We drove for 9 hours to get to Columbus, Ohio…with 3 kids in the car. When we first signed up to attend the Williams Syndrome Convention, it seemed like the drive would be palatable. But as the days inched closer, I kept turning to Dan with fear in my eyes and saying, “I think we should reconsider…can we cancel?” I was freaked about that drive.
Well, as Theo loves to say, “Weeee DID IT!”
And I’m so glad we went! It was worth every minute in the car and then some.
When we first arrived at the hotel, Dan and I were totally out of sorts. It took us a while to get the stroller out, grab our suitcases from the car, and chase kids around the lobby. The kids were anxious to do everything immediately!
As we were checking in and trying to calm them down, Charlotte started to notice all the people with Williams syndrome in the lobby. We had already been to a Williams Syndrome Convention in Boston in 2012, when Charlotte was only 3 years old, but she didn’t have any clue about Williams syndrome at that time. Now at 7 years old, she understands a little more about it, and she started to take in the sight of all the friendly people in the lobby.
It’s interesting to see how the week has an effect on you. When we went to the Convention in Boston, Dan and I were at first overwhelmed by the friendly nature of people with Williams Syndrome. Emmy was only 1 year old at the time, so we didn’t have a strong idea of how social she would be. Plus, we’re quite reserved ourselves. So when people started approaching us right off the bat to have a chat, we were a little thrown off. As that week went along, we totally embraced the culture and loved every second of the friendliness. There’s something so awesome about someone remembering your name and greeting you with absolute joy every time she sees you on the elevator. We missed that feeling of joy like crazy when we got back home.
Just like us, Charlotte wasn’t used to the friendliness. As she looked around that lobby, she said cautiously, “I think I’m the only person here who doesn’t have Williams syndrome…”
“You’ll see lots of people here,” I said. “Can you tell that Emmy has Williams syndrome?”
“No, definitely not,” she replied.
Charlotte just sees Emmy as her sister. She doesn’t really think about Williams syndrome.
Later at dinner that night, Charlotte seemed to really ponder the idea of “Williams syndrome.” I could see her working over it in her mind as she sat next to Emmy in the restaurant booth. She was studying her face.
Finally, she said, “Mom, I can see it.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“I see it in Emmy. I see it in her lips.”
As the days went on, Charlotte met many people with and without Williams syndrome. I could visibly see her grow more and more comfortable with everyone’s friendliness. She allowed herself to loosen up and just enjoy all the different personalities. I have a very boring saying that I tell her all the time that kind of sums up life: “Everybody’s different!” We use that one a lot, especially when kids on the playground ask why Emmy is smaller than everyone else or why she can’t run as fast as the others: “Everybody’s different!” I’ve noticed that it’s a good way for Charlotte to close out a conversation with a kid on the playground who keeps prodding her about Emmy. Who can possibly argue with “Everybody’s different!”??
During the week, Charlotte went to a YMCA camp (organized through the Convention) and made a bunch of friends — mostly typical siblings of people with Williams syndrome. She really got along with these kids nicely! Every night she was bubbling over with stories about her new friends.
Emmy and Theo also went to camp in the hotel. There were all sorts of activities for them to do throughout the week. I think Emmy’s favorite part was meeting Batman. She has no fear. Ever.
While the kids were at camp, Dan and I attended sessions and learned a lot! I have to sheepishly admit that I thought I was pretty much an expert at Williams syndrome after 5 years with Emmy. There is SO MUCH more to learn! There were plenty of people with grown children in their twenties and thirties who still came to learn — and perhaps mostly to share their stories with others.
My favorite session was the exact same favorite that I had at the Convention in Boston: the sibling session. When you hear brothers and sisters talk about their siblings with Williams syndrome, it immediately brings tears to your eyes. It would be IMPOSSIBLE not to cry in that room. They see their siblings like no one else can. And they’ve become more tolerant, understanding, and patient people because of their siblings. Many of them go into teaching, physical therapy, or music therapy. Many of them volunteer at Williams syndrome camps, and many of them were volunteers at this Convention. Imagine learning the beauty of volunteerism as a young teenager? That has to change your life.
The siblings said that coming to these Conventions every couple of years really helped them to better understand their own brother or sister with Williams syndrome. They encouraged us to keep bringing all of our kids because it helps the typical siblings to comprehend Williams syndrome and helps to foster understanding and appreciation of their brothers and sisters, instead of frustration or resentment.
So of course Emmy and Theo had a great time at the Convention. They just played and had fun all day. Theo didn’t know why we were there because he’s too young. I think Emmy is starting to understand Williams syndrome just the tiniest bit, but it’s still very much of a foreign concept. But we didn’t know how Charlotte would react. I know it sounds silly, but being surrounded by friendly people can be overwhelming. Of course, it shouldn’t be that way. In a perfect world, everyone would be friendly! But our society is generally more closed off, so it’s like being in an alternate universe when you’re surrounded by social people who approach you without reservation.
To our delight, Charlotte had the most amazing time. She declared that it was the best vacation she’s ever been on!! She really, really loved it. Kudos to the Williams Syndrome Association for putting together an awesome Convention that had my 7 year old gushing!
On the last day, we were standing in the lobby checking out, and several adults with Williams syndrome came over to talk to us. One woman pointed at my kids and said, “They are so adorable!!” Then she looked closer and said, “Which one of you has Williams syndrome?”
I was surprised to see Emmy raise her hand right away and say, “I do!”
I’m not sure that she knows what Williams syndrome is, but now it’s official — she definitely knows that she has it.
We can’t wait for the next Convention! Especially Charlotte.