Do You See The Yellow?

Check out my latest blog on my website: Wilingness.com

I’m not sure what grade I was in, but I do know I was quite young, when my classroom teacher placed a picture on each one of our desks. She casually asked the class to take a look at it, and then, after a few seconds, she asked us to flip the picture over so all we could see was the white back side.

“Without turning your picture back over, who can tell me anything in your picture that was yellow?”

I wracked my brain yet I couldn’t remember a single yellow detail. Not a one!

A few hands shot up, and I looked around dumbfounded. How could I have looked at that entire picture only moments ago, and not remember anything that was yellow? What else didn’t I see?

Though I didn’t consciously register it at the time, this was an “ah-ha” moment for me. I was beginning to realize that though I believed with every fiber of my being I had seen the entire picture, I was really only recognizing what I had chosen to focus on, whether consciously or not.

Some 40 years, a husband and 3 children later, I found myself rushing around the house on a Tuesday night. Katherine and I were to leave for taekwondo within the hour, dinner was cooking, Wil had a book to read to me, Katherine and Elizabeth were intermittently asking for help with their homework, and I was still yearning for a shower since teaching a 2pm bootcamp class. Once dinner and homework were successfully completed, I zipped across my carpeted bedroom floor, headed straight for the shower in the adjoining bathroom, the movie reel in my mind replaying the same hurried thoughts over and again. Then, just as I was quickly padding past my bed, the glint of something at the edge of the bedskirt caught my attention. My mind and body stopped fast in their tracks….http://wilingness.com/2015/11/09/do-you-see-the-yellow/

Sky's the limit! (my son, Wil, age 5)

Its a Stone’s Throw: Spreading Down Syndrome Awareness

BW 2015 Stommen

Last night, stretched out next to Wil in his bed, having just finished reading him his bed time story, I pointed up to the pieces of paper taped on the wall next to us.

“Where is the beetle?” I asked, and he pointed to the picture with a colorful crayon drawn bug.

“I did that one!” He said.

“Yes, I love her purple head.” I said.

“And, orange feet!” He replied.

“How do you like Ms. Wier?” I asked (Ms. Wier is his new resource room teacher).

“I like her.” He said.

“What did you do with Ms. Wier today?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You mean, I’m thinking?” (A great technique I learned from Wil’s summer speech therapist.)

“Yes, I’m thinking.” (Ha! It worked again!)

“Ok, what’s ONE thing? Just one thing you did today with Ms. Wier?” I asked. “Did you count dots? Go over to the bean bag room?”

“The Fall book!” And, then it all started tumbling out.

I laid there, listening, so thankful. So thankful he could now tell me these things, and so thankful he is with people who love him during the day. People who want him to learn just as much as I do.

And, sometimes, I also feel an overwhelming sadness come over me during these same moments. I think of the sweet babies with Down syndrome in the orphanages overseas, or even children here in the US, who were given away, just because of their teeny tiny extra chromosome. Children who have no one to ask them how their day was, children who are not told they are loved. They fall further and further behind by the day, proving the statistics that their parents so feared, simply because they are not given the love, the time, or the opportunity. As these thoughts run through my head, I look, in close up view, at my beautiful boy’s face, his sweet soft pale skin, the pink cheeks, that bright smile, and his wispy blond hair. I smooth his hair back and say to him:
“You are so very loved Wil. I love you so much, I want you to know that.”

He smiles, and says, “I know!” And he goes right back to telling me all the things he did with Ms. Weir that he “didn’t know” just a few moments ago.

When I have these happy/sad moments, I think back on Mother Teresa’s quote, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Last Sunday, our Ds support group had our annual Buddy Walk. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the energy was high and the support for Wil and his friends with Down syndrome was no less than amazing! Wil and his buddies with and without Down syndrome held hands on the one mile trek, parents snapped pictures on the playground fixtures along the way, everyone devoured pizza, enjoyed cotton candy, participated in crafts and danced together. There is no fear of those 47 chromosomes on Buddy Walk day. In fact, those with the extra chromosomes are celebrated! And, the best part is, that celebration of our kids does not live only on Buddy Walk day. It spreads far and beyond. We carry that love with us, and have the power to influence others with that love; it is a stone cast across the waters creating many ripples.

I will still have those happy/sad moments lying next to my boy in the times to come; the great waves of gratitude, and the tides of sadness for the sweet souls who have been so sadly left behind. But, maybe, just maybe, for all of those that love my son and his friends, their love will spread to reach a mother in doubt at just the right time. And, that one mother, having been given the opportunity to see her child’s extra chromosome in a new light, will feel her fear dissipate. Over time, as her love grows, she, having known doubt, will become a stronger advocate, having even more power to focus her light on those mired in fear and doubt. And, so the stone is cast across the waters.

Why I’m Sticking With Gratitude

Yesterday, after teaching a morning bootcamp class, I zipped over to the grocery store. The plan was to make it a quick trip. I had a load of things I wanted to accomplish before my afternoon class.

Cool, I thought, the parking lot is near empty, I pulled into a front parking spot, and grabbed myself a big cart (I established a personal rule of no small carts, no matter how small the trip, after the very embarrassing small-cart-incident of unexpectedly hitting a dip in the parking lot, the abrupt stop of the cart almost sending me barreling headfirst, in plain full parking lot view, right over top). The big cart and I safely and efficiently cruised through the aisles, finishing in record speed at the check-out line, with only one woman in front of me, who was already swiping her credit card. Score!

When it was my turn, the woman behind the check-out counter smilingly asked her required questions: Had I had found everything ok, and how was I doing? We then made typical check-out counter small talk as she swiftly swiped my items; what a beautiful day it was, how warm and sunny, and so on. Friendly, yet impersonal. And, I probably would have left the store in about 3 more minutes, with a lift to my step from the ease and friendliness of the experience, but without much further thought as I moved on with the rest of my day. Instead, I turned my head to the new sound of voices entering the quiet of the store.

A small group of kids, all with varying special needs, and their educators, were walking in and grabbing carts. There was a lot of excited chatter amidst the distribution of carts, and once a cart was in hand, a child and their educator were happily off on their shopping adventure. I spotted the back of the blond head of one of Wil’s friends, Nick, as he expertly made his way down the aisle with his cart.

The check-out woman saw me looking their way, and said, “That is a special needs class from Saline schools.” To which I replied, “One of those boys is my son’s friend. They both have Down syndrome. I was hoping to catch his eye, but he went off shopping in the other direction.”

“Oh,” she said, “I was a para-educator for 20 years. My son also had special needs. He went to school at Highpoint (a school for kids with a higher level of needs).” “I know Highpoint,” I said, “I used to work at the WISD and my neighbor recently retired from there.”

“When I started teaching,” she told me, “they were just starting inclusion. I believe in inclusion, but it’s not right for all of our kids. My son needed to be at a place like Highpoint.”

“I understand,” I said. “I’m so thankful for the inclusion my son has right now. We have not had to fight for it, he naturally receives what you had to fight for those years ago. Yet, I also understand what you are saying about inclusion not being right for everyone. Though my son enjoys and benefits from inclusion, I found in certain subjects, like math, the most effective place for him to be is in the resource room. Each child is very different.”

She nodded. “My son was completely typical, then he almost drowned when he was 2 ½. After that, he had multiple special needs, too many to be at a regular school with inclusion.”

She paused, then looked me right in the eye, I could tell she was deciding if she should share something with me, then she did.

“You know, there are some things worse than dying. To have a typical child and then…”

My heart went to the pit of my stomach. I looked at her gently, and all I could do was nod. What words are there for something as heavy as that?

“My son did die, he was only 10 years old. I have 6 children, so, well, that helps.”

But, what can truly help? She did what she could to cope. She helped other parents who had kids with special needs as a para-educator. I have absolutely no doubt that many parents found comfort in her knowing nods and compassionate words when she was responsible for the care of their child each day. I also have no doubt that those kids under her care received her best. You don’t go through what she did, and do the work she did for 20 years if you don’t care deeply about the purpose of that work.

We talked a little more, but by then my items had been checked and bagged, and a man was waiting behind me in line. It was time to go. I told her it was really good talking with her, and we wished each other a good day. I know I will make a point to find her line again.

Back at my car, filling it with groceries, I thought of our conversation. It was heavy, yes, but also, I felt a huge sense of gratitude for that time with her. Gratitude that she chose to share her story with me so that I could connect with her and learn from her in my very own life experiences.

Good days are good. The front parking space, the cruising through the uncrowded aisles, the smile and friendliness of a check-out worker, and the sun burning away the clouds and warming the air. They lift us, they carry us to a certain point, and they even spread, but they don’t run very deep, because they don’t stick. We catch them and hold on to them when we can, and enjoy them, but they are unpredictable and fleeting. They come, and they go.

Stories shared and connections made as in the one at the grocery store have staying power. They stick. I am never left the same after conversations like that, and it’s a wonder, how many I have had just like that since Wil has been born. And, it’s in these very unlikely, common places where they happen.

Last Saturday, I was in the hallway at Katherine’s karate tournament. I happened to put on a necklace that morning that our Down Syndrome Support Team sells. They are beautiful, handmade necklaces, and nothing about them says “special needs” except for the fact that they are sold at our Buddy Walk each year, the proceeds going to our support group. In the crowd of people walking back and forth in that hallway at the tournament, a blond woman stopped, pointed at my necklace and said, “Buddy Walk! I have about 5 of those! I love them, and yours is especially beautiful!”

“Thank you,” I said, “do you have a Buddy you walk for?”

“Oh, lots of them. I’m a special education teacher in Saline.”

We shared a smile, and went on our own separate ways down the busy hallway.

A passing friendly comment on a piece of jewelry in a crowded public place, but it will last longer than the smile she gave me. That compliment drives deeper, because it carries with it a common purpose, a common cause, which we both innately understand in those few words we exchanged.

At a birthday party I went to at a lake, where Wil was happily splashing around, a woman walked up to me, and said, “Your son reminds me of mine when he was your son’s age. So blond, so sweet. I miss him at that age.” And, then we shared stories like old friends reconnected about our kids and our lives, except we had only met that very moment, and our only known connection was Down syndrome. I learned so much about the experiences Wil could look forward to in her stories, and she was able to look back and relive some of her son’s youth.

I can recount many such stories, in restaurants, walking down the street wearing my Buddy Walk shirt, and other such every day places. I believe that I am so easily approached with these experiences is not for any other reason than that I am open to them now, when I wasn’t before. I did not have the “WIL”lingness those years ago that I do now.

Last night, I went to bed overflowing with gratitude. Not because of a front parking spot or the ease of my day, but because I now have opened myself to the gift of looking underneath the surface shine. Diving down deeper, past the pretty and shimmery surface, down through the murky and the messy, the deeper of the emotions, and down, down, down, down, to uncover the treasure chest of connection. That is where the staying power to fulfillment is. That is what sticks.

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Shadow Animals: If you know someone who has a child with Down syndrome, don’t tell them about the dark, show them the dancing shadow animals on the wall

Katherine’s taekwondo class was full yesterday. So full, in fact, that half of the class went outside (it was a beautiful day!) to work on their forms, while the other half stayed indoors.

Over the summer months, students breezed in and out of half-full classes, parents passing with a smile, seeing each other some weeks, and missing one another the next, our schedules dotted in trips up north, interspersed with summer camps and visits with extended family. We had our pick of the seats in the exercise room, with chairs to spare where we placed notepads, magazines and summer reads we had visions of catching up on here and there while we watched our kids practice.

When we arrived, yesterday, I could feel the change with schedules now reined in and the energy high with the new busyness. Parents continuously joked and chatted, catching up with one another. Every chair in the exercise room was filled, the magazines of summer left behind, except the hopeful few that came along, were now stashed under seats, remaining untouched. Those of us without seats overflowed into the waiting room, catching a glance at our child through the open doorway to the exercise room, or through the glass doors outside.

The students outside lined the sidewalk in front of the neighboring storefronts with bare feet firm on the ground, crisp white uniforms with dark belts knotted straight at their waists, arms moving with precision and fingers so aligned I feel them slicing the air. Though steady with focus, the joy of their practice was clear in brightness of their eyes.

Back in the waiting room, Elizabeth found an empty chair, cracked open her Warrior book, intent on finishing the last two chapters. Wil decided he was going to sit center stage on the floor, with his favorite flashlight. With no seats available and people milling around, I scooted him over towards me. He started pointing the little beam of his flashlight here and there, watching the small circle of light dance around. Soon, the light found its way to the feet of one of the moms standing across from us.

She noticed the spark of light, looked over at him and smiled. That must have been a cue to him, because he ran over to her, and gave her a big hug. She hugged him right back, asked him a few questions about school, as was the hot topic amongst all of us, then he aimed his flashlight toward the floor again, and zoomed it over to a dad standing across the room. Wil’s light inched its way up from the man’s ankles, onto his shirt, until it stopped on his chin. Wil ran over to give him a hug. Looking up at the man he said, “You are tall!”

“Yes,” the dad, Mike, said. “And my son will soon be taller than me! You have to convince him of that. He doesn’t believe me, yet.”

Wil laughed at this, then zoomed his light in another direction down the hall, and off he went. He played in the hall for a few moments, then he came back and grabbed the hand of the mom he had landed his light on earlier.

“Where are we going?” She asked.

“To play shadow animals!”

It was darker in the small hallway, and he flashed his light on the wall, and in front of it, he put one hand in a fist, extended two fingers, and bounced his hand up and down, its shadow following suit on the wall.

He started singing, “Little bunny foo foo hops through the forest.” We laughed, then he asked the mother to make a shadow animal. She joined her thumbs, splayed her hands, and fluttered them.
“A butterfly!” He said. He then showed her a cat, which she followed with a puppy. I joined in with an alligator, and when we exhausted all of the ones we knew, he asked us to make up some, like a turtle, which didn’t look like much more than a closed fist. We laughed at the awkward looking turtle, and then that morphed into a snake, full with sound effects.

The class in the exercise room soon broke up, and kids started to pour out, with their big sparring bags on their shoulders, their bulk filling the hallway as they made their way to the changing rooms. The little shadow party broke up, and we all went in our own directions. Kids filing in and out, parents leaving their seats while other parents replaced them, conversations halted until next time, and new ones just beginning. Busy-ness as usual.

I made my way into the exercise room, found one free seat, feeling light and playful from our little shadow party, and the man sitting next me, seeing my smile, turned toward me, put his hand out and said, “Hi, I’m Darrin. So, you are in with the black belt club and the later nights, now. Welcome! Which one is yours?” And, I pointed out Katherine, and the conversation easily flowed from there. He told me how his son, who is only in 5th grade but a skilled black belt, had only happened upon taekwondo. His family had been eating dinner next door to the taekwondo studio, and on their way out to the parking lot, had noticed all of the activity inside, so decided to take a moment to watch through the big, glass windows. His son spotted a friend inside from school, and said he wanted to try, too.

And, I thought, how exciting life is, when one small action in your day can lead to a new passion. In some ways, life is like that waiting room. All kinds of busyness and high energy some days, where everything clicked with precision, and other days that were slower and easier, while others felt scattered, and within all of those varying days lay tiny gifts, waiting to be uncovered like shadow animals on the wall.

When Wil was born, I was told, this will be hard. Not flat out, but in more subtle ways. Only hours after his birth, our room was quiet and full of tears. They said, I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry, because you have a hard road ahead of you. I received folders upon folders of information about geneticists, counselors, support groups, and other resources to handle all of the hard. I felt scattered, with the mix of high emotions of birthing a beautiful child, yet everyone and everything around me was somber and full of concern.

As I went on, and met these geneticists, joined the support groups, began Wil’s therapies, and went through all of the challenges first-hand that the folders described and tried to prepare me for, I started noticing little things that those typed words didn’t relay. They didn’t tell me, that because this is hard, you will find within it, all of these little gifts. But, they couldn’t tell me that, because I was the one who had to uncover the gifts. Their discovery is what holds their magic.

Those folders of information and sympathizing looks all mean well, so I won’t beat them up. But, what I do wish is someone would have hugged me and said, Congratulations! Such a beautiful boy!! Oh, your life is going to be so much grander now, so much more powerful! You are one lucky lady to be blessed with this boy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be hard, and full of new challenges, and the learning curve you have ahead of you is high. Then, I would lean in close, put a hand on her shoulder, and look her gently in the eye and say, the hard is the best part about it, though it may not seem like it at first. When you are going through the hard, start looking. You will begin to find all of these little gifts. So little in fact, you will find they were there all along, you just didn’t see the value of them, so never uncovered them. Oh, but you will see them now, and once you do, you will uncover more and more. And, in that, in all of that hard, you will uncover so much joy and fulfillment. There will be critics and those who don’t understand, so make a point of finding those who do. Those who walk a similar walk to you. Who understand your day-to-day. Embrace them, cherish them, they are your tribe. They understand without having to explain. That alone is worth the gold that it is. Welcome, my friend, get ready for a bumpy but beautiful ride!

Though these gifts all look different for each of us, they are always there when we are looking. They are subtle as that little tiny light in a busy room, resting not full on in your eyes to grab your attention, but quietly at your chin. If you take note of the light, you will be taken gently by the hand, and led, just for a short time, to a magical place where there are no rules, and upon leaving, back to your busy life, though nothing has seemingly changed, you have, and that is the gift’s power.

Life is hard, but it’s also very giving. I am so very thankful, to have learned the value of uncovering it’s many secret gifts.

Wil 8th bday

Oh, Did You Say Something About An Apostrophe? Sorry, I Was Too Busy Washing Underwear.

Wil & Ivy

Sometimes I get really frustrated with the special needs community, including myself.

Let me preface that statement with the fact that I LOVE and COMPLETELY ADORE the people of DSST. They are my tribe, my people. They are overflowing with awesomeness and will stop whatever they are doing to laugh with me, cry with me, and walk me through any situation, and I am fully present to do the same for every single one of them.

Ok, that said, let’s get down to business.

I just saw an article with the subject about whether or not Downs(as in, Downs syndrome) needs or does not need an apostrophe, and I’m over here, like, my kid has been pooping his pants for the last month, we have no idea why. Is it constipation, is it nervousness, is it nutrition, and so tell me why the heck am I supposed to care where someone places their apostrophe in the word Down syndrome again? ….http://christieleightaylor.com/oh-did-you-say-something-about-an-apostrophe-sorry-i-was-too-busy-washing-underwear/

Moms around the table

There is a small group of moms sitting together at a local restaurant. They are sipping on a cool drink, it’s an unusually warm day for early May in Michigan…http://christieleightaylor.com/moms-around-the-table/

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How To Have a Stress Free IEP (& Low Stress Life!)

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How to have a Stress Free IEP:

Step One: Maintain positive expectations.

Whoa, wait! What if I miss something if my head is in the clouds with positive thinking? There is so much to think about and worry about! If I’m not on top of this, who is going to be? That may work in your world, but not mine!

That would have been my response several years ago. Three kids under three, one with special needs, and I was fueled by stress. Stress was working for me, it kept me up and running, and on top of things. Until one day, I bonked!

I just broke down and cried one day but I didn’t know why. I can do this, I can handle it, so why am I crying? What is wrong with me? I knew all this stress was taking its toll on me mentally and physically, and I knew I needed to make a change, but I didn’t know how. I was scared that if I let go of the stress, I would miss something critical. I needed to stay on top of my son’s needs to give him the best opportunities in life. If I let go of stress, wasn’t that being irresponsible?

One day, while at the library with my kids, I happened upon one of Dr. Wayne Dyer’s books, “The Power of Intention.”  I remembered reading “The Road Less Traveled” way back on my pre kid working days, and really liked the spiritual aspect of it. So, I flipped through this book and found it very easy to read, and very uplifting. I decided to borrow it, and was soon hooked. This book was exactly what I needed, and I went on to read many more of his works.

I learned that I couldn’t wait around for things in my life to change. I had to change my thinking in order to change my environment. Holding on to blame, anger and stress, no matter how justified, was only holding me back from receiving the positive results I desired.

Replacing stress and anger with positive expectations is not easy, but I knew if I continued to hold on to stress, it would continue to decrease my quality of life, and eventually lead to serious consequences with my physical health. So, even though every day it is easy to fall back into old patterns of stress, I know that if I make the effort to change my thoughts to those of positive expectations, the results will always be worth the effort. I have found the best way to maintain a positive mindset is with meditation.

I now meditate for 20 minutes at a time, and it zips by, but it didn’t start that way. I decided to start meditating for 2 minutes at a time, and this is how: Sit upright, close your eyes and take deep breaths. Count your breaths as you inhale slowly, hold your breath for a beat, then count as you slowly exhale. Do this for a few moments until all you think about is your breath. You will have thoughts that enter your mind as you are doing this. When they do, do not give them any emotion, simply observe that they are there, then visualize them floating away on a cloud. It’s important not to give your thoughts any emotion, good, bad or otherwise. Simply watch them float away. (I was always nervous I would fall asleep, so I set an alarm and that allowed me to relax)

When you have successfully reached a point where you are only counting breaths with very few intruding thoughts, bring up a picture in your mind of the IEP (or the situation that you are feeling stressed about). Visualize yourself smiling and satisfied with the results. Don’t worry about the details of how you got there, just imagine all is positive and you are feeling satisfied. Now that you have that mental picture, internalize those feelings of well-being. If that is difficult, remember a time when you felt all was well and going in a positive direction. Let those wonderful emotions flood your body and sit with them until you feel enveloped in them. Now visualize surrounding everyone in the situation with love. Yes, even that person you can’t stand that always seems to be standing in your way and blocking your success! Any anger and blame you hold will be blocking you from the positive results that you desire. Remember, this is for you and your child, not for them, so go ahead and do it! Surround every single person involved with an aura of love. Watch all the stress, anger and blame evaporate as everyone is enveloped in loving feelings of good will.

Slowly open your eyes, but remember that feeling and that picture. What is important now is that you maintain those feelings as you go about your day, no matter what should unfold. If a stressful occurrence happens, simply excuse yourself to go to the restroom, outside, or anywhere you can have a few moments of privacy, close your eyes, and bring back those positive feelings.

I’ve found, whenever I let go of the stress of the details, and hold the feeling of a positive result, the IEP goes amazingly well, and things happen I never would have planned myself to bring about a positive outcome.

This does not mean I sit around with my eyes closed and hope everything works out for the best. Quite the opposite. When I maintain this positive mental image and state of mind, people are more cooperative and more willing to help me, and new opportunities present themselves that I act on.

This has worked so well in having successful IEPs for my son, I’ve extended this way of thinking to all areas of my life. If I find myself angry with someone or filled with stress about something, I close my eyes and surround this person with love, or visualize myself smiling that the situation worked out. I don’t think about the details of how it came about, I simply visualize being satisfied with the end result. Then, I go on with my days, maintaining this positive image. It’s not always easy when there are bumps in the road, and that is why I read a few spiritual passages every day and meditate to keep me on track. I have found this effort of maintaining a positive state is always worth the results.

Raising a child with special needs is a very rewarding experience, but it can be filled with a lot of unpredictability which can lead to high stress levels. This is one way I’ve found to be very effective in reducing stress and bringing about positive results, and I share in hopes that you will find it helpful, as well.

All the best,

Christie

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