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?