Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Moved To WordPress

Visit us at Take a Walk on The Happy Side on Wordpress.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

5MFSN Visitors

Sorry folks, my old website is listed over at Five Minutes for Special Needs.  We'll get that fixed asap. In the meantime, if you're looking for my newly migrated blog, I can be found tapping away these cold Winter days over at Take a Walk on the Happy Side on Wordpress. 

Thanks for clicking through... BTW, if you like what you read over there, subscribe. (But don't subscribe here unless you want to receive this message over and over again.) 

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Mini Happiness-Project Fitness Challenge

Take a walk over to my new home at to read about my self-imposed Mini Happiness-Project Fitness Challenge.  Happy is as Happy Does!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Take a Walk Over to Wordpress

Please visit us at our new home at Talk a Walk on the Happy Side at Wordpress.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Feeling Thankful!


Everybody and his brother are writing Thanks-giving posts today. I’m no exception… EXCEPT, this blog is my happiness project and one of the tenets of maintaining my happiness is to always stay focused on all the wondrous things I have in my life right now. So for me, this day is hardly different from any other except I’m in good company giving thanks AND I happily share in a HUGE Thanksgiving feast with my family… and thankful for the opportunity to do so.

Ya know, it’s pretty easy to be thankful for the good stuff. “Thanks God for letting me win the lottery! Thanks for this big beautiful house I live in. Thanks for my good looks and big brains (or is that the other way around? LOL) It’s the gifts we receive reluctantly… the tough ones that we might think [at least initially] are a threat to our happiness and well-being that challenge our thankfulness. But I’ve come to believe those are the ones that give us the most to be thankful for. And those are the ones I’m especially giving thanks for today… Because in the throes of the day-to-day chaos of my life… those are the blessings I don’t always take the time to appreciate.

1. I am so unbelievably grateful for the extra 21st chromosome that My Boys have been gifted. These two beautiful Little Men have taught me more every single day of their short lives than I learned in all the years preceding the births of my 3 children. More about the world. More about human nature. And more about myself. I am a better, more patient and compassionate person grounded in the things that really matter in life because of them. They are masters of unconditional love, dogged perseverance, altruistic intentions, inspiring motivation, undying hope, blind faith, living for today, and doing… just because it’s fun. I would not change a thing about them… especially not that microscopic little third copy of their 21st chromosome!

2. I live in the heart of keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ territory. Never mind that I can’t compete in that race…. I have absolutely no desire to even try. My focus is on my relationships. My children. My husband. My family. My friends. NOT stuff. And, I am oddly thankful for the financial challenges I faced in my young life and for those I’ve faced more recently that not only taught me invaluable survival skills but also enabled me to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle. It was knowing how to survive with little, and knowing I would survive no matter what, that afforded me the option of leaving my high-paying job to stay home to raise my beautiful children. Certainly, this is a case of “that which does not destroy us, makes us stronger!” And I am thankful for the strength and knowledge that I call on every day not only to survive, but to thrive.

3. I’m thankful for my college education in Psychology (that’s an easy one) and for my personal experience in seeing the benefit of professional counseling (sometimes tough). Having someone with an unbiased, non-judgemental listening ear to talk with, someone whose knowledge of human behavior and ability to relate it to our own behavior to help us to see the folly of our own thoughts and actions is invaluable. I am of the firm belief that everyone can benefit from counseling and I have successfully instilled that belief in my Old Soul (which, thankfully, will serve her well in life). And I am eternally grateful for the amazing and insightful Dr. Briglio in Lynbrook, NY whose ability to see and translate what I have not managed to decipher in my life, in my children’s lives, and on so many fronts, is nothing short of amazing!

4. I am glad that I’m 48. That’s not an easy thing to say because I know that I’m getting old… And I loved being 28! But, if I found myself in the wondrous place I now occupy when I was 28, I’m pretty sure I would not have had the wisdom to navigate these sometimes shark-infested waters as gracefully (if I may be so bold) as I’m doing it now. Now if you know me at all, I’m not the “graceful” sort. And I’m not even hinting that I’m a graceful old sod now so much as I’m thinking this life might have been an insurmountable challenge for 28-year-old “Margie” but for 48-year-old Maggie with her just-another-bump-in-the-road point of view it’s no big deal. and I am grateful I am me now.

5. Whoever wrote, “with age, comes wisdom” was sooo right. So was the guy who said, “youth is wasted on the young!” and the one who coined the term, “if I knew then what I know now.” All really smart guys… full of hindsight. Yeah, 20:20 hindsight is good but being nearsighted about the present is better. I’m thankful for the ability to appreciate my sometimes shady  past (only in my head, LOL), to NOT worry so much about what the future holds, and, most importantl,y to be able to bask in the sunshine of today… most days. In my children's movie, Kung Fu Panda, Master Ugway says to Po, “the past is behind us, the future is unknown but today is a gift… that is why they call it the present.”

So live for today and be thankful for it. There are many who didn’t get to live through today. Many who didn’t get to eat a Thanksgiving feast. Who didn’t share their day with loved ones. I wish you all a thankful and happy heart this Thanksgiving day and every day.

xo maggie

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Welcome 5MFSN Visitors

Welcome visitors from 5 Minutes For Special Needs and thanks for stopping by.  Feel free to peruse the site and read some past posts. But, if you happen to like what you see and decide to sign up... please PLEASE  P L E A S E... do so on my newly migrated site at You see, I've been having some "issues" with Blogspot's ability to see and track my subscribers.  And, unfortunately, since they can't see you, I can't migrate you for this move.

This and the fact that today was my first post as a contributing author over at 5 Minutes for Special Needs necessitated the move... now!  I don't want you all looking for me here at my old digs when I'm over at Wordpress sprucing up the site and posting my long-winded advocacy rants and strange nuggets of happiness wisdom going forward.

Like it or not, my new site retains the same name and content but with a slightly different, disheveled look that does, appropriately and unfortunately, mirror the state of my life just now.  While I struggle to find moments to cram Wordpress For Dummies and update the new site, I'll continue to post on both sites... giving my faithful readers here a chance to Take a Walk over to Wordpress on their own time and terms.

So bear with me during my self-directed, trial and error, strictly-aesthetic make-over (pretty much how I address everything in life!). The look will evolve but my content will continue to be about my pursuit of happiness while facing the challenges of motherhood -- working 2 part-time jobs (as an inclusion advocate and a business editor/writer), re-building "this old house" and raising my 3 beautiful children: the venerable Old Soul and 2 amazing little men who share the same genes, including an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down syndrome).

Thank you for stopping by. I hope you'll find the time to Take a Walk on the Happy Side with me over at Wordpress.  I'll see you there.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Language Development Through Movies

I'm sitting here, where I've been sitting most of my day, working on my laptop to meet a self-imposed but necessary deadline for one of my 2 new part-time jobs.  The Boys, who are "suffering" on and off with a gastrointestinal virus (read: diarrhea) for the majority of 2 weeks now, have been marathon movie-watching most of the day... taking advantage of my distracted state. 

I don't know about your kids, but mine get a lot of expressive language practice watching movies and repeating the narrative.  They not only act out but speak the actor's lines... perfecting their articulation with repetitive viewing and rehearsal.  I and my speech therapist approve... MOST of the time!

The caveat? You have to know what they're watching!

Garfield: The Movie is our fifth movie of the day and, as it's late, they've planted themselves right smack in front of the proverbial tube -- a misnomer for televisions that no longer have tubes -- and are gazing up intently, necks strained, at the over-sized screen... I note they're being relatively quiet which tells me it's time for bed. 

Suddenly the following scene plays out: Jon is crushing on Garfield's attractive female veterinarian while Garfield is giving a cat-to-owner pep talking on the benefits of actually asking her out instead of making multiple unnecessary trips to the vet.  The pep talk begins with a very positive rant until Jon is out of Garfield's earshot when the belligerent orange cat culminates with calling his beloved owner a "Schmuck".  (I won't go into the meaning of that word here but suffice it to say it is not appropriate for anyone to say in good company much less 2 5-year-old little boys with Down syndrome.)

No sooner does that word boom out of our pseudo-surround sound system than both boys chime in together with absolutely perfect articulation..... SCHMUCK!

Huh?  OMG!!!

Now if the Old Soul didn't make such a big deal out of it by drumming into their innocent little heads that this is a word that nice kids don't use; If I wasn't covering my face and laughing;  And if they didn't know that shaking shoulders also means I'm laughing and trying to keep them from realizing it, they might not ever have figured out that this was a word the world, their big sister and their mama didn't really want to hear them perfect. 

Ahh, but mothering and language development are imperfect arts!  So if you hear My Boys use this nasty little word in the near future, please excuse them while we work on unlearning it. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Power of NO For Women Who Do Too Much!

I recently read that the key to happiness is breathing.  Ha!

I think the RADICAL minimalists might have taken things just a bit too far with that statement!  'Cause if it was that easy I'd be living on Happy Street!  But I'm not! Oh, I'm breathing, but it's the see-sawing between laughing and hyperventilating kind of breathing as my stress-levels rise and fall and my good humor ebbs and flows with the chaos of my life.  Change can be good but it's not always healthy!

Years ago, I read a book called Women Who Do Too Much.  Anyone remember that one?  I don't recall the exact qualifying conditions or the recommendations... only that I was then and am still now one of those women.  Back then it was probably because I wanted people to like me.  Boy have things changed!  NOW... I don't give a rat's.... ah, tail... whether someone likes me or not.  NOW there's only one word that describes why I do too much.... KIDS!  The Boys need.... The Old Soul needs... The Hubby... well, unfortunately, he has needs too but he's on his own 'cause the kids need so darn much from me.  Add special needs to those needs and us gals have got stuff on our plates that we really just sorta CAN'T say no to.  And when the good 'ol catholic guilt kicks in regarding how much -- or how little -- I do for my kid without special needs, I end up saying yes to a bunch more things I have no time to handle.  And who's addressing my needs?  Seriously!

My now school-age kids come with a whole new set of professionals pressuring me to do more.  The CPSE/CSE folks, teachers and therapists all want support through parental involvementt at home and in meetings that usually require preparation and cause added stress. Then there's the PTA, SEPTA and don't even get me started with the Girl Scouts who demand their chunk of us Women Who Do Too Much but offer a triangular badge instead of a little support.  And if my poor husband wants a piece of me, he has to negotiate for it against school, sleep and the paying jobs -- yes plural -- I now hold to help our family financially instead of leading that leisurely life you see left-coast Hollywood Wives enjoying.  The one that usually includes morning workouts with her private trainer, liquid lunch with the ladies and afternoon mani-pedis before calling to remind the Nanny to pick up her kids after-school!  Yeah, that's not my life.  I unintentionally limit contact with friends to grabbing a salad at Fridays once a year and, thankfully-rare, late-night girlfriend-to-girlfriend phone calls to ward-off those inevitable near-collapses when life hands you the last straw and the camel drops to his knees.  Besides those luxuries...  Ive barely seen my friends in ages or done something good just for me. 

A man goes to work, comes home, maybe watches a little news before dinner, a little baseball after dinner and goes to bed when he gets tired.  On weekends, he mows the lawn and watches some football.  If it's on the calendar and his lovely wife-who-does-too-much has the time and energy leftover from all her other commitments, she might even let him take her out to dinner.  That's living a simple, minimalist life, isn't it?  And that's why the name of that book isn't Men Who Do Too Much!  YES, I recognize that this is an over-simplified view that does not accurately represent the Sarge's role in our family -- though I'm sure he'd LOVE it if it did!  This is absolutely NOT a DIG on my hubby or men in general but rather a DIG ON ME and Women Who Do Too Much!  It's an outright honest admission from this particular Woman Who Does Too Much that maybe the men have a slightly better handle on all of this... Let's call it what it is... cr*p. 

Maybe, my latest arrhythmia-causing last straw is a wake up call!  The camel needs some life support and if she doesn't get it, things are gonna get ugly!

The key to Happiness is one word.... But it's not "breathe"... (THAT'S the key to staying alive, not to happiness.)  For us Women Who Do Too Much the one word is "NO!" 

As in... I could have said NO to the Social Worker at Mercy Medical Center, where The Boys were born, when she asked if could she give out my number to new parents of children with Down syndrome.  But that would not reinforce the love and acceptance I have for my beautiful children with Down syndrome nor help others who find themselves walking in my shoes.  So I said YES.  Not a big committment and one that fits itself neatly into the nooks and crannies of my life without interrupting.  I could have said NO to the CPSE/CSE committee chairpeople when they asked if I would volunteer as a parent-member.  But where would I have learned so much about how my district doles out services to children with special needs like my children?  And how would I become a known entity so they deal most effectively with me and My Boys.  So I said YES.  I have the option of saying NO to the meetings that don't fit my schedule (an option I need to learn how to exercise).  I could have said NO to the Girl Scouts when my Old Soul's former leaders up-and-quit.  But then I'd be taking my lovely Old Soul on Mother-Daughter-brother-brother adventures instead of having fun with 9 screaming-but-very-happy little girls.  Saying NO might have disappointed some of those little girls (unless some other Woman Who Does Too Much stepped up to deliver).  But saying "NO" would have exacerbated the "I don't do enough for her" guilt of having 2 OTHER children who have special needs.  And the forced schedule makes me do the things she and I love to do together but might not otherwise get around to because I'm an over-scheduled Woman Who Does Too Much... So I said YES and am proudly fostering the positive self-esteem of 10 little girls -- including my own daughter -- so maybe they won't grow up to be Women Who Do Too Much.  And, more recently, I could have said NO to the two jobs that afford me not only a much-needed paycheck to help relieve some of my family's financial stress in these tough economic times but also gifts me the extrinsic sense of accomplishment and professional recognition that being a stay-at-home-Mom never does.... Hey, I'm sorry for feeling that way... but it's how I and a lot of women feel... sadly!  Except for a Mother's Day card once a year, the compliments that sustain us as viable members of this society are few and far between. 

While those are all things I could have said NO to but chose to say YES, in re-examination, I think I have pretty good reasons for sticking to it.  So I'm not really rethinking those decisions for now because they're written in ink on my calendar already.  But I am beginning to consider all the extra little unnecessary requests I've been asked commit to!  NO to the Class Photographer role.  Just another scheduling conflict that presents prep and post-work I don't want to nor have time to do!  If I can get to an event with my camera, cool!  If not, oh well!  NO to the incessant donations and clothing pick ups for the War Veterans Fund, Lupus Foundation, National Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and any other callers. All great causes but I can pack up and donate on my own time versus theirs.  NO to the PTA meetings and SEPTA meetings.  NO to the Class Mother role or even the unofficial offer to "help out"! NO to the play date with the kid my child doesn't really like.  NO to the Salesman wanting to meet about Special Needs Trust Funds (We have NO extra money right now anyway).  NO to the CPSE/CSE meeting that just doesn't  fit on the schedule that particular day.  Saying NO doesn't mean saying NO to every meeting request, but NO to the ones that don't fit on my already too crowded calendar!  NO to Facebook.  NO to Twitter.  NO to the cell phone.  NO to texting.  NO to the computer. NO to Netflix. NO to the telephone. NO NO NO NO NO!

My new Happiness Mantra is "Just say NO!"  This fosters my happiness!  Relieves of my stress!  STOPS the arrhythmia's and strained phone calls to girlfriends.  Stops the yelling.  Eases the crazy schedule.  And slows the constant race against time.  It gives me a little wiggle room to relax and BREATHE!  Ahhh, yes, the key to a long and healthy life!  It affords me the time to watch a football game if I want to (LOL, I don't).  To work in my overgrown, untended garden if I want to (I do).  Or maybe even to watch Lipstick Jungle.  (I've never seen it but I think I might like it based on an ad I saw once.) 

The first step is to contemplate the activities I've already committed to that I could drop without hurting my kids, myself or my family and to age-out my old YES requests off the calendar.  Meanwhile, I have to plan for how I'm going to say NO to new requests that don't fit within my YES criteria.  That is, I have to find a voice, MY voice, that's committed to saying NO to anything that doesn't enhance my happiness and/or improve my health (with cautious attention to requests that enhance my children's happiness and/or improve my children's health without jeopardizing mine).  NO to anything that can't be finished inside of a random (read: one of my choosing) half hour time slot not currently filled by any other commitments already on my calendar.  And, NO to anything that requires more than a half an hour of preparation or follow-up tasks.  For example, attending my child's class holiday party is OK but committing to baking the cupcakes or downloading my pics to the yearbook committee within 2 weeks of the event is a NO.  These self-serving criteria should pretty much leave me with only the necessary stuff for my children's and my health and happiness and might even allow a few impromptu dates with my elliptical machine and, if I really embrace the NO, I might even find time for an opportunistic date with the Sarge or an ocassional lunch with friends.  Now there's a happy thought! 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Developmental Boost for Your Child with Down Syndrome (or Without)

When it comes to my children -- 2 of whom happen to share identical genes including an extra 21st chromosome (aka. Down syndrome) -- I'll do anything to help them be happy, succeed on their own terms and to clear a peaceful path for them in life. But their path -- like every one's -- is bound to be a little different, especially given their special needs. That doesn't mean I can't facilitate their development just like and maybe even more than I do for my very special (but not special needs) daughter.

I"m talking about doing relatively simple, if not a tad odd things to help my kids achieve milestones and skills that I was told would be late, elusive, impossible.  I never believe the naysayers.  I believe in my children!  So...  at less than 6-months-old, before my babies could walk, crawl or roll-over, let alone jump, I bought a full-sized trampoline and put it inside my house so we could use it daily and year-round!
Why, you ask?  Because the Boys' Early Intervention Physical Therapist told me that my babies could improve their balance and strengthen the muscles in their feet -- both critically needed for walking -- by moving about on a dynamic surface. She suggested giving them belly- and crawl-time on a large mattress... using extreme caution monitoring the edges to prevent falls.  I gave this some thought and decided there's nothing more dynamic than a trampoline's surface. So I bought one that was only 18" off the ground and 8' round surrounded by a safety net with a closable entry.  Then I assembled it on my indoor balcony right outside the kids' bedrooms. The shorter than usual height was critical for indoor use -- fitting well within our standard 8' ceilings -- and being well-placed and large enough (including a high weight limit) to fit several children plus adults, made it easy for everyone to use together multiple times daily. The Physical Therapist used it during her sessions too. And, we had belly time on it every day and read bedtime stories on it every night. We had naps and sleepovers on it.  We belly-dragged and crawled on it.  Laid on our backs and bounced our butts up and down.  Laid on our bellies and bounced.  Kneeled on all fours and bounced.  Rocked and bounced, kneeled and bounced, sat and bounced and stood and bounced.  You name it, we bounced.  Eventually, we even did fancy tricks bouncing.  Yes, even The Boys learned how -- jumping up and bouncing down to our butts, then up to our feet and down to our butts again.  You know the move?  We did the same bouncing to our knees.  And guess what? With all that bouncing going on, My Boys rolled over at 6 months, crawled at 10 months and walked at 14 months. Might they have done the same without the trampoline? Maybe! Maybe not.  But I'm a take action Mom and the action I took absolutely helped them develop better balance, stronger muscles, increased stamina and a love for jumping... all good!  And that trampoline is still helping them with these skills today. 

Interestingly, the prominent placement in our house definitely facilitated the use of that trampoline.  Once relinquished to the not-quite-finished basement playroom, it's been used less often and that's not good.  So, I'm in the process of rearranging my home to find another in-the-way spot for our trampoline.  So far, my husband hasn't agreed to swapping the great room couch with the trampoline.  But, I'm not giving up.  NEVER give up! 

Recognizing that not everybody has room or wants a very conspicuous in-house trampoline -- or if you decide this is just not your gig -- try putting a mattress on the floor or in a roll-away trundle along the length of your child's bed.  At the very least, your child will have to walk across it to get into and out of bed every night and every morning, it provides cushioning and a safer distance in case of night-time or jump-time falls and it's a great place for Mom to grab some shut-eye during those middle of the night wake-ups.  All the while, your kids are benefiting through improved balance and increased lower body strength from the dynamic surface.  

Trying to sell the idea to a hesitant spouse or your internal nay-sayer?  At one point in our learning to crawl, stand and walk process, I contemplated laying wall-to-wall mattresses across their bedroom floor.  Doesn't that sound fun?  Almost like a trampoline room!  They'd have nowhere to go to avoid the dynamic surface and they could literally jump and sleep wherever they want.  No cribs or beds necessary, just check your shoes at the door!  A little crazy, sure!  But from here, an indoor trampoline is an easy step comparatively speaking. LOL

For my now older and already-walking children with Down syndrome who have a slightly weaker gait, slower run and sometimes compromised balance, we still use the trampoline but we also challenge them with barefoot beach walking (walking in the sand). This -- which runners have known for a long time and I know, 'cause I used to be one -- is also really good for strengthening leg and feet muscles and improving balance.  While being a lifelong resident of Long Island gives us seemingly never-ending access to sand and beach, the first time I dropped My baby Boys in the sand they hated the sensation of sand between their toes.  How weird is that?  Oddly, to a lesser degree, they start every new beach season with some trepidation.  Acknowledging that their discomfort can seriously discourage beach walking, we found that feeding and chasing a pack of seagulls made them instantaneously forget all about the "yucky" feel of the sand on  their feet.  To this day, a big bag of bread or Tostitos still keeps the birds coming around and My Boys on the run... sand be damned. If you're landlocked, fear not, for those colder days when the beach is too chilly even for us, we came up with this solution.  We sectioned off the part of our back yard surrounding the kids' play equipment,  laid down weed prevention sheets and dumped a thick layer of sand on top.  It's a great padding for falls and there's no avoiding it.  The Boys have to negotiate the sand to get to the slide, climbing net and treehouse. And, on any given day if that's not enough motivation, kicking around a lightweight bouncy ball in the sand often does the trick. Even in sneakers, it does wonders for their balance and lower body muscle strength. 

My Boys are big, healthy and physically active 5-year-olds. They're getting stronger and improving their balance every day. Meanwhile, I keep trying to come up with workable activities and methodologies to facilitate their development physically, intellectually and emotionally.  As such, I plan to make this a series of posts sharing some of the proactive, out-of-the-box solutions we've implemented here in my home to facilitate The Boys' development in all areas and encourage their participation in activities they find less than desirable but are key to their ongoing development. Maybe one of these tactics will be just right for your home and your child's developmental needs.  Or, maybe it'll get you thinking outside the box to help push your child's development. 

If you've come up with something interesting, please share!  I'm always looking for ideas to help get my creative juices flowing fast and wild with ideas that boost the ongoing development of my children with Down syndrome. I'd love to hear what you've done to benefit your child's physical, intellectual and emotional development.  What traditional or non-traditional methods, activities and tools/toys have you tried to help your child with special needs be all they can be? 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness: New Special Needs Blog & Post -- Inclusion, Kindergarten & Compromise!

Did I mention that I've been invited to contribute to a new blog called Living With Special Needs?  I have but less often than I want and need to.  You can find me writing there up to two times a month along with a host of other bloggers for special needs.  Definitely worth a visit.  There's something for everyone living with special needs.

Here's my latest post on Inclusion, Kindergarten & Compromise!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- Be The Change!

There's something I want each and every one of you to ponder and get back to me with your ideas and thoughts.  This past weekend my family and I participated in the Long Island Buddy Walk at Heckscher Park in Suffolk County, NY.  It was a beautiful day and there was a decent turn-out for the walk sponsored by Alexander's Angels.... But something was niggling at the back of my brain. 

I couldn't help but wonder how an event like this raises awareness of Down syndrome in our society.  Yes, the money raised goes to organizations like the National Down Syndrome Society and the Down Syndrome Advocacy Foundation among others that do a phenomenal job of getting the word out and supporting inclusion efforts that expose the masses without DS to individuals with DS.  BUT, I have found personally that the most effective tool for raising awareness and acceptance in society at large -- thereby increasing opportunity for all -- is through exposure to people who have Down syndrome in the communities where they live, go to school and work.

If you want to change some one's antiquated thinking about what's possible for a person with Down syndrome to achieve, all you really have to do is to introduce them to and have them spend time with a person with Down syndrome... or two... or 200... and more.  Over and over again.

Buddy Walks are held across the country and are attended, mostly, by the family and friends of people with Down syndrome.... All of whom are already aware of Down syndrome, have experienced the amazing things that people with Down syndrome are capable of achieving and know, personally, what people with Down syndrome give back to the world through their very presence. In this sense, it's a sort of segregated event.  At the very least, it's fair to say these events are NOT attended by OTHER people who have not yet been touched by Down syndrome, and who really need to know what we families and friends already KNOW!

Reach Farther

As a kid, every year for as long as I can remember, I participated in the 20-mile March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon.  Yet, I have no birth defects -- nor do the friends and family who walked with me.  Yet, there we all were, walking, raising awareness along with the thousands of others who walked... and we were learning, ourselves, about birth defects and what the March of Dimes was doing to help.  How can we do that in the Down syndrome community?  How can we make the Buddy Walk an integrated event where people with DS walk side-by-side with thousands of people who do not have DS, through the very communities we share.  In the very communities we are trying to raise awareness and foster greater acceptance!  How do we grow these local Buddy Walks into events that people not-yet-touched by a person with Down syndrome are compelled to participate in? If we can just get them to show up, we can teach them so much... through exposure to people with Down syndrome. 

Exposure breeds acceptance and acceptance breeds inclusion.

We need greater visibility with the people who live and work in our communities who have not yet been touched by a person with Down syndrome.

Let me start you off with a few ideas... Maybe the sponsoring organization can run a 5K side-by-side with the Buddy Walk to attract the thousands of runners that are always looking for the next charity race to run but who might not otherwise come out for a Down Syndrome Buddy Walk.  Then Buddy each runner with a walker with Down Syndrome so their number is accompanied by a picture and profile of someone with Down syndrome.  Let's make it personal!  Or, how about holding the walk in a shopping mall (inside or in the parking lot) where mall "walk-ins" gain exposure to this wondrous population and can participate in the festivities and learn. Exposure of people with Down syndrome to store personnel increases employment opportunities in our communities while these businesses can help sponsor the event by offering discounts and/or a percentage of sales to support the cause.  The NYC Buddy Walk included live music -- Actor Chris Burke (DS) and his band -- and carnival-like games and activities where members of the community who were just passing through Central Park were hooked by the festivities and inadvertently mixed with the Down syndrome community... and learnedThat's increasing awareness and still raises money and supports the advocacy organizations of choice.

Come on folks.... Put on your thinking caps and let's hear it!  I want all your crazy ideas so I can pass them on to the powers that be here on Long Island.  I'll compile them and publish them and we can each start a grass roots effort to affect greater awareness of and greater exposure to people with Down syndrome in our home communities.  Much greater!  And, if the folks in charge are not willing to listen and grow, then we'll have to do it ourselves.  Each of us parents and friends of people with Down syndrome need to become the catalyst that brings greater awareness and acceptance of all people with Down syndrome in our communities.  And in every community across the United States and throughout the world.  It starts with one parent, with one new idea implemented at the local level and it grows until the CHANGE we're looking for is realized worldwide -- to the benefit of our children with Down syndrome as well as to the people they touch.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- The Dreaded R Word Spoken In My Very Own Home

NOTE:  Sorry I've been incommunicado in the midst of the 31 for 21 Down Syndrome Awareness Month.  But, as Kimba says over at A Soft Place, sometimes it's OK to reprioritize and put the people who matter most in our lives at the top of our priority list.  I've started TWO new part-time jobs this past week  (which I'll tell you all about another time) and my "free" time has all but disappeared so I've had to reprioritize.  I can't promise a post a day because of all these changes but I'll do what I can. 

The Boys' Birth Day story I promised is coming and it's so long it could probably be broken out into 31 posts all by itself.   But first, something incredibly embarrassing and real happened to me just last night that I HAVE to share!  

Right now, I owe you all a heartfelt apology!


As a busy two weeks of work seized me, I failed to get birthday party invitations out for my daughter's 9th birthday which has been on my calendar for many months but not on anyone else's. With such short notice, many of our intended guests couldn't make it so we pushed it out until next Saturday.  But, our favorite family of snowbirds are beginning their southward migration today (the day after the party) and we didn't want to miss the opportunity to get together with them one last time. 

So, we planned a tiny little gathering with this family and another to share the day and say goodbye.  At the end of a wonderful and relaxing celebration, during the long-goodbyes that always mark a fun time shared with good friends, the children began demonstrating their best wiggle-walk, while we adults bid our farewells intermittently engaged in conversation about the odd stride runway models use as they come down the catwalk.  The kids imitated smooth gliding wiggles to lots of giggles and that's when it happened...  I said it, "It's not smooth like that.  It's [instantaneously picturing the weird stepping pattern the models use] retarded.

For a split second, the whole room was frozen in SHOCK -- I was in shock -- and then a cacaphony of gasps was heard!!!! Seriously.  I don't know how that word came out of my brain let alone out of my mouth!  And YES -- my dearest friends APPROPRIATELY AND IMMEDIATELY called me on it!  ALL fingers pointing at me.  My friends and their children all yelling at ME and saying, "HUH!!!! YOU SAID IT!"  Of course, being our close friends they've spent time attending to and changing their vocabulary as necessary and teaching their children not to use the R word for all the reasons we parents of children with special needs give everyone for not using it. The other family present that was sharing this special day with us are long-time, dear friends of ours as well... Who also happen to have a child with special needs.  And they too, called me on it.  Just as shocked by my use as I was!  My husband was stood silent.  Yes, equally shocked because in the fifteen years he's known me, he's never ever heard that word pass through my lips except in relation to the recent Ban The R Word campaign.  And, I can tell you in all honesty, until last night, I NEVER used that word before.  I never even think it!  I didn't ever use it as a kid having been taught early on about the hurtfullness of name calling and being exposed early to people with special needs. I had good friends with special needs. I was a companion to a young man with special needs.  I knew their innate intelligence and I fought, even as a mere child myself, for their rights to be included in the world... just like everyone else.  And, I NEVER EVER used the R word.  Not as a child and not as an adult.  Not before and not after my beautiful children were born with an extra 21st chromosome.  It NEVER slipped from my mouth!  EVER!   Until last night!  I can honestly say, I don't know where it came from in my brain.  And, I'm embarrassed, MORTIFIED actually, that I said it last night. 

I won't make excuses like Jennifer Anniston.  I can't say it happened because I was overly tired and under a lot of stress (any more than I typically am).  I am all of those but that's no excuse for her or for me! But I can say that when I wanted to describe the strange way these skeletal women walked down the runway with their stilted and unnatural gait, that's the word my brain chose.  It was just there in a split second.  Just EXACTLY the way I HATE to hear it used...  Unfavorably comparing someone "typical" to someone with intellectual challenges.  I am being honest here.  I AM MORTIFIED that I used it!  And the only explanation I can come up with is that all the writing and conversations and constant talk about NOT using the R word actually put the word into my brain's bank of words available for use... a place it had NEVER been before.

In a long-ago post, I'd written about rarely ever hearing that word in polite conversation because the people who speak that way would not be in my circle of friends and family.  So, never hearing it being used, meant it wasn't a choice in my brain.  There are lots of words I don't like and don't use.  Words I rarely if ever hear because the folks around me don't use them either.  Otherwise, they wouldn't be around me.  But, with the worldwide campaign, the R word has become a regular topic of conversation in my world and, because of what happened last night, I'm not sure that's necessarily good. 

In trying to understand my incredible gaff, I've decided that perhaps it's similar to the argument made against violence on television and in video games which says that if you see it and hear it on a regular basis, it becomes part of your available-for-use repertoire.  And this is exactly why I totally agree that the R word should be banished from all written and spoken use.  And, this is why I'm RE-taking the pledge to ban the R word from MY vocabulary.  The first time I took the pledge, I thought, "This'll be easy.  I NEVER use that word!"  But I hear it more now than I ever have in my life and so, I guess, when push came to shove, there it was coming out of my own mouth!  Well THIS time, I'm taking the pledge to not EVER say the R word again!  I'm not going to speak it or write it! It's GONE from my vocabulary! I'm forever BANNING THE R WORD from existence in my brain so it never has the opportunity to slip from my mouth again! 

I recently wrote about not calling someone on their use of the R word.  Well, I've called MYSELF out very publicly here.  I do not want you all to think I'm a  hypocrite.  I'm human and I made a mistake that I'm trying to understand so it NEVER happens again!  I offer you each a personal and heartfelt apology for using the word in such a disparaging way.  I meant no harm to you or insult to your children but I know that's exactly what I've done.  Harmed and insulted!  I slid down the slippery slope and now I need to make the slow and embarrassing climb back up into the good graces of polite society.  I was wrong and I pledge to each of you, I will NOT do it again.  EVER!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- A Second Child and Then Some

THIS story, the one I'm about to share, chronicles the wave of emotions I FELT about the miraculous little babies that came to grace my life forever just five short years ago.  It's an honest account of a string of difficult days that ran together during a very emotional time in my life... my pregnancy with The Boys.  There was no Down syndrome to consider at that time.  That didn't come until much later.  Just the existence of 2 Beautiful Babies who turned my world upside down in so many ways.  And then turned it back, right side up, on me.  It's about how they came to be culminating with their first day on earth, outside of their mama's womb. It's an emotional account, not a list of historical facts -- though they're here too.  Because the development of a life (or 2) is an emotional roller coaster. The birth of a child (or 2) grants us mothers an active role in helping God perform his greatest miracle.  It's an experience that rocked me to the very core of my soul.  And the little details -- a second fetus, a not-quite-right measurement, a shadow on a sonogram, a line across the palm, an extra chromosome --sent my emotions soaring in directions where miracles are sometimes forgotten. 

I knew I wanted a second child -- it's what the Sarge and I always talked about -- but I thought I'd check in with the Sarge, to give him the option to stick with the one child we had... or go for the sibling we'd always dreamed of.  The house is a wreck -- in mid-construction.  And, I think I'm OK with stopping if he wants to.  After all, we're in this together... though secretly I want him to say let's go for it.  No sooner do I hear the magic words than I'm elated to be expecting my second child. Humorous thoughts of my oldest sister and how quickly she conceived dance merrily in my head.  Honestly, I'm relieved that it happened so quickly...  And just a little bit concerned that it happened so quickly.  After all, I want JUST ONE MORE child to complete my family and being so fertile at this point in my life is a bit scary if you catch my drift.  Note to self: ask the OB/GYN at our first visit about really reliable birth control.  I can't have this happen again at my age.

I've brought Grandpa along to watch My Old Soul while the midwife confirms what the dipstick has already revealed.  As I sit waiting, gown cinched modestly under under my butt that hasn't started expanding yet from pregnancy.  I'm swinging my legs and disinterestedly perusing the assorted posters that adorn the walls of the examining room. I'm happily pregnant!  I come across one that depicts the bi-weekly growth of a developing fetus.  As I examine the 8-week picture, an asterisk notes that the second dark spot in the photo is a cyst.  I pay no mind as the door swings open and Betsy, the midwife who delivered the Old soul, enters with a smile.  I'm excited because I know that seeing the peanut baby that's growing in me for the very first time makes it real.  She waves the magic wand over my belly and shows me the baby... Yes, it's real.  Then I see the dark spot and a wave of fear grips me. It's an ovarian cyst just like on the poster!  OMG, will it endanger my new baby?  But before the thought has time to morph into words Betsy says, "and there's the other baby!"

WHAT?  NO!  She's talking but it is not really registering.  It's no longer about me.  It's more like a passing conversation with a stranger.  She continues waving her magic wand.  But she can't make it go away. She rambles on, "Do twins run in your family? They look good and healthy.  Both measuring right about 8 weeks.  Perfect!   They're in two separate sacs. That's good."  Oh, I think, and manage to choke the words out of my still-in-shock brain, "then they're fraternal?" Not necessarily! She explains that 2% of identical twins split in the fallopian tube and attach to the uterus wall independent of each other, in their own sacs.  Their development is healthier this way because they're not competing for the single food source provided by one sac.  We won't know for sure until they're born whether they're identical or fraternal.  She knows me.  She knows I won't find out my baby's gender.... correction: my babies' genders until their birth.  Oh my God...  Twins! 

[When I was a little girl, I thought having twins would be cool.  As an adult and mother of one, I flip flopped on that and felt strongly that one baby at a time was more than a grateful mother could ask for.  Not twins!  Please, not twins!]

I'm laughing with Betsy, explaining there's only one set of distant identical twins in my mother's family.  But it's a detached social laugh that has a tinge more worry than sincerity.  I hope she doesn't notice. 

In the waiting room, feigning my own excitement, I tell My Old Soul who is beyond excited...  And I tell my father.  It's appropriate that he's the first to know.... again.  He was the first to know when we were expecting our beautiful daughter - a hint whispered in an airplane over the Atlantic Ocean on my way to fulfilling a childhood promise I made to him to take him to Ireland one day.  HE laughs heartily while I'm still in shock... at me being in shock. " It's just that you plan for everything and this was totally off your radar!" I show the oldest and youngest members of my extended family the sonogram picture... My Old Soul counts as she points to the floating peanuts "one, two!"  To me, they look like enemy submarines honing in on their target on an under water sonar.  I can almost hear the beep beep beep while my daughter's and father's voices seep into my brain from afar.

Not twins!  Just one.  I want just one.  I don't want three children.  Everyone complains about 3.  3 is too many!  Just then I recall my sister's concept of being earth conscious by just replacing oneself and one's husband... having just 2 children.  Too late for that, I think!  I drift, like it's not happening to me.  I'm in a place I'm not familiar with.  I've seen others here but "whoa is me" is NOT my style... Yet here I am.

Over the course of the next few weeks, as I tell people that we're expecting twins, I feel only as if I'm trying on a shirt I didn't really like when I saw it hanging on the rack.  As if I can take it off and put it back if it doesn't fit me in the Try-on Room.  At this moment, when I look in the mirror, twins don't fit me.  I read about the disappearing twin syndrome and think maybe that will happen to me through no fault of my own.  I'm guilt-ridden for thinking it but I don't want to do this.  I don't WANTto have twins now.  I want just one baby, two total.  Outwardly, I joke with folks congratulating me, "I always said I wanted 2!  Perhaps I should have specified two babies not two pregnancies!" LOL... but I'm not laughing on the inside.  I find myself feeling devastated while all sorts of women confess to me that they always wanted twins.  And I think I used to be one of them...  but not anymore.  I see a neighbor and I tell her.  She must see it in my eyes, the pain and confusion I'm feeling.  She responds with the most honest words I'd heard in 2 weeks, "Oh you poor thing!" and I start to cry.  THAT'S  how I'm feeling!  How am I going to DO this?  I work full-time.  I already have a 3-year-old.  My home is under massive construction.  One baby!  ONE Baby! ONE BABY!

At 10 weeks, on a crisp Autumn day, I'm working outside in the yard when I feel that telltale gush of blood that every woman knows too well.  Only I'm pregnant and I'm not supposed to be feeling that for another 8 months.  Once again fear grips me.  But this time it's more tangible.  Please GOD, don't let me lose these babies.  For the very first time since the news that I'm carrying twins I realize I DESPERATELY want my babies to survive.  I want my twins!

I'm still bleeding when Betsy tells me that my uterus is like a knitted sweater with a hole in it and it is unraveling. Bedrest is the only treatment.  My body needs to mend the hole or I'll lose the babies to spontaneous abortion.  Suddenly, it's all I can think of.  I need to rest... but I have a 3 1/2 year old and she doesn't understand so I split my time as my soul feels torn in two.  Save the babies developing in my body.  Live for the one I have standing, smiling in front of me.  Weeks pass and I bleed intermittently.  I'm feeling good and bad.  Worried and content.  I'm having twins and I'm OK with it now.  More than OK.  I desperately want them... my beautiful babies.

I've stopped working on the house and the construction comes to a grinding halt.  I've stopped exercising as my belly grows... explodes with twins!  I've stopped almost everything by the time the bleeding finally stops after nearly 8 weeks. FINALLY!  It's my time to enjoy the miracle.  I LOVED being pregnant with the Old Soul.  But this has been so emotionally challenging already!  So fraught with ups and downs.  I'm looking forward to relaxing.  Enjoying.  Breathing.  It's January and  I'm barely 5 months pregnant.  Good news, I've stopped bleeding!

I'm beginning to let myself guess at what my future might hold.  We're discussing names.  Two boy names, two girl names, one middle name.  But they all have to go together somehow. With the Old Soul, we knew her name before the Sarge and I even married.  At her birth, we had no boy names and thought we'd look foolish if she was a boy.  She wasn't.  This time, we have 2 boy names but can't settle on the girl names. We need 2 that go together and one that goes with one of our boy names.  I'm anticipating a boy and a girl but the names don't seem to fit.  When I put them together, there's always something not-quite-right.  Then the sonographer notices an anomaly.  Something not quite right with the babies' brains.   My fear returns.  It's another sweater unraveling but I don't know how or why.

Test after test shows the same thing. We measure over and over again and the left ventrical is enlarged. Growing. Potential diagnoses are bantered about like wild accusations. Like I've done something to make this happen.  I secretly wonder if it's those first two weeks when I wished one of my babies would disappear. I want them and now the universe won't let me have them. Punishment. I'm overwhelmed and underwhelmed by each diagnosis.  Specialists are rushing the same results to me over and over again. Enlarged. ENLArged. ENLARGED.  I have a choice.  I don't take the out.  There is no out for me.  Sarge and I pursued this pregnancy purposefully.  I fought an emotional war with myself early on to get to this point.  I WANT these babies.  There is no going back.  I want them.  I WANT them.  Then someone sees white spots on their brains.  "Calcification.  Hardening.  It's a virus.  They're dying.  They'll be dead at birth. Stillborn.  If not, it will be a painful life followed by a quick death for them. They'll live a very short life as vegetables.  It's viral infections in their brains!"  More tests but I know -- I KNOW like a mother knows -- that I don't have the viruses they're talking about.  I KNOW it.  Still, they all tell me there's something wrong.  Something dreadfully wrong. All but one,  who whispers that she doesn't see what they see.  I cry.  A LOT! I sit quietly tucked inside myself at big family gatherings. Someone yells at me so I leave.  I don't care what she's talking about.  She doesn't care that my babies might be dying inside me.  I can't think let alone deal with the petty emotions she's feeling..  I am all alone as I take in one bad diagnosis, one bad guess, after another.  "Cyto-Megalo Virus.  Toxoplasmosis.  Microcephaly.  Hydrocephaly".  There's a shadow, a hole, in one baby's heart. It's a marker for Down syndrome.  Our first and only!  Two weeks later it's gone, just like our favorite sonographer, my one ray of hope, said it would be.  "These things have a way of resolving themselves" she said. The measurements of their brains, the disparity between right and left ventricals grows.  I take care of my sweet Old Soul and go through the motions. With conviction, I tell the medical profession en masse; that it is what it is meant to be and I quietly try to convince myself of the same as I feel the sweater unraveling.  Whatever happens, it's God's will.  I know that I have no control.  Except for the decision to continue the pregnancy, I relinquish all control. 

They are real to me now.  I can feel the babies kicking.  They roll like waves across my belly.  It's as if they are wrestling over a tiny blanket they might someday share in a bed.  When I sleep, they play but I've stopped playing.  My faithful old body is giving out. In the pool of diagnoses, my body is contributing it's own.  Torn rib muscles from a hacking seasonal cough and sprained back muscles that begin to spasm all from carrying the weight of twins.  The orthopaedist prescribes a belt that lifts the weight off of my back and puts it on my shoulders.  My shoulder muscles are sprained now too.   I feel like any effort is futile so I do nothing.  I'm in more physical pain than I was when I naturally delivered the Old Soul without an ounce of pain medication.  When I'm not sitting on the couch, I'm blindly, painfully going through the motions.  Yes, doctor. Yes doctor.  Yes doctor. One tells me to get off my feet.  Lay down with my feet raised to keep the swelling down in my ankles.  The next tells me to sleep sitting up to keep the strain off of my back and the pressure off of the babies.  Every other night I sleep the way each one wants me to.  Every other night I pray and cry, asking that my babies be spared all these terrible things the multitude of medical professionals have predicted. One Perinatal Specialist says I'm making the right decision.  He says that we're in a unique place in medicine just now.  A period when medical technology has surpassed medical knowledge and they are all just making their best educated guesses at what it may mean.  I think, they don't really know any more than me.

In the midst of feeling utterly lost at sea, The Sarge and I get our first hint that the babies might be identical.  Why else would they both have an enlarged left lateral ventrical?  This is the only explanation we can come up with...  But now I feel sad that I might be carrying identical twins that will not survive their own birth.  I share these words with the people I love and who I know love me but I carry the burden and the weight of them all by myself... deep in my heart.

I am 32 weeks pregnant with twins.  I survived the twin shock that gripped me heartily those first two weeks.  I weathered a ruptured subdural hematoma that threatened to unravel and spontaneously abort them.  I managed to get the doctors to stop testing me and to prepare for whatever might happen at their birth.  I can hardly walk, sit or stand without excruciating pain.  I'm huge.  HUge.  HUGE!  And I have 8 weeks -- the growth weeks -- left to go.  The left side of their brains are still enlarged and I'm still told there's a viral infection causing hardening of the brain tissue.  Otherwise, "the babies look good".  They're growing steadily.  Measurements are consistent with 32 weeks.  We're moving right along... But then they're not.  They stop moving.

I haven't felt them move in two days.  I can't help but wonder if this is it. The end the doctors had warned me about. Still born!  I've heard stories about women having to carry and birth their dead babies.  I hope this doesn't happen to me.  I successfully convince myself that maybe it's just too tight in there. Everything is OK.  I can barely move myself, how could they possibly move when they're all scrunched up in there? I tell Sarge I'll call the doctor in the morning but the Old Soul's nighttime potty routine overlaps with mine and together we see that I am bleeding again.  Spotting. 

Betsy casually tells me to go into the emergency room and get on a fetal monitor to make sure the baby's aren't in distress. I hear the nervousness in her voice and I'm sure she's trying to hide it from me. I've already been through the ringer so it barely registers.  I know I should have felt that old familiar fear but I don't.  I feel calm.  I reassure the Old Soul that everything will be fine.  Don't worry!  Daddy will stay with you.  It's bedtime!  I'll go to the hospital myself and be home in an hour.  I've convinced myself -- with no assistance from the medical community whatsoever -- that it's nothing.  Just pressure from carrying twins who are pushing at the gate. On the way to the hospital, I call my mother just to let her know that if I'm wrong, we may need her help tonight.  I tell her I'm OK.  Really!  I just might need someone to watch over my Old Soul in my absence... If Daddy needs to come be with me. If it happens, I think, it will be the first time in her short life that I'm not there for her.... But it will not be the last!

Their BIRTH Day to come...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- A Person's Worth

A person's worth is not determined by their position, wealth or IQ score
but rather by the profound impact he has on those around him...

...and on humankind!

This is true for those of us with 46 chromosomes...
 as much as it is for those with 47!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- Prevention?

(Republished from an earlier post written before anyone knew that Take a Walk on The Happy Side existed.)

We are all inundated by telemarketers with requests from various organizations fundraising on behalf of their worthy cause. Funds collected are then spent on various efforts to raise awareness; to advocate on behalf of those afflicted; and to conduct research to better understand, treat, cure and, ultimately, prevent the disease in question. Like most, I give what I can to the causes that I believe in and to the organizations that I trust.

However, I recently found myself troubled by something pertaining to fundraising on behalf of people with Down syndrome. As I mentioned above, research generally includes scientific understanding of the causes and effects of the disease or disorder, with an eye toward treating and curing those afflicted and, ultimately, to preventing the disease or disorder in question from occurring in the future. That said, the question that troubled me is this: what is the ultimate goal of Down syndrome research? I am absolutely in support of a deeper scientific understanding of the causes and effects of DS. I am absolutely in support of researching better treatments, and ultimately cures, for the negative symptoms or health issues that people with DS may experience. I suppose, curing a person with Down syndrome would mean being able to remove the extra chromosomal material from any and/or every cell in a persons body before it has any negative affect, or reversing the negative affect that extra chromosomal materials has on the individual.

But, here's the part that bothers me a bit... Tell me, what does it mean to prevent Down syndrome? To keep it from ever occuring would require knowledge of exactly where and when that first accidental over-duplication of the 21st chromosome happens so that you can undo the mistake and then allow normal duplication and development to continue without further interference thus avoiding the development of an individual with Down syndrome.  That would be extraordiary, wouldn't it?  But I suppose knowing that would be like knowing exactly when one cell splits and becomes identical twins.  I'm as amazed as the next guy over the incredible leaps and bounds science is making every day but we're not there yet.  And, I'm not sure we'll ever get to what I've just described. Which is just fine with me. The even more bothersome side of preventative research might mean that we find a way to detect the 21st chromosome over-duplication error in days-old fertilized eggs or fetuses and terminate the development* to prevent them from becoming a person with Down syndrome. As it is, statistics site that 92% of all fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are terminated.  And, yet, Down syndrome continues to exist.

But, let's say we succeed in preventing Down syndrome this way.  Eventually, people like my beautiful Little Men would no longer exist in this world. I simply cannot imagine how our world could be a better place without the likes of my children. My Boys and all people with Down syndrome teach us so much about acceptance of human differences that extend so far beyond this one affliction.  My Boys help me to focus on my blessings.

I'm not suggesting we don't do the research. I'm just pointing out a troubling science-gone-bad angle.  Troubling for me anyway.  But then, maybe you'd have to know My Boys -- or someone else with Down syndrome -- to really understand my trepidation.

Would the world be a better place if people with Down syndrome no longer existed? 

* Note: I am not arguing for or against abortion rights. That is an individual issue and choice. I am just making an observation as it relates to the ongoing existence of people with Down syndrome.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- Lessons In Advocating For My Children With Special Needs

We learn so much in school from our friends as much as our teachers. So much more than just academics.  Meeting up with my old high school chums again afforded me a few new observations pertaining to advocacy: 

Advocacy Lesson #1:  A few of my friends called yesterday, after reading my post, asking if they were the ones who slipped up using the R word. They were NOT the ones... But Holy Cow I'm touched and impressed by the fact that you cared enough to call and apologize just in case it was you! Interestingly, the actual folks who spoke the dreaded R word to me did not comment, send a message or call!  Perhaps they didn't see themselves in the story, were embarrassed, insulted OR, since I recognize that my blog's not the daily news, I guess it's possible they missed my post (though so many of my classmates were on FB looking for pics of the event).

Suffice it to say that this was a most interesting advocacy lesson for me and I wanted to share it with you all.  Though I believe my post reached a few more people (other than the culprits), making them think about their choice of words and how they might have offended the likes of me (NOT an easy thing to do as I'm SO not easily offended!  And, in truth, I was less offended than surprised when I heard the R word used!)  The thing is, it appears I failed to reach those who actually used the R word.  That, in itself, is catalyst enough for me to make sure that, in the future, correcting the gaff in real time is key to stopping the use of this derogatory word that fills the hearts of so many parents of children with cognitive disabilities with dread.

Advocacy Lesson #2:  It was so nice not to have to explain myself and the gory details of my life to every other person I met [again] after 30 years.  Sometimes I get tired of hearing the gasps and the "I'm so sorry" comments that often come along with letting people know that My Boys have Down syndrome.  Once I get that reaction I HAVE to go into advocacy mode and explain... It is NOTHING to be sorry about.  I'm NOT!  I love the living daylights out of My Boys and my daughter just exactly the way they are.  I'm a better person for having these beautiful children in my life.  And, hopefully, when I'm gone, I'll have made a difference in educating a few people about what it really means to love and live in this world with someone who has Down syndrome.  Yes, when the conversation turns naturally to it, I openly discuss the fact that My Boys have Down syndrome.  No, I never hide it.  Why would I want to hide anything about my absolutely amazing little boys?  I take every opportunity to advocate for my children, exposing others to the real face of Down syndrome versus some blatantly incorrect and outdated text book version they might have learned years ago.  I can't help myself.  THIS is my life. This is THEIR life! Advocating makes it better for everyone.  So when the conversation turns to it, I willingly step up on the soap box. 

Still, sometimes, it's just nice to be Maggie.  And, thanks to Facebook, so many of my classmates already know about my beautiful children and my grateful attitude about having them in my life. As such, it was nice to just be me and leave my soap box at home for a night.  Even us parent-advocates deserve a night off once in awhile!

Advocacy Lesson #3:  I am a parent.  I do what I do because my children need me to do it. It's that simple! I really do appreciate all the compliments about my efforts on behalf of my kids...  And about how amazing My Boys are.  They are, aren't they!  (You should meet them in person!) But, the truth is -- and every one of us who have children with Down syndrome know this but those of you who don't might not -- I am doing just exactly what every other parent does... Which is everything and anything that my children need me to do to pave a peaceful path for them in this world.  Is that not so?  When someone says, "I don't know how you do it!" my answer is always the same, "Ya do what ya gotta do!"  I believe that those of us with kids are parents first and foremost.  Your kid is shy so you plan more play dates for him.  Her kid isn't good with animals so she watches him like a hawk when they encounter anothers' pet.  Their kid struggles with math so they find her a tutor.  The neighbor's kid has a peanut allergy so their epi-pen is ever at the ready.  My kids have Down syndrome so I get them the help they need.  It's only a big deal if you make it so.  I don't!  You see, my kids are JUST like yours with their own little idiosyncrasies that I try to address any and every way I can.  I am a parent!

Yeah, it's a funny little life fraught with minor details that make us all different and great big similarities that make us all the same.  We're all in it together and doing it the best way we know how.  Each in our own unique way.  To all you parents who advocate for your children with special needs, keep up the good work.  To all you parents who don't have children with special needs, know that the rest of us are just like you.  Our kids are just like yours.  Our lives progress one day at a time with the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  We all worry about our kids, their health, their education and their future no matter who they are or how many chromosomes they have.

P.S.  Thanks, my friends, for all the compliments on how I'm handling my journey.  I really do appreciate your recognition as it absolutely does help to keep me going when the going gets tough... As it does every once in awhile for all of us (special needs aside).  That said, my hat is off to you and your parenting skills and style too.  Every parent I encounter has something to offer that helps me as I travel my path.  God knows it's not always easy no matter which children you've been gifted... but it is always worth it!  We've all heard the saying, "there's a hundred ways to skin a cat" (if that's your thing).  Well, there are even more ways to raise a child!  I recently heard that, in child rearing, you only need to get 40% right to raise a reasonably well-adjusted child...

The trick is figuring out which 40%! (LOL)  Good luck and enjoy your journey!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Down Syndrome Awareness -- Using The R Word -- Be Mindful of Who You're Talking To

In the midst of the fun, over the din of the Disc Jockey spinning hits from 1980 at my 30th High School reunion, right there in the middle of polite conversation with me, two of my classmates let the R word rip.  For the first time since having my beautiful 5-year-old identical twin sons who have Down syndrome, I did not correct the culprits who used the offensive term... both of whom know me and know about My Boys through Facebook. It HURT me to hear them use the term.  So, why didn't I call them on it?  Well, I didn't want to get into it in the middle of a party.  I didn't want to offend.  I didn't want to spoil the fun... though it was spoiled for me.  Sadly, my opinion of each of these highly educated people fell a little bit last night.

Perhaps by telling the story here, you might recognize yourself and go forth to use the R word no more:

Poking fun at yourself when you attempted but failed to recall something you once knew, you laughed and said, "... I'm retarded.  Ha ha ha."  When I didn't acknowledge your comment but chose, instead, to stare blankly into the middle distance because I just couldn't speak through my cringed lips, you clarified, "Yeah, I'm totally mentally retarded when it comes to remembering things.  Ha ha ha!"  I continued to avert my eyes, to not acknowledge, to swallow, to breathe, and not correct your misspeak in the midst of a good party.  I could have.  I should have.  But, I know you, you're the type that would be totally insulted at being corrected... Then again, you didn't mind insulting me!  Besides, there's a time and place for everything.... except for the R word.  There's no appropriate time or place in polite conversation for that word anymore.

Yes, you know that I have children with Down syndrome. But, I guess, what you don't know is that the way you put yourself down using the R word, is painful to me.  To you it was a joke.  Yeah, I get it!  But, comparing yourself favorably to people with intellectual people like my sons.... ISN'T FUNNY.  You don't know that every time I hear the R word I feel as though a knife is being twisted in my heart.  My friend, you are insulting my children when you use this term!  You are making fun of my beautiful and innocent little boys whose intelligence outshines any IQ test score every day of the week.

Let me tell you first hand, Mom's like me don't think it's funny to call yourself or anyone else a retard.... I know that you meant it as a joke, as a put-down to yourself!  But, that's exactly the problem!  You're saying that being intellectually challenged makes you less than the rest of us. Puts you into a group you would never want to belong to. Puts you in a group with My Boys.  And therein lies the insult.

No, I have no chip on my shoulder.  If you know me at all, if you've ever read my blog, you know that my acceptance of my children is total.  No, I'm not one of those people waiting to be insulted.  As a matter of fact, I generally avoid people who insult me, who insult my intelligence or that of my children.  But you, YOU are my friend.  I didn't expect it from you.

So, I invite you to come and spend some time with my children or others like them.  See the incredible beauty and love that I see.  Know that they are so much more than an IQ score in some "educated" person's file drawer.  Then, when you've come to know them and love them the way I do, when you see them for the wondrous people they are, STOP USING THE R WORD!  It's hurtful and derogatory to an innocent group of people who struggle for acceptance every day.  They don't need to be the butt of your joke.  They need your help and acceptance in a society that judges us all -- but especially them -- too harshly.  You have the ability to help change the world -- their world, my world, our world -- for the better.  All you have to do is delete that word from your vocabulary!  Do it for me.  Do it for My beautiful Boys!

The next time that word begins to roll off your tongue... think of me and My Boys.  Then STOP... change it.  Say something that's true but not hurtful like, "I can't do that anymore.  My memory's shot!" or "You know me, I'm a bit uncoordinated that way."  I'd laugh at THAT!  But don't use my children as your point of comparison.  And, by the way, now that you know how much it hurts me, when you hear someone else use the disparaging R word, remember me, remember my boys and their smiling faces and beautiful green eyes and loving embrace, and tell that person about me, about my boys.  Tell them what I've told you.  Tell them the R word is a derogatory term that has fallen from favor and shouldn't be used anymore.  It hurts innocent people!  It's the right thing to do!

Thanks for listening, friend.