Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Don't Care How Smart My Kids Are

Confession: I don't care how smart my kids are. I don't care how fast they can run or how far they can throw a ball. I don't care how gorgeous or average-looking they are. I don't care if they can paint beautifully or if they sing and dance on Broadway someday. I don't care if they grow up to be doctors or landscapers (for the record...being a landscaper is an extremely honorable and amazing profession!)

What DO I care about?

I want my children to be kind.
The ability to affect the way someone else feels based on our actions or words is both a beautiful gift and a powerful weapon. It is up to us to choose. And to teach our children.

I don't know what the specifics will look like along the way. I don't know what every scenario will look like that we will face. I don't know what color each picture will be as it flashes by in our decision-making, but the one overriding thought that I want my children to process each scene with is "Be kind."

If I say this, how will this make the other person feel? If it was said to me, how would I feel? If I do this, will I be hurting them?
Addison really has no filter. She is going to learn from our behaviors and from her brothers' behaviors. If I practice and choose unkindness in front of her on a regular basis, she is going to grow up to be unkind.

If I expect people to treat Addison with kindness, then it is even MORE important that she learn to be kind. "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You." Is going to be an important part of her life.
We are having an issue right now with her pushing people. Usually people she likes. Usually at times she is trying to communicate either frustration or SOMETHING (we aren't sure yet). But it's not okay. It's not OK for Addison to push. Having Down syndrome is not an excuse to be unkind.

And so we consistently stay on top of her for this. We work to figure out WHY she is pushing and increase communication skills accordingly. And I blushingly apologize to fellow mothers "Hey, my sweet little girl pushed your awesome boy and he cried and just gently got back up and didn't try to retaliate at all. Thank you so much for teaching him to be kind to her. I am trying so hard to teach her to be kind back to him. Hang with us. We are are work in progress."
When Carter took Addison's pudding bowl and emptied it into his own, slyly pushing her empty bowl back by her plate, I made him switch the bowls. Suddenly he was the one with the empty bowl while she had double. Didn't feel so good reversed. All of a sudden he said it wasn't "kind that Addison took HIS pudding." Hmmmm.

When Carter stole 3 candybars from the grocery store (Yes...mother of the year right here!), after I made him take them back and apologize, I gave his favorite truck to Addison and his favorite hat to Eli.  He had to sit in-between them in the car while they enthusiastically played with his cherished items. He got a quick lesson on the unkindness of people taking things that weren't theirs to take.

When I see Carter do something to help Addison, my heart swells as though he just tested #1 in the rank of all 3 year olds. When he DOES choose kindness or point out the difference, I feel like we are getting somewhere. When Addison gently pats the baby on the head (instead of walloping him in the head), I praise her enthusiastically. KIND hands. GENTLE hands.

These things are very important.
In addition to being kind to others, I want my children to learn to be kind to themselves.

They are going to make mistakes. I make mistakes. All humans on this planet make mistakes. Learning to be kind to ourselves through our learning processes is a measure of respect that we can give ourselves. Beating ourselves up over senseless things just because WE ARE NOT PERFECT (gasp) is energy better spent somewhere else.

Do I say this because I am a kindness expert on all fronts? Not even a little bit. I say this because I am learning this the wretchedly hard way. And in learning, my heart sharpens in its desire to teach this to my children.

And so I navigate the murky waters of kindness, learning alongside of my kids. It is messy, sticky, and hard. It is awkward and humbling and difficult. But I stand by kindness.
I stare into the beautiful eyes of my children and want to reach into their souls and place kindness there. I remember "Be kind" in the way I treat them. And I apologize to them when I fail at this. I work to treat others kindly, remembering that they are watching the way I treat even the most random stranger while we are out and about. I teach them "BE KIND!" We practice with "kind hands". And we have consequences when we are not kind.

Certainly there are times that we need to deal with hard issues or to stand up for ourselves. But there is a kind, loving, and gracious way to do this. And an unkind way. It is our choice to choose what pattern of behavior we will trek down.

Carter has started to become very sensitive to this. Underneath that rough little boy exterior, he has quite the sensitive little soul. I find this to be beautiful, and I treat it delicately with all the love and kindness that I have to offer. A few months back when he was still napping in diapers, one day I forgot to switch him from underwear to diapers and put him in his room for his nap. He had a small accident and started crying for me. Running in, I saw the mess, and I apologized for forgetting his potty needs.

"Mommy." He sniffed. "That was not kind. That was not kind at all."
While I told him he was absolutely right and I was so sorry, my heart swelled with pride. He is getting it. Sort of. (-; He is sensitive to it, and that is the first step. He is understanding how he becomes sad when he is treated a certain way and then it becomes easy to turn it around and ask him how he's making other people feel when he acts a certain way toward them.

When I say, "Addison, are you ready for school?" She responds back "Obey. BE KIND!" I know this is just memorized for now...but we are seeing tiny, small steps of progress.

Be kind.

We don't have any answers, or foul proof methods of raising selfish children into kind adults. We are just taking it one day at a time here. One incident at a time. And learning of the selfishness that is still in our own hearts along the way...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Our Family Dialogue

Addison changes our family dialogue.

The thing that I love most about a good book is fast paced dialogue between characters who are remarkably different. There is the withdrawn, quiet young twenty-something, the outspoken mom of five, the peacemaker who spends her days in nature, and the stay-at-home dad who used to be in the Marines.

Each character brings with it a wealth of history and emotional memory. As these characters interact, personalities are shaped through simple sentences in response to someone else's sentences. Histories are brought to light. Opinions are unraveled. Their personhood is revealed for all the world to see.

As differences are mulled over, starkly contrasted through hilarious or probing dialogue, it makes a story that you can't tear your eyes away from. You KNOW these people. You need to know MORE about what they are going to do/say next. Words come out of the characters' mouths and you grin "that is SO April!" And by the end, you are aware in which the differences and shared experiences in the book subtly changed the perceptions of the characters as a whole.

This morning I was reading such a book, and I couldn't help but think what richness Addison has added into our family dialogue. You have the hard-working landscaper dad, the creative musing type mom, the impatient 3 year old ready to conquer the world, the quiet 1 year old who loves to give hugs and tease his siblings, and the 5 year old who brings new meaning to sassy sweetheart.
As individuals, we are a little boring and perhaps even horribly predictable. But added together as a group into our own family dialogue, we create a story worth reading. A story that wouldn't be the same without our sassy sweetheart. Her difference from the rest of us adds an extra layer of richness that is difficult to even describe.

Dad: "It's been a long day! Who wants to read a book?"
Mom: "Oh that's a great idea! I would love to read out loud some more of our chapter series."
Carter: "NO! I want to read the DIGGER BOOK!"
Eli: (steals the pile of books and runs off chortling
Addison: "Ice cream cone!"

Addison is rather one-track minded about 3 things: 1. Ice cream cones 2. Papa's House (where she usually gets an ice cream cone when we go there once a week) 3. T (who to my knowledge doesn't bribe with ice cream cones...but to the extent Addison learns from her I almost wouldn't care if she did)

But back to the point...the conversation of our lives with her added to the mix is always shaken up to the point where interest is added. Random difference is inserted at odd points. Who doesn't want to break up a boring discussion on reading to start drooling over the perfect ice cream cone? Her personality shines through with her limited vocabulary in a way where she doesn't need a lot of words to work her charm.
She makes our family extraordinary. Not because of what she can do...or what she can't do. Not because of what labels she carries or what labels she doesn't carry. Rather because of who she is as a person. She makes no apology for who she is. We take her cue and accept her the same way even when it means that almost every conversation ends with mentioning an ice cream cone...or Papa's House...or T.
She is different. But then again, so are the rest of us. We are all different from each other in a tangled mix of angles and curves and dots and stripes that somehow tie together our unique family dialogue.

Oftentimes I ask myself-- is her specific difference because of Down syndrome? Or is it just her personality? Does Down syndrome shape her personality? Or is her personality shaped around Down syndrome?

I honestly don't know. But this Saturday is World Down Syndrome Day, and as I think of celebrating, I think of Addison. I don't know how to celebrate Down syndrome as a whole. I don't know how to sum it up into one simple blog post with 3 outstanding bullet points, because to me-- Down syndrome isn't a unit. It's a word that describes countless of individuals.

The individual with Down syndrome swirling up the dialogue of our life with interest and difference is Addison. So we celebrate Addison. We celebrate the extra chromosome and the wide mouthed laugh and the warm hugs and the determined eye brow thing that she does when she's fiercely concentrating. We celebrate 5 years of memories, 5 years of loving, 5 years of milestones achieved. We celebrate our sister, our daughter, our "ice cream cone" enthusiast. We celebrate difference but we also celebrate sameness and we don't try to make the one into another.
And we sit back and enjoy the spark added to our family dialogue. I can't wait to see how our dialogue changes and grows through the years. Especially with Addison as a part of it.
Also in honor of WDSD, the kindle version of my novel Motherhood Unexpected is on sale for $2.99 (normally $5.99). You don't want to miss this sale! It only lasts through Sunday...and it is the perfect read to celebrate welcoming difference into the dialogue of your life. If you have already read it? I would love you forever if you would share it in honor of this weekend. My thoughts on a new diagnosis have become complicated and summed up in this book. So this is my contribution to awareness this year.

Happy reading. Happy sharing.

And Happy World Down Syndrome Day. We will probably celebrate...with some ice cream cones... (-;

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Counting to 10

It was late, and I was finally snuggling down into my soft blankets. My eyes were closed in exhaustion from a long day, and my body was sighing the song of sleep. Just then Aaron came into the room and said "Oh, by the way. Mrs. T said that Addison counted to 10 today at school." All nonchalant. Like this news was no big deal.

Sleep raced from my mind as I sat up in bed. "WHAT????"

He started to walk off saying how Mrs. T was really proud of Addison and how they had been working on this quite diligently at school.

"I need to hear it!" I said. So I picked my body up out of the soft mattress and ran to the pink nursery where a certain little girl was fighting sleep herself.

"Count to 10!" We both shouted in excitement. "Addison count to 10 for us!!!"

She giggled, her blonde hair falling softly as her face's frame.

"7....10!" She proclaimed.

"No, start at 1. 1..."


We determined she was too tired (since it was waaaay past her bedtime) and left her alone.

Five minutes later I snuck back in, tucked her snugly in her bed, and then lay my head next to her.

"Addison? Will you count to 10 for me? Pretty please?"

She giggled again. "7...10!"

"No, start at 1!"

More giggles. Her entire body was shaking next to mine. Her soft arm was touching mine and her warm cheek bounced with the joy of her giggle. "7....10!"

"You're too tired to focus on this right now, huh?"

"Yup. 7....10!" by now the giggles had turned into rolling laughter. My girl, sweet and innocent, proud and intelligent lay next to me and laughed and laughed and laughed.

So I did what any self-respecting mother would do. I laughed too. And tickled a little. Until her laughter turned into "Bye bye! Papa's House. Bye bye!" So I kissed that warm cheek one more time, memorizing the feel of her skin against my lips. And then said "Good night. I'm so proud of you."

I tiptoed back to the warm spot in my bed, thinking about the warm spot in my heart that she puts there every single day. I didn't care when it was that all the other children started to count to 10. I didn't care that she wouldn't perform for me on cue. I didn't care that she is delayed and that celebrating counting to 10 as a 5 year old is not normal. All I cared about was that feeling that her laughter shared with me. A feeling of such giddy joy that I thought my heart my explode from the happiness of it all. All I cared about was celebrating her accomplishment in that moment.
I don't know why, but her accomplishments always bring with them such a rush. Yes, I'm happy when my boys accomplish things, but there's something different about Addison's accomplishments.

Sometimes I stop and ask myself, "Did I think she couldn't do it? Am I super surprised because I set low expectations for her?"

But then after searching I realize it's not that I doubted her. It's just that I'm SO PROUD of her that the pride can't help but explode into this big THING that takes over.

Addison is a smart girl. Today she is counting to 10...tomorrow she is conquering the world. Well, something like that. (-; I certainly wouldn't be surprised if she did.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fight an Emotion with a Different Emotion

Historically speaking, I don't write the most inspired things this time of year. I struggle through a post for Addison's birthday and then feel the need to wait for the whiffs of spring to bring my deadened self back to life. I would say this is just a guess based on vague memories from past winters, but I actually have Timehop data to prove this.

My first impulse whenever sitting down to my computer this time of year is to whine about how winter is NEVER ENDING. And I hate to whine. It annoys me even as the words come out of my mouth. I honestly don't mind the cold and the snow (I actually love it). I just start to mind the length of its visit. It's like a guest that wore out its welcome after all of the fun holiday parties and now we're trying to get back to business as usual and the party animal just won't leave.

Based on this inclination to whine, I tend to withdraw and wait for more inspired thoughts to hit my frozen little head before sharing with the world. Perhaps a good spring thaw.

But today I decided to follow Ann Voscamp's good advice in One Thousand Gifts. Looking around my life right now, my first glance might take in only the house being shredded by children who are going STIR CRAZY by lack of outdoor activity. My first thought might be that of complaining because of my season of life combined with the seasonal activity keeping us inside. But recently I was reminded of Ann's excellent advice to fight an emotion with an emotion-- to replace a complaining thought with a grateful one.

So here goes. A thankful list.

I am thankful for

1. The way the air smells when I step out into the cold and the cool freshness fills me with a quiet happiness from the top of my knit hat down to the wool socks hugging my toes.

2. The satisfying sound of my boots crunching in the snow.

3. The rosy glow on my babies' cheeks when they are outside. Their smiles of glee as their eyes explore the winter landscapes.

4. The warmth of our little house even on the coldest, windiest days.

5. That soft, warm spot on Eli's neck that is the perfect place to press with gentle kisses.

6. Giggles. So many children's giggles. All around me. Up high. Down low. Hiding in the closets. Running away from me holding my phone. The giggles surround me and bathe my soul in a sort of peace that erases approximately 10 frustrating things that they just did.

7. The smell of freshly baked bread. The steam rising off each slice as I slather it in butter, drizzle in honey, and place on a plate in front of a tiny person.

8. Music that demands that we stop EVERYTHING to get up and dance.

9. Addison really getting into her dance...eyes widening...feet stomping...arms flailing...and then gracefully waving...sweet voice shouting along...

10. Carter's little hand holding mine as we read the digger story yet AGAIN. His long, lean body folding against me for a reluctant hug.

11. The sweet hour of reading before bedtime when I curl beautiful words around my tongue before sharing them with my children.

12. The even sweeter hour after reading when 3 heads that haven't stopped moving all day lay down on soft pillows, eyes close, and breathing evens out into that glorious anthem of silence.

13. That first little "Mommy?" in the morning. The tiniest voice caressing my name with an eagerness o see me.

14. That first cup of steaming hot coffee that slides warmth down my throat with every sip.

15. Freshly washed sleepers folded neatly in a pile.

16. Children rooms picked up and shiny clean.

17. A really good book that I can get lost in. Words spinning around my head and claiming me as their own.

18. A solid dinner plan that fills the house with delicious smells one dish at a time.

19. Little children who actually eat the dinner I spent all afternoon on.  Delicious, chewy chocolate chip cookies just waiting for those children who successfully cleaned their plates (and mommy too)

20. Snow softly falling in sheets outside our cozy home, setting the stage for storybook type magic right outside our very door.

Now that I think of it...maybe this time of year can bring its own type of inspiration...

Take that, Timehop. I am breaking the trend. I am replacing an emotion with an emotion.

Gratitude. I feel better already.