In Wil’s Words

Wil and I laid on our sectional couch just before bedtime. Our heads together, we made a right angle given that we are almost the same height from top to bottom. My boy is growing up. 

“Mom, we read ‘The Shoemaker.’” I smiled. It takes quiet moments like these for Wil to initiate a conversation. 

“The Shoemaker? Was that in Ms. Kennedy’s class?” (Ms. Kennedy is Wil’s new resource room teacher.)

“Yes, up on the screen.” 

“Did you read it with the whole class?”

“Yes. There were elves.”

“Elves? Were they helping make the shoes?”

“Yes. They are cute.” Wil tilted his head closer to mine and smiled up at me.

“You are cute too.”

“I know.”

 “Tell me how the elves made the shoes.”

At quiet times like these, when Wil’s words are flowing and forthcoming, I wonder how many stories Wil keeps locked inside when the world is moving too fast for him. Wil is quick to laugh with his friends and interjects when he has something to say, but he rarely expands on his thoughts unless the time is laid out openly in front of him. When conversations are moving fast, as they typically do during the day, Wil is prone to stutter. Wil knows exactly what he wants to say but his words don’t come out fast enough and he gets stuck. “Use your soft voice, Wil,” is a cue we learned from Mrs. Charney, one of Wil’s speech therapists. Using his “soft voice” gives Wil the feeling of time and space laid out in front of him for his words to flow into.

When Wil is not forthcoming about his day (he is a teenager, after all), the topic of lunch usually gets the conversation rolling. Lunch revolves around his two favorite subjects: food and friends. Wil easily offers, in great detail, the day’s menu and the friends he sat with at the lunch table: “Seeger, Lila, Ashely, Sarah, Lilly…” This group of friends is gold, and happen to be 100% female. One of Wil’s homework assignments asked, “What do you want to do when you are an adult?” He thought about it for a moment and answered, “Football player.” 

“Hmmm, that’s an interesting answer.” I said. “You don’t play football. Do you want to learn how?”

“No.” 

“I’m pretty sure you have to know how to play football to be a football player. What else would you like to do?” 

“Get married.” 

“I’m not surprised to hear that. I hope whoever you marry loves listening to your stories as much as I do, Wil.”

“You are silly, Mom.”

Typical Truths

“He will always be happy.” “God only gives special children to special people.” “Kids with Down syndrome are angels on earth.” Or the dreaded, “I’m sorry.”

Words meant to heal. Words meant to help. Words meant to fill the gap of not knowing what else to say.I have experienced, however, these words don’t fit the truth. Wil is not always happy. I’m not any more special than anyone else. Wil may be an angel, though, because he has brought me to my knees in prayer on many an occasion.

So what are the words that heal? What are the words that help? What words effectively fill the gap when it seems there are no words to say?I didn’t know the answers to those questions myself after I received Wil’s diagnosis. I was shocked and confused. My typical hopes and dreams were instantly dashed. A large void stood before me. What do I fill that space with? I simply didn’t know.

In tears, I called a childhood friend, Kelly. As I blubbered on about my child having Down syndrome, she said, “Well, how much does he weigh?” I stopped my crying in shock. Such a typical question of a newborn. I realized I had not yet been asked any typical questions. I didn’t even know I wanted to be asked such a question until that moment. When everything felt a-typical, feeling typical was a healing balm.

Words such as “Congratulations!” “What a beautiful baby!” Or, like my friend, “How much does he weigh?” And the helpful yet typical lie, “You look amazing and you just gave birth!”

In those early days, as a mother, I was flooded with information on how different our life would be. I didn’t want to feel special, I wanted to feel “normal.” I already was feeling sorry for myself, so I didn’t want anyone sorry for me. Hearing such typical words was the healing balm I craved yet I didn’t know it until I heard it.

Every baby is a gift. Every baby is an angel. And every mom deserves to feel special after giving birth.

Champs of the Day

Two weeks ago, I shared a story with you about our tubing adventure on Lake Lansing with friends Cheri, Randy and their son, CJ. Thanks to Cheri’s patience, Wil overcame his fears and very tentatively got on the tube with her. With much coaxing, Cheri convinced Wil to go for a very slow ride. Wil’s fear morphed into thrill that day, and he couldn’t wait to come back for another try.

Wil’s second attempt was vastly different from his first. Wil eagerly hopped on the tube with his friend CJ, who also has Down syndrome. CJ is very adept at water sports. He tubes, wakeboards, ZUPs – you name the water sport and he’s likely an expert. He’s also fun to watch as he has great enthusiasm and knows lots of tricks. CJ, thus experienced, easily got up on his hands and knees on the tube. Wil followed CJ’s lead and propped himself up on his hands and knees. We all cheered Wil on from the boat.Wil and CJ bounced over big waves and even went outside of the wake. Wil’s smile never faded. What a transformation from his first ride!

After the tubing fun, we were all hungry. We decided to make a trip to Culver’s for a bite to eat. Wil loves a cheeseburger so he was pumped up. CJ was also pumped up to eat a cheeseburger with his friend, Wil. Cheri and I exchanged stories how Wil and CJ can tend to swallow things whole, as it’s so much work to chew certain foods. (Many individuals with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, making chewing certain foods a challenge.) Cheeseburgers are one of those challenging foods for CJ. He typically removes the bun and cuts up the cheeseburger. This day, however, CJ was determined to eat a full cheeseburger complete with the bun like Wil.

CJ watched Wil (an experienced cheeseburger eater) devour his cheeseburger, then looked down at his own cheeseburger with doubt. Cheri reminded CJ he could do this and she helped him cut the cheeseburger, with the bun still on it, into quarters to make it easier to chew. CJ picked up a quarter and bit into it. He chewed it slowly and tentatively.“CJ, you are eating a cheeseburger!” Cheri cheered. CJ looked at his mom with a huge grin. It was an exciting moment and we all cheered CJ on. By the third quarter CJ was eating like a champ. In fact, Cheri had to remind him to slow down! He finished his fourth quarter and we all reveled in his accomplishment. Not a light in the room beamed brighter than CJ.With the power of friendship, that tube and cheeseburger never stood a chance. Cheers to the champs of the day: Wil and CJ!

~Photo credit: Cheri Vincent Riemer

~Thanks for sharing this story Manchester Mirror: http://themanchestermirror.com/2020/09/07/stories-of-wil-champs-of-the-day/

Stepping Into the Real Story

There is a book called “Count Us In” that is written by two young men with Down syndrome (and as the book’s description adds: with some word processing help from their mothers). This book was a symbolic “coming of age” for me.I started out reading beautiful books such as “Gifts 1: Mothers Reflect on How Children With Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives” and “Gifts 2: How People With Down Syndrome Enrich the World.” I highly recommend these two books over and again. They were immensely helpful to me (I foolishly brought Gifts 2 on a plane ride and found myself in happy tears instantly.)

Oftentimes, the hopes and dreams we had for our child are immediately transformed to enormous question marks when we receive the initial diagnosis. This leaves an enormous void. What do we fill that void with? What new hopes and dreams can we dream? That is where real stories from real people come in. They help answer these questions and create new hopes and dreams. The void begins to fill. But there are still so many question marks. Gifts 1 & 2 filled so much of the void I was feeling. I began to dream new dreams and hope new hopes. I was so emboldened that I moved on to the book, “Count Us In.” What could be more inspiring than a book written by two young adult men with Down syndrome?

I don’t remember how far I made it through this book, but I had to put it down. I cried again, but this time big, sad tears. I wasn’t ready for this book. What specifically go to me was this: the young men’s speech delays were clearly evident in their writing. I wasn’t ready for that level of reality. The void I felt was still too raw, too fresh. I thought I had filled it, but after getting into “Count Us In” I knew I had more accepting to do. Or maybe more accurately speaking, more “knowing and experiencing” to do. In those early days what I needed was hope and faith in a very broad sense. I needed to read real stories from real people showing me that my son had a beautiful life ahead of him. They showed me to way to dream new hopes and new dreams. I wasn’t ready, though, to understand the intricate realities of the daily walk into those new hopes and dreams.

I returned “Count Us In” to the library and picked up those “Gifts” books over and again. As each book has a series of individual stories, as a busy mom, I reveled in the fact that I could open the book to any page and read as briefly or as languishly as I chose. Now, 13 years later, I am as inspired as I once hoped to be with “Count Us In.” (And I continue to absorb and read the stories of Gifts 1 & 2) So what has changed? I have now had the benefit of walking into those new hopes and dreams. This life is up close and personal instead of new territory to navigate.

When I watch Wil read 2nd grade level book, I know every single step it took to get to this place. I’m so proud of him, proud of his teachers and proud of our family. We have all seen every single step of his progress, and it’s an absolute joy to realize every triumph. Nothing is overlooked or taken for granted, and when you live that way, life is a good place to be.My twin girls are starting to drive. Wil sits in the back seat and teases them and they tease back. We have worked so hard on back and forth communication with Wil, and this is how it’s starting to emerge. I sit in the passenger seat listening and loving what is happening. My girls are driving and my son is teasing them. So darn typical! And still, within that typicalness, I could jump through the roof with my gratitude for it all.

Now when I read “Count Us In” I’m so proud of these young men, and I’m proud of their word processing mothers. I’m also thankful they took the time to share their lives with us. I’m also thankful that I’ve walking into a place where I can rejoice with every word they have written, in full and very real detail. Where at once I felt disconnected, I now feel more connected than ever.

We all have our own timeline for getting to where we want to go. And sometimes, it just takes some extra steps to get there. When we do arrive, we know, because we are the ones who have taken those steps. Even better, there are always new hopes and dreams to step(or crawl) into.

Person First

Person-first language. That was one of the first terms I learned. Wil is not a Down syndrome boy. Wil is a boy with Down syndrome. 

I also learned where the word Down came from: Dr. John Langdon Down. Dr. Down wasn’t the first person to discover Down syndrome, but he was the first person to fully describe the characteristics of Down syndrome. “Down” is thus capitalized for Dr. Down’s name, while syndrome remains in lower case. I heard from many different sources that Dr. Down’s name was unfortunate and that our kids really have “Up” syndrome (be sure to only capitalize the “Up”). 

Terms also got Down-right (or should that really be Up-right?) clinical. Hypotonia, hypothyroidism and epicanthal fold to name a few of the most common first terms I heard repeatedly. Except for one genetics class in college, I’d never been presented with so many photos of chromosomes in my life; and not just any chromosome. The very specific 21st chromosome pictured with 3 copies rather than the typical pair. Thus the name, Trisomy 21, the most common form of Down syndrome. 

Looking back on this early learning curve full of facts and definitions, I have a visual of a news broadcaster (if you can picture a hybrid of Tom Brokaw and Ron Burgandy) sitting behind a desk. His face is very serious as he taps his important stack of papers on the desk in front of him. He looks straight into the camera, ready to deliver his very important speech. Over his left shoulder is a screen, and on it appears the cherubic face of an infant. 

 “Good evening, folks.” He says in a professional deep baritone voice. “What you are seeing now is a baby with Down syndrome.” He pauses for effect. “Not a Down syndrome baby. Be sure to use your person-first language only, folks.” “Note the baby’s epicanthal fold, giving the appearance of almond shaped eyes…”

The photo of the cherubic baby is replaced with 3 squiggly lines.  “What you are looking at now are chromosomes. Specifically 3 copies of the 21st chromosome…”

“And remember folks,” he says in closing as the screen changes to a stock photo of laughing toddler (who has Down syndrome) with his cheerful mother,” there is nothing Down about it!” Cut to commercial. 

It’s easy to poke fun now because I’ve lived this life. In the beginning, the diagnosis of Down syndrome scared the heck out of me. Mostly because I knew so little about it. An education in terms was important to me. But there is a vast difference between living a life and learning about that same life. Learning about a life relies on definitions to develop understanding. But when you live that life, everything you need to know is learned by first-hand experience, and most importantly, feeling the emotions that accompany those experiences. 

Today, those stock photos of the 3 copies of the 21st chromosomes are squiggly, little lines that I just want to hug. They are part of my son. And speaking of hugs, have you ever had a Wil hug? Thanks to hypotonia, he just melts right into you. Don’t get me started on those little folds above his eyes. Talk about melting. 

As for Wil’s diagnosis? The coining of Dr. Down’s name is unfortunate,  who wants to be defined as Down all the time? But who is Up all the time, either?  Wil is Wil. We are totally down with Wil’s syndrome (be sure to capitalize the W). 

I would love to see my hybrid newscaster take on the task of presenting our potty-training adventures. The word poop was a common word in my vocabulary as both a noun and a verb. One well-meaning family member convinced my parents that the only reason Wil wasn’t potty-trained was because I was too busy. As my parents would have Wil to themselves for a weekend, this family member mentioned it would be the perfect opportunity for my parents to potty-train Wil. I said have at it! That very first night, my mom called me saying she gave up. We both had a really, good laugh over that. My parents are totally down with Wil syndrome, too. 

Having low muscle tone (aka hypotonia) didn’t help the potty-training process move smoothly, so to speak. Discussions within our Down syndrome support group revolved around this subject on most occasions. We were each other’s best resource, as we had very little other resources to pull from. Typical potty-training books were soon flushed down the toilet in frustration as our kids pulled up their pull-ups and got on with another day, oblivious to our concerns we’d be buying pull-ups through their teen years.

Wil is now a teenager, and thankfully the pull-ups days are long behind us. Poop, however, has not vanished as a common word in this household. He’s a teenage boy after all. Potty talk is considered hilarious in both noun and verb form. As for me, I continue to flush typical how-to books down the toilet and find my friends within our Down syndrome support group to be my most helpful and greatest resource (with a few laughs along the way to get us through our challenges). 

When you know the person first, you wouldn’t live, learn, speak or see things any other way. 

Playing Catch-Up

Wil is an expert at the game of catch-up. It’s a game he plays every day.

Wil has low muscle tone, which adds to the game. In fact, I’ve been told having low muscle tone feels like wearing a backpack all day long. It’s no surprise, then, that Wil’s favorite place to play is in the buoyant water.

Last week while on vacation, Wil was playing in the outdoor pool. Wil recently learned how to do a handstand in the water. So he practiced his handstand over and over.

A brother and sister, about Wil’s age, were the only others in the pool. They were tossing a football back and forth. Observing Wil do handstands, the brother set aside the football and said, “Zoe, let’s do handstands.” Zoe, smaller than Zander, made an attempt and soon toppled over. “Watch this,” he said, confident to top his sister. His handstand was nearly the same as Wil’s – his legs went up in the air, and as soon as he straightened them, he toppled over. Zoe and her brother continued their practice of handstands.

Tired of handstands, Wil pulled himself out of the pool. With a quick walk/run (the kind that kids do when they know they have to walk but really want to run) Wil hustled to the deep end of the pool. Then Wil stepped back and, with a running start, leapt into the pool.

The brother and sister stopped their handstands and watched. Wil repeated the process (with a side eye on the brother and sister).

The brother swam over to Wil. “Do you want to be our friend?” the brother asked.

“Yes.” Wil said.

“Hey Buddy, introduce yourself.” I called out from the pool deck.

“Hi, I’m Wil.”

“Tell them your names,” their father called out from the pool deck. The brother and sister then introduced themselves as Zander and Zoe.

“What do you want to do?” Zander asked. “Do you want to throw the football?”

Wil said yes, but then he swam off. Zander and Zoe, confused, swam after Wil. Wil pulled himself out at the shallow end, then did his walk/run to the deep end. He stopped and waited for Zander and Zoe to catch up. Then he stepped back, took his running start and leapt into the pool.

Zander ran and leapt in after Wil. Zoe ran to the edge of the pool, stopped, then hopped in. They all bobbed and swam to the shallow end, looking at each other as they came up for air, smiling. A game was afoot. Round and round they went.

Each round, Zoe’s fears subsided and her leaps began to catch-up to the length of Wil’s. Zander, who started out as a ball of fire, began to lag behind, catching his breath.

“Getting worn out, Zander?” Zander’s dad asked and smiled. Not to be outdone, Zander gathered back his energy and ran to keep up with his new friend, Wil.

Wil is an expert at the game of catch-up.

Thank you for sharing Manchester Mirror: http://themanchestermirror.com/2020/08/31/stories-of-wil-playing-catch-up/

What Grows Us

We all have experiences that “grow us.” We move along in life, doing what we do, thinking what we think, then, whoomp, there it is. The something that “grows us.”It’s impactful enough to rethink the way we think. To resee what we thought we saw. To listen again to what we thought we heard.

What “grows us” changes us, in both perceptible and imperceptable ways. Its a deeply interesting question to me in what “grows us.”

Was it uncomfortable and unwelcome? Was it deeply beautiful? What is something that began as unsettling that turned beautiful? Or the reverse? How did it uproot familiar ways to facilitate such a change?

What opens our eyes to what others are blind to? What drops us to our knees and causes us to look up in thanks, while others cry why me? What song brings a joy to our heart where others hear only noise? What “grows us” opens us to a different level of perception for its impact. What we believe we know for certain — there is always another level of perception to learn from.

Life is forever interesting in the way that it “grows us.”

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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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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