This morning before school I attempted to clip Wil’s fingernails. His nails were in definite need of trimming, and Wil is in definite dislike of having them trimmed.
He had just finished breakfast and was watching a video, so I thought it the perfect time as he was happily full and he was somewhat distracted. No such luck. He about had a complete meltdown over one single nail. I managed one more and he was about on the floor in a full-fledged tantrum. So I let it go at that. We spent about 5 minutes hugging to get over it. One negative ripple like that can spread into a wave of a difficult day. The hug did both of us good to rewind and reset on a better note.
Wil is not able to reason with me quite yet, and my being able to reason with him, though vastly improved as he’s gotten older, is still limited. There are some things, I just have to let go. I mean, these are fingernails for goodness sakes. They can live to be clipped another day. But his perception is that I’m forcing him to do something against his will. He was feeling immensely powerless and wasn’t able to fully communicate that with me other than having a meltdown. When he doesn’t want to do something, it doesn’t matter whether it’s trivial like fingernails or monumental like crossing the street. To him it’s the same importance. That’s the toughy.
We’ve had many occasions where he doesn’t want to bring his plate to the sink. I ask him to do so, and he will sit there. Then he’ll stand up and put it on the counter. Nope, I say, the sink. So he’ll stand there. And eventually, little by little, the plate makes it to the sink. It’s actually pretty funny, but when he is in a stubborn mood and I don’t have a half hour, it can get a bit frustrating. Yet other times, without being asked, he’ll bring his plate to the sink, rinse it off, and put it in the dishwasher.
When he’s in these upset moods, I need to back up, slow down, and find out what the source of his upset is. Sometimes I just don’t know. He probably doesn’t even know. It could be one thing or an accumualtion of things. I think we all can relate. However, most of us can be reasoned with. There is no forcing anything with Wil. And in a way, that is the blessing. I’ve learned the the only valuable force in these situations, is they force compassion.
This world is built for our convenience. Technology has been created for experiences to be easy and quick. I mean, we get upset if we have to wait 5 minutes in line! But Wil doesn’t operate that way. It could take 5 minutes just for him to get his dish to the countertop! And as challenging as it can be, I truly believe that’s his gift to this world. It is the gift of Down syndrome. We value convenience much too highly. If things don’t go our way, watch out! Wil, and his friends, remind us to slow down and evaluate the importance of what we are trying to do. To stop forcing and slow down to truly find the deep down purpose of what we are doing. Most times when it comes down to it, stopping everything for a long hug is what truly reboots the day in just the right way.
I just read a very saddening story how a mother’s son was denied certain medical services because her son has Down syndrome. Of course this is discrimination. And just plain wrong. Her point in sharing was that our voices are so very important and powerful. I’m so thankful she took the time to share her story not so we could get angry, but so we could get loud. To be proactive with our voices. That there is still ignorance surrounding the value of our kids lives. Our kids need and deserve our voices to be heard! I’ve always believed our stories need to be heard, even and maybe most importantly, our daily lives. Wil smellling flowers, Wil hugging his sisters, Wil loving on his dog, Wil swimming in the pool, Wil doing his homework. Our lives have certain challenges, but our life really is not that different. What life does not have a mix of challenges and joys? I’ve grown so much in learning to work through the challenges, which elevates the joyful daily moments to new heights. I truly would not change a single moment!
I’m thankful I had the exact opposite experience at Mott Children’s Hospital yesterday. As the endocrinologist walked in the door the first thing she said was, “He is such an angel.” His sisters, who were also sitting in the doctor’s room, chuckled at this because to them he is their little brother! He loves to tease and pester them as many little brothers do. He is both an angel and a little bit of a devil Aren’t we all?! This life is so ordinary and so magical all at the same time.
Never think you have too ordinary of a story to share. The world needs glimpses into our daily lives to erase the fears! Whenever you share a story, whether it be full of elation of a successful moment, or working through certain challenges while holding strong to faith, or a beautiful snapshot of an everyday moment, share it with LOVE. FULLY BELIEVE with all your HEART that the feeling of this moment shared will reach the right person at just the right time. VISUALIZE a mind blossoming open. We have all had our minds firmly closed to certain ideas and then an experience suddenly gives us an enlightening new view. It’s quite a miraculous feeling. Give others that gift with your story. Our loved ones with Down syndrome deserve at least that much. 💙
“Haha, you know he does! But that’s kind of the point. He lives out loud. It’s funny, as we get older, and supposedly smarter, we seem to close ourselves off to living out loud. We get set in our ways and our beliefs. Wil broke me of that, and thank goodness. I think everyone needs those wake-up calls in life to shake them out of their set ways. He shakes things up and makes me look at things in a new way almost every, single day. Do you remember how I called something ‘weird’ the other day? Then you corrected me and said I should use the word ‘different’ instead. I really appreciated that. You said what may be weird to me may not be weird to someone else. It was just their way of doing something that was different from mine. Well, that’s kind of the point with my blog. There is a lot of fear surrounding Down syndrome. Even though in a lot of ways Wil is the same, people fear what is different. And it’s not because it’s bad, it’s just because they don’t understand it. By writing these blogs, I hope to bring some understanding. And more than that, fully embracing Down syndrome. The way Wil lives is very freeing and invigorating. Something a lot of us adults could learn from. This blog is in big part for what Wil stands for. Think of the kids in school. They all love Wil because he doesn’t judge them. No matter who they are, he will readily give them a great big bear hug just because he loves them for who they are. Or how we all know when Wil eats a chocolate donut he says “mmmmmm” out loud with every single bite. It makes it so much more fun to have a donut with him. Or how he stopped in the headphone aisle at Target, put a pair of headphones on and danced to the music. He can make any kind of experience fun, no matter where we are. But as adults we get so used to things and so get bored with life. We get set in our ways and our beliefs, and life gets kind of dull. Wil never, ever gets bored. And he never, ever lets life get dull. If he can do that, then can’t we all do the same in our own way? Wil gives us permission to be free, to have fun, to be who we are in our essence. The irony is, many of us fear Down syndrome, when I think what we really fear is letting ourselves be exactly who we are.”
I have a For Sale sign taped to the inside of the passenger window of my truck. Wil was home sick from school with a wheezy cough, so we were headed to the doctor. With his sisters in school, he excitedly opened the passenger door for the coveted front seat. He looked up at the For Sale sign taped to the window. With just enough sunlight to make the sign transparent, he read through the back of it; he said out loud, “Miles.”
“Hey, Mom! I see Wil upside down!” I looked over and saw it. There it was, plain as day in bold black Sharpie. “Wil” is in fact, the first three letters of the word “Miles” upside down.
And that is pretty much what Wil does to my perspective every single day. What I see as very common-stance and ordinary stands out as something new, creative and fun to Wil. And thankfully he shares his perspective with me so I may too, see that the only thing that’s ordinary in this life is our perspective. He can make magic out of just about anything.
As a 49-year-old adult, I’m prone to routines. Especially being married with 3 kids, a job, volunteer work, and working out, I am consistently fine-tuning and seeking new ways to streamline my schedule so I can do all the things I choose to do in a day. The side effect to this, for me anyway, is I can get task-focused and forget to see what is around me (that may be why I enjoy running and swimming so much, it’s my time to unplug and be in the moment). If I don’t make an intentional choice to be present, I easily become focused on what is ahead over what is right now.
Wil is rarely, if ever, is directly on task. This fact can be quite frustrating if you are in a hurry. Anyone who has lived or has spent lots of time with a loved one with Down syndrome knows what I mean. Hurry is simply not in the vocabulary. Whenever possible, I always add in a 10-15 minute buffer when we have somewhere to go because there always seems to be a delay of some sort (unless he doesn’t want to be somewhere, then he can find an exit and be gone before you’ve blinked). Wil knows he’s not very fast and it’s even become a bit of a joke around our household. Wil’s very particular about what hat he wears each day. Occasionally, Wil decides to change his hat just as it’s time to go out the door. So I’ll say, “Ok, Wil, go get your hat, quick like a rabbit!” And he’ll laugh and say with very slow, exaggerated steps, “Ok, Mom, sloooooow liiiike a tortoise.” 🙂
At the school circle drop-off, there is a 7-second rule. Kids are supposed to exit the car in 7 seconds and then the driver rolls away so the next car in line can pull up. This keeps the circle moving smoothly and efficiently. Even with our best efforts, 7 seconds is not realistic for us, so most days we park and walk up to the school. Some days Wil wants to be dropped off at circle, so we do the best we can. I know some parents have seen us go around the circle 3 times because Wil isn’t quite ready. We all have our “3 circle days.” Just the other day, he wanted to be dropped off at circle, but “Boys ‘Round Here” came on the radio. He loves that song! It was still playing as we pulled up to the drop-off and there was no way he was getting out until the song was over. So around we went, but the song was still playing on the 2nd round. So I ended up pulling into a parking spot as we jammed to Blake Shelton singing to the end. When the song was over, I rolled back into the circle line and Wil made a successful exit in what I’d guess was maybe 12 seconds. That’s rabbit time for us! That may have been our 3rd time around but Blake Shelton gave both of us a happy lift to the morning.
That’s how it is for us. It takes us a few extra laps around the circle. Someone else’s tortoise pace is our rabbit pace. And we celebrate that. Sometimes I think it would do us all a world of good to take an extra few laps around the circle every once in a while until we felt good about the day ahead. This world moves fast and we all move fast with it. We value the rabbit over the tortoise as the years pass and our lives get busier. We hardly stop to listen to a song all the way to the end, or take time to read a sign in it’s entirety, let alone take a moment to view it upside down.
We zoom through life waiting for life to “happen” to us, rather than “happening” to life by approaching it in a new way. Shifting our view, or taking another circle around can change everything. When Wil looks at something in a new way and shares it with me, I’m always left with a feeling a vitality for life. It’s like this little secret to joy that’s been unlocked right in front of me. All these little pieces of magic, right here, right now, to discover every single day. I’m thankful for Wil’s reminders of this fact, as many times as I might need them.
It was nearly 8AM and my son was busting at the seams. The dog was wagging around picking up on his energy. A quick glance out the window and I could tell it was not frigid cold. The trees barely swayed indicating the lack of wind, and no frost had accumulated on the ground. My weather app showed it to be 29 degrees; downright balmy for this time of year.
“How about taking Woody for a field walk, Wil?” Woody was definitely on board. Hearing the word “walk” he did a little jump and his tail went into hyper-sonic mode.
“Yes!” Wil said and ran off to pick out which hat he would wear. Always the most important accessory, according to him. Wil chose his warm Red Wings hat signed by Luke Glendening. We zipped up coats, pulled on gloves and boots, and still in pjs underneath, we flew out the back door.
Woody ran ahead with his head down sniffing all the animal scents along the way. Wil and I made our way down the flattened part of the field.
“Dad cut this part.” he said.
“Yes, he did back in the fall. Now that it’s winter, the grass doesn’t grow so he doesn’t have to cut it. Feel the frozen parts under your feet?” He responded by making big stomps on the ground. As Wil has Down syndrome, and it has taken him time to learn to talk, and to express his emotions, I truly enjoy listening to his thoughts. Each word of a sentence is like a little gift.
Woody cut over to the adjoining field so we cut across the brush to follow him. In that area is a big pile of large tree limbs that was used by the county to divide our property from the county’s. Wil wanted to climb the branches so we stopped there. He put his leg up on the branch and tried to hoist himself up.
“Uh! I caaaaaaaaaan do it!” he said as he pulled with his arms on a higher tree limb and pushed down with his foot. He pulled and pushed and then he plopped down on the ground.
“Uh! That is hard work!”
“It is, try again and I can help you just a little.” We tried again and he made it up on the first limb. The height scared him and he immediately asked to come back down.
“Let’s walk, Mom.”
So off we went until we came to some of the trees his sisters like to climb. He made the same attempt there with the same results. I tried again to help him by pushing up on his leg, but as soon as he reached the bottom branch of the tree he became scared of the height and asked me to stop and let him down. He sees the things his sisters do and wants to do them so badly. He watches his sisters climb trees and jump off the dock to swim at my parent’s lake. One time at the lake he did not have his swim suit, and my mom gave him one of sister’s just so he would have something on. He was so excited as he thought it would magically make him swim like his sister, Katherine. Wil ran out to the dock full of energy and hope. As soon as he reached the dock, he realized that the powers he had imagined had vanished.
These experiences give me a twinge of sadness for him. But that doesn’t last long because Wil doesn’t stay in that place like I do. Wil has already moved on. When he realized Katherine’s suit lost its powers, he went down the steps of the dock into the shallow part of the lake, right next to the seawall that he can grab hold of when the waves come in from a boat. He splashes, laughs, stands on one leg and says, “Look at me Mom!” I wave back and smile, and say, “Wow! Great balancing, buddy!”
So today after his tree climbing attempt, though I’m sure he felt disappointment, he didn’t linger in those emotions. He was already off in search of the biggest branches that had fallen to the ground. He struck gold. He lifted it up, grunting to exaggerate it’s weight. He held it up proudly and said, “Mom, look!”
“Wow, that is huge! Look how strong you are!” And soon he dropped that one and went in search of another. This fun adventure went on for the next half hour.
I watched as he crouched down, lifted up yet another branch to show me, then he dropped it and quickly searched for another. I thought of his low muscle tone and how beneficial this was to him. Not to mention all the sensory input. Oh, that special needs mom brain is always kicking in!
But it wasn’t just Wil benefitting, I was too. I breathed in the fresh, crisp air and enjoyed this moment for what it was; simple, beautiful, perfect. There is little that compares to the gifts nature gives by purely being what it is.
As far as Wil has come, I realized how far I have come right along with him. This road to acceptance is not a point to point destination. It’s a continuous road. Sure I can say I accept Down syndrome fully, but it’s not that simple. If acceptance is accepting a person completely as they are, then it can not be a static thing. We are always evolving, so our level of acceptance must be too.
Today when I felt a pang of sadness for Wil when he could not climb the tree like his sisters, I won’t see it the same way next tomorrow. We will both have moved on to a new adventure and we will again circle back to that tree for another attempt but at a different level. Each time he will be a step closer. One of these days he will climb that tree, and we will celebrate it all the more for the adventure it took to get there. And with each attempt I will have learned something new right along with him.
As Wil hoisted up the biggest branch yet, he exaggeratedly grunted and then giggled as he wobbled from foot to foot showing off his latest find.
“Take a picture of this one, Mom!” It was barely 9AM and we already were experiencing the greatest of adventures right in our very own back yard.