Why I Stopped Apologizing for My Child

Apologizing

A while back, I was looking to find a daycare that Emmy could attend a couple days a week. Before I started my journey as a mom, I assumed that my kids wouldn’t go to daycare because I had images of constantly-runny noses, unchanged diapers, and bored staff. Woah, was I wrong about that one! I’ve been able to find daycares that are run more like schools, so my kids are learning, having wonderful social interactions, and making cool art projects. They’ve also become very close with their teachers, and I love to see those special bonds forming. So I am pro-daycare, if you can find the right place.

This happened before I found the right place…

Emmy was too young to attend Charlotte’s daycare, which we’ve been very happy with, so I needed to find a place that would take younger children. And I needed to decide when I would drop the words “Williams syndrome.”

Here’s the thing. Not all parents reveal that their child has a diagnosis. They don’t want a label, they’re worried about their child getting into the school, the don’t want their child treated any differently, etc. I empathize with all of these concerns, and I’ve thought about the same things myself.

In my case, though, I knew I had to tell the school about Williams syndrome. First, I knew that our pediatrician would have to fill out a Universal Health Record before Emmy started school, and that it would say “congenital heart defect due to Williams syndrome.” So the cat would be out of the bag at some point. Second, I figured that the teachers would pick up on her delay and ask me about it. I didn’t want to have to fib my way out of that one. Third, my memory is not great. I would never have remembered who I told or who I didn’t. That’s part of the reason I don’t keep her diagnosis a secret from anyone. I would literally have to carry around a notebook and jot down who I told and who I didn’t — and hope that those people never run into each other!

Ok, so I knew I was going to tell. I just didn’t know when or how.

I called the first school and asked if they had room in their program for her age group. The Director said, “Yes. Come on over.”

I hopped in the car and mulled over how I would tell him about Emmy. When I arrived, he offered me a seat in front of his desk. All I could think was: Williams syndrome Williams syndrome Williams syndrome. He told me a little about the program. I nodded and smiled. Williams syndrome Williams syndrome Williams syndrome.

Finally, he stopped talking and asked me about Emmy. He wanted to know if she was either cruising or walking because that would determine her classroom. They had room in both. At this point, Emmy was barely cruising. She was holding onto furniture, but she wasn’t cruising with ease. I knew, though, that if I didn’t talk her up, he would put her in the infant class with the kids who weren’t walking at all. I didn’t think that holding her back, in that sense, was best for her development. She needed to learn from the kids who were already walking. She was also closer developmentally to her own age group than to an infant.

So I took a deep breath and confidently said, “Yes, she’s cruising. She’s been a little slower in that respect because she has Williams syndrome.”

Cat’s out of the bag!

I swear his eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“And what’s that?” he asked.

I told him about Williams syndrome and, in doing so, I realized that I was apologizing for my child. I was emphasizing that she was practically typical and that Williams syndrome was no big deal. Honestly, I felt gross. I was sugar-coating. I wasn’t being real, and I wasn’t being true to my child. When I saw the look of concern on his face, I just kept laying it on thick — how Williams syndrome would be no problem at all. I didn’t dare say that she might need help on the playground or with art projects. I didn’t mention how great it would be if her Early Intervention therapists could come and work with her. I acted as if she would be just fine with no help whatsoever. And then I sat back and waited for his response.

He looked incredibly uncomfortable. He didn’t embrace the situation. Instead, he probably heard nothing I said after the word syndrome. He nervously said, “Ok, let me go check back in with those numbers and make sure that we have room in the cruising class.”

He walked away and came back with a post-it note that had a number on it.

“Turns out we’re at our limit!” he proclaimed. “I thought we had room, but I was wrong. But I’ll certainly give you a call if anything opens up.”

I’m sure he was lying. On the phone, they had room. In person, after my revelation, they were suddenly booked.

I got back in the car, feeling sick, and drove to the next daycare. I debated not revealing her Williams syndrome this time, but I knew I had to for all the reasons I mentioned above.

This time, I toured the school first and then sat down with the Director who said they had one more slot. Great! She couldn’t back out on me now.

I then told her that Emmy has Williams syndrome and, to my horror, I fell back into that sickening apologetic tone. At one point I even said, “You wouldn’t even know there was anything wrong with her.”

UGH. OUCH. I couldn’t believe those words came out of my mouth.

The Director smiled sweetly and replied, “But there isn’t anything wrong with her.”

I felt awful. Here was a stranger who needed to tell me that there wasn’t anything wrong with my child. But talking to her made me feel like I was getting somewhere. I felt as though she understood and was ready to accept Emmy with open arms.

She then asked if Emmy had any medical issues. I said that she has a heart problem due to Williams syndrome but, here we go again, it’s no big deal.

Heart problem?? The air left the room. Her attitude of acceptance turned into a brick wall. This sounded like a liability.

“Welllll,” she started. “You know I’ll have to check with Human Resources about that.”

People have since told me that it’s illegal to not accept someone with a heart condition, but I haven’t done enough research to confirm that. All I know is that, when I called her later to see if she had checked with Human Resources, she said she was mistaken and that they actually didn’t have room for Emmy. The class was full.

So the woman who just told me that there was nothing wrong with my daughter was able to find something wrong. Thanks for the life lesson, lady.

I felt disgusted. I had basically sold my soul to explain away Williams syndrome, and both places rejected me. I felt as if I weren’t giving Emmy the credit she deserves. Instead of proudly embracing what was special about her, I was apologizing for her and explaining her differences away. And they didn’t take her anyway! All of my sugar-coating got me nowhere.

So I decided to speak honestly and openly about Williams syndrome. It is harder for her to do things. But, damn, does she try HARD at everything she does. She perseveres like no one else I’ve seen. And her sweet personality is just such a gift. I’m so proud of this girl.

Just as I resigned myself to not finding a place that would take her, there was a phone call from another school that we had been trying hard to get into. We had been on the waiting list for a while. They were packed but found a spot for Emmy a few days a week. The Director was so welcoming and, when I talked openly about Williams syndrome, I didn’t scare her away in the least. She said that she couldn’t wait to meet Emmy and that they were so happy to have her. I asked if we could have some of her Early Intervention therapists there to help her, and she responded, “Of course!” She didn’t freak out about Emmy’s heart or about her lack of walking. She wanted to put Emmy in with her age group, which I whole-heartedly agreed with. It felt good, finally, to be heard and understood.

Thinking back on my “apologies” for Emmy makes me feel icky to this day. Hey, this diagnosis isn’t her fault! She did absolutely nothing wrong. Through a completely random genetic event, she was made this way. And, boy, do I love everything about her.

So this whole experience, while stomach-churning in parts, gives me the confidence to say:

I am no longer apologizing for the special needs of my very special child. 

Love you, kiddo.

January

January1

I’m having an interesting time with January so far. I’ve been going nonstop from Halloween through the end of 2013 — holidays, snow days, presents, clutter cleaning, cards, lights, tree, the ambition to do “holiday related” activities; the ball drop at midnight. It was a big rush to New Years.

The self care that I’ve written about before got pushed way to the back burner. I just put my head down and GOT THINGS DONE. Writing is very therapeutic for me, but even that  went straight to the bottom of the list. I actually felt guilty glancing over at my stack of books about writing. I’ve been working on a memoir about the past two years and, if it gets finished before 2045, it will be a miracle.

So, with all the craziness of October-December, I slid into January needing a complete recharge. It was hard for me to get back into writing right off the bat, but I cleaned out the clutter in the study, which is always a precursor to SOMETHING happening. And then I sat down with a few writer friends last week and, wow, did that feel good. It’s funny how some of us completely ignored our writing during the holidays, while others were actually productive. The productivity of others helped ignite that fire within me again. The words of encouragement from friends “You have to finish this book” also moved me forward.

But there’s something else stopping me too. When I write about the past two years, I want so badly to capture how I initially felt about Emmy’s diagnosis, how that feeling sat with me for a good six months and was only chipped away at little by little, and how that feeling is so far from what I feel today. As I move away from that feeling, it’s harder for me to go back where. Was I really devastated by this diagnosis? Really?? It’s hard for me to believe looking at the sweet, funny, good-natured, lovely daughter that Emmy is today. When we sit down at the breakfast table every morning, she gives the biggest, brightest smile and announces what she’s eating. I’ve never seen anyone that happy in the morning–ever! “Yogurt!” she declares, holding it up for me to see. Was I really upset for 6 months about Williams syndrome? Really?? It’s hard for me to even believe it myself.

In order to write about it accurately, I have to go back there in my mind. I somehow have to put aside the smiling cutie pie that I see in front of me and sink back into that mindset. Because even though I’ve moved on from that early time and changed my views on Williams syndrome by 180 degrees, I still feel like the story is inside of me. It’s just sitting there, waiting to come out. It’s been sitting there for 2 years now. I’ve changed, but the story is still heavy on my mind.

It’s the story of how I thought I would never smile again. It’s the story of how I bought every book I could find about having a child with special needs and read them through tears thinking, Is this really happening to me? It’s the story of how I thought my marriage was going to crumble because that’s just what happens, right? And it’s the story about how it was so hard to connect with Emmy for 6 months because I felt as if she were underwater. There was a barrier between my daughter and me and, during one Early Intervention meeting, I broke down sobbing and said, “I feel like she’s underwater. I feel like there’s a veil there, and I can’t break through. I don’t know how to connect with my own daughter.”

Those feelings have completely dissipated now, and the child that was once “underwater” now runs into my arms and says “Huggie!” But that story is still sitting there, and I remember it well.

The thing about writing memoir, though, is that it can hurt to go back there. If I were writing fiction, I don’t think I’d end up in tears just thinking about Chapter 2. And because I don’t want to feel that hurt again, it keeps me from sitting down and writing. Though if I don’t write, I still always think about writing, and that just drive me nuts…

I haven’t written fiction in a long time. I also haven’t read fiction in a long time (except for my friends’ pieces), though I’m starting to get back into it now. Memoir and personal essays really speak to me. A couple years ago, I wrote a very painful, true piece for a writing group. It was difficult to write but, boy, did it feel good to get it out. At the end of the night, we were all filing out into the parking lot, and this woman held me back to say that my piece really touched her because it was so raw and it brought her right back to things she’d experienced as well. That’s when I’m writing at my best–when I can go to that place and not sugarcoat. To me, the words don’t matter as much as the feeling behind it. I can always go back and change the words. But I can only revisit those feelings so many times before I can’t go there anymore. Or, in Emmy’s case, before I become too far removed from those early months and completely forget the pain that I was in.

Emmy will be 3 in July. Can I finish this memoir before then? Before I completely and utterly forget what it was like when my daughter was “underwater”? One of my writing friends suggested keeping a daily word count. That way I won’t get bogged down in revising Chapter 1 (as I’ve already done 100 times…). I just need to keep moving forward–get the story off my chest. Get it DOWN on paper. And, no matter where it goes from there, I will have gotten it out of me. For me, that is therapy.

Tradition

Tradition

My husband is really into tradition. I mean, REALLY into tradition. Actually, the very first post I wrote was about how he buys green bagels every St. Patty’s Day: https://williamssyndromesmile.com/2013/03/17/green-bagel-morning/

He doesn’t just keep old traditions alive, though. He also spontaneously creates new ones! I was heading home with the kids when he called to say that he put the holiday lights on the house and wanted Charlotte and Emmy to turn them on when we arrived.

“It will be a tradition!” he declared.

I love that Dan doesn’t live by the same imaginary rule book that I have in my head. My rule book says that I preserve the traditions that were handed down to me, but I don’t create new ones. Who am I to create a tradition? Those things were carefully thought out by my ancestors! But Dan has no qualms about creating a tradition TODAY.

And I’m ashamed to say that I kind of brush them off (sorry, babe). Traditions are not as weighty for me. I have a few precious traditions surrounding Christmas that remind me of childhood but, other than those, I don’t really think about traditions for the rest of the year.

Over the weekend, I found myself really appreciating the fact that Dan keeps traditions alive when we got the tree and decorated it. And as the kids put ornaments on the tree, I was so aware of how this tradition forces you to be present. It forces you to put down the phone, look at every ornament, tell stories about the ornaments, find the perfect branch, take photos to capture the moment, admire how your daughter is so careful with the precious ornaments when just last year she would’ve been the opposite, notice how your daughter carefully stands on the stool to reach the top branches, and realize how much taller she is than the year before. When you’re decorating the tree, you are forced to be in the moment.

How many times do I swear I’ll appreciate every moment–and then still let all of them pass me by?

And how many times do I swear I will PUT DOWN MY PHONE…and then will see it calling to me from the table?

“Put it down, woman!” I want to shout. “Put it down!” Because when I’m looking at my phone, I am anywhere but in the moment.

I think it doesn’t matter so much when I’m in the check-out at the grocery store and the person in front of me has 1,000 bags of candy to ring up, and I am just passing the time by looking at my phone. I think it DOES matter a lot when my kids need my undivided attention.

On Saturday, I was at a kids’ gym with Emmy, waiting for her class to start. I was watching the previous class wrap-up through the large, glass windows. And here was a boy, probably less than 1 year old, throwing a ball to his dad. And here was his dad, looking at his phone. The ball just fell in his dad’s lap, and he didn’t even notice his son’s effort. Ugh. What are we becoming?

So if traditions, like decorating the tree, do nothing more than force me to put down the phone and be present, then I am incredibly grateful that my husband creates new traditions every week. The more, the merrier! This time with our kids is precious and fleeting. The celebrity gossip and articles with snarky comments that I read on my phone will be around forever.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving has been my favorite so far, and the actual day isn’t even here yet! Just listening to Charlotte recite what she learned at preschool every day has been a lesson in life. At four years old, she’s full of amazement, wonder and fun facts (yesterday was something about white and red blood cells that even I didn’t understand).

I love watching her face as she laughs her way through “The Thanksgiving Song”: “I’m glad I’m not a turkey…They stuff you and bake you, and then they all taste you! I’m glad I’m not a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”

And every day this week, when she’s climbed in the car after school, she starts excitedly talking about gratitude.

“Guess what I’m thankful for today?” The appreciation for life literally pours out of her.

As I was driving her home, I thought, “At what point does this change?”

Because I’ve certainly experienced it myself. As a child, I had that feeling of amazement and gratitude on a daily basis. I remember bouncing a tennis ball against the side of my garage for hours–just enjoying the sun and the feel of the ball in my hand. I was just happy to be alive. Of course, I wasn’t consciously thinking about being alive. But I was enjoying the moment–taking pleasure in the littlest of things.

And as I got older, that feeling began to seep away. First, there were some mean girls (ugh), and I allowed my spirit and sense-of-self to get crushed. Then there was the sinking feeling that came with getting C’s on Math tests. And then there was the pressures of bills and jobs and life. Sure enough, that incredible feeling of being in the sun with a tennis ball in my hand faded and, in its place, came thoughts of “Why me?” and “I can’t do this” and “Life is so hard.” I kept feeling as though life was just dropping things on my doorstep, and I had to deal with them.

I finally realized that it wasn’t healthy to live that way–to always feel as if life owed me something, and it was my fault for not getting the best out of it. My four year old doesn’t feel that life owes her anything. On the contrary, she enjoys all that life has given her, and she voices her gratitude aloud.

I don’t want that shift to happen for her. Is it inevitable? Gosh, I hope not. How can I help her stay grateful for what she has instead of always reaching for something more? Because that’s where true happiness lies–in looking at what’s around us and saying, “Thank you.”

Today I can make a choice. I can always reach for something more, different, or better…or I can land right where I am. So here’s where I am today: I’m in my soft, colorful pajamas on a Wednesday morning. I’m typing away in the study, listening to the soothing sound of rain on the window. My husband is in the kitchen making mac-and-cheese for the Thanksgiving party at school. My two-year-old is still fast asleep in her bed. And the sound of a happy four-year-old playing make believe floats through the air. Thank you, life.

The Little Things

TheLittleThings

When Emmy was first diagnosed with Williams syndrome, I talked to other moms who told me that I would appreciate the little things more. But I didn’t really know what that meant. First of all, at the time I was really upset about the diagnosis and didn’t want to appreciate the little things more. I just wanted Emmy to be miraculously cured. Second, I thought I had already been appreciating the little things with my first daughter, Charlotte, so I couldn’t imagine how I could appreciate them any more. And, finally, I didn’t know which little things they were talking about.

Until I experienced them for myself…

The first time my older daughter, Charlotte, put a toy phone to her ear, and said “Hello,” I thought, “Awww that’s cute.” I didn’t gasp in shock or run to get my camera. It’s expected that a typical child would put a phone to her ear. When a typical child plays pretend, the parent doesn’t go bonkers with excitement. It’s just expected.

Likewise, playing with a toy phone is not considered a milestone. Most parents of typical children could tell you exactly when their child took her first step or said her first word. But they probably couldn’t tell you the first time their child played pretend.

And there isn’t a spot for “first time playing pretend” in the baby book. First word, first day of kindergarten, first tooth, first haircut are all in the book with a blank line for date accomplished…nothing about “first time playing pretend.”

With typical kids, milestones like walking and talking are a big deal. But other smaller things seem to just happen. There’s not a ton of effort put forth by parents and therapists and doctors and other cheerleaders. Things just happen.

Many things with Emmy have been slow to arrive. It wasn’t like I blinked, and suddenly she was using crayons to draw on paper. We practiced a lot. Every time I see her take a crayon on her own and start drawing, I feel an overwhelming sense of joy. That one was a long time coming, and now it feels so good to see her scribbling away.

So in order to get Emmy to play pretend, we practiced. We put clothes on baby dolls. We cooked toy food in little pots and pans. We wheeled toy trains around a track and demonstrated how to say “Choo choo!”

We put toy phones to our ears and said, “Hello, Mommy. Hello, Daddy.”

And when Emmy spontaneously put a toy phone to her ear and said, “Hello,” I let it all sink in and appreciated every single second of that small gesture.

Right now, she imitates us a lot. But when she was younger, she would just watch intently. I used to push trains around the track, while her eyes were fixed on my every action. I would think, “Is she getting this?” And then, a few days or weeks or months later, she would totally impress me by imitating my exact motion and vocal expression. She was paying attention! She was drinking it all in and then showing off her skills in her own time.

I believe that she gets it long before she actually shows it.

And, as I’ve learned to follow Emmy’s pace, there have been many benefits:

1. I don’t make myself crazy with baby/toddler milestone books. I can’t tell you the last time I looked at one of those books, but I think Emmy was probably a few months old. Why fixate on a timeline that probably won’t apply to her and will just make me frustrated?

2. I burst with pride when she hits a big or small milestone. I don’t grumble, “Jeez that took forever.” Instead, I say, “AHHHHH!!! Look what she’s doing!!! Go Emmy!”

3. I really do appreciate the little things more. Here are a few things she did that knocked my socks off and caused me to savor every second:

-She “drove” a car at an amusement park without any prompting. The way she turned the wheel was just glorious. There’s a picture at the bottom of this blog entry: https://williamssyndromesmile.com/2013/09/04/when-you-really-really-really-need-a-vacation/

-She started finishing songs and doing the hand motions. I probably sang “Wheels on the Bus” 7,895 times without her joining in. And then, one day, I started to hear this little voice finish the lines with me. Music to my ears.

-This is a big one. In the past, when she’s been ready to take a nap, I asked “Nap?” and she responded, “Nap!” But lately, when I ask “Nap?” she responds, “Book!” because she knows that I always read her a book before putting her down for a nap. It seems like no big deal, right? If a typical child said, “Book,” it probably wouldn’t be cause for excitement. But it shows that she’s remembering what comes before and after. She gets it.

For me, appreciating the little things hasn’t revolved around the usual milestones. When she started walking, of course I was ecstatic. It was awesome to witness, and I loved cheering her on. But I’ve felt just as much excitement, if not more, over something much smaller — like the day she spontaneously picked up a toy phone and said, “Hello.”

Pint-Sized Professor

PintSizedProfessor

We’ve been knee-deep in questions lately. At four years old, Charlotte wants to know everything about everything.

I LOVE her curiosity and sharp memory. She really tries to delve down into the essence of any topic. However, the ongoing questions often cause me to realize that I am pretty clueless about the world in which I live. Or I know the answer but can’t explain it very well (especially when it’s, like, 6:30 am).

“What time exactly do skunks come out at night?”

“What does the word ‘theme’ mean?”

“Who are all of the characters in Batman?”

At the zoo, we saw a sign in front of the empty wolf cage that said the wolf was out for surgery. So she asked, “Can you tell me all the possible reasons that a wolf would have surgery?”

WOAH!

And this one was my absolute favorite:

She asked me if I played video games when I was a kid, so I said that I used to play a game called Super Mario Brothers.

Then she asked, “Can you tell me everything about Super Mario Brothers?”

So I replied, “Well, there were 8 levels…I think. And you had to rescue a princess…”

And then she said, “Can you tell me about all of the bad guys?”

I’m pretty sure there were about 500 bad guys in Super Mario Brothers. And most of them are hard to describe, like that brown mushroom thing that you jumped on…but I tried to tell her about every one I could remember.

Here’s the thing: Even though she’s the one asking the questions, she ends up teaching me more than I could ever learn on my own.

We were at my friend’s house this summer, and Charlotte wanted to try swimming in her pool. She is still very much learning how to swim. We practice every once in a while, but she’s just in the beginning stages of learning.

When she got in the water and wasn’t able to swim PERFECTLY, she freaked out. She bawled hysterically and said, “I want to do it! I want to swim!” She had only practiced a couple times and already wanted to be an expert.

I said, “Charlotte, you just started swimming, honey. It’s going to take some time to get really good.”

And she cried, “I don’t want to wait. I want to be perfect now.”

This is SO me. I want to be an expert at everything I do right off the bat. I get frustrated when I can’t master something after 2 seconds of trying. I don’t have a lot of fortitude in the face of adversity. After years and years and years of living like this, I am trying like heck to change. I don’t WANT to be a perfectionist. It holds me back. To me, being a perfectionist doesn’t mean being perfect at everything. It means fear of failure to the point where I won’t try new things unless I know I can succeed.

The strange part is that I was sure I hadn’t passed this down to Charlotte.

I’m conscious of this trait, so I don’t even utter the word “perfect.” I encourage her to just have fun. I am incredibly aware of this thing that I have — this drive for perfection — and how much it holds me back, so I am careful about everything I say to my kids in this regard.

Now that I’m learning more about genetics, I’m convinced that I’ve passed my traits down to Charlotte without even intending to. I think she got the perfection gene.

On the long drive back to our house, I tried to reiterate to Charlotte that she should just have fun and put in hard work and not worry about being perfect because, frankly, there is no such thing! I told her that it’s also ok not to be the best at everything. I was very proud of my speech! Life lesson #375 in the books!

Then she said, “Mom, have you ever not been the best at something?”

ARG ARG ARG. And, now, we turn it around on me.

I have such a hard time admitting the times when I’ve failed. These are certainly not my proudest moments.

But my pint-sized professor wanted an answer.

So I responded, “Sure, it’s happened a lot.”

“Can you give me an example?” came the voice from the back.

ARG. ARG. ARG.

Swallowing my pride, I cheerily said, “Of course! Let’s see…there was the time that I didn’t make the All State Band. That really hurt. But I also realized it was because I didn’t practice my scales.”

Phew. It was good to get that off my chest. And now we could move on to —

“Mom,” came the voice from the back. “Can you give me another example of a time you weren’t the best?”

I took a deep breath and put on a smile. “Sure! There was the time that I got a bad grade on an essay, and I was disappointed because I worked really hard on it.”

Ok, now for another topic —

“Mom…can you give me another example of a time you weren’t the best?”

My ego was officially crushed. For the hour long ride, I had to come up with every example I could think of. Charlotte wanted it all. A perfectionist doesn’t like to admit defeat, and I had to spell out all of the failings I could remember — in excruciating detail.

When we arrived back home, I thought about paying her for the therapy session. A teacher and a therapist in the same package!

Charlotte doesn’t just want to hear the talk. She wants me to walk the walk. If I tell her to just have fun and not worry about being the best, it’s meaningless. I have to show her how I’ve done it in my own life. And, gosh, I’m still working on that one.

What I love is that she’s the teacher as much as she’s the student. Her beautifully probing, curious questions get right to the core of who I am. And, for my pint-sized professor, I’ll do anything.

Gratitude

Gratitude

I have a confession. I can be kind of a complainer.

You probably wouldn’t know it from reading this blog because:

(1) I’m not really focusing on the trivial things about my life. I’m not going to put my to-do list on here, though I would really like for everyone to help me tackle it collectively! 😉

(2) Most of my complaints come when I’m talking. When I sit down to write, I’m able to hone in on the positive.

(3) I am constantly striving to be optimistic. It’s a personal goal of mine. So I’m trying to put the good energy out there!

But, really, I can be kind of a complainer. It’s a quality that I very much dislike about myself and one that I’m trying to change.

So I am proud of a huge stride I made in that direction yesterday!

Yesterday was my 35th birthday. I’m a big, big birthday person. I’ve always enjoyed my birthdays. That has changed slightly as I’ve gotten older and found a few grey hairs but, for the most part, bring on the presents and the cake!

But yesterday didn’t feel much like a birthday — at first. Earlier in the week, Emmy and I traveled to Kentucky to meet with a wonderful team of Williams syndrome researchers, and yesterday was our flight home. Due to bad weather, we ended up getting stranded for 6 hours in our connecting airport, Charlotte (coincidentally, also the name of my older daughter!). This wasn’t just any 6 hours, but the 6 hours around dinner and sleep time. Yikes.

It had been a long trip, and I was exhausted. Not Emmy though! She wanted to run. The airport was packed with people waiting for delayed flights, and Emmy got her exercise running in and out of people and their luggage (with me trailing behind calling “Emmy! Emmy!”). This kid was having so much fun. If someone dared look her way, she would flash a huge smile, turn on her heel, and keep running. In the middle of the running, she would check back in with me for her supply of crackers to keep her going.

It occurred to me that chasing my kid through a busy airport for hours was not how I imagined spending my 35th birthday. It also occurred to me that this is the same kid that had heart surgery a couple months ago, and now her energy was limitless. When people remarked on how cute she was, I just wanted to grab them and say, “Let me tell you what she’s been through!”

When I managed to corral Emmy for 2 seconds, a fellow passenger came up to me and said, “They might cancel our flight altogether. They’re going to make the call at 9:00 pm.”

I stared at her blankly. I had already been at the airport for 6 hours, and this flight might still get canceled? I imagined finding a hotel room and then a taxi, all without our checked luggage and spare diapers. I imagined Emmy jumping on the hotel bed at midnight. I looked over at the flight board. Every flight going to our destination said “Cancelled” next to it. Except ours. Ours still said “Delayed.” There was literally a column of red “Cancelled”s and then our beautiful flight — a shining beacon of hope — that was still holding strong.

And 15 minutes later, they made the call that we were going to take off! I nearly hugged the person next to me. I was suddenly filled with so much gratitude.

We took off around 10:00 pm. Emmy curled up on my sweatshirt, and slept the whole flight. She’s actually quite good on planes. Whenever we board, people always look at me like, “You seriously brought a child on this flight?!” And then when we land, they give me big smiles and say, “She was so GOOD! So QUIET!” She knows how to make friends…

So Emmy slept, and I sat there thinking about my 35th birthday, which was nearly over. I could complain about everything under the sun. For sure, there was A LOT to complain about. I could go on for days.

Or I could switch my mindset to gratitude.

I could start with “thank you”s.

My daughter, who had heart surgery a few months ago, was just running around. Thank you. Furthermore, our flight was the only flight that wasn’t cancelled. Thank you. We were going home! I couldn’t wait to see my older daughter, Charlotte, and I also couldn’t wait to see my husband. Thank you.

I decided that I didn’t want to ruin my birthday with complaints. I wanted to enjoy it. So, while Emmy slept, and as I felt the plane hum under my feet, I kept running a list in my head of things to be thankful for.

I told myself: There are many reasons to want and many reasons to be unhappy. We can find them almost anywhere. Today, I choose to be thankful for what I have.

It was an important lesson for year 35.

And when I saw my sweet husband at the airport, with a big bunch of yellow roses, I was so thankful that he knows that birthdays are special to me too.

For all that I could possibly complain about, today is different. Today I choose to be thankful.

When You Really, Really, Really Need a Vacation

Vacation1

I remember saying, “I really need a vacation” at various points in my life. This year, I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY needed a vacation. As in — not optional. As in — about to lose my marbles.

We’ve been going nonstop for so long now. We’ve just been pushing through. We found out tough pieces of news and dealt with surreal circumstances (like heart surgery). And with every hit, we would just keep trudging on forward. When you’re a parent, you don’t have the option, right? You can’t just hit the “pause” button. You have to deal with every single card you are dealt — at that exact moment. I so badly wanted to push “pause,” but I had no other choice.

Though, the whole time, I had my eye on the prize.

Vacation.

A friend sent me this funny article about vacationing with kids: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-wiens/with-little-kids-you-take-trips-not-vacations_b_3787677.html

It’s really true. Vacationing with kids is nothing like that easy breezy trip to Aruba that you took a long, long time ago. We’ve taken a few trips with the kids, and usually I’m most relaxed when I return back home.

Not this time.

I don’t know if it was the lack of TV’s, the disappearance of a certain “to-do” list, the kids always having cousins to play with, or the amazing knock-you-over ocean waves. IT WAS WONDERFUL. All of it.

And then I came home. And there was my “to-do” list, on my desk, staring me right in the face. Ugh.

I need to find out how to get that vacation feeling every day. Even if I can just capture it for 5 minutes. Ok, I’ll take 5 seconds! I just want to bottle that feeling and pull it out once a day. Because I’ve discovered this: I really, really, really need another vacation. 🙂

Vacation2

The Secret I Didn’t Know I Was Keeping

Secret

I talk openly about Emmy having Williams syndrome. I don’t tell every stranger I meet but, if it comes up, I’m ok with sharing our experience.

When we first found out about Williams syndrome, when Emmy was 5 weeks old, we were advised not to publicize it just yet. A doctor told us that not everybody would understand what the diagnosis meant, and she wanted people to get to know our family before labeling us as “the others.” As time has gone on, and especially as I’ve gotten incredible support from those around me, I’ve felt much more comfortable sharing our story. I know that some people keep quiet about a diagnosis because they don’t like that their child has a label. But I believe Emmy is much more than a label. If I believe that, and I project it, then I’m hoping others will see Emmy in the same light–as a whole person.

But, in my openness, there was still one person left to tell…

Charlotte is 4 years old, and I was waiting until she was 6 to sit her down and tell her a story that another mom relayed to me. She told the same story to her 6 year old daughter about her son, who has Williams syndrome:

If we look at ourselves as a book, we might be composed of chapters from 1-23. Well, some people are missing a couple pages from chapter 7. (Williams syndrome is caused by a deletion of a region on chromosome 7.) The book is still complete. You can understand the entire story as a whole. But, because there are a couple pages missing, there are some differences from a person whose book isn’t missing a couple pages…

I had it all mapped out. I just needed to wait another 2 years for her to really get it.

While I was waiting, I realized that I couldn’t explain things to Charlotte fully. I couldn’t really explain why we have therapists coming to the house to work with Emmy. I couldn’t really explain why I take trips to Kentucky with Emmy to see a special team of researchers. I couldn’t really explain why she had a “boo-boo on her heart.” I couldn’t really say why we were doing walks with hundreds of people to raise awareness. Sure, I was coming up with decent explanations, but they weren’t getting to the real, core issue.

I longed to tell Charlotte that Emmy has Williams syndrome, but I didn’t know if she was ready. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was ready. I was worried that Charlotte would see her sister differently, and that thought terrified me.

I posed a question to our trusty Williams syndrome community. Was Charlotte too young? And, moreover, how do I even tell her? I knew the book/chapter analogy wouldn’t make sense for her age.

As always, I got lots of great advice. Most importantly, when telling Charlotte, I had to keep it simple and general. Only give her as much information as she needs. She will ask for more when she’s ready.

So, while we were having a nice, relaxing dinner, I exhaled and said, “Charlotte, have you ever heard the words ‘Williams syndrome’ before?”

She shook her head and said, “No. What’s that?”

I was really surprised! I thought, for sure, she had heard us say it. Though, usually, Dan and I say “WS” because it’s shorter.

And here is where my story falters… Because as confident as I felt 2 minutes prior, as much as I thought I was ready to tell her, I doubted my ability to deliver the message correctly. Whoopsie! I dug my hole and couldn’t get out. I gulped and looked over at Dan, raising my eyebrows helplessly.

He came to the rescue and explained that Emmy was born with something called Williams syndrome, and that means that she will do things differently. And that’s why she had heart surgery. And that’s why Mommy takes her to Kentucky. And that’s why teachers come to the house to help her practice going up and down the stairs. He finished with, “But we’re all different. So that’s ok. Everyone is different.”

Charlotte thought about it a second and then offered, “Just like Emmy has straight hair and I have curly hair?”

“Right,” Dan replied.

This launched Charlotte into a 10 minute discussion about her hair versus Emmy’s hair, which made me realize just how precious a 4 year old mind is.

Then the discussion tapered off. And, suddenly, I felt lighter. I didn’t even realize that I had been clinging so tightly to this secret that it was pulling me down. I hadn’t even considered it a secret. I just thought Charlotte wasn’t ready. But, in keeping it quiet, I felt like I wasn’t including her in our lives. Everyone else knew but Charlotte. I didn’t realize that the weight of her not knowing was affecting me so deeply. So I got up from the dinner table and, in doing so, I left that heavy anchor behind.

These Are The Shoes

Shoes1

These are the shoes that I first picked out for my baby girl, Emmy. I was so excited to have another baby and couldn’t wait to put her sweet little toes into these cute shoes. I pictured her walking around the playground, climbing up the steps to the slide, with these precious flowered shoes on her feet. I bought these shoes and put them in her drawer, waiting to embrace the day she took her first steps.

Well, she never wore them. They are still brand new.

Shoes2

THESE were her first shoes. I’m not joking. A far cry from cute, eh?

Our first Physical Therapist (who was wonderful) determined that Emmy has low muscle tone and needed a more supportive shoe. She asked me to find some shoes at a thrift store which she was going to cut up (gulp). I scoured a thrift shop, using her specific instructions, and presented her with the cutest pink shoes I could find that still met her criteria. I was hanging onto the notion that Emmy’s first shoes would be sweet and girly. That’s when our Physical Therapist grabbed a scissor and started hacking away. She cut off the fronts of the shoes and then sewed on black straps, which were intended to hold Emmy’s foot tightly in place. She then glued padding to the inside.

Emmy wore those shoes for about a month, and I grimaced every time I saw them. I longed for the first pair that I picked out that were still sitting in her drawer, brand new.

Shoes3

These are the shoes that Emmy wore after the frightful pair. She needed more support on the side of her foot, so we graduated to these white shoes. They say “My Baptism” on the side. I think most children wear their baptism shoes only once, but Emmy wore hers for months, which made people chuckle.

I had a woman stop me in a store, point to Emmy’s shoes, and say, “Oh, I remember when we all had to wear those ugly first walkers!”

What she probably didn’t realize is that nobody wears ugly first walkers anymore. Most baby shoes are blinged out. She didn’t realize that I didn’t have a choice in the matter, and there were very cute shoes sitting at home in a drawer, brand new.

The next step was to move Emmy into orthotics, which are braces that go inside shoes to help stabilize the foot. When this idea was first brought up to me, I thought, “NO WAY.” I pictured unsightly braces up to her knee. In fact, one of our therapists has a brother who wore clunky metal orthotics when he was younger.

But it isn’t about me. It’s about what’s best for Emmy. So we got her fitted for orthotics, which are much prettier and smaller than I imagined. You can barely tell that she’s wearing them, and she’s very comfortable in them.

Shoes4

These are the first shoes Emmy wore with her orthotics. She loved to pull open the velcro strap on the top.

And, in the end, she didn’t care what her shoes looked like. She just liked walking around; getting into everything. Through all of the shoe changes, she didn’t blink once. She just wanted to get up and go.

She has no idea that I still look at those first pair of shoes and feel a pang of regret, a pang that she didn’t get to experience her first years as typical children do. Or maybe it’s my own experience I’m thinking about–the regret that I didn’t get to put those cute shoes on my baby when I really, really, wanted to.

Sometimes things turn out differently than we planned. I’m a VERY (read: obsessively) good planner, so that’s been a challenge. But what hasn’t been a challenge is looking over at Emmy’s bright, smiling face and knowing that we’re doing what’s best for her. Right now, she doesn’t need cute shoes. She needs support.