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.

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.

(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.

Blog hops are a nice way to get to know some pals. And I tell ya….well see below for what I tell ya…


One truth (about Ds/our lives with Ds) It takes a tribe to raise a kid in today’s village.

One tip (information on something related to Ds/raising a child with Ds/or just parenting in general) Join the community. Lurk if you’re shy, but still join. Read, visit, comment. This community it is as diverse as the syndrome itself. What is an issue, a concern, a moment or milestone to celebrate and connect over is different for everyone. We are not all the same. And yet we are all connected by a little bit extra.  There are plenty of folks you’ll have things in common with and plenty that you won’t. There are families that will share your political, religious and ideological  beliefs and values and families that will offend yours.  And that’s ok. There is no one right or wrong way to share your story, live your life, or raise your kid. Share your life with others and grant others that same space.

I started reading when the Quail was a newborn and started blogging when she was 6 months old. I started blogging because I was repeatedly going to other Mommas on-line and asking them questions. For me, being new to this whole, “My kid has Down syndrome” thing- well I felt pretty shy about asking questions in person and talking on the phone. The amount of information available on-line though- well really- it isn’t just Holland or Italy. There is an entire world available out there. And what we need to connect over changes over time. When the Quail was itty bitty I wondered in general what our future would be like. Would she crawl? Would she walk? Would she talk? Would she be able to continue to go to a typical daycare? Would she ever stop throwing up daily? Would she have friends? Should we have another baby? How does the Quail’s Down syndrome affect Zuzu? Would she be included with our family, our friends, our school and community? These questions and the answers to them for me and for others change and there is just something about being around others that “get it.”

A couple of weeks ago we attended a camp that was put on by our local Parks & Recreation department at a YMCA camp. It was a group of families that had one thing in common. Someone they love has Down syndrome. These families and their backgrounds were incredibly varied. And yet, that didn’t matter. We spent time being together. Talking, playing and sharing. The director repeated throughout our stay- “No worries, no excuses.” It didn’t matter if the kiddos acted up or didn’t want to interact at all. We could do as much or as little as we were able. The point was the opportunity and openness. On the last night they held a talent show. Zuzu was confident she wanted to show folks how she hula-hoops. So she did. And as soon as she came off-stage to a round of applause, the Quail looked me in the eye, touched her hand to her chest and whispered emphatically, “Me.” The counselor sitting near us heard and asked if she wanted a turn up on stage. The Quail nodded her assent and repeated “Me.” I asked what she wanted to do and mentally ticked off a list of things I’ve seen her “perform”. We settled on her “singing” if you’re happy and you know it. This from my kid who, well doesn’t talk much. When they called her name she ran up on stage and stopped. She looked around and I whispered to Zuzu what she was supposed to do and to go join her. Still we could hear the crickets chirp as everyone waited. After a minute I said hesitantly, “She wanted to go up because Zuzu did. She wanted to sing “If you’re happy and you know it.” Could you all join in?” Happily and heartily a room full of families readily sang the familiar tune. And the Quail she cheered for them as her sister fed her candy. Then they skipped off stage ready to cheer for the next talented boy or girl. No worries. No excuses. Everyone just got it and went with it. As a parent, what a relief that feeling is. Sometimes you don’t know when you’ll need your tribe, sometimes you do. You just gotta join in and ask.

One photo