Six Years Old

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Emmy is six years old! She was only one year old when I started this blog. Hard to believe!

Emmy is feisty, fearless, and persistent. Those qualities have remained since she was born. She actually broke her arm at the end of the last school year because she was climbing up a structure on the playground during recess and fell at the very top. (I almost passed out when the school called me. But so far, it looks like she’s healing beautifully.) After her arm was out of the sling, we walked by the school playground and she casually asked if she could climb that structure again.

“That one??” I asked. “You fell from that one!”

She smiled and started climbing. No fear whatsoever.

When we were trying to plan her activities for this year, she asked if she could take karate classes. I wasn’t sure about karate… Let’s just say that it’s not really my speed. And a friend said that it really tests your balance, so I was concerned that Emmy would have an especially tough time.

When we showed up early for our trial class, we got a chance to see the older kids sparring. Emmy sat on my lap while we watched the kids really going at each other. My eyes nearly bugged out of my head. I was going to sign up my little darling for this? I figured that after watching the sparring session, she wouldn’t want to do it anymore. Clearly I do not know my daughter!

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked nervously.

“Yes. I love it,” she replied, smiling.

So now Emmy takes two karate classes a week. She was right. She loves it.

It’s interesting to see the activities that really capture her interest. She’s tried dance, gymnastics, piano, t-ball, yoga, and soccer. And while she enjoys them, she will drop everything for karate and swimming.

She also loves arts and crafts, but I fear that this interest is really about being destructive. One thing we still struggle with it that Emmy likes to tear things about. I know that this can be common for kids with Williams syndrome. But for a neat person like me, there are some growing pains associated with this one.

For example, Emmy loves to use scissors. And I trusted her with scissors because she does a solid job cutting paper and has never cut her skin. But one day I popped my head into the study to see that she found a bunch of her nice bracelets in a jewelry box and cut them up. Ughhhhh.

Or she’ll take a bottle of glue and, at first, she’ll be purposeful about where she puts it. And then, it’s all over…

Or, we were watching Charlotte’s soccer game the other day, and I gave Emmy a piece of paper and pencil to keep her busy on the sidelines. The paper had interesting designs on it that you could trace. She turned it over to the back and started poking holes in it.

I can tell that she gets a thrill out of being destructive.

But I’m being nit picky here. Most of the time, Emmy is a pleasure. Her personality is awesome. She’s usually in a good mood and smiley. When she does get upset, there is always a legitimate reason behind it. I don’t think she’s ever thrown a tantrum “just because.”

Emmy still loves Halloween. She talks about Halloween from January through December. She’s actually brought a new joy of Halloween to everyone in the family. I wasn’t majorly into Halloween when I was younger. I liked the candy, but that was about it. I was much more of a Christmas kid.

But now, Halloween is such a happening in our house. We have a store nearby called Spirit Halloween with zombies and werewolves that pop out when you walk in. When we went on our first Spirit Halloween visit this fall, it was practically a sacred event. I even took a video of us walking through the hallowed doors and getting scared by the fake spiders that jump out. I think Charlotte and Theo also appreciate Halloween even more because of Emmy. When we drive by houses with Halloween decorations, everyone in the car gets especially excited to point them out to her.

While Emmy’s personality is lovely and she’s a joy to be around, my heart still hurts as I watch her struggle in different areas. She’s repeating Kindergarten this year. She actually entered Kindergarten on the younger side, at five years old. And she immediately stood out in every class picture because she is so tiny. She loved school last year and never complained, but it was tough for her. Once school started, everyone was off to the races. And while other kids progressed quickly onto writing sentences, we were still practicing how to write Emmy’s name. Thankfully, this year, she’s holding her own quite nicely. School only started a few weeks ago, but she’s with the pack much more than last year. I’ve already seen significant gains in her progress.

Emmy has a new phrase: “A little help.” The first time I heard her say it was when she was riding her bicycle with training wheels and got stuck on a dip in the pavement. She continued to push the pedals around and around, but they just kept grinding. She is a persistent kid, so she tried desperately to get herself out of the rut. Finally, she looked my way, flashed her adorable smile, and asked, “A little help?” I’ve heard her say it a few times now. It’s very gentle; very sweet.

The truth about Emmy is that she doesn’t WANT help. She wants to do everything herself. But sometimes, she NEEDS a little help. I think this is a misperception about people with special needs. I’ve heard it said that people with special needs expect things to be handed to them — or that they needlessly demand help with every little thing. I’ve found it’s just the opposite. Emmy doesn’t WANT the help. She would love to be able to do everything herself. But sometimes, she NEEDS a little support to make it over the finish line.

When she does struggle, it’s hard to watch. Every morning, as she reaches for the banister to walk down the stairs, her hand shakes slightly with an intention tremor. I think her brain is still getting in sync with her nervous system early in the morning because it’s most obvious at that time and then subsides as the day goes along. Other people would probably not even notice the shaking. It’s so slight. But I feel it in my heart. It’s that tiny, little shake that is the give away. Things are harder for her, even though she never complains.

Emmy just adores her brother, Theo. If she could smother him with kisses all day, she would. He mostly runs away from her smothering, but they have a ton of fun together. They’re little buddies.

And Emmy looks up to Charlotte, who has very much adopted the big sister role for her younger siblings. Charlotte is a caretaker, but I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t want to put too much pressure on her. We had a disagreement over the summer where I asked her to watch Emmy at camp, and she pulled the reigns too tightly around Emmy’s fun. So we had to talk about what it means to “keep an eye on your sister” versus chasing Emmy around and telling her to not participate in activities because she might get hurt. But Charlotte has always been mature and, at eight years old, she was able to embrace that concept a bit better once we talked about it.

As time moves along, we all find our roles. It’s interesting to see them sway and shift as school, activities, and friends circle around our lives.

My goal this year is to move towards Minimalism. You know these guys?: The Minimalists

I’m very, very good at acquiring STUFF. It’s somewhat of a speciality. So I’m dipping my toe in the pond of minimalism, starting with The Minimalists and everyone’s favorite declutterer, Peter Walsh. As I look over all of my STUFF, I realize that this needs to be a major overhaul. Wish me luck. ūüôā

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Doing All Of The Things

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Our babysitter was telling me about how she was excited to see a friend that she hadn’t seen in a while. The friend said, “Can we do all of the things?” And our babysitter replied, “Yes, we will most definitely do all of the things!”

Every time I think of this expression, it makes me laugh. I guess it’s a new expression that means “doing everything we love to do”?? I guess??

Sometimes I’m tempted to use it in conversation, but then I think people would accuse me of trying to be¬†younger than my years…

But I do think of this in terms of Emmy. I want her to do all of the things.

I want her to play sports, go to dance class, take an art class, participate¬†in the various clubs at school…

She doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t WANT to do. But I want her to have the opportunities that any typical child has.

Some experiences have been easier than others. We have a gymnastics studio near us, and the teachers have been awesome with Emmy. She takes classes with her peers, but the teachers will modify a little bit for her. One¬†student might walk across the balance beam on her own, while Emmy will get a little support from the teacher. One student might do a cartwheel flawlessly on her own, while the teacher might hold Emmy while she practices her cartwheel. But she does everything that everyone else does, and the teachers have been very happy to accomodate for Emmy’s needs. I didn’t even have to ask them. They just did it.

On the other hand, we have had a doozy of a time with dance.¬†I enrolled Emmy in ballet classes at a very strict studio. It wouldn’t have been my preference, but Charlotte really liked the studio¬†at first, and she wanted to go there. I’m a big proponent of having Emmy try everything that Charlotte does. So I signed Emmy up for the class, but I also told them that she has Williams syndrome because I knew that¬†the standards of the studio are more strict than others. For¬†example, a student would have to pass a “dance test” before moving to the next level.

The receptionist gave me the side-eye and said, “We can put her in our youngest class…We’ll start her there…That’s as young as we go…”

This was one of those situations that made me very uncomfortable. I could feel the judgment. I knew that the kids would be younger than Emmy. But I also felt that this person wasn’t keen to have her in the dance school — period — and this was a way to get her in. After all, the aim of this school is to build up dancers in a very strict, professional atmosphere. If Emmy couldn’t perform the steps, how would the teacher react?

But, on the other hand, Charlotte took a practice class, and the teacher was great. I really wavered back and forth on this, but I signed Emmy up nonetheless and put her in the youngest class.

The interaction with the receptionist made me feel “less than.” It made me feel as though I had to apologize for intruding on the professional atmosphere of the school. It made me feel as though I had to make excuses for my child who was born as she was — through no fault of her own.

I should have known *at that moment* that this wasn’t the right place for us. But, you see, I want Emmy to do all of the things! I want her to wear her little ballet outfit with her hair up in a bun. Mostly, I want her to have the exact same opportunities that Charlotte does. If Charlotte is accepted into the class as a typical child, I want Emmy to be accepted as well.

Here’s the irony. The class ended up being a disaster but not for the reason I imagined. It wasn’t because Emmy couldn’t keep up with the steps. In fact, because the kids were younger than Emmy, they were totally out of control! They didn’t follow directions. They cried during the whole class and ran out of the room constantly. I don’t blame them one bit. They were quite young! But that wasn’t the class for Emmy.¬†Just because Emmy has some challenges doesn’t mean that she should immediately be placed with younger children. It was really illuminating! Emmy surpassed these kids in maturity. I asked the teacher to move Emmy to the next level, and she declined. She said Emmy was placed correctly. I kindly disagreed.

This is a dance school that many people praise, but we ended up leaving. It just wasn’t a good fit.

That interaction¬†soured me to dance for a while, but it was something that continued to eat away at me because Emmy loves to dance. I didn’t want to deny her the experience of a dance class just because of this one situation.

After a few months, I decided that we should try a free practice class at another dance studio near here. It’s¬†a very popular studio, but I’ve heard that it isn’t as strict as the first.

Everyone seemed very nice — the owner, the receptionist…we were off to a good start! This time, I didn’t tell them that Emmy has Williams syndrome. I didn’t want them to put her in the younger class again. I couldn’t risk another experience like the previous one.

This class was for five to seven year olds, so both Emmy (at age 5) and Charlotte (at age 7) would be in the same class. It’s an “acro” class, so it’s like “acrobatic dance.” Charlotte would look out for her sister. This seemed like a good set-up.

I dropped the girls off in the class and was lead to an area where I could watch them. As the minutes passed, I almost cried. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could see how the teachers were treating Emmy. When she couldn’t get into a straddle perfectly, they¬†stood over her and admonished her. When Emmy did a bridge (which is really hard for someone with Williams syndrome!! Really, really hard!!), I could tell that they weren’t impressed. They weren’t kind. I¬†walked back in the class, picked up Emmy, and carried her out of the room. The teachers saw me and completely ignored me. Charlotte came running over and said, “This isn’t going well.” I asked her if she wanted to leave, but she said she would finish out the class. I watched the rest of the class while holding Emmy in my arms. I was fuming.

After it was over, the teachers walked out of the room and looked at me with disgust. They didn’t say anything to me and just marched¬†by.

“What happened in there??” I asked Charlotte.

She was rattled.¬†“Mom, they were so mean to Emmy. She did that bridge, and it was AMAZING! Emmy said, ‘Am I doing a good job, teacher?’ and the teacher said, ‘No.’ Can you believe that? I WAS SO PROUD OF HER!”

She continued. “I could hear the teachers talking about Emmy. They said, ‘What’s wrong with her?’ And ‘I thought she was supposed to be five years old?'”

Charlotte was very upset. My seven year old knew this wasn’t right.

I was appalled by the way they treated Emmy, and of course we didn’t go back. Friends told me to contact the owner and express my disapproval. I haven’t done that. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard similar things about this studio, so it makes me feel as if this is the atmosphere, and I don’t know that things will change if I speak up. But maybe they will. I don’t know. The whole experience really upset me, and I kind of just want to move past it.

But I want Emmy to do all of the things! Just because other people don’t know what class she fits in or don’t understand her challenges doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t have the opportunity to do all of the things, right? The Americans with Disabilities Act is something with which I have become very familiar. It protects my daughter. She should be able to experience everything that everyone else does. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t change people’s reaction to her. While she may be able to DO all of the things, she may not be viewed in the same light ¬†— or with the same promise — as the other students. That part is rough.

You know what? Third time’s a charm.

A mom told me about yet ANOTHER dance studio that just opened. The owner, she said, is fabulous — very kind and understanding. I pushed my misgivings aside and only saw hope. I emailed the owner and explained our situation. I told her about Williams syndrome, and I also told her briefly about our past two experiences. I told her that I don’t want Emmy to be automatically put with the younger kids, but I also don’t want her to be admonished for not doing the steps properly¬†when she ALWAYS, ALWAYS tries her best. I asked if we could figure out a class that might be right for Emmy.

She called me right away. She told me that my email broke her heart and that she would absolutely find the right class for her. She did, and Emmy loves it. It’s another “acro” class. She is with her typical peers that are her age, and the teacher helps her when necessary. She gets some modifications. When she has trouble with a big cartwheel, she tries¬†a small¬†cartwheel. And her bridge has only gotten stronger and more beautiful. The teacher consistently praises her effort. It is a wonderful experience. They have made us feel welcome and included.

I don’t know why every place isn’t like this. It took us three chances to find a place that would accept us as we are. It’s not that I’m being difficult or that I’m expecting special treatment. I just want Emmy to be able to do all of the things that everyone else does. I think that’s reasonable. In fact, I know it is.

Williams Syndrome Convention

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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.

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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.

A Story About Sisters

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Charlotte wrote¬†a “How To” story in school. The topic¬†she chose was “How to Help Your Sister.” For her¬†dedication in the beginning, she¬†wrote, “I dedicate this book to Mommy because my Mommy taught me how to help my sister.”¬†She wrote about helping her sister down the stairs, helping her get dressed, and helping her brush her hair.

My first thought was: This is the sweetest thing I have ever seen in the history of the world!

My second thought was: Have I put too much of a burden on Charlotte?

I felt the #1 Mom feeling, which is guilt. Am I not doing this right? My original intent was that I didn’t want Charlotte to feel like she always has to help Emmy because I didn’t want her to resent her sister later in life. (Though someone commented on my blog once that she, as an adult, loves helping her sister with Williams syndrome and that she would do anything for her.)

I just don’t want Charlotte to look back on her life and say, “You know, my mom really screwed things up because she made me help my sister too much, and now I have the following issues…”

But then I thought…

Wait a minute. I helped my own sister! I was always looking out for her. I’m sure my sister felt like she had 3 parents because I was always putting my nose into everything.¬†I remember being in a grocery store with my mom and my sister and, while my mom put in her order at the deli counter, I would chase my sister around the grocery store and call back over my shoulder, “You need to watch her!!” Of course, my mom had an eye on her the whole time, but she found it hilarious that I played the role of guardian (while chastising¬†her¬†for it…).

My sister and I recently¬†found some old videotapes of my 13th birthday party, and we had so much fun laughing at ourselves. The grainy footage showed the party in my house with music blasting.¬†Our living room was crowded with friends and even a boy that I liked. But while I¬†was surrounded by people¬†my own age, I danced with my 7 year old sister for hours. There we were in the middle of the circle–spinning around and laughing. We both commented on it. “Wow, I basically ignored everyone else and spent the party with you!”

Growing up, I included¬†my sister in everything.¬†“This is my little sister!” I would call out¬†to anyone who would listen. I always had a protective arm around her, and I loved doling out advice. When I finally got my driver’s license, we continued to spend¬†all of our free time together–out and about. And when¬†I got to college, I¬†brought my little sister to parties and watched her like a hawk (reminiscent of days in the grocery store as kids).

I don’t remember if I helped her down stairs or if I brushed her hair, like Charlotte does with Emmy. But I know that I’ve helped my sister¬†in other ways–just as she has helped me. It’s always been a give and take. (My little sister has even called a boy on my behalf, to ask him to a dance. I was 15 and she was 9. At the time, my shyness was beyond embarrassing. Now, I can laugh about it.)

With¬†Charlotte and Emmy, I see that give and take. Some of¬†Emmy’s greatest strengths¬†come from her reliable company. If Charlotte needs a hug, Emmy is right there. When Charlotte needs a laugh, Emmy is happy to provide it. When we moved to a new town a few months ago and didn’t know anybody, Emmy stepped into the role of “steadfast companion” to Charlotte. They spent all of their free time together.

The other day, I found one of Emmy’s books in Charlotte’s room. I asked, “Did Emmy leave this here?” and Charlotte responded by filling me in on their morning routine.

Every morning, Emmy wakes up first. She grabs a book from her nightstand and walks over to Charlotte’s room. She knocks softly on the door and enters. Charlotte is still in bed–sometimes sleeping. The two girls don’t say a word. Emmy sits on the floor of Charlotte’s room with her book and leafs through it, waiting for her sister to¬†get out of bed.

I said, “You guys don’t talk at all?”

Charlotte replied, “No. She just likes to be in here with me.”

Their bond is strong.¬†There’s a give and take. For now, I think it’s equal. What role Charlotte will take on¬†in the future remains to be seen. I don’t want her to feel burdened, and I don’t want her to resent her sister. But for everything I’ve done for my sister and for all the times I’ve been there for her, I feel zero burden or resentment.¬†Yes, the circumstances are different. But from what I see in Charlotte and Emmy, that special bond is exactly the same.

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Why Words Matter

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I don’t read baby books anymore. With Charlotte, my first born, I read them diligently. I wanted to know when she would be rolling over, standing, and saying her first words. I didn’t really worry about her meeting those milestones, but I wanted to know what was in store for us. When we found out that Emmy has¬†special needs and then when she started missing her milestones, I couldn’t bear to read¬†the books because they served as¬†constant reminders of the things she wasn’t doing yet.

And, often, it wasn’t so much what they were saying as how they were saying it.¬†I would see gentle reminders that some babies just develop later than others, accompanied by words like “Your baby may be normal!” There were reassurances that even if your baby wasn’t meeting milestones,¬†things would most likely be ok. There were broad ranges for milestones and, as long as your baby fell into those ranges, everything would be fine.

But what if your baby didn’t fall into those ranges?

Then I would see words like “Talk to your pediatrician” or “Contact a doctor.”

So everything seemed happy and cheery when your kid was meeting milestones but, if not, you knew that there was bad news lurking around the corner.

There were two camps. The children that were developing “normally” (this word is used all the time) and the children that weren’t. If you were in the first group, the implication was that things were going swimmingly well! But if you fell into the second group, it sounded like things in your life were about to get pretty miserable.

But I have to say that even though Emmy didn’t meet all of her milestones, our life is¬†far from miserable! She¬†is an absolute joy to be around — milestones be damned. No, she didn’t fall into¬†the “normal”¬†(I hate that word)¬†charts, but she has enriched our lives beyond belief. I could gush about her all day but, to sum it up in a word, she’s awesome.

So now I have an almost-10 month old baby, Theo, and I haven’t opened a baby book.

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After years of physical therapy sessions¬†with Emmy, I know a lot about how children develop — more than I ever dreamed I would know. So I have many of the milestones filed away in my mind and, while I don’t obsess over them, I am aware of them. Theo is on schedule, but I still ended up breaking¬†my rule and did a Google search to find out whether standing comes before or after crawling. And that lead me to a page about walking. And here is what I found:

“Most babies take their first steps sometime between 9 and 12 months and are walking well by the time they’re 14 or 15 months old. Don’t worry if your child takes a little longer, though. Some perfectly normal children don’t walk until they’re 16 or 17 months old.” (Baby Center)

“Some perfectly normal children…”

Isn’t it funny that I haven’t looked in a baby book FOREVER — for this reason alone — and then, on my first search about milestones, these are the words I find?

Why are we calling children “perfectly normal”? And for that matter, what about the children who aren’t deemed “perfectly normal”? What about them?

And then, on the next page, the inevitable dismal line:

“Don’t fret if your child is simply taking her time. But if your child doesn’t stand with support at 12 months, can’t walk at 18 months, or isn’t able to walk steadily at the age of 2 years, bring it up with her doctor.” (Baby Center)

Can’t you¬†just hear the threatening music? So now we know that if things don’t happen by a certain timetable, something scary may be lurking around the corner…

Well, what was lurking around our corner was Williams syndrome! And it hasn’t been bad at all! Her beautiful smile is a Williams syndrome smile, and it lights up our lives¬†every day.

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But, beyond all of that, let’s revisit the words “perfectly normal,” and let’s look at them in terms of a child who is typical.

The first word, “perfect,” is a heavy word. We throw it around a lot, but it is heavy. When you strive for perfection, you will always fail — every, single time. Nobody is perfect. Perfectionists always feel like they’re doing something wrong because, until they’re *absolutely perfect*, nothing is ever right. And because they can never achieve the status of *absolutely perfect*, they end up constantly unsatisfied.¬†So a perfectionist, like myself, is often caught in a trap of inevitable failure. Cheerful, huh? ūüôā

Perfectionism can be debilitating. It stops you from doing tasks. If I don’t have time to arrange everything on a shelf perfectly, I won’t even put one thing on the shelf. I had to ask my husband to unpack my boxes (we just moved) and put things on the¬†shelves anywhere he wanted because my desire to have things just so was getting in my own way.

I REALLY try not to use the word “perfect” — especially around kids. However, it’s a word that often pops into my mind. If Charlotte carefully writes her name at the top of her paper, it certainly looks perfect to me! But I don’t want¬†to put that on her. So I choose another word. Or if Emmy puts on her socks the right way, it certainly looks perfect to me! But, again, I pick another word.

And after the word, “perfect,” we have another favorite of mine — “normal.” Someone once said that “normal is a setting on the washing machine.”

What’s the opposite of normal? It’s abnormal. Do we really want to call a child¬†abnormal?

I like to use the word “typical.” As in, “typically children develop like this.” But if they don’t, that’s totally ok too. Everyone is different. That’s what makes life interesting.

I feel like there’s a lot of fear around milestones. You’re either developing “perfectly normally,” or all hell is breaking loose. There’s no grey area. I want to share that, in our case, things went as far from “perfectly normal” as you can get. We are¬†all the way at the other end of “perfectly normal.” But I want to let you know that things over here are pretty great too! In fact, they’re magnificent. ūüôā

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Two Year Blogiversary

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Happy Green Bagel morning! ūüôā I got an email from a friend this morning, which reminded me that my blog is two years old. Well, there was lots of talk about green bagels this morning, but we didn’t get them because the kids were having them at school.

I haven’t posted in a while, and there are many reasons for that, but I’ll give you a few. Any time that I had to myself went out the window when we moved. Emmy used to be in an all-day preschool, but now she’s home at 11:00 am. Charlotte is home from school earlier too. And I have Theo all day. And Theo likes attention! So when I do get a free second, I try and catch up on my ridiculous pile of laundry.

I’ve had a couple emails from people checking in on us, which put a smile on my face. It’s so nice to know that others are thinking about us. I’ve also gotten some emails from people whose children have been newly diagnosed, which reminds me why I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to show the positive side of Williams syndrome for anyone who is newly diagnosed.

And, as time has gone on, the positives just keep growing and growing. Emmy’s personality is awesome. At 3.5 years old, she wakes up with a big smile on her face every single morning. She is both funny and sweet. When Theo cries, she says, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” or “Don’t cry, honey.” (Dan and I don’t say “sweetheart” or “honey,” so I have no idea where she picked those words up, but it’s adorable!)

She is also persistent and determined. I signed her up for a gymnastics class and, though she can’t easily do what the other kids are doing, she tries her hardest. If she falls, she gets right back up. She is absolutely driven to do what everyone else does. If I were to tell her that she couldn’t do something because of her small stature or low muscle tone, she would be devastated. So we continue to sign her up for things that are tough for her. We don’t have to push her. She pushes herself. I adore that quality within her because I don’t have that same determination. If I fail at something, I usually bow out. Emmy teaches me to try, try, try again.

Charlotte has turned into an artist:

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She is constantly creating. One of the things I love about our new house is that we turned a possible playroom into a craft room. It still ends up full of toys, but the shelves are lined with paper, stickers, and paint. I love doing crafty stuff, but I rarely have time right now. So I live vicariously through Charlotte. She reminds me so much of myself.

She still misses our old town, and she’s had the toughest time with the transition because she had to leave her close friends and teachers¬†behind.¬†I keep waiting for the day that she’s going to say she loves it here. I hope it will come…

And Theo is into everything!

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He’s 9 months old and very close to crawling. He puts everything in his mouth, and I have to watch him like a hawk all day. He laughs easily, and he gives wonderful snuggles. He’s constantly waited on by his sisters, especially Emmy who¬†checks on him every five minutes. She doesn’t let him out of her sight!

Thanks for thinking of us, and I hope you enjoy your Green Bagel Morning. ūüôā

Change

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A couple months ago, we were driving back from visiting my sister, who lives near a beach. While the kids slept in the backseat, Dan and I talked about how relaxing it felt to be by the water for a few days. For years, we’d been saying that we’d like to move near a beach. But it just seemed so impractical. We had built a life elsewhere. A move would be difficult, especially with three little kids.

Finally, one of us said, “You know what? Let’s just do it.”

But we had said this many times before…and then life happened…and we pushed that dream aside. However, this time seemed different. It felt like we were finally serious. Within a few days of getting home, Dan called a realtor about putting our house on the market, and we started to research houses in a town near the beach.

With the wheels actually in motion, my initial excitement turned into nervousness. I had fears¬†— lots of them! We would have to take the girls out of a school that they love.¬†We would be moving farther away from family. We would have to change doctors and dentists. We would have to leave Emmy’s wonderful music therapist. We would have to work with a new school system to arrange physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Overall, we would be leaving everything that was familiar.

One day, when we were scheduled to meet with our realtor, I broached my fears to Dan. “Is this really a good idea? I feel like I know this area so well. I’m nervous about making such a big change.”

He reassured me that everything would work out. And I realized then that if I always listen to my fearful side, I would never do anything. I would stay put exactly as I am.

I actually had a lot of trepidation about starting this blog a year and a half ago. I knew I wanted my blog to be very personal and honest, so¬†I worried about the reaction that I would get. I worried about “putting my business out there” for everyone to see. And, most importantly, I worried about posting pictures of my children.

I really hemmed and hawed on the pictures issue. Should I just take pictures of the kids from behind? Did I really want to expose their faces? What about the creeps out there? The thing that tipped the scales for me was that Williams syndrome can be a very overwhelming and scary diagnosis. I wanted to show newly diagnosed parents what Emmy looks like — how beautiful and sweet she is. I felt like you might be able to get a more accurate impression of who Emmy is from seeing her face. See how Williams syndrome isn’t as scary as it sounds? ūüôā

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So I pushed past all of those fears to start this blog, and I’m happy that I did! I love hearing from people who find my blog. I¬†love showing what Williams syndrome is, and I love writing about how Emmy has changed all of our lives for the better.

I didn’t let fear hold me back with the blog, and I wasn’t going to let it hold me back with the move either.

I emailed a realtor who was familiar with a¬†town that we liked¬†and wrote: “We’d like to move, and we’d like to do it quickly. We have three little kids and the holidays are coming up, so we want to just go for it sooner rather than later. Can you help us?” We lucked out, and she was¬†awesome. Soon, all of the pieces fell into place for both the selling and buying of our old and new houses. With momentum on our side, Dan and I moved at warped speed to move before the holidays.

And we did! We’re in the new house in a brand new town near the beach!

We have floor to ceiling boxes, and we still have a ton of unpacking and rearranging to do. But we’re here!!

I think that our biggest concern this whole time was for Charlotte. We were pulling her out of a Kindergarten that she absolutely loves and transferring her to a bigger school with brand new teachers and friends. My own family moved when I was going into sixth grade, and I have to tell you that I was TRAUMATIZED. The memory of the first day of school still haunts me to this day. I can feel my palms getting sweaty just THINKING about it. Ugh. So we felt terrible about changing Charlotte’s comfortable surroundings.

But on the first day in¬†her new school (this past Monday), a little girl brought in a picture frame that she made over the weekend for Charlotte! I couldn’t believe it. Several other kids brought in cards that said things like: “Charlotte — welcome to our school.” Those kind gestures helped her so very much on what would’ve been a difficult first day. I vowed that when I hear there’s a new kid coming to town, I’m going to encourage my children to make cards for him/her. It was really, really sweet.

So the first full week of school is in the books! Charlotte is starting to make friends and is really enjoying her classes, and Emmy fit in right away. Emmy goes to the preschool program and, if you read about the “Williams syndrome personality,” you’ll see why she’s so friendly and outgoing.

So there we go. Lots of changes! But through all of this,¬†I’ve learned that when I move past fear to take a chance, I will eventually embrace change.¬†

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