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)

Why Real Life Ninja Turtle Warriors Eat Ice Cream

Wil vanilla shake 2015

In the late summer, the kids and I went to a local wine and cheese store. I wanted to pick up a nice bottle of wine and gourmet cheese for my mom’s birthday. We parked, and headed inside.

There is an ice cream shop down the street and the kids asked if we could go afterwards. It was a warm, calm and slightly overcast day. Perfect for sitting outside.

“Sure, I said, let’s get these things for Grandma, and we’ll walk down there.”

They practically skipped into the wine and cheese store with that news, and I started my search for my mom’s gift. It wasn’t long before Wil found nothing interesting and wandered off to the stairs and made his way to the basement. I quickly inquired if there was a door to the outside (that Wil could escape from). No, the owner said, don’t worry, the only door goes to the bathroom.

I allowed Wil that time downstairs, while the girls and I tasted cheeses. We tried varied thin slices of many exotic and sharp flavors. We had fun, relaxed-mother daughter time that is not always possible with their busy, younger brother around.

We agreed on a white sharp cheddar and raspberry for Grandma that packed a strong bite followed by a touch of sweetness. As we waited in line to check-out, Wil had made it back upstairs and wandered over to the coffee grounds. Katherine saw a mess in the making, so without a word, she walked over, took his hands in hers, and started spinning him in circles. Gentle and slow, mindful of the fragile merchandise around them, the two of them singing and laughing.

The potential mess gleefully averted, we walked out, purchases in two pretty black bags, and made our way down the street for some ice cream. Everyone was in great spirits (who isn’t when there is ice cream ahead?) The street was busy, so I had one hand on Wil, as he can take off at a moment’s notice. I needn’t have worried, he stayed happily beside his sisters without a glance at the street.

When we approached the ice cream shop, there was a face painter set up just outside of it. After we went inside and bought our ice cream, we found a table just adjacent to the artist and watched passerby’s stop to get their faces painted. One boy chose an eerie white skull, 2 girls selected blue and pink glitter-covered butterflies, and one mother decided on a graceful swan princess.

As the line to the artist diminished, I looked over to the twins and asked if they wanted to go next. They laughed and shook their heads. Apparently, at the ripe age of 10, they were just too grown up for such silliness.

Wil jumped to attention. “Me, me, me!” he said raising his hand. He walked up to the face painting chart and chose a green and orange ninja turtle.

I walked over to the stool with him, and he climbed up on that tall stool on his own, and turned himself around and sat down. The artist asked him to close his eyes. He squinted them real tight, just like kids do when you tell them to pretend to sleep, and peeked with one eye.

The girls and I watched the artist as she went to work, smiling at her squinting subject. When his orange and green ninja turtle mask was completed, the artist held up a mirror for his observation. A look of satisfaction spread across his face, and he hopped down off of the stool to finish his vanilla shake.

Soon afterwards, we all piled into the car, and Wil asked me to adjust my rearview mirror so he could take in his reflection from the back seat. He repeatedly rotated his head this way and that, eyes straight and steady in the mirror taking in every angle of his ninja likeness the entire drive home.

Peeking up at Wil observe himself in the mirror, I marveled how Wil so naturally slows things down, just enough, so that I will never look at a typical day as typical again. There are so many adjustments to our family’s regular day to day that I can never move too fast to miss the many varied perspectives on even the simplest of moments.

And, isn’t that how we learn to be Ninja Turtle Warriors? By slowing down, just enough to look at a moment in all of its varied angles, so when things start to get messy, we are not stumped, rather, are able to jump in, grab that moment gently by the hands, and spin and sing our way through it, until the moment has passed, and we find ourselves in a new direction, run-skipping our way to the ice cream store.

Yep, I’m absolutely sure that’s what true, real life Ninja Turtle Warriors do.

 

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 Loved It When a Girl Yelled at My Son With Down Syndrome

The story I wrote about Wil and Lila was just published in The Mighty!!! This story touches my heart and holds a message I’m thrilled will be shared. Please feel free to share this story with friends. Thank you!

http://themighty.com/2015/09/why-i-loved-it-when-a-girl-yelled-at-my-son-with-down-syndrome/

To Those With the Gift

FullSizeRender
There are some people who are just extra special, that have the “gift.” I am not one of them. At least in the sense of what I am speaking.

Today, we had an 8-year-old friend of Wil’s over. In the last 2 years, Wil has not been invited to a birthday party or a sleep over, yet I know very many kids his age are doing so.

I understand. I get it. I don’t say this to make anyone reading this feel a sense of guilt. It’s simply our reality.

I watched Wil play ball with a group of typically developing boys. They were so kind and patient with him. They encouraged him and included him fully. But when he grew tired of the game and walked off of his own will, I could see the sense of relief in the boys’ faces. They could just play. They did not have to be patient. They just played with others of their own level.

You may say, well, that is a good lesson for them, and yes, I would agree it is. But, really, they are 8 years old. They just want to play. Didn’t you? I know I did.

So today, when Wil’s 8-year-old friend, Lila, who asked for this play date with him came over, I was just as thrilled as Wil. She was not cajoled by her mother out of the act of kindness or charity, she simply out of her own will, like most typical 8-year-old kids, asked for a play date with someone they like.

I was also a little nervous. When she came over before, Wil’s two sisters were here. This little girl is smart. Very intelligent and very brave. She can easily hold her own with tight twin girls who are two years her senior. When you are 8, that 2 year difference is a big deal, but not for her. When Wil had his stubborn moments, he could have a break while she played with his sisters.

Not today.

Wil’s sisters were with their Grandma and Grandpa Taylor. A fun swimming and boating day with another 10-year-old friend an hour away.

The play date started off well, a new introduction to toys, then lunch, that part is easy for just about anyone. But, Wil does not speak the same level she does and he still loves Dora and Doc McStuffins. Kid stuff. Fine by her, we’ll just move on to something that doesn’t need an age limit. Let’s play Wil’s drums!

BOOM BANG CLING (oh, yeah, the cymbals, too). Out came the recorder, and whatever else I had in that music box. It was the happiest I’ve been as a mother of three in the midst of ear shattering noise.

Then it was off to the hose, and the slide that goes into the little pool. Splashing, spraying, laughing and squealing. Water is always equal playing ground. Until, Wil sat at the top of the ladder and wouldn’t budge.

I have seen similar instances to this at the park. Wil has very little control over his environment. Everything and everyone move so much faster than he does. So, what would you do if you felt you had little control over your environment? If you could sit at the top of the slide and make everyone wait, when they are usually moving at warp speed ahead of you, wouldn’t you delight in making them wait? Just a little bit? So, at the top of the slide Wil sat, un-budging.

At the park, I see two reactions. Kids either “mother” and sweet talk Wil, or they just wait until I come over and take care of the situation.
Not this girl. This girl has the gift.

“GO DOWN THE SLIDE WIL!” She says loud with authority.
He gives her a look, sees that she means it, and down he goes.
I love it! She called his bluff!

You see, there is this delicate balance between being mean, being enabling, and seeing where someone is simply being a stinker.

She saw stinker, and she called it, frank, to the point, and the next moment they are back to laughing and spraying each other with the hose.

It seems so simple, so typical, from the outside looking in. But, I’m on the inside now, and Wil is just not treated in that typical way, because, well, in some ways, he’s not typical, and people just don’t know what to do with that. So when I see something like this, I see it for the gift that it is.

I’ve heard it said that everyone should have a child with special needs. And, I know exactly what the author was talking about.

How do you appreciate something like day so completely? How can a ride down the slide have so much meaning? How can a simple play date fill you so fully?

I was not born with the “gift.” And, I think, that is exactly why I believe I was gifted Wil. I would have missed so much without him.

~This post is dedicated to those of you who have “the gift” …you know who you are, and I am so very thankful for you! And, for those of you, like me, that do not have it, there is still hope, if we simply pay attention and learn from those who have it. Life is so very much brighter that way.

Quarter Inch Cuts of Paper

When Wil was a baby, I proclaimed, in unison with many other new parents of babies with special needs, No one will limit my child! The SKY is the limit!

I see these, and many other similar statements, from new moms on Down syndrome social media pages. It is almost 9 years later, and I’m still cheering right along with them, but I know, as time marches on, so do the meanings behind these proclamations.

When Wil was a baby, though he was lagging behind in some areas, he hit many age-appropriate milestones. My proclamation remained the same. Wil is going to reach great heights!

He had amazing support in his Early On and pre-school years through his service coordinator, teachers and therapists. Communication between these professionals and myself was free flowing, and any speed bumps in Wil’s development were quickly addressed. We made it through those years with shining colors.

Sky’s the limit!

Next was grade school. I was nervous for Wil to leave our comfortable pre-school nucleus. The teachers, therapists and I were all squeezed into a room, paper and pen in hand, projector alight with IEP forms reflected on the large screen hanging from the ceiling. Form by form, we went through all of his current achievements and set new goals, accordingly. No surprises, all was going well, until a test score revealed that my 5-year-old son had scored at a 6-month level in fine motor skills. I could not stop the tears.

The sky just dropped a little.

I was very aware that Wil struggled with his fine motor skills, but that reality still hit me like a ton of bricks. I was reassured that the way the test was designed, it did not register many of the “emerging” skills Wil had, and that is why the pre-school therapist was there to pass on her knowledge and notes to the grade school occupational therapist.

This grade school occupational therapist took the proverbial bull by the horns (Wil can be darn stubborn when he doesn’t want to do something), and got to work on one of Wil’s weakest skills, cutting with scissors.

She tried everything! Specially-designed scissors, hand over hand, rewards of bubbles (Wil’s favorite), and much more, all while keeping me in the cutting loop so we could reinforce at home. Wil struggled for a long time to accomplish the pinscher grasp, so pushing his fingers together with the resistance of scissors between them was no easy task.

He simply did not have the control to hold those scissors straight, and so they would topple and crimp the paper. We had crimped paper all over! Wil got to the point of hating scissors, and admittedly, so did I!

Again and again, again and again, we would try, and his occupational therapist continued to work her tough-love magic. Then one day, Wil just got it like he’d been doing it every day.
Oh, happy, happy day!

We’ve had many such stops and starts as Wil has made it now through 2nd grade. He continues to have wonderful friends, excellent support through the schools and through our Ds support team. Yet, as he grows older, there is no denying the growing gap between himself and his peers.

I know there will be many changes and stops and starts in the years to come. I still proclaim the sky is the limit, just like I did when he was a baby, but there is a much different meaning behind that statement today. Though I still look ahead to the future, I know now, that the sky is not touched in broad, sweeping statements, rather, the sky is touched in 1/4 inch cuts of paper.

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/

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