Sunday, December 12, 2010

Here Comes Santa Clause...

Aiden was SO excited to see Santa this year. He talked for weeks about what he was going to tell him he wanted for Christmas, and asked almost daily if we could go see him. I was excited because last year, Aiden was terrified of Santa and would only "sit" on his lap, if I held him and sat on Santa's lap. I just want to say... it was awkward.

The day came to see the Big Man, and Aiden made him a list so that he would remember what to tell him he would like. We got in line to see Santa and Aiden was silent (this doesn't happen often). When we got up to the front of the line, Aiden was clutching his list, but still seemed excited. The elves finally told us it was our turn and Maddie welcomed the Bearded Guy with open arms and a smile. Aiden on the other hand, closed his eyes tight and walked as far away from him as he possibly could get, clutching Grant's leg instead of the list.

Grant and I didn't push him too much to talk to Santa, I don't want to scar him for life, but we helped him read his list to Santa. Aiden was still speechless. After reading off Aiden's list for him, we attempted to take a picture. For most of the pictures, Aiden has his eyes shut tight and his hands over his eyes just in case someone tried to pry his eyes open. Grant stood next to Aiden holding him just next to Santa and after some "Don't smile, Aiden"s, we get this...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ripping off the Bandaid

When Maddie was first born, Grant and I needed to take a little time to sit with Maddie's Down syndrome diagnosis. We only told a select number of people, because we weren't ready for all of our family and friends to know at first. But, after a few days, we knew it was something we needed to tell people. Not that we were necessarily ready, but it wasn't something we could, or even wanted, to hide. It was like ripping a bandaid off, you don't really want to, but the bleeding had stopped, momentarily, and it was time to give the wound a little fresh air. We were incredibly proud of our new, beautiful, and wonderful daughter, but we weren't sure how people were going to react. So, in order not to relive it over and over, we sent an email to most people letting them know what was going on, and others heard it second hand from friends or family.

After the news was out, it was much easier to see and face people. I didn't have to worry about their reactions, or judgements, or anything else that may have gone along with it, because they had already done that before they saw us. As a result, I have not had much practice telling people about Maddie. In the beginning, I had this urge to tell everyone I met, the man checking us out at the grocery store, or the woman who stopped to stare at her in Ikea, I never did, but the urge was there. Then I realized, that I didn't HAVE to tell anyone, unless it was something that I wanted to tell them, and that complete strangers didn't fall into this category.

Since Aiden has started school, I've gotten to know some of the other parents a little better. At first, these parents fell into the 'complete strangers' category, and they didn't need to know, but they aren't complete strangers anymore. There are times that Maddie and I are in the viewing room watching Aiden and other parents will come up. Inevitably, they start to ask normal questions about Maddie, is she crawling yet, talking yet, etc. There is always backpedaling on their part to reassure me that kids develop at their own rate when they find out that she's not doing these things yet. And, with a couple of parents, I have felt like they have been searching for some answers because they know that something is a little different with Maddie.

At first, I was hesitant to say anything. Because of my lack of experience in telling people I wasn't exactly sure how and when to say it. I was also afraid of having to see, hear, and feel peoples reactions when they found out. And lastly, I didn't want people to define Maddie by her Down syndrome and assume things about her based on any stereotypes or assumptions that they have about people with Down syndrome.

An opportunity arose the other day when two women, with children similar ages to Maddie, were asking questions. The backpedaling and inquisitive questions began, and I decided to just say it. My heart was racing, and I could feel that pit in my stomach start to grow. I was ripping the bandaid off... again. I'm not sure what I expected, but my worst case scenario didn't happen, however, neither did my best case scenario. Both women were respectful, and asked questions, but had assumptions like Down syndrome runs in our families, and that it only happens to older women. It made me wonder what else they assumed, but weren't saying.

As we were talking, I realized that one of my new roles as Maddie's mom is to educate people about Down syndrome, for the sake of my daughter. Before Maddie was born, I didn't know much, so I hope that I can do it correctly, but I'm sure I will make mistakes along that road. It's part of the learning process. What I wanted these women to know most of all, is that Madelyn is not that much different than their children, that it will take her a little bit longer to get where their children are, that she may need a little more help doing it, and that it's ok. Different doesn't equal worse or bad. It adds diversity to our lives and our world, and we're all a little different in some ways. Just look at this little ham, who requested a bow tie, like the Cat in the Hat, but blue! :)

It has gotten easier, the bandaid doesn't stick as much, and since this incident, the opportunity to tell another parent came up again, however, this time, I got the response that I wanted and needed. It went a little something like this,

Her: How old is Maddie again?
Me: Almost 10 months
Her: I bet she's crawling all over and just getting into everything!
Me: No, not yet.
Her: Well (slight pause), all kids are different... It'll be no time before she is.
Me: Maddie actually has Down syndrome, so (interrupted by Her)
Her: Oh, so it's just going to take her a little longer than other kids.
Me: (smiling and trying to hold back from crying and hugging her at the same time) Yes, just a little longer.

The conversation went to something else after this, I don't remember what, but I will never forget this part of it. This woman has no idea the amount of acceptance and understanding she gave me in that one little sentence, even before I had a chance to say anything. It was amazing. Before this happened, I wasn't sure what kind of response I wanted, but as soon as she said it, I knew that was it. I will forever be grateful to this woman for not only accepting my baby immediately, but for also showing me what I was missing by not telling people. Because, not only are there going to be negative reactions (not that the previous conversation had been negative, it just wasn't filled with the understanding that went along with this one), but there are also going to be positive reactions, and I won't know which one I'm going to get unless I put it out there.

A few days after both of these conversations, the director at the school met me at the door to let me in. She said that Aiden's teacher told her that Madelyn had Down syndrome and then shared with me that she had had a son with Down syndrome who passed away when he was 13 from heart problems. She told me that he was the best thing that she has ever had in her life and that he brought so much joy to her in those short 13 years. She also said that it was so hard for her at first, but that it only got easier because he was so easy to love. I agreed with her, loving Maddie has never been the hard part, but learning to love the Down syndrome has been a struggle at times.

The instant connection I have with other mothers of children with Down syndrome, the shared bond between us, this common knowledge of what we have gone through, and our endless love for our children, the wish for acceptance and love for our children is an amazing thing. I wondered how badly it stung for her as she ripped the bandaid off to tell me about her son, but she did tell me that seeing Maddie brought a lot of memories back for her. I hope that they were good memories and I am so appreciative that she was willing to share and open up with me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Life's Beauty

"The clarity of life’s beauty is more evident when the struggle for that beauty is more difficult." - Paul Daugherty

This quote seems fitting for our last few months and then the turn of events last week. For months Maddie has been progressing very nicely. She's done a wonderful job babbling, smiling, lifting her head up, reaching for toys, etc, but I feel like there have been no major developments since she was 7 weeks old and she started rolling over. So, for the last 7 months we have been working on the next step, and it's finally here!

Maddie is sitting up, and it is BEAUTIFUL! After months of physical therapy and practice, she's sitting up! I was hesitant to announce it at first, thinking that I might be prematurely jumping the gun, but she's doing it, and for long stretches at a time, too. She will start to wobble and quickly corrects herself so that she doesn't fall over. She's finally got the hang of it, and is loving her newfound independence. She loves that she can see more, play more, and is down on the ground with Aiden actually playing instead of lying next to him. 

I don't think I appreciated sitting up with Aiden as much as I do now with Maddie. One day, shortly after Aiden was 5 months old, he just decided that it was time to sit on his own. We hadn't really practiced it with him much, just a few times, and he got it. So it wasn't as big of a deal as it is now with Maddie. Don't get me wrong, I was happy and proud of Aiden when he did it, but I hadn't invested a lot into making him do it. With Maddie, not only have I invested time and energy into practicing with her, but a team of people have invested time and energy into her, too. It makes it extra sweet, and special, and I couldn't be more elated about it.

Aiden is excited about this new turn of events, too. He can interact and play with Maddie more than he could before. And, they are adorable playing together! This was the image I had in my head when I was pregnant with Maddie, imagining Aiden playing with his sister.

Although, I have started to see some jealousy come out during their playing together. Maddie can get into more of his things and he has a hard time sharing his toys with her. He will often take away something she has been playing with, and replace it with something else. I guess he figures if he gives her a different toy, then it doesn't matter what he took away from her. We're going to need a little work on this. Luckily, Maddie is pretty easy-going and willingly accepts the new toy every time. Hopefully, we can work on this with Aiden before Maddie starts to get upset about it.

There's more news, too. She's waving "Hi" and lifting her arms in the air for a game of "So Big!"! She knows when I am waving to her and will wave back, stop when I stop, and start back up when I do! I took a sign language class after Maddie was born at the hospital and they said that a good time to start signing with your child is when they can wave, because it means that they have made the connection that a sign actually means something. I have been signing things at mealtimes to her for a while, but you better believe I'm ready to start doing more!!

She has also figured out how to turn on one of her favorite toys. This toy has been such a great motivator for her since she was born. It's the first toy she started to track with her eyes. She loves that it lights up and that it plays music, and will stop anything else that she is doing when this toy turns on. The fact that she can now control it and make it play over and over, fascinates her.

Next stop is crawling, but I'm going to sit and savor these milestones for a little bit longer!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Halloween, Zoo Boo, and a Party

I had to show a picture of our sad looking pumpkins. Grant and Aiden carved them a week before Halloween and this is what they looked like 3 days before Halloween. Poor pumpkins.

This was the first year Aiden really got into the Halloween spirit. He knew about dressing up, pretending he was something else, and the candy. Plus, he was excited about all three. We had been talking for a few months about what Aiden wanted to be for Halloween, at first he said "Super Why", which is a character from one of his favorite cartoons, then he changed his mind to a pirate, and he finally settled on a shark (which he is now obsessed with). He loved his costume this year, and has been dressing up randomly in the costume to pretend he is a shark. He loves the costume so much that even though he is sweating in it, he refuses to take it off until he's done playing.

Maddie decided she wanted to be a nice warm and cozy ladybug. 

Every Halloween season we take Aiden to ZooBoo. I'm really not sure what my obsession is with making sure we go to the Zoo for this event, there are always huge crowds, you can't see the animals very well, and the line for the different candy stations is always long. But, none the less, I feel like any chance we get to dress up the kids in their Halloween outfits and parade them in front of other people, is a good time. So this year was no different.

We had a lot of fun at ZooBoo and spent most of our time in lines for the haunted house, train ride, and concession stand.

Halloween day, our friends threw a baby Halloween party. I was a little worried that Maddie would get too hot in her ladybug costume, so I improvised and made her into a Material Girl with things I had around the house for her. You can't see it in the picture, but she's wearing a Madonna onesie.

Our hostess and her daughter... she made the parrot costume... I wish I were that talented.
We had a great time seeing all the kids in their costumes, it was a great idea to have a little party for all the kiddos. Thanks Cara and Tommy!

After leaving the party, we headed home to get ready for the main event... trick-or-treating!

This was the first year that we weren't out of town for Halloween and I was a little worried about how the turn out would be in our neighborhood. It was perfect though! There were tons of houses that were ready for trick-or-treaters, but not a lot of kids trick-or-treating, which meant that houses were giving away candy by the handful! Aiden had a great time and I was so impressed with how he would say "trick-or-treat", "Happy Halloween", and "Thank you" at each house. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Field Trip

Last Wednesday, Aiden's school went on a field trip to Reilly's Summer Seat Farms. This was Aiden's first field trip and first ride on a school bus. He couldn't have been more excited! The school invited one parent to join their child on the field trip. So, Maddie went to a friend's house for the morning and I joined Aiden at the Pumpkin Patch. Two Pumpkin Patches in one month, plus spending the morning with just Aiden... I was super excited!!

We got to school early and waited to line up for the busses. When we finally got a little closer to the busses, Aiden and a couple of the other kids started to get nervous about getting on, but when it was his turn, Aiden's smile was almost bigger than his face! He slowly walked up the stairs examining the driver's seat and then proceeded to carefully inspect each row of seats as if he were worried that there would be a quiz later where he would have to describe every detail on the bus.

After picking out the perfect seat on the bus, he slid in with this sly grin on is face trying to hide how fascinated he was with the whole experience. The bus hadn't even started moving yet when Aiden looked at me very seriously and said, "Mommy, I don't see the Pumpkin Patch yet." After I explained that the bus was going to drive us to the Pumpkin Patch, he looked at me worriedly and said, "But, I don't have on a seatbelt!"

After we got to the Farm, we waited in line to get on the hayride to the pumpkin patch. It obviously wasn't as exciting as the bus ride, but he did get to sit next to his friend Francesca, who he was worried about on the bus because he didn't see her. Once we got to the pumpkin patch, Aiden took his job of hunting for a pumpkin very seriously. He would pick up a pumpkin, find something wrong with it, put it down and continue to the next imperfect one. Until he finally found two acceptable pumpkins and put them in his bags.

When all the kids were finished, the next stop on the hayride was the Corn Maze and Nursery Rhyme Forest. Aiden really had no interest in either of these and during the Corn Maze, my camera ran out of batteries. It probably was for the best because the only thing Aiden wanted to do after this was to eat a snack and play with his friend Lochlan, which was my favorite part.

One of our main factors in deciding to put Aiden in preschool was the fact that we don't know anyone here with kids Aiden's age. So he hasn't had many chances to socialize with other kids. We had gone to a library class when he was little, but he aged out of it, and we had put him in a gymnastics class, but he was no longer enjoying it so we took him out. Preschool gives him a chance to be with kids his own age on a daily basis and to form friendships with the same kids. Watching Aiden and Lochlan having so much fun together was awesome! They each would go and do separate things during the field trip, and then would realize that the other one had gone missing, and would then go around trying to find him. It was so sweet, and Lochlan's Mom and I had a great time talking and watching our boys play together. On the way home Lochlan wanted to be sure to sit by Aiden on the bus and so he waited to get on the bus until Aiden was ready. The two giggled and played the whole way back to school!

We had a great day together and I can't wait to go on another field trip with Aiden and his class!

And, well here's a sweet baby picture, just because.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Patch

Every October for the past 3 years we have been going to Harvest Valley Farms in Valencia, PA. We happened upon this farm by chance the first year we decided to go to a Pumpkin Patch and loved it so much that we have continued the tradition ever since. 

Our trip to the Pumpkin Patch is my FAVORITE activity we do all year long. If I could spend every weekend in October at the Pumpkin Patch, I would. I love the crisp, cool weather, the vibrant colors of the leaves, the warm apple cider, and most of all, spending time with my little family. So needless to say, I was excited to take Maddie, for the first time, on this trip.

At the farm, there is a small corn maze (perfect size for a 3 year old),

face painting (It was really difficult to paint Maddie's tiny little cheek, but the cute little high school aged girl did a great job and worked really quickly!)

a petting zoo, a hay ride (you'll have to wait for this picture, because it's our annual Christmas Card photo), and of course, the pumpkin patch.

When we got home, Aiden was eager to decorate his pumpkins. Three small pumpkins, 4 full jars of paint, and 15 minutes after he had started, Aiden had painted his pumpkins and was ready to get more! Luckily for him, we still had his school trip to the pumpkin patch.

We had a GREAT time at the Pumpkin Patch, and I'm already looking forward to next year!