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

No Words to Describe the Words that Do

Wil was busy packing his backpack. Then he walked up to me and told me what he was doing and walked out the door. I didn’t understand fully what he said. So I watched him walk down the lane of our back field. If he turns right, that means he’s going to the river. If he turns left, he’s collecting sticks. He turned right.
I threw on a coat and gloves, hopped on the 4-wheeler, and sped down the lane. I hopped off and started making my way from our property to the woods.

But, before I reached the woods, there sat Wil – cross legged in the grass. His backpack was open, the soccer ball he packed had rolled out. In front of him was a spiral notebook. He held a pen in his hand and had written one word: Ashley.

“Hi Wil.”

“Hi Mom.”

“Whatcha doing?”

“Mom, look.” He started writing.

“Ashley summer? Yes, we’ll see Ashley in the summer.” He nodded and continued writing.

“Swimming with Lila? Yes, you’ll have fun swimming with Lila.” He nodded then wrote again.

“Eating? I know you love to eat!” He laughed and wrote again.

“With Mom and Dad. Yes, Wil, that’s right.”

“Mom, look.” And he wrote “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Wil. Very much. I’m also very proud of you.”

He smiled at me, and signed his name.

“I’m cold, Mom.”

“I bet. I’ll give you a ride home.”

Words can’t describe. ❤️

Remembering Leading Hands on the Journey to Acceptance

Reading a passage on a special needs social media page, I came across a sentence about our kids’ first friends being their therapists. Tears immediately flowed with that sentence. Have you ever found your emotions processing words faster than your intellect? My heart felt the words before their literal meaning reached my brain.

Then when my brain kicked in, I thought, “here I am, 13 years into this journey, fully embracing this journey, and still find myself crying at the drop of a hat over an early memory.” No matter where you are in your journey of acceptance, even if you have come full circle, you never, ever forget your early days of passage into what you now embrace.

In the early days, I didn’t know many people who knew what this life was. That is likely true for many. Those around you either don’t know what to say, or try to console you. So, those first steps are full of so many questions, but you are unsure where to direct them at that point. The therapists, for many of us, are those first people to ask real questions of. The therapists, for many of us, are our first solid signs of hope. The therapists, for many of us, give us more than words. They give with their actions.

Wil’s first therapists were on the side of acceptance I valiantly wanted to find my way to. In the way they were there for Wil, they were also opening the passage to me. I could ask very real and upfront questions, and they responded with very real and upfront answers. They were people in the know. And they cared. I may not have been there of my choosing, but they were there because this was their chosen life’s work. That is some powerful stuff.

Wil’s therapists moved Wil’s limbs and motivated Wil to learn in their knowing ways. I watched the ease in which they did this. Then I would try. I immediately failed. What looked so easy for them was so very new to me. They patiently showed me again and again. And again and again. In the process, I learned the beauty of patience–that not all things come when we want them, but in their own time. As Wil was learning, though he took many trys, there would be small advances. Advances I never would have noticed if I already knew what to do. I learned there is beauty in the space between the advances. I learned there is never an ordinary moment. What we call ordinary means we are glancing over too quickly. I learned that not everything that comes to us is natural–we need to go through the process to acquire our second nature.

I learned my second nature through Wil’s therapists. I learned patience through Wil’s therapists. I learned to pay attention to the space between the advances with Wil’s therapists. I crossed the bridge to acceptance by the leading hands of the therapists.

Though I have come full circle to acceptance, within that circle there are still the broken parts I pieced together to create the whole. The emotions my heart registers before my brain, never forgot those broken parts. They are the building blocks that I ever so learningly, patiently, lovingly and dedicately worked to link together with the leading and helping hands of Wil’s first therapists, Wil’s first friends, on this journey.

Thank you, always for helping put those pieces together Wil’s very first therapists:
Theresa, Janet, Cathy & Shelly

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