What They Can’t Tell You

Wil ran up to me, then reached into his pajama pants pocket. He pulled out an adhesive mustache and stuck it under his nose. “Look at me, Mom!” He leaned his face so close to mine that I saw double.

“You are so close I can’t see you!” He stepped back, his mustache upside-down, the edges tickling his cheeks. He smiled at me with that upside-down mustache and I thought, this is what they can’t tell you.

The silliness started at about 7:30 that morning. Wil busted out of his bedroom, in his stripe-legged pajamas, the music from his CD player trailing behind him. He placed his hands on the living room floor and kicked his bare feet up in the air. “Look at me, Mom!”

“Look at you, Fancy Pants! Nice moves.” Though I’m a coffee drinker, there is no amount of caffeine that can lift me higher in the morning than Wil’s dance moves. It’s like being handed a fistful of balloons and feeling your feet leave the ground.

Sadly, I had to bring us back to earth. It was time to log in to school. “Wil, you look very handsome in your mustache. How about you show off your mustache in class? You are going to be late if you don’t log in now.”

“Ugh, Mom, no.” He flopped himself on the floor then laid face-down.

I dropped to the floor, laid on my belly and put my face close to his head. In a deep, sing-songy voice I said, “I see you! Time to log in to school, Wil.”

He lifted his head, leaned his forehead into mine and mimicked my deep sing-songy voice, “Ok, Mr. Mom.” Then he started laughing. When Wil laughs, he laughs with his whole body. I thought, this is what they can’t tell you.

They can’t break through your tears, into your hurt heart, after you learn your child gained one extra chromosome, and explain how a smile under an upside-down mustache, a leg-kicking pajama dance, and a body-racking belly laugh on the floor will make you feel like you hit the jackpot.

Because you did. You just have to live it to know it.

Open Book Ice Cream

My high school science teacher was amazing. And I had very little interest in science. He practically leapt off the floor explaining the periodic table. It was like someone just put this amazing hot fudge sundae in front of him and he couldn’t wait to dig in.

What amazed me the most was that he taught this same lesson again and again, year after year. Yet every single day, he brought the excitement. To that same old periodic table. Everything fit in this nice, little box. The combinations, even if dynamic, were predictable. No surprises. I was bored out of my mind. But I loved my teacher. He almost made me want to love science, just because I loved his enthusiasm for the subject. 

Then, in college I discovered blue book tests. I could scrawl my thoughts, in glorious freehand, across the blissfully empty white pages with pale blue lines. An empty white page to me is one of the most beautiful sights there is. And to take your own pen and feel the flow under your own hand, now we are talking digging into rich, luscious hot fudge sundaes!

And I could make it a different sundae every day! Carmel on smooth, groovy days. Strawberry on fresh, sticky, summer days. Pineapple when I was feeling prickly and tart. Blue books were so beautifully, uniquely open-ended — there were no predictable combinations when interpreting a book or poem, even if the character’s names never changed. Every person is full of surprises!

When Wil went from preschool to kindergarten, he was able to string beads — big beads with big strings. But he had to take a test to evaluate his skills. In the test, he was to string a small bead with a small string. He couldn’t do it. There were only two boxes to check. A yes box and a no box. 

As a result, Wil entered kindergarten testing at a 6 month old fine motor skill level. He was well beyond that. The test failed, Wil didn’t. The same thing happened when Wil went to his 1st endocrinologist. Wil didn’t fit in the predictable boxes. As soon as I checked the “no box” that he hadn’t achieved a certain skill, I was told to skip to the next page. “But, wait, he can do some of the other skills on this page.” “No, he can’t.” Was the answer I received. Where was the blue book for me to fill out about my unpredictable son?

Upon the news of Wil’s kindergarten testing results, his speech therapist spoke up and said that there will be very open communication between Wil’s preschool teachers and Kindergarten teachers. That though the test measured certain skills, it will be the open communication that determines where Wil will start with his ability level. I felt the beautiful, crisp new pages open upon her words. 

I also found a new endocrinologist. I knew she was the one because when I told her of our experience, she handed me a blank sheet of paper along with the test. She said to write down all the skills the test does not cover and we’d go from there. Hot fudge sundae, anyone?

On February 5th, 2007, I learned first-hand that you can change just like that. That the person you were one second can change in the next. I couldn’t force Wil to be a typical boy. My choice was to learn what all of this meant and to write our own pages with it. That is why I’m deeply offended by any claims to “cure” Down syndrome. He is a beautifully, varied and valuable human being and his story is just beginning to be written. Why burn the pages when being part of the story is so much more meaningful?

I loved my science teacher even though I never grew a love for science. What I learned most from him is we all have our different passions. And not a single one of us fits in a perfect, little box. That may be why he felt the love for his periodic table. How everything had an answer when life didn’t. And for that, I love my blue book pages. Where I can scrawl out, in long free-hand, the ever changing and evolving interpretation of what’s around me. As long as we can make our life new every day, be it by the periodic table or a blue book, then it will be a place we can’t wait to dig into…and we get to choose the topping! 

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.

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

PowerPoint Presentation
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

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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Its Not Real…Until It Is

I would say this situation is hardest on Wil. He doesn’t understand as much as I’ve explained it. I’ve heard the response, “I don’t understand, either,” which I respect and appreciate. But Wil doesn’t understand what a virus is. We do know what a virus is, even not knowing all the details of this particular one.

In many ways, I’ve related this extended experience to living with Wil as an adult, should he decide to live at home. I’m the one he leans on, I’m the one he has to talk to, I’m the one to motivate his reading/speech/motor skills, and nearly 100% of his way to get to places. Many of his typical peers, in the coming years, won’t need this help and will be knee deep in their own lives. The importance of Wil making friends with those of his abilities is becoming more apparent and essential. I’ve had parents of adults with Down syndrome tell me of the limited opportunities and activities for their kids. They are their kids’ anchors and a great part of their entertainment and continuation of learning skills. I used to think, “Well, there has to be more out there for our kids.” I heard their words, but couldn’t grasp the full meaning of what they meant. While I can’t yet see through the same lens as they do, as Wil gets older I’m grasping more of what they were telling me. I’m feeling it more than just hearing the words. Please don’t misunderstand, none of us would trade this life. We love our chromosome-enhanced life. What I’m getting at is it’s a new reality for us that we have few examples of. Our kids mature and the divide grows between the typical world and our Down syndrome world.

I’ve heard the response, “No one knows what the future holds.” I appreciate respect that answer. But there are situations we grasp even if we don’t have all the details, and situations we don’t grasp simply for the reason we have nothing to relate it to.

Just because we think we understand, doesn’t mean we do…until we can feel it for ourselves. Then it becomes real.106199062_10223431683721660_3233359678270749978_n.jpg