School

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School is hard. We’re about halfway through the year in Kindergarten, and it’s tough. I knew it was going to be difficult. I heard many of the older kids at past Williams Syndrome Conventions saying they hated school. That always broke my heart because of the way in which they said it. Sure, everyone “hates” school. Every kid would much prefer to stay home and watch tv all day. But these kids hated it because of how hard it was for them — and sometimes because of how their teachers reacted to them. They didn’t necessarily want to sit home and watch tv all day. They just wanted to be able to do their schoolwork without a major struggle.

When you perceive things differently because of your genetic makeup, schoolwork is a struggle.

We have a couple challenges on our plate right now. The first is the visuo-spatial difficulties that we’d always heard about regarding Williams syndrome. This blog, written by a Williams syndrome mom and Science teacher, explains it nicely: http://understandingwilliamssyndrome.blogspot.com/2012/04/visuo-spatial-difficulties-and-how-they.html

We’ve seen Emmy struggle in the past with visuo-spatial relationships. But now that she has to put pencil to paper every day, I see how difficult it is for her to even write her name. Imagine if you practiced writing your name every day for a year, and it was still difficult for you. Imagine if you were asked to write “E,” “M,” “M,” “Y” on a lined sheet of paper, and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t write those darn letters on those lines. For an “E,” you have to first start with a straight line down, and that is often a wobbly line, but it’s getting better. Now, you have to do those three little lines to finish your “E,” and it’s absolute torture. You can’t get the small lines to follow the lines of the paper. In Kindergarten, those are called the sky line, the plane line, and the grass line. You have to draw your three little lines exactly ON the sky line, plane line, and grass line. Yours are often above or below, and you spend a long time trying to fix that. Now that’s just the “E.” That takes a good five minutes to work through, and it still isn’t properly lined up. On to the “M” and so forth…

Now imagine that this skill comes easily to all the other kids, and they’re flying through name writing and onto sentence writing and onto story writing…and you’re still back trying to get that darn “E” on the page.

So our second challenge is the pace of the work. The other kids are easily off to the races but, because of Emmy’s challenges it takes us a long time to do the tasks that take other kids two minutes. So homework usually takes over an hour and a half, and that’s after a full school day.

At the last Williams Syndrome Convention, we had an awesome keynote speaker named Paul Daugherty. He is the father of a young woman with Down syndrome, and he wrote a fantastic memoir called An Uncomplicated Life. I both laughed and cried through the whole book. My favorite chapter is called “Homework.” It’s the most simple chapter title, and it sounds like it would be the most boring read. It is unbelievably beautiful. He writes about the homework struggle, and how it affected both him and his daughter, Jillian. Their relationship could be mirrored by homework. He would go bonkers with frustration at 11:00 pm at night when they were still working on spelling the same one word that they had been working on for hours. And she would keep her positive spirit and persist, even though it was tough for her.

I read that chapter over the summer before Emmy started Kindergarten. In a way, I am living it now. I’m not going bonkers at 11:00 pm, thank goodness! Hopefully that won’t start until the high school years. But I am aware of the fact that we drill the same sight words every night, and even though Emmy seems to know the word “the” on Monday, she won’t know it on Tuesday.

But like Jillian, Emmy’s positive persistence is a beautiful thing. She sits down at the kitchen table every day with me and does her homework with no complaints. None. She  just smiles her way through it even though it’s so freaking hard for her. I see her fingers struggling to write those lines. I see her steadfast concentration when she stares at the sight words. And I know that none of this is easy.

It’s amazing that Emmy is willing to try and that she’s persistent. If this were me, struggling to write my name on the lines after a year of trying, I might have broken my pencil in half and said, “You know what? SCREW THIS!”

Not Emmy. She smiles and often cheers herself on. When she claims a tiny accomplishment, she’ll say, “I did it!” And if I try to gently feed her a sight word, she’ll say, “I can do it myself.” If she gets a sight word right, she shrieks for joy and hugs me tightly around my neck.

We have other challenges too. Math is a doozy… Yikes. Math makes me want to pull the covers over my head and go back to bed. I have my own issues with math, so I’m having a hard time teaching math to someone who also struggles with number sense — but in different ways. Emmy doesn’t see what I see when I place counting bears on a table. I can figure out how to help her with writing and reading, but I still don’t have my math strategy down. I have to ponder that one.

But we do have some major accomplishments too! Emmy is reading! She’s really impressed me with her reading skills, and I’m seeing a lot of nice gains in that area.

And even though I’ve highlighted some challenges, Emmy has progressed tremendously since the beginning of the year. She is making huge, huge strides, albeit at a slower pace than the other kids in the class. But the progress is very much there.

So the last challenge falls on me, her mom. I have to keep my patience and a positive attitude. I am actually a pretty patient person, which is helpful. I try not to lose my cool too often. But positivity isn’t necessarily my strong suit. I can get discouraged. I can see the huge mountain ahead instead of the little, AWESOME gains we’ve already made. I can get into a spin cycle in my head about what my dreams and goals are for Emmy and whether we’re on track.

I really don’t want her to hate school. I’m wondering if there are any older kids with Williams syndrome who like school?? I’m hoping so? I’m trying my hardest not to put too much pressure on Emmy so that it makes her hate school, while also balancing the need for her to still do the work and make progress. That’s a tricky balancing act. I’m working on it!

Ok, now for some other updates. Thank you for all your support during Theo’s hospital stay a while back. I think we have FINALLY figured out what is going on with him. He has enlarged adenoids and tonsils. He also possibly has asthma, though he’s too young for that diagnosis yet. For now, he’s on medicine that shrinks his adenoids, and he has been doing MUCH better. He has much less drooling and much less mucus in his throat. He’s like a different kid. But he’s a boy, so he still runs around like a maniac. 🙂

And Charlotte is doing great. She loves school, sports, dance, and especially art. She’s a sweet kid and a very helpful big sister.

So here we are! (Well, except for me because I’m always behind the camera.) Happy January!

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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.

Here We Go

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I’ve been wanting to post about this for a while, but I’m so stinking depressed about it that it’s hard to find the words. I also have been trying, unsuccessfully, to put it out of my mind and not obsess. (But I’ve been obsessing.)

It looks like Theo will have to go to the hospital for a bronchoscopy on November 10. When Theo was about 5 months old, I noticed a wheezing sound when he breathes. At the time, it was diagnosed as laryngomalacia, which is basically a floppy larynx and no big deal. It happens to some kids and, as they get older, the problem resolves itself. Sure enough, when Theo was about 8 months old, it seemed to go away. I didn’t hear the wheezing anymore, and the doctor confirmed that it had resolved.

Then this past August, when he was 14 months old, he developed a much different sound when he breathes. It’s quite loud, and it sounds like he has mucus in his throat — like a gurgling or purring. At first, we weren’t worried. We figured it was a cold. Then it didn’t go away. And it got louder. We’ve seen several Ear, Nose, and Throat doctors. We treated him for allergies (both seasonal and food), asthma, and reflux. None of those treatments had any impact on the sound. Plus, one of the treatments involved medicine that seemed to make everything worse. He had so much mucus and saliva in his mouth that he couldn’t even swallow.

So here we are. Theo is 16 months old, and the sound is as loud as ever. Furthermore, he has started occasionally choking on his food and, when he coughs, it sounds as though he’s fighting a lot of mucus. (Although this mucus has never come up.) But the Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor confirmed it was there by looking down his throat.

Well, now the ENT has to look further to get to the root of the problem, and the only way he can do that is through a bronchoscopy, which means we have to take Theo to the hospital and put him to sleep with anesthesia. Which reminds me of the last time we put one of our children to sleep with anesthesia, and all hell broke loose. (I can’t even bear to go back and look at the posts right now to link to them. But, in May 2013, Emmy had heart surgery and went into cardiac arrest afterwards.)

I’ve been trying to avoid the bronchoscopy. I’ve been trying so hard to solve this problem without any invasive procedures. But it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. My amateurish investigative work isn’t getting us anywhere.

The two prevailing theories right now are that (1) Theo might have scarring in his throat or a narrowing in his airway from when he was intubated in the NICU (2) Theo may have a congenital anomaly called a “vascular ring.” Both are pretty hardcore.

Keep in mind that Theo seems fine. He’s growing nicely. He’s talking and laughing and dancing and having fun. He has all the energy in the world, and he actually doesn’t seem at all bothered by this throat issue. Even when he chokes or coughs, he just keeps going. (The rest of us practically have a heart attack every time…)

So what can I say? It stinks. I’m trying my darndest to be positive. But it stinks. And I’m super bummed that we have to go down this road. I just want everything to be all sunshine and roses all the time, you know?? Especially when it comes to my kids.

Well, our pre-op appointment is on November 3.

So here we go…

The Time That I Freaked Out

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It’s very bizarre to fill out medical paperwork on behalf of Emmy. Since we moved a couple months ago, we’ve entered a new school system, and we’ve had to find new doctors and dentists. We’ve also signed up for extracurricular activities, like gymnastics. This all comes with a lot of paperwork…and a lot of questions.

First, the questions ask for me to go through her health history. Gosh, this is still tough for me. I have trouble rehashing her heart surgery in 2013 followed by 2 cardiac arrests and a week on life support. She also has a lasting problem from that event, which makes me sad to think about. And then, of course, there’s the fact that she has a genetic condition. And, while I’ve completely accepted and embraced the fact that she has Williams syndrome, sometimes just thinking about that first year can bring back memories of complete uncertainty, confusion, stress, and exhaustion. Trying to grasp what Williams syndrome meant for our child along with setting up doctors’ appointments alongside Early Intervention services was just EXHAUSTING.

Next, after filling out her health history, I’ll no doubt see the following question which is phrased in many ways but most commonly: “Is your child healthy?”

I don’t even know how to answer this question. I mean, yes, Emmy has both Williams syndrome and a lasting issue from her cardiac arrests. But she certainly SEEMS healthy. She smiles a lot, runs around all day, expresses her MANY opinions loudly, and pushes herself in everything she does.

I don’t even know how to define “healthy” when it comes to Emmy. On a day to day basis, she seems healthy to me, even after everything we’ve been through.

Then we’ll have moments that will make me positively freak out.

A few days ago, Emmy ate some mango (her favorite food). Then a couple hours later, she said, “Mommy, I need some help.” I looked over, and she was practically green. She then threw up twice.

And I got nervous. I’ll tell you why… When we were in the hospital after her heart surgery, one of the nurses told me that when something is wrong with the heart, it often presents itself in the stomach first. So vomiting could be a sign of a heart problem.

I tried to put that thought out of my mind and deal with Emmy’s situation as if it were just a stomach bug. I did all the usual things that I do with stomach bugs–cleaned her up, gave her some water; tucked her in bed for a bit. But she wouldn’t settle. I brought her downstairs and sat with her on my lap, as she clung to me. She was acting differently. She could barely sit up. She kept saying, “Mommy, I’m scared.”

All this after throwing up only twice??

She seemed to be getting worse quickly. She was practically limp in my arms, and then her eyes rolled back for a second.

And that was it. My mind took off racing. What if it is her heart? That was all I needed. Without another thought, I grabbed my purse and put her in the car. She didn’t even have shoes on! I ran back in to get her shoes and then hopped behind the driver’s seat. I turned around to look at her again. Am I overreacting??

“Emmy, are you ok? Should I take you to the hospital, or do you want to go back inside?”

She said weakly, “I want to go to hospital.”

Done. I frantically drove to the hospital, peeking back to check on her along the way. She looked like she was going to pass out. Her eyes were closing, and her head was hanging down. I tried talking to her, but she would only answer in a slight whisper.

“YOU OK, EMMY?? ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT YOUR BIRTHDAY COMING UP???” I was trying to get her interested in something–anything!

When we got to the ER, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. At last, we were safe. Someone was going to help us.

I practically ran her inside, and rattled off her health history. Emmy seemed to perk up when she noticed the tvs. And then she perked up even more when they brought her some Batman stickers. And then she REALLY perked up when they brought her an ice pop.

And all of a sudden, the child who completely scared the heck out of me an hour prior was sitting up in the hospital bed, happily watching Monsters Inc., eating her ice pop, and chatting up the hospital staff. She looked great. And then the attention started to turn to mom…

“So, mom, did you call the pediatrician?”

Nooooo.

“You didn’t call the pediatrician?”

Noooooooooooo. Honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind to call the pediatrician. After what we’ve been through medically with Emmy, I didn’t want to waste a precious second. In the past, I’ve seen her situation change in, literally, a heartbeat. She’s gone from “ok” to “clinging to life” in the space of a few seconds. The doctors will remind me that it was different back then. She was post-surgery. That was 2 whole years ago. But after living through that…after witnessing what happened to her…I can’t just forget. When I see her start to fade on me, my mind goes back there in a split second, and I freak out.

I think the staff in the ER thought I was a little bonkers. My child threw up twice, and I brought her to the ER. That’s all it takes, apparently, for Mom to freak out. I was told that she’s a healthy child, and I should treat her just like any other. And if she vomits, I shouldn’t worry about her heart.

So it seems the answer is, yes, she’s healthy.

But, seriously, telling me not to worry is like telling someone else to stop breathing. Worrying is what I DO. And I’m quite good at it! I’ve actually perfected it, thank you very much. 🙂

But here’s the deal… I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if there were something seriously wrong with Emmy and I brushed it off as nothing. When I feel like she’s giving me signs, it’s impossible to ignore them. I’ve witnessed things changing in an instant. I know the circumstances were different, and that was all 2 years ago. I know she was post-surgery. But after living through that, I can’t forget it.

So, yes, we may be back to the ER one day, and Emmy may get a repeat of Monsters Inc. and an ice pop. But next time, I’ll call our pediatrician on the way over…

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? 🙂

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. 🙂

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Blog Hop: My Writing Process

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I was in the middle of this post two weeks ago when I unexpectedly dashed to the hospital to have a baby–who is doing great, by the way! Gosh, he certainly gave us quite a scare.

So let’s try this again…

I’m happy to take part in the “My Writing Process” Blog Hop this week. I was invited by Amy Reade, which is one of the best names I’ve ever heard for a writer!

Amy’s blog, called Reade and Write (again, love the title), can be found at http://amreade.wordpress.com. Her first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, will be published in July 2014, and she has two more novels on the way. One of the things I like best about Amy’s writing is something that she mentions on her own Blog Hop: “My books have a strong sense of place, so hopefully my readers will want to visit the places I write about.” She does a lovely job of painting a picture for the readers, and I definitely find myself wanting to take a trip to the places she describes.

For this Blog Hop, I’ll answer a few questions about my writing process and then introduce you to three other writers, who will pass the Blog Hop along next Monday.

The questions:

1. What am I working on?

I’m working on a memoir about my first few years as a mom to a daughter with special needs. And I just helped edit a fantastic anthology written by parents, family, and friends of people who have Williams syndrome. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon. And here’s a link to the book on the Williams Syndrome Association’s online store. The book is inspiring, heart-warming, funny, and informative. I think that everyone will enjoy reading this book, whether his/her child has Williams syndrome or not. But I also think it will be especially helpful to those parents whose children are newly diagnosed. It gives you a glimpse into possibilities for the future and also makes it clear that you are not on this road alone. I’ve known about Emmy’s diagnosis for almost three years, and I still learned a lot from the stories in this book. I highly recommend reading it!

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My writing falls into the category of memoir/personal essay. I’ve actually been writing memoir for a really long time–well before I had children. For some reason, I can be brutally honest in my writing, something that can be more difficult for me in conversation because I’m kind of shy. But when I write, it’s all out there on the page. Likewise, my favorite memoirs are the unflinchingly honest ones. (And I read A LOT of memoirs.) I don’t respond to a book as much when I can tell that someone is hiding behind his/her words.

3. Why do I write what I do?

If I don’t write about my experiences, they sit beneath the surface of my skin and drive me bonkers. I’ve always felt compelled to just get it out. And, perhaps more importantly, I like that my personal writing builds a connection to others and sometimes offers them advice, comfort, and support.

4. How does my writing process work?

Wellllll, I commit to turning in a draft of a chapter. I put it on my calendar and stare at the date for a while. I procrastinate on the actual writing for a long time, while still obsessively thinking about the chapter topic–turning it over and over in my mind. And then, FINALLY, I find a couple hours before the deadline and pound it out. Very healthy process. 🙂

And now I’m sending the Blog Hop along to these talented writers:

  • Eva Lesko Natiello is a native New Yorker who wrote her debut domestic thriller, THE MEMORY BOX, as a result of relocating to the New Jersey suburbs with her husband and two children. THE MEMORY BOX is a Houston Writers Guild 2014 Manuscript award winner; it will be released June 2014. Eva is a self-proclaimed curious observationist whose oddball musings can be read on evanatiello.com. She improvs songs as a way to dialogue with her kids. They find it infrequently entertaining. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  
  • Lillian Duggan is a creative writer, mom, wife, wannabe world traveler, and freelance editorial professional and translator. Her short story, “The Orchid,” was published by www.everydayfiction.com in August of 2013. She’s currently working (slowly…) on her first novel. On her blog, My Ideal World, she writes about her efforts to achieve her goals and make her dreams come true one step at a time while raising two children (www.myidealworldblog.com).
  • Rosanne Kurstedt has a Ph.D. in education, teaches at Fordham University and William Patterson University, and is the author of And I Thought About You (illustrated by Lisa Carletta-Vietes), an honorable mention recipient at the New England Book Festival, New York Book Festival, and Paris Book Festival. She was also the recipient of a 2013 Barbara Karlin Grant Letter of Commendation. In addition, Rosanne writes professional books for teachers, including Teaching Writing With Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000). You can visit Rosanne at her website, at her blog, Kaleidoscope, on Facebook, and on Twitter too! @rlkurstedt

And here’s Theo…awww…

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To the Newly Diagnosed

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A couple people whose newborn babies were just diagnosed with Williams syndrome contacted me over the past few days. They found my blog and were comforted by the cute pictures and stories about Emmy, who has brought such incredible joy to our lives.

When you first find out that your newborn baby has any kind of syndrome, it can be a devastating time. You were expecting the experience that you so carefully planned out in your mind (What to Expect When You’re Expecting, anyone?? That book certainly doesn’t talk about Williams syndrome!). And then you find out that the little person you just gave birth to had a secret when he/she was in your belly–and you had no idea. You Google the syndrome and find information that frightens you. There may be serious medical complications, and there will surely be learning disabilities. How could this little baby that you don’t even know yet come with a laundry list of possible problems? It’s the biggest shock of your life, and you’re not even sure where to begin.

And here is where the wedge comes in. A barrier sinks down in between you and your baby, and it’s completely out of your control. You want so badly to lift that barrier. You want to stop the rush of feelings that come at you every day (sadness, guilt, anger, confusion). You want SO BADLY to accept this baby. You want to just “get over” what you’re feeling. What can’t I stop thinking about this syndrome? And then you wonder…When will it get better? When will I stop feeling like an awful person and begin to embrace this diagnosis and accept my own child?

I think we’re expecting a lot from ourselves. We had a certain vision in our mind. That vision was completely turned upside down, and we expect ourselves to just “get over it.” There’s actually a grieving process that needs to happen. You need to grieve the loss of your original vision–the perfect plan that you had in your head. You need to allow yourself to feel every single feeling that comes your way–without passing judgment on yourself.

And then, with time, that barrier will start to lift. You feel yourself getting drawn into your child. You stop thinking about Williams syndrome as much. You start to really fall in love with who your child is becoming. Those old visions that you once had are now replaced by new visions and plans. You get excited at your child’s potential. You see your child blossom into a sweet, loving person, and you can’t believe your luck. You were given this incredible child. You were given this opportunity to stand side-by-side with your child and watch him or her do amazing things. You were brought into a special world that not everyone gets to see.

For me, it was Emmy’s personality that changed everything. Early on, I read that people with Williams syndrome have “a very endearing personality.” They have big smiles and are overly friendly. I clung to those words as if they were my life raft. Everything else I read seemed scary. But “endearing personality” and “friendly” were music to my ears. Please let this be true, I thought.

And then Emmy cried and screamed for 6 long months, and I thought “Well, I guess this isn’t going to be true in our case! There goes that life raft!”

And then came the big smile that turned my world upside down. HOW I LOVE THAT SMILE!!! That was a Williams syndrome smile, and it was big and beautiful and bright. It was a glimpse into her personality.

The next thing to emerge was the friendliness. We’d be sitting at a restaurant chatting away, and then someone at a nearby table would squeal with delight. I’d look over, and a woman would be waving to Emmy and saying to a friend, “She’s so cute!!” I’d look at Emmy, who was happily waving back and grinning.

The thing is that she knows she’s cute. She knows exactly how to draw you in. First it’s the smile, then it’s the narrowing of her eyes and the tilt of her head, and now it’s followed by a phrase. She might say, “Hi. How you doing?” or she’ll call out, “Hi, kids!” or she’ll even blow you a kiss. I mean, she KNOWS what she’s doing, folks. She KNOWS that smile is pure gold.

The other day we had an evaluation at a school with teachers that are unfamiliar to her. In no time, she was putting on a show of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” complete with smiles and hand movements. Anyone watching can’t help but say, “AWWWWW!”

She’s also very funny. If you ask her an obvious question (like “Is that a shoe?”), she’ll give you an exaggerated but joking “Noooooooo.” And then when you respond, “No? Are you sure??” She’ll say “Nooooooo” again, just to get you to laugh. She knows it’s a shoe, but she’s pulling your leg.

And she loves to chase her sister around the house while saying nonsense words like “Beebee beebee beebee.” Charlotte will run away from her laughing until, finally, both girls collapse in a giggling heap on the floor. It’s so much fun to watch.

So to the newly diagnosed I say: Wait.

It will take time to get to this point. And, in my experience, the first year is the hardest. So let yourself feel all of those feelings. Don’t pass judgement on yourself. Just really feel it. Get mad. Scream. Be upset. Say, “It isn’t fair!!”

And then, as the days, weeks, and months pass, things will change within you. You will connect with your child. You will fall in love with your child. You’ll be bragging about how wonderful he is. You’ll be glowing, fresh from the thrill of something new that she has done. And, even though you didn’t sign up to travel this road, it will feel as if this was meant to be–all along.