31 for 21: Day 30

“The Quail can read.”


I turned to look at Lovey as he said these four words as a statement of fact. The Quail had just finished her Monday night homework. Each week in kindergarten they study two letters and part of the lesson plan is creating a book for the letter with a picture of something starting with that letter for them to color and a simple sentence such as “I is for ink.” There are usually 4 pages to the story of things the letter stands for with the last sentence being slightly different from the first three but rhyming with one of the objects. The first few weeks we struggled through these books with one of us reading each word, pausing and waiting for the Quail to repeat it before turning the page. Somewhere between G-H and I, we stopped reading it to her and she started taking the book in her lap, pointing to each word as she articulated it oh so carefully before turning the page and moving on to the next sentence. When she came to a particular word that was hard we would point to the picture and pause seeing if that clue would help her and if it wouldn’t, then quietly starting the sounds of the word until she jumped in. She can read. She has Down syndrome. She is five years old. She can read. These things are all true and ordinary and yet, amazing. This newest fact about her, it snuck up on us. The practice of learning to read has so infiltrated our daily activities for the last three years that by the time she switched from learning her letters to actually reading, it was just a fact of our day, unspoken, until Lovey voiced it out loud.


We had been working on her “reading” some simpler board books with repeating or rhyming patterns over the last year. Pointing to each word, us saying the word as the approximation she was capable of saying, then her repeating it. Prior to our offering up approximations of the words on the page when we would ask her to repeat a word, she responded with a simple no or shake of her head. She knows what she can do and what she can’t and if it was a word that she didn’t have the motor planning for, she wasn’t going to attempt it simply to amuse us. Once we started speaking her language though, it was like we had opened up a whole new world for her. She enjoyed it and eventually could go through a couple of board books with us pointing to each word but not needing our verbal prompt. A lot of this was memorization more than anything else, but then one morning with the book that came home from school she was trying to sound out the word “One” in the title and was running her finger under the word as she spoke.


Back in her second year, we were in a physical therapy session where the Quail was not being cooperative. Or even very nice about the lack of cooperation. And had been having a string of not-very-nice-non-cooperating sessions. It was understandable that the therapist was burnt out on her. Unfortunately, he didn’t express the issue as that. He chose to say, “She’s never going to crawl. We’re not going to work on that anymore.”

It was time for a new therapist. If crawling came easily to her, we wouldn’t have been taking her to weekly sessions, writing down the exercise instructions and putting her through the paces on a daily basis. And then, there are all the ramifications of not crawling to consider. Telling us that she isn’t going to crawl is not just about her not crawling and choosing a different mode of ambulation. If we accept that statement as a fact, simply because it is being presented by the professional as one, then that sets us up for a series of other facts to expect as development expectations for her get even harder. Will she learn to read? How will her speech that is already impacted by her low tone suffer? This therapist’s single minded decision that crawling wasn’t something he was going to continue working on really wasn’t just about physical therapy- it had an impact on her future vision, her reading, her speech. The motor functions and speech production parts of the brain are both co-located in the frontal lobe. And the cerebellum, at the back of the brain not only coordinates motor functions, but also coordinates higher functions such as language. The repetitive crawling movements help to weave together both sides of the brain with the contra-lateral movements. This is one of the first opportunities for the child to learn how to use both halves of his body initially independently and then together. This develops their binocular vision, it teaches the eyes to cross the midline. This is a skill they will need in order to read. They will have to look from their hands to the path in front of them in order to keep motoring forward. This sets the pattern needed in school to transfer information given in front of them to the work on their desk. Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between crawling and the ability to comprehend written language. Space perception and object permanence are learned during this developmental period as well. When the reflex is inhibited that can lead to future problems attaining more complex skills. For most typical children, this isn’t an issue. But when your child has motor planning issues that are significant, you end up teaching them the patterns until they can move through them more independently and fluidly. Let alone the social and emotional development that comes from a baby being free to explore their environment and develop a sense of control and independence. When significant hypotonia is thrown in the mix it doesn’t mean that your child can’t use their muscles, but it does mean that they have to exert more effort to strengthen the muscles. Both the effort going into each muscular action and the number of actions needed to move and strengthen that muscle. Maybe not crawling won’t cause future problems with vision, reading, speech. I understand that the potential for those issues is seen as being rooted in the basic Down syndrome diagnosis. But from what I can see for the Quail- the motor planning and hypotonia are the foundations of what prevents her easing past her developmental milestones. Once she knows how to do something- she does it. But we have to make the effort to teach her to do one skill after another so that she has the foundation available to her. This isn’t the same for every child and person with Down syndrome. How Down syndrome effects a particular child is individualized.


Zuzu said it best when earlier this month their school did their first ever Down syndrome awareness campaign and fundraiser in honor of the Quail and another child in their school. When Zuzu’s teacher was talking to her class about what Down syndrome is her dear teacher asked her if she would like to explain Down syndrome and Zuzu was pleased as punch to tell me about it.
“Momma- I told them that everybody’s Down syndrome is different. For the Quail it means it is hard for her to talk and her family does lots of things to teach her how to talk. We call them bite-bites. They make her strong so she can say what she thinks. For other kids they can talk fine but their Down syndrome makes it hard for them to do other things like walking. Everybody is different.”


Absolutely. And what works for us and our family is to educate ourselves on what the potential is if we do a particular activity and if we don’t. What are the pros and cons. The potential risk and benefits. If we accept that the Quail “won’t crawl” as a fact about her- what might that mean for her future development. We know that crawling is hard for her. It isn’t a reflex reaction that comes naturally. We will have to find a way to motivate and practice with her.


And so we did. And she did eventually crawl. Not before she walked. She did walk first. But we continued teaching her crawl. And eventually it became fun for her. A way to race her sister. A way to get to the TV remote or the snack that we Hansel & Gretaled through the path of our home so that there was an immediate reward to tide her over to the larger rewards to come later in life.


And now- she’s reading. And writing. The possibilities set before her by these small acts- they open up her world in ways that we can’t even imagine.
For more information on the influences and effects that crawling has on development see below:








31 for 21: Day 1: It’s Down syndrome Awareness Month!


It’s Down syndrome Awareness Month! This is the month where those of us in the community raise awareness and celebrate our loves that happened to be born with a little bit extra. One way I like to do this is to participate in our cyber-buddy Tricia, over at Unringing the Bell‘s creation 31 for 21. Currently this is hosted by Michelle with Big Blueberry Eyes.
Here’s the skinny- and hop over there to sign up if you would like to play along: You post every day, at least once day, for 31 days (each of them in the month of October, which is Down syndrome Awareness Month) on any topic, to raise awareness about Trisomy 21. 31 for 21! (Topics about Down syndrome are not necessary, though it is encouraged that you mention why you are taking part in the challenge at some point during the 31 days.)
I’m taking part again for my sixth year because Disability Awareness and Acceptance has always been a part of my life story. The first two years that I joined 31 for 21 after the birth of the Quail, I continued on my typical daily blog posts at that time, taking care to ensure that I did post every day for the month. I was still able to maintain a semblance of order and time to devote to daily writing with the categories I initially organized my thoughts around. The third and fourth year, I had not had the time to post daily musings, in a good while, but I still had an extensive archive of photos I hadn’t had time to edit and share yet. So, I posted mainly images labeled with little tidbits about the Quail that make her both extraordinary and ordinary.
Then there was last year. I LOVED participating last year. Our friend Molly Flanagan had shot some wonderful lifestyle photos of our family and our daily goings-on and I had told her that I loved them so much that I could narrate a story about each image. And that is what I did. I still go back to these photos- they are a gift- each single one. And I reread the narratives and still nod along as if I’m reading someone else’s writing and story. I still find myself thinking- yes! That’s what MY life is like. And then others shared with me how they felt about this project. And how they could relate to it .  And then writers that I love shared it with their friends. And then wonderful things happened. I borrowed the cowardly lion’s heart and requested a fundraiser at my work for Down syndrome awareness and the Buddy Walk. And together we raised over $1700. I’ve never been so proud to have my village lift me up and help me help myself and others. The response was unexpectedly overwhelmingly positive. People I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet in person contributed and took the time to get in touch to say how Down syndrome is a part of their life and how lovely  and inspiring our Quail is. The good people at my work took it upon themselves to write up our advocacy efforts in our statewide celebration for a nomination for  a humanitarian award which we won this spring. And just this summer I was informed that the nomination was then passed on to the regional competition and we won that as well. If I’m going to be recognized by my workplace- there is no greater joy then realizing that while they appreciate my work- they also appreciate my heart and those it belongs to.  This year we’re doing the same fundraising. Our Buddy walk is this Sunday October 5th. The fundraising at work will happen after the event itself, but it will still happen a couple of weeks later.

For those that don’t work with me- there is an opportunity to contribute over here.

Now this year, I am not entirely certain where I want to be by the end of this month. My time to think and blog has dwindled. That sweet little hormonal shift that comes with nursing and relaxes me into a wordy melt up has ebbed as Sugarplum becomes less of a baby and more of a tiny, opinionated rebel commander pre-schooler. As the dishes pile up and the clothes wait impatiently to be folded and homework comes home in now two bursting-at-the-seams folders rather than one, my time is not my own. Life with three little girls is busy. There now is two little girls to dress for school and a third who insists she prepare to come along each and every day at the same early hour. There is carpool and jump-rope team and Brownie meetings,  TOP Soccer  and afternoon therapies. There are bowls of Cheerios and raisins and negotiations of how much milk is allowed to be poured over it to attend to. There are filibusters about the appropriateness of long pants in summer and short shorts in winter. There is hair to be brushed and detangled and pony and piggy-tailed and clipped. There are diapers and nursings and shopping as well as friends to play and eat and celebrate with. There are meals to put on the table, vegetables to be wearily eyed, milk and kefir stains to clean up and ears to be scrubbed before jammies can be carefully pulled over the summer’s band-aided knees. There are Netflix binges to lull Lovey and I off to dreamland each night while we fall in to the couch covered with orphaned socks. There are morning alarms to reset when we decide maybe we’re too tired to take that early morning run and maybe we can just wait and do it at lunch time. And there is yoga to go to at lunch when we realize we really do need to take a minute to just pause and breathe and we can run the  next day.  Life is busier than it has ever been. And while I wouldn’t change a thing about it, it is still a three-ring-circus, albeit my circus, my monkey’s as the meme goes.

That way of writing and relating our days was so cathartic last year. But it also assumes quiet bits of time to notice and reflect on the ordinary moments of our days in order to illuminate and convey the grace in them. And that, my friends is time that is hard to predict will come. And the pressure to share in this way I love and not just randomly is great. It is so great, it’s a great big block, knocking upside my writerly head.

This is just the reality of my now.

And while it flusters and frustrates me, it also just is. I’m only human. They’re only kids and the days we have together fly by in the beat of a heart. The days really are long and the years really are short. I still try to notice the little things in our days. I still feel a deep compulsion to capture them in too many stills so that I can stock my mind and heart with them for quieter days to come.
So once again, I will commit to sharing images of our days. And hopefully a few writings about them. As time permits. And the children sleep, and before my brain nods off. Which it is prone to do without warning these days.

3/21: A day in the life

This post is part of the series “A Day in the Life” that is a celebration of World Down syndrome Day – 3/21. For lots of other posts on “A Day in the Life” – or to contribute your own post, please visit Down syndrome Blogs.



Shortly after I hear one door close another one opens. I turn away from the machine, my coffee steaming as I take a sip and spy her small hand reach around the doorframe. Sleepily she creaks the door further and pads over to where I’m standing. I lean down to kiss her tousled strawberry mop, sinking onto the floor in front of the kitchen sink. As I make a lap she folds herself onto it, hiding her face from the fluorescent light she wasn’t quite ready for.  

“Morning Baby.” I lean in smelling her night’s sleep and carefully place the overflowing coffee away from us as she pushes her hair out of her eyes.

“Momma. Zuzu sleep. 6. 1. 5. me. Shannon. Me sleep done. No potty. Eat cereal.”

It’s Wednesday morning and it is early. 6:16 AM to be precise. Each day I intend to wake early enough to have a quiet cup of coffee by myself and do a little writing. Each actual day I wake a minute before the alarm sounds, turn it off, and roll on my side to listen to the soft snores of the baby before lightly stepping past her into the bathroom. Strangely, now that Sugarplum sleeps through the night, I find myself needing more and more sleep rather than less. I’m not sure if it’s the creak of my slippers down the hall, the flick of the light in the kitchen or the press of the Keurig as I snap my k-cup into place and add the cup of water, but the sounds of my morning starting have been consistently triggering the Quail’s weekday morning starts for a good while now. She seeks out a quiet moment to soak me in before her day starts and really, I don’t mind. I can write later.

“You woke up at 6:15 Quail?”

“Yes.6-1-5 me. Zuzu sleep.”

“Zuzu is still asleep?”

“Yes.” She makes the sign for sleep and grins up at me, the precision of her yes pronunciation drawing out steady and confident. She shares a bed with her sister and while the cry of “She’s on my side of the bed again!!!” and “MOOOOVVVVEEEE!!!!” sound frequently from both of them, it’s what they know. What they expect.

“What day is it?”

“Wednesday! Shannon! Jan. Bobson. Lee. Oriana. Nekaelah”

While a stranger might not know what she is saying, contextually I understand her still garbled day of the week and that she is telling me that she knows she has speech therapy with Shannon before heading in to begin her school day with first Ms. Jan, then on to Ms. Dobson and Ms. Lee. She knows that when the school day is done she will look forward to heading back to her private school for after-school care and playtime with her favorite kiddos, her friends Oriana and Nekaelah. She knows her routine and what to expect.

“Who will you play with at school today?”

“Or-ee-annn-a. Ni-KAY-la.” She carefully sounds out their names again. Names that she has taken great care to learn to pronounce so that no one can be unclear these are her friends. Who she looks forward to seeing and playing with each day. These are friends she has made on her own. Not friends of our family’s, not anyone we know outside of her introduction to them.

Shifting my weight a little she stands up and asks again. “Eat?” her sly smile telling me she already knows the answer. A year ago I would have just told her no, not yet; not expecting any further conversation on the matter, only fury at my denial of her request. Now though, it’s a good chance to engage, to talk, to practice pronouncing our every day vocabulary and thankfully, avoid a tantrum.

“You want to eat? What do you want to eat?”

“Um….” Her little finger goes up to her lips as she raises her eyes in contemplation then starts touching one finger to another as she labels out each item in turn, “cereal, rai-sin, keeee-fir, go-go squeeze! Cake?”

“We’re out of go-go squeezes and cake. We can buy more of the squeezes this weekend though. What do you do before we eat?”

“Potty. Bite-bite. Clothes. No potty. No.”

Still avoiding the fight, I ask, “Do you want me to pick out your clothes while you go potty or do you want to?”

“Me!!!! Purple. New shoes.” At this she turns and runs down the hall, stepping quickly around the tiny shopping cart overflowing with toys. She pauses briefly at the living room door, looking longingly at a neat stack of books on the side-table just waiting to be read and played with before checking back to see if I was coming with her or not before continuing into the bathroom.

“Momma! Sit!”

I lower myself on to the side of the tub finishing my coffee as she tries to undo the snap on her fuzzy, feeted pajamas before letting out a scream of frustration a few inches from my ear.

“No, ma’am. No screaming. Ask for help if you can’t get it undone.” She quickly signs help and then pulls back away to work on the zipper once the snap has been opened. Patting the side of the tub, she signs for me to move closer and leans her head on my knees while she finishes up.

I turn on the light to their room and sing out to Zuzu that it is time to get up and get ready for school as the Quail yanks on her dresser drawers pulling out a half dozen pants looking for a pair with purple on them.

Zuzu used to be our early riser. So early that a rule of not leaving your room before 6 AM on a weekday had to be enforced the previous year solely because of her. Now, she needs to be woken each school day and urged to do the half dozen tasks it takes to get herself ready before we leave by 7:10 to get her to school and me to work on time.

The Quail slams her shirt drawer shut and dives into her sister who has crawled up on my lap. As Zuzu protests at the slight dislodging this causes, the Quail’s voice trails up with hers and I shush them both with a reminder that we want to let Sugarplum sleep.

Lovey comes in fresh from the shower and takes the reins as I sigh at the clock’s having moved too far forward for me to do any writing or manage a second cup of coffee before we need to leave in our manic out-the-door-right-this-very-second-what-did-we-forget-this-time-hurry-up-we’re-going-to-be-late-if-you-don’t-put-your shoes-on-right-now-privileges-will-be-taken-away-I-mean-it-we-have-to-go-hug-your-sister-yes-you-have-to-wear-a-coat-where-is-the-sunscreen-who-took-my-shoes-shit-we’re-late-again daily rush.

I kiss the Quail’s head as she sets down the Ipad and tries to scramble away from Lovey who has gotten out her oral-motor exercises. “HUG!!!” She bellows as I lean in to acquiesce. “Bye-bye. Momma. Work.” Turning away from her I breathe in the fading scent of her sleep and hustle to the door.

That evening I’ll pick her up from after-school care, covered in sand, sunscreen and smiles and she’ll test my tired-out-patience as she darts in and out of the little school’s rooms giggling at the freedom now that the teachers have gone home for the day. “Donald’s?” she’ll ask. I’ll tell her no, reminding her we ate McDonald’s the night before and ask how her day was. She won’t answer- she’ll be too busy chasing Sugarplum and Zuzu.

As we pull out of the parking lot, carseat buckles secured, I’ll ask if they want their windows down or the radio up. “YEAH!!!! Drive fast Momma! Turn on a girl song. Make the windows lower!”

“Yeah!!!!” the Quail will chime in mirroring Zuzu’s enthusiasm for the car ride. As the latest pop song chimes through the windows I find myself surprised to hear not just one, but two voices bubbling along now from the backseat. By the time we’re home though, she will have rested her chin on her chest and be fast asleep. Between her insistently early start to the day, a therapy session, private 4k, public 4k, after-school care and the students we bring in daily to help her practice the activities she learns in therapy, her little self is usually beat.

Getting out of the car at home, I come around to carry her into the house as she snuggles up to me whispering. “Peg. Cat. Eat. Drink” in my ear. I answer with the need for her to empty the sand out of her shoes on the porch and then go potty first and her head jerks up off my shoulder in protest. As we settle into the bathroom for the millionth time of the day I not-so-patiently contemplate how much it would cost to switch our bathroom with our living room so that we could have more space in the room we actually seem to live in.

After tubbies are done, I reach for Sugarplum for a quick nurse before heading into the kitchen to see what Lovey is getting out for dinner. All seems quiet until the Quail peels herself away from PBS to look for us. I hear her questions before I see her, “Eat? Drink?” As she pulls her grinning self up on to the bed next to us she peppers us with questions, “Bread? Kee-fir? Ba-na-na? Pizza? Cake?” as she proceeds to pounce on top of the previously quietly nursing baby. Giggling Sugarplum lets go and engages in the rascaling as I sigh, cover myself up and head back to the kitchen.

Finishing up her dinner with slight disappointment over the lack of cake and pizza. The Quail asks for more to drink and then stomps her anger out of the room as Lovey lets her know she can have another cup of kefir after we do her bite-bites. Finishing up my own dinner I let the baby out of the high-chair and holler for Zuzu to come back and practice for her math quiz while Lovey loads up the dishwasher.

Once we finish up our oral-motor exercises, the Quail climbs back down off the couch. “Drink. Kefir. More. Backpack. 3-1.” I trail after her back into the kitchen to refill her strawcup as she unzips her backpack pulling out her book that came home from public school for us to read together. Gently she turns it over pointing out the number 31 on the back cover. She may not be able to pronounce, “The Elves and the Shoemaker”; but she knows it’s her favorite story from the collection at school and she knows its number 31. And now we do as well. Sitting back at the kitchen table we finish the story and she packs it back away as I rinse out her cup. 

“Up” her little hands reach up to me as she asks me to carry her back to her room. 7:45 pm. A little before bedtime. Lifting her up into my arms with all my good intentions to finish up the evenings chores after the girls have gone down to bed, we head back into the living room to kiss the other’s goodnight and Lovey joins us while we tuck her in alongside her duck lovies, yellow doggy blanket, cabbage-patch kid named Niles and Abby doll. Just as I start to tell her how very much I love her, my words are met with soft snores.

The day is done.

Lovey turns on her dreamlight, I set the sound machine to soft birdcalls and we back out of the room and close the door behind us.

31 for 21: Day 21: (3) on the 21st: A Blog Hop



This monthly blog hop is a community project created by one of my pals Meriah over at With a Little Moxie.

One truth (about Ds/our lives with Ds): The fact that your child has Down syndrome is not a reason in and of itself to not have any more children.

When word got out that I was pregnant with Sugarplum, not all the responses were what one expects to hear in response to a pregnancy announcement. Don’t get me wrong, there certainly were plenty of folks that were thrilled for us, and sent their congratulations. And for the most part, that’s what I remember, the gracious generosity surrounding the welcoming of Sugarplum. But, then came the warnings, from “well-meaning friends”.

“Just so you know, don’t expect everyone to be happy for you. Since you already have a child with special needs, some people think it’s not good that you are having another.”

I probably shouldn’t put that in quotes. Those weren’t the exact words. It was the sum of the message. Behind it were thoughts that we were crazy to have another, because couldn’t we already see- one child was born with a disability. Why would you want to risk that again?  Other’s thought we were selfish- poor Zuzu already can’t possibly get the attention she needs with all of the Quail’s needs, and now you are going to add to that? And what about the Quail- considering all you do for her how could you possibly have time for another child. Surely you’ll quit work to stay home with your children now!

Those statements, those are all speculation, opinions and worry. They aren’t truth, at least not mine.

The truth is we have little spare time in our day. The truth is our days would be jam-packed if the Quail didn’t have Down syndrome- that time spent going to and practicing what we’ve learned in therapy- well we would fill it with something else. Those visits don’t bother the Quail- she enjoys the activities in therapy, the therapists, the time out of her day going somewhere with her Mom & Dad.

The truth is, we worried too- but the fact is- you find the time to do what you need to do- and whatever might be taken up in terms of one on one time from a child when a sibling is added to the mix, is more than made up for in love.

This is our truth- our three girls- they love each other. They play together. When one of them rises in the morning they ask after the others. When one of them is sick and misses a day at school, the others want to know where she is and go straight for her the minute they return home. When one of them has a solo activity, the others pipe up with an eager, “Me too”. This past week we had Zuzu’s first grade parent-teacher conference. Zuzu is, well to put it mildly- “in charge” most everywhere she goes. Sometimes this comes across as leadership, sometimes as a Bossy Bessy doll come to life. But the fact of the matter is, she’s good at taking charge. She’s still working on finessing her approach, but she’s good. And a large part of that comes from being the eldest in her Sistred and having been given the opportunity to help out with her sisters in a variety of ways. No she’s not obligated to do any particular thing for the Quail (or Sugarplum for that matter). But she sees the intrinsic reward in being a helper. Her teacher told us unprompted-

“I’ve seen Zuzu with her sister- she’s so attentive and kind and patient- that carries over into the classroom- it’s what we see with how she is with the other students- she is good with them. If I need help- I know who to ask.”

This isn’t a one time compliment either. Her dance teacher used to praise, “If I can get Zuzu to her mark- the others follow, so I focus on her. She’s my helper.”

And last year in Kindergarten, “I always give the substitute teacher Zuzu’s name, if I’m out she could run the class.”

And in her daycare, “I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve asked Zuzu to help teach him his site words.”

And Zuzu, when she tells me her version of the above examples, it’s with pride, self-confidence and expectation. Like any seven year old- she has her moments where she’d like no one to touch her toys, her clothes, her homework. She has her tantrums, her whines, her complaints. But more and more, that’s not the sum of her, more and more I see that she is showing the world what she is capable of and what she knows about how we treat others.

The impact on Sugarplum is yet to be seen, but to date I can say she’s the most light-hearted of all of us. The one quickest to smile, the most content, the most laid back, equally strong-willed and equally happy to take part in her sister’s antics.

The truth is, all three girls are an integral part of our family.  Our lives are chaotic, crazy busy and we have more to do than time to do it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except, maybe with a few more hours of sleep and a few more home-cooked meals….


One tip (information on something related to Ds/raising a child with Ds/or just parenting in general).  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t pay attention to the impact of disability within a sibling group. You should, the truth is that it isn’t a given that it is a bad thing. How each child responds to the fact of disability in their home though- that is something to help them understand and work through if you notice they are struggling. There are a lot of resources out there- but one of the most helpful is the work of Dr. Brian Skotko. Below are also some links to research regarding siblings and Down syndrome.




 View More: http://mollyflanaganphotography.pass.us/starkey-family-2013

31 for 21: Day 1: It’s Down syndrome Awareness Month!

View More: http://mollyflanaganphotography.pass.us/starkey-family-2013

It’s Down syndrome Awareness Month! It’s a month where those of us in the community raise awareness and celebrate our loves that happened to be born with a little bit extra. One way I like to do this is to participate in our cyber-buddy Tricia, over at Unringing the Bell‘s creation 31 for 21. Currently this is hosted by Michelle with Big Blueberry Eyes.

Here’s the skinny- and hop over there to sign up if you would like to play along: You post every day, at least once day, for 31 days (each of them in the month of October, which is Down syndrome Awareness Month) on any topic, to raise awareness about Trisomy 21. 31 for 21! (Topics about Down syndrome are not necessary, though it’s encouraged that you mention why you are taking part in the challenge at some point during the 31 days.)

I’m taking part again for my fifth year because Disability Awareness and Acceptance has always been a part of my make-up. But in February 2009, it hit closer to my home and heart. When the Quail came to us in all her glory we learned after her birth about that little bit extra residing on her chromosomal pattern in every cell of her being. And we believe that about her with all of our hearts- she isn’t lacking a thing. She’s all there. And a little bit extra.

Just like her sisters, who very few, other than the geneticists in our lives; would describe as “typical.” She’s a wonder. We’re blessed to witness the growth of these sisters on a daily basis. That said, I don’t think I’m going to go on rants about stereotypes, or resource listings or basic Down syndrome information this year. That’s already out there. Check back in my archives to the month of October in 2009, 2010, 2011 for my versions of that. I would reckon they still hold water. Or for more up to date information go visit our cyber-pals who are also participating in 31 for 21 and get schooled by them with a personal touch. I know I plan to and Michelle will keep a list of where to find them!

Last year I did something more simple. I shared 31 ordinary things about my extraordinary girl. I had spent almost 4 years going on about what a wonder she is and decided that my contribution to Down syndrome Awareness efforts would be to show the beauty of how ordinary life continues when you have someone with a little something extra in your life. In January 2013 I changed my blog from The Tao of Tulips to Ordinary Afters. This change was significant, primarily to me. It represents a systemic shift in my heart, my mind, my focus. A shift to focus my documentation of our family life as a whole so that the other girls don’t feel diminished or unseen in my eyes or heart. Of course I’ll still note and advocate for those with disabilities and specifically Down syndrome and still talk about how it affects the Quail. Because it would be naïve to say it doesn’t. It does. What matters most to me though, is my continual search for our family’s ordinary afters. A way to show our children one day how beautiful their lives are because they are their lives. To train myself to look with gratitude on what I am blessed with rather than dwell on what others might see in our family as lacking or burdensome.

Life is what you make of it. Those happy, joy filled moments- they are just as real and authentic as the pain-riddled sad and chaotic-3-ring circus angry ones. Both pass in the blink of an eye. Some days there are more of one than of the other. Some days what we are grateful for is the fact that we get to wake up and try again.

Over the last year what I mostly want to write about is inspired by the images my camera shows me along with my addled thoughts that I nurse to in the middle of the night about the domestic scenes from earlier in the days and weeks. Most weeks on Fridays I have taken part in Lisa-Jo Baker’s five-minute Friday writing prompts. I fall in love with these writings as I often come back to them and see them as the momma diary of my heart.

These bits of prose coupled with our favorite family storytelling photographer- Ms. Molly–  coming to visit us this past year where she showed us what she sees in our life is what I want to share this month.

When I got my first glimpse of the session, I quickly wrote to Molly to tell her how with each photo, I could have written a narrative. The whole of them pulled together by Molly’s delicate eye and heart delighted me as much this time as the time she spent Saturday Morning with us a couple of years ago. Seeing these images that represent both a few moments as well as the whole of our family with all of its life and light and shadow and work and play- it makes me proud that I get to spend my days with this dear collection of people. Yesterday morning as I was uploading some pictures to the blog of the Quail from the last year I knew which one I wanted to start with. Molly took so many pictures- but one in particular, this one in particular, of the Quail shone through with the light of her spirit. As I was scrolling to it though, I kept stopping at other ones of her that I still felt that desire to tell a story about. And then it hit me. These images, the way they make me feel, this life that we have created; this is what I want to share this year for 31 for 21. So I’m going to use Lisa-Jo’s format to write for five minutes on one word that comes to mind on these individual images that dear Molly Flanagan* took.

Because this family and life- the ability to have it, to live it the way we choose- this is the gift of the advocates and families that have come before us. Because without them- if the Quail were born to another time and place- I might not have had the gift of her in my life. I might not have the privilege to both raise and be raised by her. I might not have the support and knowledge and confidence that those who have paved the way before me have gifted. I might have been forced into believing that giving her up at some stage along the way was the best thing for her, for myself, my family, my home, my community. I get to keep her though. I get to raise her where she belongs because of the hard work of those that came before her. And that, I can’t say it enough- that is an endless privilege and not one I take lightly- the gift of our family’s Ordinary Afters.

*All images categorized with 31 for 21 this month are courtesy of the talented eye of Molly Flanagan.

It’s Buddy Walk Time! Click here to learn more & donate on behalf of our dear Quail!

Our family is joining in our local community to walk in support of and advocate for individuals with Down syndrome! We hope that through education, inclusion and advocacy the world that surrounds our dear one will be able to see the beauty and gift of a girl that we see. The Quail is 4 years old now. She continues to blossom as a most excellent big and little sister. She currently attends both private and public school. In her free time she loves to run, play with her sisters and help her family out. Wherever her sisters are- she’s right there in the thick of it! We love her so!

Thank you for supporting her and our family. Last year through your love, support and dollars we raised over $600. The impact of each and every one of those dollars however, is priceless.Those of you that work with me will have an opportunity to donate through SCVR’s infamous $5 Jeans Day Fundraisers statewide. We were honored to have our charity chosen by the SCVR Commissioner for Friday September 13th  and very much appreciate this opportunity to raise awareness and support. The local Buddy Walk in Greenville, SC will be held on the campus of Greenville Technical College on the afternoon of Sunday October 6th. Please feel free to join us for a beautiful day of fun, fellowship and advocacy! To learn more and register click here. We would love to see you and your loved ones there!

The NDSS works hard to raise awareness and create opportunities for the 400,000 plus individuals with Down syndrome living in the US and their families. Together with the NDSS & the Down Syndrome Family Alliance of Greenville, we envision a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their dreams and become active, valued members of their communities.

Click to learn more about the Down Syndrome Family Alliance, the Buddy Walk Fundraiser and the National Down Syndrome Society .

If you would like to donate on behalf of our Quail, please click here!

Call to Action: Justice For Ethan Saylor

This story makes me so incredibly sad. My heart is broken for the Saylor family and their loss of a loved son. Who wanted to see a movie and whose death was ruled a homicide at the hands of the off duty police officers who restrained him when he refused to leave or pay for another ticket. No one’s life should end over something like this. An independent investigation is being called for by the collective of grassroots activists in the Down syndrome Community. Doing our part to put the word out there. Please share the link below to help put the word out and insist on an independent inquiry into this heartbreaking situation. Down syndrome does not cause someone’s death and should not be blamed for Ethan’s.


Art’s imitation of life

lunartOne of my favorite bloggers had a recent post about AG dolls and in reading this post I was brought back in time for my own version of this story.

A couple of years ago, in spite of the plethora of half-naked, crazy-haired dolls littering the floor of the girl’s room. Dolls, that had been purchased and received in the last six years and had formed their own make-believe community with the generation of dolls that survived my childhood to be handed down to the eager little starfish hands of my own children. I still found myself wanting for a doll for the Quail that had Down syndrome. Problem was, every. single. doll. that was marketed for that- creeped me out. And I didn’t want to buy, what to me was a creepy looking doll and tell my daughter whom I routinely gush at how beautiful she is; that this lone doll, not the series that had already been living in her room, represents her.

This conundrum really bothered me at the time, I worried that it was springing from some deep-seeded discomfort I unknowingly harbored about the Quail and her labels. That maybe I wasn’t nearly as accepting as I assumed and presented myself as. I kept flashing back to the hundreds of pictures from her newborn days that I would skip over when deciding which to share because I thought they emphasized the stereotypes that the label of Down syndrome bring along with them.

At that same time Punky– that Irish cartoon about the girl who has Ds came out and that- that I was for. We got that and it now sits happily amongst the set of kids DVDs that we never watch because we never watch DVDS. (Shout out to Netflix: Please add Punky!) But we have it and I enjoy the show.  As opposed to how I feel about all of the doll options out there.

At that same time some of the other families on-line that we were friends with because of the Down syndrome connection; were having this Spanish doll-maker named Desi adapt the eyes on these Waldorf-style dolls to represent Ds. The doll with “the eyes” was just as darling to me as the other dolls she made. So I contacted her and put in my order. With the first photo she sent of the Quail’s doll I commented that it didn’t have the same eyes as my friend’s dolls. Desi indicated that as these specialty orders had been coming in she had revised her original design and was it ok? I wasn’t sure how I felt about it- but at the same time- I appreciated her take as an artist and didn’t want to interfere too very much.

Fast forward a year and a half later when our dolls came. For Zuzu I had asked to have the eyes deep blue and heart shaped- because she is both full of heart and wears her heart so openly. The hair- Oh I was as specific as I could be about the hair. When our friend Molly had photographed our family I had swooned over the strawberry blonde locks she managed to capture of their early childhood. This, this I wanted commemorated as they aged and their hair starts to turn more like my own. She created this wild tangle of art yarn that both mirrored their style at the time and pulled out the strawberry of the blonde. I had wanted a smattering of freckles on her cheeks because those had recently begun to sprout. Zuzu, while routinely bathed in sunscreen would occasionally make it out of the house without or manage to wash it off before an afternoon of outdoor play. We would of course give the grim reminders of how darling freckles can be a precursor to skin cancer, which runs rampant in our family and Zuzu would reply how her teacher told her they were angel kisses. Sigh…

Of course we also had to have a series of accessories for the doll because otherwise it really wouldn’t represent the fashionista that is our children. Fairy wings, purses, shoes, scarves and hats. These dolls by far have a better wardrobe then me.

Out comes the Quail’s doll and with the newly designed eyes. Indeed they don’t look like the eyes of our friend’s dolls. Really, they look pretty similar to Zuzu’s dolls eyes. Much like how the Quail looks more like us than she does others with Down syndrome.

Remember that episode of Glee where we learned that Becky’s internal voice was Dame Helen Mirren? And Becky’s monologue:  “You may be wondering why I sound like the Queen of England. In my mind, I can sound like whoever I want, so lay off haters.”   

DSC_5206Well in the meantime the Quail has fallen in love with Sadie, the blonde,Target version of an AG doll. She was quite specific and insistent in which doll she loved and really, who am I tell her it doesn’t represent her right?

Quail day: I’m back…

I’m back.

Last week- I don’t know exactly how to explain it other than my brain and heart woke up again. I knew this fog I had found myself in was likely- but when you are in the middle of it- sometimes it is just so hard to see till you are nearing the daylight just outlining  that fog.

When we were debating having Sugarplum the thing that crossed my mind was that while well intentioned, the necessary separating of another apron string that happened between Zuzu and I that lasted about 2 years of her young life.  I know it’s biology- a momma’s focus turns inward to grow the little one in her and then to continue that in the first year growing her on the outside during that time when life is still so very fragile. Still as much as Zuzu adored both the idea and fact of her baby sister, we would catch glimpses of her by herself while I laid as still as I could willing my stomach not to heave and then contract. While we spent 45 minutes of every 2-3 hours syringing drops of milk I had just pumped into the Quail’s tentative mouth, while I loudly (and not ironically) demanded quiet from the household so I could beg the Quail to stay latched on. What willed us through this though was the equally apparent sight of Zuzu reaching out her hand to the Quail while they simultaneously nursed, cuddled on the couch and reached for each other through the fence on the playground. They were sisters first as they patiently waited to grow into playmates and friends.

The thought of yet another apron string detaching between Zuzu and I and now that even heartier one between the Quail and I loomed ahead though. And while I knew it would again be as fruitful as it was necessary, the advanced warning of the maternal fog that was about to set in for a couple years duration did little to prevent the overwhelmingness of it.

This past month as Sugarplum has become a bi-pedal little person we’ve been slowly introducing things other than momma milk to her diet. I say slowly because she hasn’t taken to it with much vigor for the past 6 months. She has learned to sign “all done” and shake her tiny head with a fervent “no” and Stanley Kowalski the offerings of “people food” promptly off of her tray. And since she is our baby, and because I’m old and tired, it is so very hard to “outstubborn her” as the good doctor has prescribed. We’ll get there, no doubt, if the Quail has taught me nothing, she’s given me a renewed emphasis on the glory of patience and conviction. But in the meantime, I’ve been slipping more and more cow’s milk into her cups and weaning myself off of my pump, if not her.

This alone has woken me up, to not be so saturated in the momma hormones throughout the day. And then, this past week, it was like my brain sat bolt upright remembering itself. Lovey asked me if I knew for sure what the Quail’s IEP team was recommending for next year. I recalled that the teacher had said she had been speaking to the 4k teacher at the school where the special education program is housed for the county about the Quail and wanted her to start spending some time there and to come to special ed 5 days a week. Beyond that, I knew no specifics. Lovey then decided to send a note to the Quail’s special education teacher asking for clarification. What came back, that was the jolt I needed. Yes she wanted her to spend some time each day there. What was the shocker was it was calendar/math and phonics sessions she felt the Quail was capable of. But that was all.

This moved us to action. I began tentatively emailing our village- cyber and IRL folks who have been there, done this, here in our system and across the country. Lovey did the same, and then one day- he sent me a note after reading what I had said to another mother. He noted how little like myself I sounded- that I sounded uncertain- not knowing what is the right path for the Quail. That in talking about her we need to focus on her strengths and abilities and lead with that because of the prevalence of stereotypes that surround Down syndrome, people hearing about her will latch on to what they already know about people like her- the weaknesses and difficulties and not hear what we are saying about the real her. I have never been more in love with this man. The student became the teacher. These past 17 years of knowing each other- of sharing my heart with him of showing and including him in the world of disability that I’ve grown up with and how we best serve others in their own community, of how we talk about people- well it was ingrained in his heart and mind and he brought it back to me when I was at my most vulnerable, overwhelmed and doubting of myself, my daughter and what I know. What. I. Know. What we know about this individual that is our heart and light.

I may not be well versed in the education system and most of what I know about offerings locally for others that come with an extra chromosome is third person removed, but it included including the child in the less academic portions of the day- very little inclusion- but mainstreaming into the regular classroom for things like lunch, recess, art, gym. Rarely academics without a fight. And here was our teacher recommending the academic portion because the Quail- well frankly she knows so very much.

So Lovey headed down to the local elementary school in our town. You know the one where Zuzu goes? The one where the Quail went for her therapies when she turned 3 and started with the education system before a segregated classroom even existed for preschoolers here. Now public 4K in our state is for children that are “at risk”. There are limited spots and we want one. The 4k teacher willingly told Lovey a bit more about the class. About the fact that in this class of approximately 20 students, there are to date, 7 native languages. The joy of a college town- a very international community. This was sounding just perfect. The Quail- her receptive language- it’s near normal. She understands what you are saying. She just has trouble expressing herself in a typical form back. But this teacher- this teacher already works with that fact, albeit for a different reason, in her classroom everyday. Why not one more?

Lovey asked what concerns she might have about including the Quail in a typical 4k setting. She mentioned that attention span and focus can often be an issue and it can often be overwhelming coming into such a large classroom environment for the first time. We parroted back what we have been told about our bird. She is great with work assignments and therapists have frequently noted the expanse of her attention span. She also is currently in private preschool with 1 teacher and 16 classmates.

“Well then,” came the reply; “scratch that.”

So, this past week, we let the Special Education teacher know that we were not in favor of her continuing at the separate school, in the separate class. There is so very much more to say about the Quail’s experience and the impact it has had on her this past year….and I can and will go on. But this fog that is slowly dissipating, well it means I’m also keenly aware of all the other things around me that were out of sight and mind in this period of growing another little person both in and along side me and they are calling for my energy and attention as well.

Last week when Lovey spoke up on behalf of our bird, our teacher asked what our goals are for her and out of a vault that had been stuck shut- came pouring the expectations for equal rights. For equal education. For inclusion. For the Quail’s right to be a part of a typical classroom and continue to learn just as she has shown us for the last 4 years that she is capable and eager to do. What we know are concerns for her and how we know they have been successfully addressed in the past and can be in a typical 4k setting.

We made a choice 4 years ago to include her in the same typical daily setting as her sister knowing that if we had to move her into more specialized care, that we would- but that she would need to show us that she needed it. Since she came into our lives we have assumed ability, not disability. We have looked at her and known and assumed capability and as she has shown us she needs support, we have sought it out. And she has thrived. She has grown. She has learned.

My girl- she is entering a system that expects her to prove herself in a way that someone not bearing her label and features would never be asked. Children that know what she knows in her head- they would be able to sit down alongside the other children without having to earn their way there. Because in this country- education is a basic right to all children. Except possibly those that have to work a little harder to keep up. Except maybe those that need it even more.

But that’s ok. I was born for this. The generations that have come before me and educated me personally, academically and professionally- my gratitude is with them. They fought to have children like mine have first the right to be born in to this world, then given the medical care to live a life and then the right to be supported in their own homes.

My generation- we are here to continue on that legacy. We are here to show the capability that lies within. To continue to advocate for equal rights. And that begins with a good and thorough education.

I hope this won’t be a fight. Our family will go in to these meetings with the assumption that we are all here to do what is best to educate the Quail. But, we will lead these meetings now making sure the educators know what we know. What the Quail knows.

That this bird, this bird can and will fly.