Celebrating our bookworm

I love my kids’ birthday parties. I love planning them, I love watching everyone enjoy them, I love the photos and memories afterward.

The theme for Lina’s 4th birthday party pretty well chose itself. You’ve never met a kid who loves books more than she does. A quick Pinterest search dug up a fantastic PBS resource for a book party, and we were off and running.

Lina understood what was happening much more this year. She talked for days about who was coming, and a party is just the thing for a girl who loves to be the center of attention. She loved the birthday song and blowing out her candle. She was able to do more with opening gifts, though she still needed lots of help. We served some of her favorite foods, and let me tell you, girlfriend can put away some chocolate cake and ice cream.

But enough talk. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

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Story time with the Village People

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Trying out a birthday present

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Anyone who’s seen Corin in the past couple days will have noticed his massive black eye. This is the exact moment of origin.

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Ben is six!

We’ll be celebrating Lina’s birthday this weekend, so those photos will be forthcoming. But she’s not the only kiddo in the family to have a birthday in September. My oldest nephew turned six a couple weeks ago, and we headed Chattanooga-way for the celebration. The cousins are close in age and have such fun together, which I like to think is building the foundation for a lifelong bond.

Happy sixth, Ben!

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Three for one more night

Tonight, for the last time in my parenting experience, I put a three-year-old to bed. Tomorrow, she will be four, and the girl who just weeks ago would rarely put two words together will hand me a book and say, “Mommy, help please. Read.” She will be excited for school in the morning, and when brother is too slow, she will yell up the stairs, “Corin! Come! Backpack! Bus!” She will belt out her made-up songs and dance with her reflection in the glass door. She will count to five or maybe even 10, and she might play hide-and-seek with brother. At some point, she’ll inevitably yell in astonishing volume at the unlucky soul who has crossed her purposes. She’ll laugh at silly faces and sibling antics. When she’s sleepy, she’ll rub my hair and suck her fingers and let me feel, just for a minute, that I have a baby still.

Tomorrow, she will do the million things she does every day to light up my world. But tomorrow, she will be four, and she will be just a little taller and just a little stronger and just a little wiser, and she will need just a little less of me. And I will be so proud and also sad, because I’m a mother, and it’s what we do.

Sleep well, baby girl. Another year begins tomorrow, and there are new worlds to conquer. I’ll be here with you, but just a little further back than I was yesterday.

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BFF

Bear with me, folks: it’s one more summer catch-up post.

You may remember that over spring break earlier this year, the kids and I made the trip to Florida to visit my dear friend Lila and her family, only to arrive just as The Plague (i.e. a nasty bout of the flu) descended on the household. This summer, Lila stopped by for several days with her kiddos for a visit that, in an obvious win, entailed no vomit. The expected chaos of five children ensued to great delight, and we finished as we do every time, wishing we lived closer to each other. I always think during these visits about what it will be like when we are old ladies, reminiscing about those crazy years when our children were young. I am lucky to have friends in my life who are part of the way-back stories and are still here to help write new ones. Thanks for the newest memories, Lila. Let’s keep them coming.

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The best we could do at a group shot of kids who really wanted to be sliding down the hill

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Ready, set, slide!

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The sibling question

One of the things I worried about immediately after Lina’s birth was the impact her diagnosis would have on Corin. He didn’t have a say in this; how would his life be different as the result of having a sister with Down syndrome? Would he feel shortchanged because of the extra attention and effort that would go into meeting her needs? Would he be embarrassed by her or resent her for making our family different? How would we explain Down syndrome to him, and would he understand? On the flip side, I felt instinctively that the net result would be a son who had a greater level of empathy and a strong connection with his sister. (As it turns out, research backs up that belief.)

I’m pretty sure these worries and hopes are common to most parents who have been or will be in our shoesIMG_8591. (In fact, research suggests concern for siblings is a big factor for women who choose to abort after receiving a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. See the above link.) I’ve been thinking about this subject today after replying to a question in an online forum about how to talk to siblings about Down syndrome.

Corin was 2 1/2 when Lina was born – much too young to understand that there was anything different about her arrival or her person. Lina was his baby sister, and he intermittently embraced or ignored her, as any toddler does with a new sibling. He proudly pushed her stroller and talked to strangers about her, and we encouraged their sibling bond in all the ways parents do.

I don’t know exactly when our first real conversation about Down syndrome happened, but I’m pretty sure it came up naturally as a result of a doctor or therapy visit. Corin was around three, and I talked to him about how no two people are exactly alike. “We’re all different in our own ways,” I told him. “Some kids are really fast runners. Some kids have a hard time reading but are really good at math. Some kids have red hair or brown hair, some kids have blond hair or black hair. Some kids need glasses to see well or maybe have trouble walking and need a wheelchair to get around. Some kids have something called Down syndrome. That’s what Lina has.” I told him Down syndrome meant13900190_10155098221844745_5088795064837644994_n that it might take Lina a little longer to learn some things, like how to walk and talk, and that she might have to work extra hard at things that would be easier for some other kids. But, I told him, she will learn and do pretty much everything you do, and very often, she will learn by watching you.

From then on, Down syndrome was part of an open and ongoing conversation. It’s unlikely Corin will remember one big talk. Instead, Down syndrome is just something he’s grown up with. It’s one part of who his sister is, and one small part of our family’s story. As he’s gotten older, we’ve talked a little about the basics of genetics and how Down syndrome happens. He has occasionally asked more detailed questions, and sometimes, we’ve had to clear up confusion. (For example, he seemed at one point to think there was a connection between Down syndrome and embryo donation. We had to make sure he understood that Lina came to our family as an embryo from a donor family, but that’s not why she has Down syndrome.) We haven’t always had the perfect answers or known exactly what to say, but we’ve worked through it together.

Now, at six years old, Corin notices people in public who have Down syndrome or another type of disability. It offers a lot of great opportunities to have conversations like, “Yeah, isn’t it awesome that that guy has a wheelchair to help him get around? I bet he likes to go fast!” or “Yes, I saw that girl using sign language. She may be deaf. Isn’t it cool there is a language for people who can’t hear?” Our conversations about Down syndrome have become part of a larger environment in which our family celebrates differences of all kinds. Discussions about disability, race, gender, politics and religious differences form an arc, a family theme of appreciating all kinds of people and understanding that we are all beloved children of God with our own special roles to play.

There are still a lot of years ahead of us and probably a lot more questions to answer and challenging situations to navigate. Have there been times when shuttling back and forth to therapy appointments has been wearisome for Corin? Sure, that’s happened. There have been times when he has acted out in a ploy for attention from therapists or doctors who were focused on Lina. But I strongly suspect that when he is old enough to look back, he will say hIMG_7474e thought nothing of those things, because it was simply how things were. This is our normal, and Corin loves his sister dearly.

In the end, I am incredibly thankful Corin has a life experience that makes lessons of acceptance and understanding so real. As a kid, I knew my dad was unusual to other people because he was blind. It was amazing to them that he could cook and read us stories and do so many of the things any dad does. To us, braille stories and reading pancake recipes out loud to dad on a Sunday morning were normal. Our family adapted and thrived. I learned that what seems strange or unfamiliar to me may be normal and even wonderful to someone else. I learned that what appears to others to be a disadvantage can in fact be a strength. I learned that people are people underneath all our differences. Now, Corin will live those same lessons through his grandpa and his sister.

What parent wouldn’t want that for their child?

Finally, Family Camp

It took weeks, but I finally got our photos from family camp sorted and edited. I’m slowly catching up after a very busy end to our summer.

Our church conference runs a summer camp east of Nashville on Center Hill Lake. I admit to being a little skeptical about how a full week at camp was going to go. All of us sleeping in a one-room cabin? Lina navigating cafeteria meals and structured activities? The heat and bugs? Being thrown into forced socialization with people I didn’t know? It could have been a recipe for disaster.

Thank goodness, it wasn’t. All four of us had the best time. We were able to be very flexible with scheduling activities and could leave plenty of down time for relaxed swims in the lake or pool and naps for Lina. The variety of activities meant there was plenty for everyone to do. We didn’t have to worry about meals; we just showed up on time, they fed us, and the food was actually pretty decent. It was hot, but we spent most of our time in the water or in air conditioned spaces. The socialization never felt forced, and we really enjoyed the time we spent with the other families. The camp itself is well maintained and in a beautiful location. And as tired as we were after our full days, we all slept pretty well. It was a remarkably inexpensive and relaxing week’s vacation.

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The camp’s chapel building

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Corin was pretty stoked about getting the top bunk.

 

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Lina never fails to make friends with the big girls.

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Well, it was worth a shot…

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We’ll just call this one, “Bye, Felicia.”

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Corin, on the other hand, loved the horses. This was his second ride. The three of us went on a trail ride earlier in the week while a kind staffer watched the horse-resistant Lina.

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Lina’s motto: Never be without a good book.

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No surprise as to which activity was Corin’s favorite

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The camp photographer was available for portraits. It was…problematic, as indicated by Lina’s tearful smile.

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I admit, I underestimated family camp. We’ll be back!

First day of preschool, year 2

On Monday, Lina returned to her much-loved early childhood preschool, where she attends four mornings a week. (Yes, I am four days late with this post. My poor youngest got the short shrift of a very busy week.) She was so excited about going back that she spent most of the drive singing, clapping, cheering, signing “school” and saying the names of her teacher and therapists in succession. By the end of her first day, she had learned the names of half her new classmates. She’s the old pro this year, and the staff tell me she is happy to boss everyone else around. Her speech therapist is ecstatic with the speech development she experienced over the summer. She has a new OT who I think will be wonderful, but it’s otherwise the same team as last year, and we are so excited to watch her progress unfold over the year.

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From the classroom open house on Friday morning

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First full day and ready to go

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I am so grateful for the bond these two have developed over the summer. They sometimes drive each other crazy, as all siblings do, but they have had so much fun playing and laughing together.