Monday, December 1, 2008

A Sympathetic Heart

Last night, on the way home from a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family, my elderly father reached into his pocket and pulled out a very small, stuffed panda bear. An old Christmas tree ornament based on the shredded loop of string at the top of it's head. In the darkness of the car he handed the bear to me and said, "I found this at home and thought the kids might like it." I immediately gave it to Olivia who, I knew, would care and play appropriately with it. We bid our fond goodbye's to Grandpa and cruised on home with thoughts of our family and the fun we'd had throughout the day. It had certainly been a great day!

When we got home, in the light of our kitchen, Olivia had the opportunity to examine the gift Grandpa had given her. The panda bear, a mere 3" tall, was patchy with yellowed fur. Some of the black had worn away too and his beaded eyes were gone. A beat up old thing... probably left over from my childhood many [many] years ago. Olivia looked at the bear with sadness and kissed it gently. She said, "Mommy, this bear is losing his fur. Maybe we can sew on some new threads to fill it in." I looked at the bear, thinking to myself that most of us would have thrown this beat up old thing in the garbage, and told her I thought the bear's fur was probably too far gone to fix. She took the bear back from me, kissed it again and, teary-eyed, asked where Grandpa had gotten the bear. I quietly told her, "Oh Olivia. This bear has probably been sitting under some old pile of newspapers in Grandpa's basement, rotting for years and years since Mommy was a kid". Big giant tears rolled down her face. Now, you might be thinking, as I was, though only briefly, that Olivia was not happy with the bear because it was old and decrepit. "Mommy" she whispered, "this bear has had no one to play with it all those years? He's been all alone with no kid to love it?" She began to cry in earnest. My eyes filled with tears too and I told her, "Well, now he has you. That's why Grandpa gave him to you. He knew you would take care of him and love him." She half smiled -- one of those sad but brave smiles -- through her tears.

She went to the drawer and pulled out some Sharpie markers and asked me to color in the fur where the black and yellowed fur had worn away. She suggested that the next time we come across two small white pearls we could sew them on for his eyes. Then, she ran to the playroom and came back with a large, stuffed, mechanical panda bear, placed the little bear in the bigger bear's arms and said, "Now he has a Mommy." I suggested that perhaps the bears could have a special place near her bed since the little one had gone so long alone and she brought him and his new Mommy upstairs and placed them at the head of her bed where they spent the night.

This morning, those bears sat at the breakfast table as she ate. My little Angel had been heartsick with the thought that a toy (to her, a tiny baby) had gone any length of time without a friend and without a Mommy. She hadn't cared that the bear was old and beat up at all. She only cared about him! The bear! She only cared about his feelings and his lonliness. I'm sure she'll see to it that this little bear, which she named Saint Patch (short for Patrick and representative of his patchy fur), will never be alone again.

Sometimes the Angel Amongst Us is sitting right beside us unrecognized. Sometimes, all you have to do is listen to their words and appreciate the thought behind their actions.

Caring For Those Who Cannot Care For Themselves

I think I've mentioned how happy my pets make me, right?

So, now we're sort of officially in the market for a new dog for Csiba, our 12 1/2-year-old Chow Chow. Since we lost Isaiah, our 12 1/2-year-old lab/boxer mix to cancer in September, Csiba has been down dooby dooby do down down. It's not terribly surprising that she's so sad since they were raised together from pups and, being nearly deaf, she lost her ears when we lost Isaiah. So, here I am on-line, cruising for local dog rescue organizations in search of a good-with-kids/cats/dogs, kind, calm and quiet, BIG dog that will fit nicely into our 5-person, 1-dog, 2-cat and 3-fish family. I know, we're expecting a lot....Here's the amazing thing about this process... We've run into so many inspirational and caring angels out there working/volunteering their time to save the hundreds of adoptable dogs and cats that are abandoned daily by their owners for various -- some bogus, some not -- reasons. But, there's one person -- an Angel Amongst Us -- that I'd particularly like to mention, Lori of, who dedicates so much of her life -- as well as some of her husband's and son's lives too -- in pursuit of the best dog and cat owners for her many homeless, 4-legged charges. God bless Lori and the people like her who work tirelessly to save the innocent animals our society deems disposable.

So yesterday we asked to adopt a new-comer to their shelter, a very-pregnant, abandoned Boxer -- as well as fostering and then helping to adopt out her puppies when they're ready for forever homes of their own.... We might even consider fostering another one of their dogs just because she's a wonderful black-lab mix who needs a home and doesn't deserve to live in a cage!So, if you happen to live in/near the metro NYC area and you're inclined to adopt a pet, or if you have the heart and space to foster a pet, or if you have the time to volunteer to walk a few homeless dogs in the afternoon, or donate a dollar or two, please give Lori a call at (718) 424-3340. If you're not nearby, go to to view the needy animals and rescue organizations that need support in your local area.


Last Saturday morning I packed the kids into the mini-van for our bi-annual trek to one of our local colleges... to speak on behalf of people with Down syndrome. We do this at 4 local colleges in various areas of education -- Speech/Language, Psychology/Psychology for Exceptional Children and Education/Special Education -- for 2 primary reasons: [1] to allow students who aspire to work with children with special needs to meet face-to-face my extraordinary boys, Brian & Michael, who happen to have Down syndrome, so that they may put a human face on what is more-than-likely an out-dated, text-book impression of this diagnosis; AND [2] Our more self-serving goal... to help clear a peaceful life-path for Brian & Michael. The more people that meet them and come to understand and experience, first-hand, the breadth of possibilities for people with Down syndrome, the greater their acceptance and opportunities will be in life. (Pic: Ellen and Olivia on the last day of summer)

That said, on what we hoped would be an informative expedition for others, we were exposed, ourselves, to a few Angels Living Amongst Us:I was impatiently waiting at a traffic light, already late for our speaking engagement and anxiously awaiting my green signal. As the light turned, I was, I admit, a bit disheartened to see that I'd be further detained by a feeble, old man hobbling across the street on his cane -- against the light! I waited with new-found patience, concerned for his safe crossing, as cars swerved around him. He navigated a straight path, oblivious to the cars around him. He reminded me of a scene from Toy Story 2, where Buzz Lightyear and his friends were on their way to rescue Woody. They crossed the highway, blind beneath their construction cones, with trucks and cement tubes rolling perilously close but, luckily missing. I was suddenly brought back to reality when a passerby ran across 3 lanes of moving cars, yelling and waving his arms wildly, bringing traffic to a screeching halt... Much to the chagrin of those who were attempting to drive around the old man, impatient to be on their way. I nodded my appreciation and the gentleman-turned-traffic-cop-turned-Angel told me that the old man was blind. Though this stranger's faith in mankind might have been diminished that day, mine had been restored as he intervened on the old man's behalf. No doubt, an ANGEL AMONGST US!

And, of course, it is only right to recognize the significant and angelic role Ellen, our EI therapist/college professor, plays in creating a peaceful life-path for my sons. Ellen is the one who jump-started my college speaking career. By consistently inviting us back to Nassau Community College to speak on behalf of people with Down syndrome she continuously validates my need to proactively educate people about the human side of the diagnosis. And, in her own rite, she is certainly doing her share to make a difference in the world for people like Brian & Michael. Not only does she help me to spread the word, but she spreads the word herself, working as a family social worker in the Early Intervention program as well as teaching Psychology for Exceptional Children classes where she consistently ensures that her students remain open-minded about what's possible for people with Down syndrome today and in the future. She also brings her more-than-willing husband/college professor into the halo-light by giving him the opportunity to have us speak with his students as well. The more people we touch and teach, the better! And, they make a wonderful team of angels! My deepest appreciation and my children's heart-felt thanks go out to both of these angels...(
Knowing there are caring and proactive people who take the time to do the right thing for others in this fast-paced and frequently selfish world is a breath of fresh and heavenly air for me. There are angels all around us, if we only pay attention. Thanks to the powers that be -- God, for me -- for helping me to recognize these people for what they are... Angels Amongst Us!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Non-discriminating Angels

I always think of my angels as MY angels... not anyone else's. That is, I thought the joy they spread was spread so much more abundantly for me than for others. I never considered it might be otherwise until last Wednesday when the Captain and I brought the kids to an outdoor country western concert in Eisenhower Park. Of course, we arrived the requisite 15 minutes late so most of the shady spots were already taken. Without scoping the crowd out, we quickly spied a blanket-sized, shady spot in the grass and claimed it. Our Wendy's lunch unpacked, the boys out of their stroller, my old soul already tap, tap, tapping away, we settled down to enjoy the show. Initially, the boys were hesitant about the louder-than-usual, live music. No worries, though. Their trepidation wore off about 15 seconds after the music seeped into their bones and they began to sway, then bop, then bounce and, finally, the music moved them to their feet in a full-out, all-body 2-step of their own creation. By the close of the first song, they were cheering and applauding when they suddenly realized they were NOT alone in their praise but, instead, were surrounded by scores of people.

It was a lovely day and the weather brought out people of all colors, ages and ability/disability. Particularly in our section of the lawn were men, women and children with wheelchairs, walkers, communication boards... You name it... Those with "disabilities" were as equally represented as those with "abilities" in a world where this is not always the case. We had unknowingly settled near the access ramp where the handicap buses dropped off their charges.

When Brian's and Michael's rock-star tunnel vision wore off (they only had eyes for the band, at first), they began perusing, then working, the crowd. Shaking hands, introducing each other, seemingly stumping for dual mayor-ship. And, as always, dragging their sister, "Ala" along for intros when they realized their names were not understood by their future constituents. (Besides, what's a politician without a pretty girl by his side on the campaign trail?) They indiscriminately went from person to person, wheelchair to wheelchair, extending their hands in kinship, friendship, to shake and be shaken, no matter whose hand it was. Young and old, male and female, abled and disabled. One gentleman whose body was severely wracked with Cerebral Palsy, maneuvered his wheelchair to within inches of our blanket so that he could be touched by the angels... Brian reached up as this man awkwardly extended his mangled hand... You could almost see the light of belief shining in his eyes... "I am touched by an angel!"

For a 30 foot radius from our little blanket, Brian and Michael became a side show unto themselves. Dancing, hugging, high-fiving, hand-shaking... spreading joy and laughter to everyone they touched. I am sure that I will never forget the day and even more certain that gentleman with CP and the elderly woman they danced with and the young woman in the wheelchair beside us will also never forget Brian and Michael. So, they are everyone's angels... if you only take the opportunity to shake their hands, accept their hugs, receive their love, and believe!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Angel Babies & My Journey

WE spent the day at the New York Aquarium at Coney Island on Friday. I went -- not by myself as so many people question... as though I'm nuts for attempting such a trip with a 6-year-old and 3-year-old twins by myself! -- I went with my 3 beautiful and well-behaved children. Yes, I was, in fact, the only adult. But, I was so proud of my children and the way they behaved. Awed (All, "WOW" at the sting rays gliding by), surprised ("AAAAHHHH" when the volkswagon-sized walrus shot by the window), scared (Brian said, "BIG sharks!" and took a few steps back), polite (Michael said, "Thank you" to the ice-cream man over and over again until he was acknowledged), and ambassadors. All 3 of them ambassadors! Changing the way people see and think of Down syndrome. And, Olivia demonstrating her best big-sister-as-therapist techniques.

New York is a place inundated with some of the pushiest and most forward people on the face of the planet. I know, I'm a native New Yorker... It is also home to some of the kindest people I've ever met. Though my boys are only mildly affected by Down syndrome, you'd be surprised how many people stare at them, then look away, averting eye contact with me "their poor mother with such children". But, more often -- much more often -- people meet Brian's and Michael's smiles, waves and greetings in kind, with open arms and big smiles... and, often, questions about their seemingly "normal" skills and development -- which I always take as an opportunity to educate... The more folks understand that people with Down syndrome are "normal" -- running the gamut of intelligence and physical capability just like people without Down syndrome -- the more accepted Brian and Michael will be... able to live their lives more fully just like you and me.

Despite the crowds, Brian, Michael and Olivia were their usual polite selves, waiting patiently for a front-row spot at the "underground cliffs" where you could get an underwater glimpse of the wonderful sea creatures housed at the Aquarium. They oohed and aahhed at all the right moments. They fully entertained interested bystanders as they were themselves entertained by the incredible sights. Only once did I abandon my stroller in an all-out run to grab Brian as he disappeared into the crowd at the northern fur seal window while yelling for Olivia to grab Michael's arm and follow Mommy. I did resort to strapping them briefly into their stroller until I recovered from the brief panic of nearly losing them and until the Green Moray eel in the conservation tank proved to be more interesting and more hidden under the rocks than I knew they could see from their stroller's coupe seats.

My 3 angel babies grew my heart 10 times yesterday -- just like the grinch as he heard the Who's voices rise up above their dismay at Christmas being stolen.

There is a story about new parents finding themselves visiting Holland when they planned a trip to Italy. As far as I've expereinced, most new parents of a child born with a disability are given a copy of this story to help them... I don't know what the right word is, maybe cope, with the loss of their expected life versus the life they will now go on to live. From the moment my boys were born to this very day, my life has been a whirlwind vacation to the extraordinary places (in mind and body) my children bring me daily. I never planned a trip to Italy, or to Holland for that matter. What I planned for is motherhood with all it's unknowns. And, what I got is exactly what I knew I would get, absolutely beautiful, loving children who make me feel capable of giving and loving more than I ever knew I could. I'm not in Holland with my children. I'm not in Italy either. I was at the New York Aquarium, enjoying their company and my life with these miraculous angel babies.... one beautiful, sunny-with-a-chance-of-scattered-thunderstorms day at a time.

Isn't life good?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Drop-In Angel

Like every homeowner, The Captain and I have tons of home improvement projects looming over our heads. May I be as bold as to say we might even have more than most folks because we bought a 175-year-old broken down Bayman's Cottage that we extended ourselves (I GC'd). As such, our To-Do list is never-ending. Actually, we have 2 To-Do lists: the "quick" project list and the "big" project list, each divided again into interior and exterior so when the opportunity presents itself -- infrequently with the boys' crazy schedule -- I can choose a project appropriate to my availability. Every free moment I get, I look to the list and choose the highest priority item that offers me the possibility of completion. Mind you, free moments don't come easily or often in my world as, in addition to the To-Do list, there's always just the regular day-to-day stuff that needs doing -- and,sadly, even that often falls by the wayside. And then The Captain has his own priorities and, I might add, they are frequently not the same as mine (occasionally a point of contention... but I'm not alone there). So, when our put-it-up-take-it-down 15' round pool stood half finished with no water in it with July 1st creeping up quickly, that project floated quickly to the top of MY exterior "quick" project list. I mean, how would I entertain the kids day in and day out this summer without the pool? Needless to say, since The Captain works every day and and many nights, he rarely has time to take a dip... so, it was not his top priority at all. Unfortunately for me, this particular project required at least 2 people to finish. And I'd taken it as far as I could go. Someone had to watch the kids while I installed the pool rims and wall supports, filled it, set-up the pump and shocked it for swimming. Along came my angel!

Marko, my friend of 15+ years, decided to stop by on his way through to visit his father who lives 3 hours north of us. Marko lives 6 hours south of us so I rarely see him -- it's typically years between visits. He pulled up looking completely angelic -- actually Hell's Angelic with his leather vest and Harley Davidson motorcycle... complete with a star-spangled helmet (honoring his days in the Marine Corps). A good look, I might add. No sooner did he dismount and dispensed his trademark bear hug than he asked what he could do for me. Now, the beauty about the Drop-In Angel is that they are not entangled in the ridiculous day-to-day prioritizing and re-prioritizing of the To-Do list. After a brief catching up, Marko saw a few unfinished tasks, including the pool, and made a genuine offer to help me finish. I accepted (you have to say yes to your angels or they can't do their good deeds.) He pulled his handy-dandy Leatherman from his pocket and within an hour, the pool was complete and the hose was running full-force... much to the delight of my 3 children.

We were swimming the very next day and every day since!

Thanks Marko --my leather-clad angel on a Harley. I used to just think of you as my Marine... but now, you're my angel too. You know what they say, "the Lord works in strange ways!"

Say yes to an angel today and let them work their magic in your life!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Angels Calling

Sorry I've been MIA but life continues to move at break-neck speeds. My 6-years-young old soul tells me, "Mom, if life is running away from you, chase it!" And so I do, chase my version of the proverbial golden ring.... a peaceful path for my children, my husband and myself. Fortunately, on my journey along this path, I've been blessed with the presence and divine intervention of angels who come in different forms throughout my life. Being all but quarantined with my children due to the crazy therapy schedules we keep, almost my favorite kind of angels are the ones that keep reappearing. Those angels whose sixth sense tell them at precisely the right time that I need a supportive word. And the telephone line delivers them to me.

My favorite telephone angels grace my life with their humor... with perfect timing. These angels include my sister, Cathy; my friend, Christopher; my girlfriend, Lori; and my friend, Marko. These folks consistently call at just the right time and, instead of asking for updates and offering advice, they make me laugh. I mean REALLY LAUGH... OUT LOUD AND FROM THE HEART at the trials and tribulations of their lives as well as mine. They have the ability to turn my mood such that the conveyance of a stressful event -- which formerly might have been a downer in the retelling -- suddenly becomes fodder for the best stand-up comedian. I laugh til I cry and I hang up happy. A little break from the day-to-day routine of my life.

My Mom sometimes says that technology is the devil's invention, claiming it drives people away from face-to-face communication. And, while I sort-of agree... under certain circumstances, I have to thank God for telephone technology... especially those cell phones. It enables my loved ones who don't live near enough to me or are just a bit too busy chasing their own lives for a face-to-face encounter, to reach out and touch me... whenever and wherever the need arises. So, here's to my telephone angels and to the technology that brings these loved ones to me on a regular enough basis to keep me laughing.

Be some one's angel today! Call an old friend that you haven't spoken with in awhile just to say hello!