. He smiled and waved at Wil.
When we entered the club entrance where Wil has his lessons, we drove by a golf course. I turned down the music again and told Wil we needed to be quieter here in respect for the golfers. He hit stop on my phone. “Mom, after swim lessons, let’s listen to “One Margarita.”
After swim lessons, and quietly driving past the golf course, Wil cranked up “One Margarita” at 9:30AM. We waved at the utility men as we drove by, windows down, belting out in our bad voices, “Don’t worry ’bout tomorrow
Leave all your sorrow out here on the floatin’ dock.”
Wil makes the stage everyone’s playground.
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Opening the View

I’m embarrassed of things I said before Wil was born. I was ignorant. I just didn’t know. Now, when I hear or read certain words, I cringe immediately. My kids cringe immediately. We know better, thank God.
When words hurt, our primitive drive is to react with a fight. Eliminate that word! It is evil. Words are easy targets. They are tangible. Something to go to war on. But is it the word? Or the feeling behind the word? The feeling is in the soul of the word. Once the word is killed, the soul will live on. Like a disease, if the spirit of the feeling goes untreated, it will come back in a different form.
So how do we fight a feeling? How do you fight the spirit of something? Or is even putting up a fight the right thing?
Nobody had to fight me to change my mind. I was instantaneously in a place where I needed to listen. I needed to learn. All that I thought I knew, or better yet, what I thought I didn’t want to know about, was staring me right in the face.
I may have opened my mind over the years with life experiences without having a child with special needs. I already was a fairly open-minded person, but I still closed my mind to things I didn’t want to know about. But now, oh how I want you to see this place. I want so badly for you to understand what I once didn’t. I want you to see how incredibly amazing this place is. How full, vibrant and enriching it is. How you would never, ever think think to throw stones in our direction if you only knew.
I don’t want to fight ignorant feelings. I don’t want to throw the stones thrown at us right back at the thrower. I want to open eyes. I want to open ears. I want to open all senses to the beauty that is right here in plain view.
You can’t eliminate a feeling with a fight. But you can transform a feeling by opening the view to meet all of the senses.
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The Same, but a Little Brighter

You know that “brillance” enhancement on your iPhone photos? How your picture is the same, but a little brighter? That’s how it is raising a child with Ds. There is a lot that is the same. So much that is the same. Then there are the experiences that take longer to emerge; I like to call it active patience. You try and wait, you try and wait, you try another tactic and wait. You continue on with active patience. Then it happens. It all comes together. Even though you’ve been trying and waiting, it feels like this big, magical surprise gift. That’s what makes it the same, but a little brighter.

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Wil’s Growing Independence

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Wil as a young adult. Will he live with Matt and myself? Will he live independently with help? Will he have his own apartment with a friend? Wil is a very social person; he loves to swim, golf and hang out with friends. I know he’ll want to be involved in various activities as a young adult. Right now, with the pandemic, I’m always looking for ways to keep him active, healthy and interested in hobbies as there is less available. Recently, he had a virtual theater class with his Down syndrome support group. He greatly enjoyed singing and dancing with his friends he hasn’t seen for months.

Wil values his independence.  He takes walks by himself in our back field with our yellow lab, Woody. He calls these walks his “adventures.” While he handles most of his self-care on his own, he does not fully appreciate the dangers of traffic and strangers. He also doesn’t understand the value of money.  Over time, his understanding of finances and dangers may come. Or it may not. As I have not been gifted a crystal ball, what I can do is find ways to broaden his independence and foster his growth.

I thought Wil having time home alone with his good friend, Lila Harvey, would be a great independence booster for Wil. I asked Lila’s mom, Rebecca, if she would be comfortable with Lila staying with Wil for just over 2 hours without me home. Wil enjoys Lila’s company greatly, she is smart as a whip, and stands firm on her ground. She’s also very good at finding activities they both can enjoy; which is no small task especially for someone her age. I’m always impressed and thankful for their friendship. Rebecca and Lila were both on board.

When I told Wil he would be home alone with Lila, he looked up at me in shock, then said, “Yay!”

Wil and Lila both love music, so when Lila arrived, Wil got out his iPad and they started singing songs together. I left on that high note.

When I returned home, they were both racing their bikes in the driveway. Two pairs of mud-caked boots were on the porch and Woody was wet and muddy; his tail was a-wagging.

“Hi Mom!” Wil yelled out as he sped by on his bike. The scent of lemongrass bug spray hung in the air behind him.

“Hi Miss Christie,” Lila said, “we had a dance party then walked to the river. It was low and muddy, but we had a good time.”

I suppose in our own ways, we all tested the waters that day. Though our waters are not always crystal clear, they are good fun for jumping in and getting your boots muddy. I breathed in the refreshing scent of lemongrass hanging in the air as my son sped by at his own speed, his friend racing with him, and his dog’s tail a-wagging.

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STORIES OF WIL: PUBERTY PART 1 is now available on AMAZON!!

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It’s here!!! We are so excited to make this announcement! This work of love is live on Amazon in both paperback and ebook format.
The purpose of writing Stories of Wil: Puberty Part 1 is to connect with families through relatable stories and raise awareness.
If upon reading this work of love, you find a benefit to you in these stories, please share your thoughts with others, and I’d appreciate your time in leaving feedback in a review on Amazon.com.
I’ve priced Stories of Wil: Puberty Part 1 affordably in both paperback and ebook format during these changing times (and free on Kindle Unlimited!).
For your copy, please click here: Stories of Wil: Puberty Part 1
Thank you for your readership, your love and support of our loved ones with Down syndrome!
XO,
Christie

In Sync

As Wil has gotten older, it’s clear he needs closer friends with Down syndrome. He has wonderful friends at school that love and support him fully. As the gap in abilities with his typical peers grows and social lives expand, Wil also needs to cultivate friendships with those whose abilities match his.

Manny’s family lives in the neighboring town, so his mother, Laura, reached out to get our boys together. Manny will be entering 9th grade, and Wil 8th.

When Manny arrived at our house, it was our second get-together. We had met at Portage Lake the previous week and a friendship was formed. Though both Manny and Wil had talked of this second get-together for days, when Manny entered our house he went to the couch and Wil retreated to his bedroom. They were overwhelmed.

I took a big sigh of relief. Why? Because this was normal behavior not for just one of them, but for both of them.

I coaxed Wil out of his room, and Laura coaxed Manny to show Wil the toys he brought. Manny won Wil’s heart by bringing him a can of Sprite to drink with lunch.

The two laughed and were silly with lunch, and that broke the ice. But after lunch, they separated again. Even this separation was refreshing to me as it’s usually Wil I’m coaxing while others wait. This day, we were all gloriously on the same page, even if Manny and Wil were apart. Manny’s older sister, Grace, was there, and she kept the conversation going engaging both Wil and Manny. Like Katherine and Elizabeth (who were at a birthday party), this is Grace’s normal, and she handles it, well, with grace.

Laura suggested a movie to start the ball rolling again. And roll the ball we did — Manny chose Hotel Transylvania 3 and we played a game where we sat on the floor and rolled the ball to each other. When the music in the movie played, that was the kryptonite to whatever was holding them back. Manny and Wil broke out their dance moves. Then Wil broke out his karaoke player and jammed to Luke Bryan while Manny jammed on his Bluetooth mic he brought from home.

After the jam session, we headed outside to the driveway to ride bikes. Manny tried Wil’s recumbent bike while Wil rode his bike with training wheels. The handles on the recumbent bike are what steer it. Manny is used to using an elliptical machine, so he was pumping the handles back and forth zig zagging around. I thought that was a smart technique. With a few more tries, he figured it out and was zooming around, even on the grass!

Then I took Manny on the 4-wheeler. He “woohoo’d” the entire time. The guy has a need for speed!

Soon it was time for them to go, and we said our goodbyes until next time. I talked to my sister that evening, and told her how great it is to have a get-together where the kids are on the same level. It’s something you just don’t take for granted.

A day full of stops, starts, zig-zags, and full speeds ahead — all the while, remaining gloriously in sync.

(Photo: Potato chip lips)

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A Colorful Morning

The previous weekend, a storm blew through town and we lost our power. When Wil woke up, as per usual, he wanted his hot sandwich. I explained to him that we lost power so it would have to be a cold sandwich. Then he realized he couldn’t watch his favorite television show. He was becoming upset as he realized all the things that power provided to us that he wouldn’t be able to use. Wil is very much an outdoor-loving kid, so I suggested we go for a walk in town after breakfast. (With the pandemic, we’d been on multiple walks down our country roads. I knew the suggestion of walking in town would be more enticing to him as it would provide fresh scenery.)

I put the wagon in the back of the car, then Elizabeth, Wil and I (Katherine was spending the night at my parent’s house) drove into town while Matt stayed at home getting the generator running. Wil is an active kid, but with low muscle tone he gets tired easily. The wagon is useful in that he can take breaks and we can all walk together for longer distances. However, at 112 pounds, he’s not so easy to pull around anymore!

When we arrived in town, I bought Wil a Gatorade at the gas station as a “special treat.” We unloaded the wagon and walked behind the gas station to the gravel trail that runs along the River Raisin. It was a beautiful, bright morning.  Multiple chipmunks scuttled in and out of the greenery along the trail, and though humidity hung in the air, the bugs were minimal.

At one point on the trail, when Wil was walking, we left the wagon behind as its noisy and bumpy on the gravel. On our return, the wagon in sight, Wil decided he was too tired to make it to the wagon. If he sat down, we knew it would be hard to get him back up again. Elizabeth ran over to Wil and whispered in his ear. “Wil, tell mom her hair is purple!” He ran over to me and yelled out, “Mom, your hair is purple!”

“Purple hair?” I patted my head. “How did that happen? Wil, come here.” I whispered in his ear, “Guess what? Elizabeth has orange toes.” He laughed and ran over to Elizabeth and yelled out, “Elizabeth, you have orange toes!”

We continued down the trail this way, with Wil running back and forth between Elizabeth and myself, sharing our colorful secrets about our arms, legs, noses, ears, toes and fingers. When we reached the wagon, Wil wanted to continue the game, so he walked on as I pulled the empty wagon. Elizabeth and I had to get creative with our colors – at one point I had chartreuse arms and she had a magenta nose.

Wil did hop in the wagon for the last climb up to the car. As I pulled the wagon up the hill, Wil occasionally called out the colors of our chameleon-like selves in-between sips of Gatorade. We made a final stop at Acorn Market for fresh blueberries and raspberries.

The power outage at home made way for a colorful morning out on the town.

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BOOK TRAILER!!!


STORIES OF WIL: Puberty Part 1 is coming soon! A “proof copy” has been ordered! 💙If the proof looks good, this work of love will be available on Amazon.com in just over a week!!!

Our dear friend, Aaron Garner, came to our home to film this book trailer. He’s a true talent and we all had a wonderful time.

We’d love your thoughts on the trailer!