Down Syndrome, special needs blog, Uncategorized

Take The Five Second Challenge & Be The Change

‘Be The Change’  … Think about those three words for just a moment.

How can you actively “be the change” you want to see in the world?

For me, this is an easy answer.  As a mom to two amazing kiddos who rock an extra chromosome and who are 100% non verbal, I’d like to change the way the world too often views them.  Lumping the special needs community into a one size fits all category is dehumanizing.  Sounds a bit harsh, I know.  But it’s true.

“Down syndrome kids are always so happy.”

Is that so?  (cue rolling my eyes as far back in my head as is humanly possible).  Talk to me about how happy cutie pie is when I say no to that Oreo cookie.

“Down syndrome kids are so loving … they love everybody.”

Ummmm.  My two ragamuffins are completely nonverbal, yet they’ve figured out a way to constantly grunt, groan, and fuss at each other just like typical siblings … This is more like toleration, not love.  haha.

I hate to burst the bubble, but in my home, beyond the almond shaped eyes, small stature, and bright smiles are two individuals who have distinct personalities, temperaments, strengths, and weaknesses:

A diva who will size you up in a heartbeat, Hopey is fiercely independent and feisty:

Hopey Braids

Charlie, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different.  He’s a soft cuddle bug who’s a master charmer when it comes to getting his way:

Charlie Swing

Hopey is mischievous and funny,  while Charlie is a more go with the flow kinda dude.

Both will go outside to play for the same amount of time … Hope will come dragging herself in the house with skinned knees looking like she’s been wrestling a couple of hogs in a pile of mud while Charlie will look like he’s just bathed and is ready for Sunday School.

I foresee a day when people will automatically accept them and see them as individuals instead of brushing them with the broad stroke of Down syndrome.  When accepted as individuals, Hope and Charlie become human and worthy of identity and relationship.   Neither should be expected to fit into a once size fits all Down syndrome kids bucket.  You get the point.  Yes, both are kids who have Down syndrome … but more than anything else, they’re just regular kids.

be the change 3

I’ve immersed myself in the differently abled community.  It’s become my passion and my life.  In the process, I’ve made very real friendships with many adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Just like Hope and Charlie, each are unique in every sense of the word.  Through my own relationships and experiences with these amazing individuals , my desire has grown for others to see what I see.  All people, regardless of ability or disability, are much more alike than different.  Whether differently abled or not, for instance, we all love the anticipation that comes with Christmas Eve, how sand feels when squished between our toes, the view from a mountain peak, time spent around a campfire with friends, a sloppy kiss from the family dog, a new pair of jeans that fit just right, the crisp edges of a fresh baked brownie … am I right?

At the same time, though, we are all a bit different.  Some of us are born Chatty Cathy’s while others are excellent listeners.  Some of us are athletic while others are artistic.  Some of us have arms and legs … others were born without limbs.  Some of us have brown eyes, and some have blue.  Well … in the same way, some folks were born with an extra chromosome, while others weren’t.  It’s no big deal at all, because differences are never a bad thing.  They’re just a thing.  And those things that make us unique might actually be what make us most interesting.

I was given this shirt by Bee Attitudes , and was challenged to describe how I’m being the change I want to see in the world.  I’d honestly never thought about it before, but it makes perfect sense when you think about it.  If I want the world to treat Hope and Charlie with love, honor, acceptance, and respect, then I must treat the world, especially the differently abled world, with love, honor, acceptance, and respect.  Through my friendships with the differently abled community, I guess I’ve lived out the term ‘Be The Change’.  How I treat those individuals (since I pretty much adore them) is definitely how I want others to treat my two loves.

be the change 2

 

Here’s my 5 second challenge to you.  If an individual who is differently abled is placed in your path, no matter where you are … at church, a restaurant, a grocery store, or a ball game … introduce yourself.

“Hi, my name is Melanie, what’s your name?”

It’s that simple.

Then follow up with a warm smile and a handshake.

That simple act not only takes five seconds of time, but it validates that you see that person as an individual.  As human.  As equal to you.

I’d love to hear from you.  In the comments, tell me about how you are being the change you want to see in the world.

Remember this:  In the big picture, God never makes mistakes.  And when we choose love, we’re all The Change.

(With every purchase, Bee Attitudes gives back to charities who are making a change.  Be sure to click the link and check out their site!  This mustard colored shirt is one of the softest shirts I’ve ever worn.  The fabric is bouncy, so it hangs nicely.   Not to mention … what about that cute message?)

Just my thoughts,

~Mel

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christian blog, Down Syndrome, Fitness, get fit, Health blog, self care

How A Special Needs Mom Fought Loneliness With Three Easy Steps … and Won!

kuhl jacket 4

I’ve been a special needs mom to a princess who rocks an extra chromosome for more than 13 years, and thanks to the miracle of adoption and a red-headed cheese puff who also rocks that extra something, I’ve been a special needs mom to two kiddos for 10 years.  Both are non-verbal, and both are a handful of mischief, drama, and constant giggles.  Like typical siblings, they fuss with each other (which amounts to grunting back and forth for what seems like an eternity at times).  They take things from each other, occasionally pinch one another, and even manage to tell on each other.  Picture little man grabbing my hand and pulling me to his big sister, then bursting into tears … while at the same time, big sister rolls her eyes and looks away.  Yep.  She’s usually guilty.

hope and charlie with momma!

Neither can take care of any of their needs independently.  They rely on me completely.  I dress them, bathe them, feed them, put them to bed, and read their minds (at least I try).  I talk to them, filling in their quiet with my own version of what they’d probably like to say if they had a voice.  Hopey has a high cartoon voice when I speak for her.  She thinks it’s hilarious, especially when I roll my eyes, stomp my foot, and act like a true teenage girl.  For Charlie, I use a sweet baby voice … because he’ll always be the baby of the family.

We try to agree on music in the car.  If I choose a Luke Bryan or Bruno Mars song, we’re always good.  But when I step outside the box, they sometimes break down into sobs.  We try to agree on clothing choices, but they’ve been known to rip off their clothing just as I finished getting it on their wriggling bodies.  Charlie, for added affect, likes to throw his shirt across the room.  Uhhhhhm, I guess you don’t like the shirt choice, dude?  haha.  (Did I mention they are full-on drama?)  I can laugh about it now.  I mean, c’mon, it’s funny.

The stress level of a special needs mom has been likened to the stress level of a combat soldier.  I’m convinced it isn’t necessarily because the role is so difficult, but because special needs moms never feel like they’re doing enough for their kiddos.  We question ourselves constantly.  Have we provided enough opportunities?  Therapy?  Education?  Are we feeding them too much?  Are they exercising enough?  Did I remember to double lock the doors so she can’t escape during the night?  Is his sniffle worth a doctor’s appointment?  Or is the risk of him catching something worse too great for that appointment?  And don’t even get me started on how much we worry about our child’s future.  Honestly, our minds never shut off.

There was a time when I was so caught up in figuring out how to be a special needs mom that I forgot how to live.  Unintentionally, I closed doors on friends and family who’d been in my life for years, because I felt they couldn’t possibly understand my new normal.  One day, I awoke to an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and regret.  I’d been so laser focused on reaching my two kiddos, that in the process, I forgot that I needed a support system.  I felt lost.  I thought I was being the best mom in the world.  But you know what I realized?  If I lose myself, I’m not being the best mom I can be.  More than anything else, they need me to be me.

I’d like to say that with this realization came a sweeping life altering shift.  As with most change, however, it was slow and steady.  I began by hiring a trainer.  I felt if I committed to her and to a schedule, I’d stick with it.  As it turns out, she became my biggest cheerleader.  Not only did she daily encourage me to push through my workouts, as I got to know her, she slowly invaded all of my empty, hurting spaces.  She asked me questions about my life.  She listened.  And she reminded me that I’m enough and that God is always with me.  Last year, she challenged me to run a 5K.  I ended up running thirteen.  She’s been my trainer for four years now, and I count her as one of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life.  The gym quickly became my community as I met new people.  In the process, I became physically stronger.  The more fit I became, the happier I felt.  My energy increased as endorphins kicked into high gear, I went from a size 8 to a size 4, and then one day I realized I felt like myself again.  It had been years.

tonya and me --- hot chocolate race 2018

Around the same time, I decided to open my home once a month to a group of my best buddies for a pizza party and karaoke.  They are all so much fun, I knew they’d usher happiness right into my life on a regular basis.  And they never disappointed.  What I didn’t expect, though, was what a tremendous role their parents would play in my fight.  These selfless moms and dads would drop off or pick up their adult children, and instead of walking away, they’d hug me.  They’d look me in the eyes and thank me for hosting a party.  Sometimes they’d come into the house and chat with me.  They made an effort to get to know me and my children.  Welcoming me into their lives without any walls, prerequisites, or expectations, they made me feel like a part of their families.

halloween pizza party

And finally, I became intentional about hiring sitters so that I could get out and do regular things that other moms get to do.  I have to say, God really showed off in this area.  I was terribly slow to trust others with my munchkins, because remember, I never left them.  So it was going to take some super fantastic girls who had a true desire to spend time with Hope and Charlie before I’d be able to leave them.  He brought me Nancy, Dana, two Hannah’s, Kelsey, Katie, Bryn, Bethany, and Rikki.  I can’t say enough about these girls, who are my superheroes.  Each wear their love for my kiddos on their sleeve.  They’ve worked tirelessly to break into Hopey’s tiny circle, they’ve tried every trick in the book to get Charlie to eat solid food (at 10 years of age, he still has his food puree’d and put into a bottle), and they’ve recklessly embraced all of me.   Whenever I attempt to show them more love and appreciation, they immediately meet we with the same.  They’re like beautiful mirrors reflecting everything I have to give right back to me.   I treasure them.  In every way, they are the hands, feet, and heart of God.

hannah and bryn

Life is messy.  There are times when we wake up and wonder how things became so crazy.  Can you relate?  But my message is that it’s never too late to make changes.  Maybe you’ll be blessed by getting a chance at a re-do.  Or perhaps you’re like me, and you’ll have to start all over from scratch.  It doesn’t really matter as long as you dig your heels into the dirt and move forward with intention.  I began with three simple goals.

  1.  Exercise so I can be healthy enough to raise my kiddos
  2.  Open my home to others
  3.  Hire sitters so I can occasionally get out

I stuck with them, continued to move forward, and my life totally turned around.  Not only am I not lonely, my life is filled and overflowing.  If I can do it, so can you.  What are your three simple goals?  Write them down and make a decision to hold yourself to them.

Just my thoughts,

~Mel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disney Vacation, Down Syndrome, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World

The Day I Met A Hero On Rockin’ Rollin Coaster

hope disney

What mom in her right mind takes her two special needs kiddos to Walt Disney World during the Christmas holidays?  I mean, wait times are longer than the summer tent revival altar call … and people are more wound up than the church lady who received a dose of the Holy Spirit during that tent revival meeting.  But my kiddos are suckers for Goofy in a Santa suit, and I am too.  So off we went.

Due to the throngs of Disney fans (short for fanatics for a very good reason), the Disability Access system was on overload and crashed.  As a result, for two days in a row, in order to get the much needed paper version of the disability pass, Hopey and I stood in line at Guest Relations for forty-five minutes.  The sole intention of the pass, mind you, is to avoid long lines.  Go figure.

In typical Hopey fashion, as we waited our turn in the queue, she tried her darnedest to make friends with everyone around her the only way she knows how.  She hooked her hands into the pockets of the man in front of her and yanked hard … nearly pulled the man’s britches clear to his knees.  I honestly did get a shot of his white skivvies.  He turned around and glared at me as if I was supposed to know she was going to pants him.  He’d been defenseless, poor guy, but he wasn’t her only target.  She grabbed a boob or two, pinched a teenage boy so hard he yelped, turned flips over the queue line chains, and kissed about a half dozen strangers.  By the time we reached the counter on both days, the Disney attendant was very pleased to hand me a pass and scoot us out the door and on our way.

We rode Everest, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Slinky Dog Dash, Thunder Mountain Railroad, Test Track and Tower of Terror.  While Hopey enjoys Dumbo, Pooh, Small World, and the Peter Pan ride … she lives for the thrill rides.  Each line though, even with the Disability Access Pass, was terribly long.  And in each line, I worked as diligently to manage her as she worked to “make friends”.

By the time we hit Rockin’ Roller Coaster, I was exhausted.  She looked up at me with that mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and I begged her to just stand in line patiently like everyone else.  I would’ve had better luck getting an oak tree to dance the Vietnamese Waltz.  With a tummy full of Mickey Bars, the sugar high was real.

As we waited, Hopey couldn’t help but stretch her arms out and touch anyone she could reach.  Every fiber of her being longed to share her excitement with the people around her.  Her face beamed with the biggest smile.  I imagine she wanted to tell everyone how thrilled she was to be at the most magical place on earth, but with no words, the best she could do was to tap the person next to her, in front of her, and behind her.  “We’re all riding this together, and it’s gonna be awesome!” is what she wanted to say.  But to many people in the line, she was an aggravation.  Eyes rolled.  People turned their backs to her.  And some even shot me the angry eyes.

I apologized to several people, and I actually hate when I do that.  What’s there to apologize for?  My daughter is filled to the brim and overflowing with unbridled and uninhibited joy,  but she’s unable to verbalize what she’s feeling.  What else can she do but to try to pull those around her into her world.  “Look at me!  See?  I’m just as happy as you are to ride this ride!”  She speaks the only way she can … with facial expressions, actions, and behavior.

We eventually made our way into the holding room for the pre-show, the one where Steven Tyler gives all the Disney fans  fanatics backstage passes and a limo ride, and Hopey and I ended up in front of the room right next to the door.  But when the door opened up to allow guests to ride the ride, everyone pushed in front of her.  They acted like they didn’t see her and shoved right past her.  In response, I held her close to me and told her to hold on, that we’d wait and be the last in line.

And that’s when it happened.

This man suddenly appeared in front of us, and shouted:  “This is unbelievable!”  He then jumped in front of everyone who was moving forward ahead of us, threw his arms wide open, and continued:  “Everybody stop and let this young lady get out to the ride.  She’s at the front, you’re all cutting in front of her, and it’s rude!”

A young guy tried to dart around him, but he put his hand out in front of the guy.  “That’s not gonna happen!” he stated flatly.  “It’s this angel’s turn.”

And just like that, he’d made a way for us to go in.

You might not know this, but every special needs mom is given a sixth sense.  It comes with the territory and is a not so subtle bead on the heart of people toward the special needs community at large, but especially toward her own child who has special needs.  Within seconds of meeting someone, for instance, I can tell whether the person is accepting (or not) of my two children who sport an extra chromosome.  In the special needs world, people are either all in or all out.  There’s no middle ground.  Even family members and long time friends will sometimes drop out of your life and forget your kiddo.  Being a special needs mom … and being an individual who is differently abled … is not for the faint of heart.

There are those, however, who are all in, and let me tell you, those people glow with a brightness that outshines the sun on its best day.  They dig their heels in deep and embrace that you are the ringleader of a circus where your child is the clown, the juggler, the knife thrower, the trapeze artist, the escape artist, and sometimes the ferocious lion … all rolled up into one.  But mostly our kiddos are the cute clown, eager to be funny, to charm and to make others happy.  And oh, how those amazing saints love our little clowns.  They choose mercy, grace, love, and acceptance.  They laugh when they could judge.  They press in when they could pull away.  They choose to be there.  No excuses.  No matter what.

This complete stranger was one of them.  He was all in.

It’s in moments like that when I get an extraordinary glimpse behind the veil to see what God sees.  The best in humanity.   No one else in that line or in that holding room saw Hopey.  I mean, yes, they looked at her.  But they didn’t really SEE her.  This man, however, grinned when he saw her hands flapping with enthusiasm.  He allowed her to reach out and touch his arm, made eye contact with her, and spoke to her.  Then he took a giant leap further when he publicly acknowledged her and defended her.

But most important of all, the stranger ended up making a difference.

As we waited the last few minutes for the ride, several of the people who’d been in line with us, those who’d previously ignored Hope, smiled at her.  A couple of people asked me if she was excited.  One guy gave her a high five.  I’d like to think they finally saw what they’d missed before and wanted to make up for it.  It didn’t matter to Hopey.  She was happy to share in the excitement with whoever would allow it.

To the ordinary heroes who choose to “see” what others miss.  Thank you.

“A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.” — Zeus (Hercules)

hope and minnie mouse

Just my thoughts,

Mel