A New Flight Path

On the day of Wil’s birth, the nurse said he was “floppy” which is a soft marker for Down syndrome. He melted into my chest. The soft, defined curve of his eyes warmed my heart like I’d known this love forever. At the same time, the shape of his eyes sent a hard marker of knowing deep into my gut. I wouldn’t let the knowing climb up to be processed by my rationale. I held it down like a child with hands clamped over her ears, singing, “la-la-la-la.”

We all have dreams for our children. Even if our children do not step into those dreams. Even if we don’t really expect them to. It’s natural to form a moving picture view of the future ahead. Our dreams point the way. When I could no longer hold down the knowing of Wil’s diagnosis, confirmed by a doctor’s solemn nod, I found myself staring into a blank future. In what direction do I go? It was a stand-still in time.

I stared into Wil’s eyes and wondered at the seeming randomness of it all. Though I received many words of consolation and many words of encouragement, I felt directionless. I had no reference point. I was lost even though people all around me shouted directions.  

My first step was to call a trusted friend, Beckie Brewis. She ran the First Steps Parents as Teachers program which Katherine and Elizabeth were enrolled in. She was also the Early On service coordinator (a program for children with special needs ages 0-5). She put me in touch with therapists for Wil. He soon started speech, physical and occupational therapy. Beckie and Wil’s therapists not only helped him take his first steps into speaking, walking and picking up Cheerios, they also helped me take my first steps into this life too. 

When Wil first learned to walk, his physical therapist, Shelly, helped him up onto a balance beam. Shelly held one of Wil’s hands and I held the other.  On a balance beam the only reference point is forward, or you fall off. “Look how he does that,” Shelly said as Wil advanced along the beam. “He doesn’t know how to walk on his own yet, but he is now able to place one foot in front of the other.”

Today Wil and I run like airplanes – our arms out wide, we dip, we skip, we circle, we jump, we zig, we zag, all through the landscape. Our path may seem directionless to some, but we know where we are going because our grounding is solid. Imprinted in the earth are our footprints, one in front of the other, the path of trusted friends alongside steadying our gait. 

Learning to walk through the blank space was how I learned to fly. You can’t spread your wings standing still with your hands clamped over your ears. The knowing that I once held down is now the air that lights my wings….arms out wide, ears open, eyes curved to the sky, la-la-la-la onward we go.

Photo: Beckie and Wil

Just Friends Being Friends

“I was just wondering if Wil wanted to be part of the 7 dwarfs. We were thinking he could be Snuggly, Giggly, Silly, or Smiley! Considering Wil has all those traits!” I received this text from Ashley about Halloween costumes. Ashley and Wil, now in 8th grade, have gone to school together and been friends since preschool.

I read Ashley’s text aloud to Wil. He jumped up and responded, “Yes!” Wil chose Smiley, then I received another text from Ashley: “Or Seeger was thinking he could be the prince if he wanted to.” (Seeger is another good friend of Wil’s from school.)

“The prince!” Wil said without an ounce of hesitation. Which is quite apt, as Wil’s friends, who are planning a Snow White-style Halloween, are all girls.

Our Down Syndrome Support Team holds an annual Buddy Walk the last Sunday of September to raise awareness and acceptance for individuals with Down syndrome. With the pandemic, the decision was to hold a virtual event. Wil and his friends were not to miss out, so we held a small, local walk to which about 30 friends participated in. Wil, of course, walked with his close buddies, Ashley, Seeger, Lila and Sarah. At one point during the walk, Wil decided he needed a break and sat down on the sidewalk. Wil’s friends stopped and cheered him on. With their encouragement, Wil jumped up and they all started running. The friends joked it was the “Buddy Run.”

Near the end of the walk, we climbed to the top of school bus loop. Once at the top, Wil’s friends ran down the steep, grassy hill along the side of the bus loop. Wil remained at the top, looking trepid. Once again, the cheering section arose. His friends’ cheers nudged Wil over the edge and he tore down the hill. Once united, the friends jumped, laughed and cheered in a circle. It’s just as rewarding to be the cheerleader as it is to be the cheered.

Last year, I was talking to Ashley after school. She told me about an activity in gym the group of friends enjoyed participating in together. Then she said Wil grew tired and laid flat out on the gym floor. She shrugged her shoulders, smiled and said, “That’s just Wil being Wil.”

When Wil doesn’t have the words, his actions are his communication. Wil’s friends understand his language. Wil doesn’t judge others or create drama; it’s simply not in his arsenal. In that way, his friends are fully free to be themselves. If you are sad, he accepts your sadness without question. If you are happy, he accepts your happiness fully. If you feel goofy, he’s more than willing to join you in the silliness. If you need a hug, he has one at the ready. If that’s your clothing style, then it’s cool. To Wil, that’s just you being you.

As a parent of a child with special needs, I know first-hand the fight for acceptance. I also know first-hand that acceptance is quite fundamental: It’s just friends being friends.

Our Own Little Buddy Walk



The DSST Buddy Walk was virtual this year, but thanks to Wil’s amazing friends and this caring community, we had our own fun walk of about 30 people (and dogs!) in Manchester. Our local Steelegrafix LLC made our shirts this year and not only donated a portion of the proceeds to DSST, but also matched that amount! Manchester Mirror wrote an article about the event: http://themanchestermirror.com/2020/09/28/annual-buddy-walk-goes-virtual-for-2020/?fbclid=IwAR0_R7peFOfYsXal3REQWOTEXy-oZogfEFm6ps0SZ3y43ET1ofljqRZO11Q


Thanks to all who supported and/or walked!! If you’d still like to donate, Wils link is:
https://secure.frontstream.com/buddywalk2020/team/924124