Yo soy La Lay

adventures in family, faith, and Down syndrome

Ready, set, go… Year 3

31 days of blogging for Down syndrome awareness month…  on my iPhone.

Yikes.

We don’t have a working computer these days, but I’m determined y’all. Starting tomorrow, we’re covering 31 surprises about life with Down syndrome.  Please bear with me on the formatting.. and the typos.. and all of the joys that come from doing this without an actual keyboard.

If you have missed us, my apologies.  I have missed you too!  I have been so itchy to write, and really can’t wait to bust out of my technology-failure-induced-rut.  There’s so much to say!!

Here we go!

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My Beach Body

My Beach Body has stretched to grow three humans.  It has a hefty amount of stretch marks and a tummy that looks kind of like a deflated balloon.  It’s smushy and cozy and not on my list of “immediate concerns.”

At not-quite six weeks post-partum, my Beach Body is ready for the bathing suit I just bought to accommodate a pooch.  It is ready to splash in the pool with my girls and to enjoy a wine spritzer while lounging in an Adirondack chair and reading Rachael Ray magazine.

Next summer, my Beach Body will likely still need that same suit and that is OK.

You see, my Beach Body, which looks nothing like the Beach Body of my early 20s, is healthy and fulfilled.  It enjoys a lean protein and vegetables for lunch and dinner, but also the chocolate that follows once the kids are in bed.  My Beach Body now is not longing to fit the size 4 wedding dress stashed in my daughters’ dress up bin.  It isn’t even reminiscing about all the size 6 pants that I donated when Tessa was born.  It thinks a little about the 8s and 10s that are in the back of the closet, but is comfortable in maternity shorts and size 12 for now.

Twice a week, sometimes more, my Beach Body takes a walk around the neighborhood, all by itself, and truthfully, rocks out to those boy bands from the early 2000s that I still can’t quite get enough of.  It doesn’t go quickly, or break into a jog, but it moves.  It shows my girls that they can take a moment to breathe, to be in solitude, and to step away from the world’s chaos for 30 minutes.

My Beach Body wants my precious girls to know that they can go to a birthday party and enjoy a piece of cake.  It walks those girls to the ice cream stand down the street and does not feel guilty about a chocolate-dipped cone with sprinkles.  It doesn’t need wraps (thanks no thanks, random Facebook acquaintance that I haven’t spoken to in 10 years) or shakes.  It doesn’t believe in cheat days, but in moderation.  It feels balanced.  Chubby and healthy and balanced.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling

 

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Jump!

So many things…. let’s start here today:

For as strong a gross motor allergy as Tessa has, her desire to be able to jump has always been high – so high that I’d rank it right up there with “eating all the donuts” and “figuring out how to open the front door.”  We signed her up for Karate with Ellie through our park district.  At the end of class, when they would practice by jumping from one mat to the next, a small part of me was so sad to see her crouch down, expecting to jump like her peers, only to need the support of her aide and teacher to be lifted up across the divide.

Unlike me, it never got her down.  She developed her own methods, popping up from her crouch and raising up on her toes as high as she could, or dropping to her knees and pretending to be a frog.  She laughed gleefully each time she attempted to get airborne.

I hadn’t thought about jumping for a little while.  School is out for the summer and we declined Extended School Year services for Tessa.  In a nutshell, this means a summer without therapy.  She gets activity in through Karate and swim lessons – and life with her big sister is pretty much a 24/7 speech therapy session. Mostly though, we’re taking it easy.

And then this:

Did you see those sweet little toesies get airborne?!?

We work so hard for progress in every area, and she is making it.  Sometimes though, it just takes a little step back on our own part and letting her figure it out.  And when she does, well, it’s got us all jumping for joy. ❤️

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Stability

Little known fact about me:  no matter how early the departure time, I will always, always take a shower before bringing Tessa to any doctor visit.

I’m not sure when this started, but I’ve determined that it acts like a security blanket for my nerves, like I’ve somehow decided that washing my hair and putting on make-up will somehow block us from anything bad happening.  Because if I’m cleaned up and ready for the long haul, everything will go smoothly.  You know how if you bring your umbrella on a cloudy day, it won’t rain?  Kind of like that.  If I’m prepared for the day, nothing can go wrong.

We had one of those appointments last Wednesday and since I now have all the information… here you go:

So there are several screening tests that we are to have with Tessa throughout her life.  Thyroid, sleep study, monitoring white blood cell counts for leukemia, eyes checked, heart scanned, etc.  The most recent test that we were to have done is the atlantoaxial instability neck X-ray.

Very very basically, the top two vertebrae on which the skull/brain sit are more likely to be unstable in individuals with Down syndrome.   Rarely, this can cause nerve damage or more serious complications.  Many times, certain therapies will require a child to be cleared of this instability (like to participate in equine therapy), as well as some extra-curricular activities (especially those that could involve head compression/injury like gymnastics).  Our pediatrician wanted to have her screened at three.  This was recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for some time, though I have been told that their most recent guidelines don’t require it.

In any case, we had the neck X-ray and at about 7 pm, I got a call from the pediatrician’s office and was greeted frantically with “are you still in the hospital?  We really need to talk to you about your daughter’s results.”

Not exactly the words that we were anticipating.

Their instructions were essentially to put Tessa, our wild and independent little runner, into a bubble until we could see a neurosurgeon.  What?? No PT, no physical education, no recess (what??)… do nothing until she is cleared by a neurosurgeon.  They told us that there was a high risk of paralyzation if she were to have a head injury (as they say this, I remember the moment with startling clarity when she fell down the stairs just three days prior).  The next day, the office made us an appointment to see a highly-recommended neurosurgeon within a couple of days.

To say that we were freaked out is probably the understatement of the year.  

It was a long wait until that Monday, but I will say, within a minute of meeting this doctor, we were totally at ease… because he’s clearly brilliant, but also because he greeted us by asking “so tell me, why did they send you here?”

His concern was much more minor, quite thankfully.  He didn’t see the severe instability that the initial radiologist must have.  We weren’t totally in the clear – because Tessa can’t well communicate with us symptoms that she might be experiencing (numbness in her fingers, neck pain, etc), we still needed to have an MRI to make sure there is no damage to her nerves.

The problem with an MRI and a three year old is obvious.  An adult can barely lie still for that long, let alone a child.   We would have to go into Chicago to our Children’s Hospital so that she could have the imaging done under anesthesia. Unfortunately, in my family, there is some history of complications with anesthesia, so we get a little more antsy than people probably typically do.

We finally had her MRI done last Wednesday.  A 5:15 departure time is not far off from my typical work day, but being on Spring Break… that alarm felt extra early.  The hospital staff was lovely, really, and while navigating the city (especially on Lower Wacker Drive where GPS is useless) is not my favorite, we managed.

The history with anesthesia always brings lots of questions from the staff.  Most people see one or two anesthesiologists before a procedure; we always meet the whole team.  Tessa was a trooper, and charmed the heck out of all the doctors and nurses with her manners.  She did take quite a bit longer than typical to come out of her daze, which made our time in the waiting room, waiting for answers, feel like an eternity.  When she finally came around, she alternated between her dazed, lovey schmoozing and intense irritation with anyone who took her juice and goldfish crackers.  It was hilarious.

I’ll cut to the chase here – on Friday afternoon, we got the call that her MRI was essentially “unremarkable” and that there are no concerns at this time.   We will continue to see this neurosurgeon off and on over the next several years to continue monitoring, as AAI may not appear until later in life.

For now, I feel like my superstitious shower helped us out once again.

#neverleavethehousewithoutmascara

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Not settling

I have been told recently that life isn’t fair.


This news doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me.  Once I moved beyond the age of oh, 14 or so, I never expected it to be.

The context of this statement, though, is what rattled me.  As I’m sure you can guess, the circumstances revolved around this little girl:


(when was the last time your face showed that much joy?)

You see, the political climate being what it is these days, I found myself in a debate of sorts with a dear family member about school choice and the impact that it has on children with disabilities.

Throughout our conversation, I was told about the great “special needs schools” that my daughter could attend.  Schools that “specialize” in her “special needs.”  Schools that are “specially equipped” to “handle” the “special care” of our “special girl.”


Dude.  Stop.

I tried to get someone to explain to me why it is that Girlfriend needs all this “special stuff,” most especially when research indicates time and time again that what is actually best for her is to be educated in a typical classroom alongside her typical peers.

(I mean, if you ask me, while she may be hard to understand, she’s kind of a standard three-year-old.)


The only answer that I got, really, was that life isn’t fair.  Basically, we just got dealt a shitty hand, so good luck.  Good thing there are those “special schools.”

I bowed out of the conversation there.

Here’s the thing.  

Down syndrome isn’t the reason that life is unfair for Tessa. It’s not shitty.  People are.  Down syndrome is not some awful life experience to overcome, but the belief that it is awful, is a problem. 


The problem is that no, life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to make it better, not just for ourselves, but for anyone.

Our fight to keep Tessa in a regular classroom is very much about her, but it’s also about any other child who walks through the door of that school building – or any building.

(It’s also about the law, though that pesky little thing seems to be lost on a lot of people these days.)


It’s about changing perceptions about what people need.

Not pity. Acceptance.

Not charity. Kindness.

Not escorting off into some “special place” for their “special needs.”  Inclusion.


It hits you right in the gut when the fight is so close to home.  It is bad enough when perfect strangers are the culprit, but let’s be honest, it’s a thousand times more discouraging when people who know and love our sweet girl still don’t get it.  

We’re not settling for special.

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Dear Tessa

Dear Tessa,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want this to say.  Saved this one for last because it’s got a whole lot of emotions behind it.  Kept it short and sweet so that I don’t become a blubbering fool.

I didn’t know what it meant to be an advocate for someone until there was you.  I mean sure, I have rallied for family, for students, for classmates, coworkers, you name it.  But it all pales in comparison to my drive to be your champion.

There is no corner of my life that was not completely transformed by your very existence.

I want you to know that no matter how long the road is, I’m here for you.  My goal is to be your voice only as long as you need me to be.  All I want is for you to be happy, no matter what happy means for you.

I am not fearful of our future.  I am not worried about how far you will go, or where you might stumble, or how much work there is to do.  I know that there is much to think about and plan for.  I will be brave because you are worth it.

You don’t have to be more alike than different, but you can be if you want.  You don’t have to rock the 21st, but I think you already do.  You don’t have to be a Down syndrome superstar on YouTube or in the news for breaking down barriers.  But if you find a dream, let’s chase it. 

Girlfriend, I adore you.

Wuv yeeeewwww!

Mommy


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Dear Ellie

Dear Munchie,

This is a picture of you at your Big Sister class, before Tessa was born:


We couldn’t tell that day if you were ticked off that you were getting a sibling, or if you were insulted that we thought you needed to learn anything about taking care of babies.  From the get-go, you told everyone who would listen that it was a girl baby in Mommy’s belly and that a boy simply was not a possibility.  Thank goodness you were right.  You are not so easily convinced of the things that you do not believe to be true.

For example, when we ask you about Down syndrome and what might be different about Tessa, your only answer is that she has more strings than you do.  You seem to not notice the little differences that set her apart – and when other kids point out her braces or her walker, I love how you so matter-of-factly say “well she just has them.”  Like duh, of course she does.  Why wouldn’t she?

The child who asked us about medical marijuana because she heard it on the radio, and who is surrounded by talk of therapists and doctors and IEP goals, has no reason to believe that Tessa is any different than anyone else.

I am so proud of the model you are for others by just playing with Tessa as you do any other child.  Sometimes you get mad at me when we treat her differently.  Like this morning when I told you to stop putting so many puzzle pieces in front of her because it was too overwhelming.  You just looked at me, then continued to stack them in front her. “It’s part of her lesson, Mom.”  Ok, little teacher.  Do your thing.

I don’t think we have to worry about you being your own person; you have already made it perfectly clear that you will be just who you want to be.  There was some very tiny fear in me when we first had Tessa that you might get swallowed up into a life that revolved around her needs.  However, that fear quickly vanished as Down syndrome has faded into the background and your (very large) personality has really taken center stage.  I think that in the ebb and flow of family life, you and she will alternate in the spotlight… and sometimes you’ll share it (in which case, we will be tired).   In any case, I’m so glad that you are you and she is she – you are the most darling little set of sisters… even when you fight.  I won’t ask you to do anything more for her than be yourself, but I have this feeling that your own heart will lead you to being a champion for her… and her for you, too.

I’m so proud of you.

Love,

Mom

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Dear EI Team

Dear Karen, Karli, Lori, Suzanne, and Beth,

And also Kim, Rachel, Joan, Shannon, and Kate,

And Sue,

Look at you all!!  We have been so blessed with not just one, but two amazing Early Intervetion teams.  I had been so terrified to leave our old home because it would mean a new CFC and a new team of therapists.  We had an amazing team, who Tessa mostly liked, or at least tolerated, and some of the moms can be so negative about their experiences with therapists (and rightfully so).  So we when we moved, I was nervous that we couldn’t possibly hit the jackpot twice.

We did!

You all have been such a positive influence on Tessa and our family. You give great suggestions for modifications that make her path more accessible.  You help us help her and made it so easy to get the equipment that she needs.  But what has been the most influential is that way that each of you has talked to us about her and her unique strengths and challenges.  It’s never about kids with Down syndrome, it’s just about Tessa.

Too often, I hear moms distraught by the delays that their child is experiencing.  They lament the IFSP meetings where the therapists rattle off all of the things that the child isn’t doing.  None of you has ever done that to us.  We aren’t unrealistic; we know that she is delayed.  All of you have helped us navigate those feelings and accept that her timing is all that matters.

As we head off to school in a few short weeks, I’m again fearful of leaving the safety net of our EI team.  As you all keep telling me, she is ready for school, and she is going to love it.  But without your home visits and your detailed reports, and your suggestions for what we can do at home, I’m so nervous!  Her preschool teachers sure have big shoes to fill.

Thank you so much for what you do. You are overworked and underpaid, but so so loved.

All the best,

Tessa’s Mom

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Dear Kim and Karli

Dear Kim and Karli,

This afternoon, when we attempted to get Tessa to walk across the room, she turned to John and said “No Daddy, stop it.” Clear as a bell.  I’m sure I’m supposed to be annoyed by this, but I bet you can guess that we just burst out laughing because it was a speech victory in our minds!

Later, Little Miss Carnivore asked us to take away her half-eaten brownie and for us to give her more broccoli.  We worked for so long on getting her to eat a real fruit or vegetable and look at her now, preferring the broccoli!  

We owe so much of what she can do to the two of you.  She has come so far… from that little lump of a baby who took an hour to drink a bottle while laying on her side to now happily joining in our full family mealtime, veggies and all.  She is going to start preschool with lots of words and signs to communicate her needs.  And she’s going to rock it!

Neither one of you have ever used the word “can’t,” nor have you ever predicted anything about her based on Down syndrome.  You have never told us that she just does something because of her diagnosis.  You have treated her as Tessa, a little girl with as much potential as anyone else.

We are so blessed to have worked with both of you.  Thanks for giving us so many tools to help our girl, and for being so supportive of our family.  I know that Tessa put you both through the ringer sometimes… especially you, Karli, once we put “persistence through non-preferred tasks” into her ISFP.  LOL!  I know she can be quite the character during her sessions. You both have just been lovely to spend time with.  The new littles that you work with are so lucky to have you.

Thanks so much for everything,

Maggie

Normal (messy) family meal time….

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Dear Doctor Bowles

Dear Dr. Bowles,

You did not diagnose Tessa – that is another story for another person and another day.  However, you have been my OB/GYN for many years now and I was lucky enough to have Tessa on your watch.

My labor with her was quite quick, and as I recall, you were supposed to be off the clock about an hour before she was born, but you stuck around to see it through.

Much earlier in the pregnancy, when we discussed prenatal testing and I declined, you did not push.  And then later, when we had our 20 week ultrasound, as you read the results, I very distinctly remember the slightest furrow in your brow and asking again if we had prenatal testing.  At the time, it did not phase me, but when Tessa was born and she was diagnosed, I wonder if you might have had an inkling back on that day.

While the NICU team checked her out, you helped me finish laboring and chatted with me while we processed what was happening.  “Ya know, kiddo,” you said, “who is to say she’s not going to be just as happy as anyone else?”  And you went on to tell me a story about a family member who worked himself to the bone and then died within a week of retiring.

“She won’t do that, you know… she won’t work herself to the bone.  She’ll be happy.  You’ll be happy.” you told me.  We are happy.

I learned recently that you have retired.  I’m a little sad, because if there are any more babies, I will have to see some other doctor… but I’m also so happy for you, because you’re able to be out, enjoying life, happy as a clam with your family.  I hope you are soaking in every moment.  Congratulations!

Maggie

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This is part of the 31 for 21 Blog Challenge – blogging every day for the the 31 days of Down Syndrome Awareness month.  To find out more about the challenge, and to see other blogs participating, click here.

This year’s theme has been inspired by the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network’s #deardoctor campaign.  To see more #deardoctor letters, visit their Facebook page here.

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