Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Star Dust

"Babies are bits of star-dust blown from the hand of God."
 -- Larry Barretto

My friend Katie is pregnant with her first child.  She's about halfway along and so amazingly cute.
She's as ready as a new mommy could ever be.
She is deeply loved by her husband.  She is settled and confident and comfortable in her own skin.
She is a really terrific woman and I just know that her overflowing love, creativity, sense of fun and  joie de vivre is going to combine like some secret recipe into one heck of a mom.

But...I can feel her worrying.

I can sense her unease.

She's on the cusp of something big and she knows it...never wanted anything more.

And it's all out of her control.

I tried to help her know that the worrying doesn't

I tried to get her to see that "whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is unfolding as it should."
(Thank you, Desiderata...all time favorite life poem.)

I have so so much to tell her.

I want her to know that loving that baby full tilt IS enough.
It will be what gets you through the dark nights of sickness, worry, anxiety or confusion.

There's no wrong way to love your baby.

You can use the technique of "attachment parenting" and wear your baby 24/7 or you can snuggle that baby whenever it works or you can let your baby snooze by itself in a cradle.  
Your baby is still going to love you back...and here's a secret...she will love you back her way, 
not yours...which will be stunning and magical and exactly the way you need to be loved.

This baby will humble you and shock you and exhaust you and fill your heart to this cosmic depth that you didn't even know existed.

You will look back on things you have loved: a dog, a friend, a job that feeds your soul and truly look down from a mountain top the size of Everest and realize that you were merely playing in the sandbox of life until this moment.

You will laugh your butt the hilarious things you consent to do for this child of yours, the way your body becomes a contortionist, at the absurdity of radical sleep deprivation and yes...

you will cry huge heaving sobs of vulnerability, compassion for all mothers, heartbreak for mothers who must say good-by way too early and those who may never know this will cry for your child's journey, no matter how blessed, because we want zero adversity for the ones we love and that, my darling friend, just isn't possible in this difficult world we find ourselves in...
adversity potholes are everywhere.

You will cry in her tiny magnificence and cry in his towering manhood and cry through awkward adolescence and all the funny, joy-filled, heart-breaking moments in between.

You will feel like an exposed nerve...
you will feel so deeply that the travails of life will seem so utterly discouraging and the joys of life so impossibly amazing that you will feel like you alone 
(well, let's be honest, you've had a little help here)
have created a new and vibrant color that has never before been seen...
and you have!

It's all your own...well, let's include Bryan here too.

You get to define what family looks like.
You get to create traditions and sing funny songs and dance in the rain and try new foods and show someone what 
honesty and gentleness and trust look like.

You get to pray and hope and comfort in the way you've always hoped.

Motherhood and familyhood and babyhood are just lingo for hanging out together for a real long time.
I hope more than anything you get to do just that.

Steep in wonder.

Relax into this beautiful place and know down deep that you are the exact perfect person to mother this baby of yours and that this is no random collection of cells...this, my friend, is a full-fledged miracle and you, my friend, are the apex of that miracle...
the starting point.

The Table of Contents and the Dedication Page and the first few chapters...
but, my sweet friend, you are only that.

Your baby gets the joy and privilege of living with you in your daily life for awhile, 
a long while, 
but the time will quickly come when she gets to search out her own adventures and loves and laughs.
And you will have to smile generously when her new adventure begins.

You will hope that you have given her enough love to last through the trials that you cannot comfort and pray that you have given enough hope to know that drenching rain always brings new growth -- that beautiful deep green of life.

You will trust that faith and wonder and love and the strength of family will be enough.
And it will be.

Love is a beautiful circle.

You are enough.  It will all be just the way it should be.
Trust in the cosmic correctness of this moment in time.
Miracles happen.

Tonight I'm so grateful for my four beautiful, radiant, neon colors that brighten my world.
I can't wait to meet yours!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Back to the Future

In the fall of 1982, I made my way to the University of California at Davis.  
I was a freshman in the freshest sense of the word.  
I knew nothing.  
Having been educated in Catholic schools for twelve years I was sheltered, 
academically prepared and emotionally unaware.
I was excited for the change...ready to meet new people and see new things.

Day 1, I moved into my off campus dorm.  
Being Linda's daughter, we were early and prepared.  I was moving in as soon as possible so consequently my two other room-mates were no where to be found.  
My mom scoured the drawers and carefully placed my super clean clothes in their rightful place.  
I paced.

I noticed across the way that the guys living across from us were very cute.  
I thought it was my lucky day.

My parents were ready to go shopping for items that were crucial to my success...a lamp, a fan, a bulletin board...and insisted that we find a store.  Since I thought my room-mates would be moving in while I was gone, I took the opportunity to write a note of welcome.  
It went something like this:

Hi Roomies!  I'm so excited to meet you.  It's going to be a great year!  I went to the store with my parents but I'll be back.  Love, Beth
P.S. Check out our across the way neighbors -- they are foxes!:)

Little did I know that my room-mates would be horrified.
Knowing nothing about me but that note, and having a lot in common themselves, I was lumped into the slut/man-eater/hussy category.
It was two against one immediately.

Luckily, I knew nothing of their instantaneous decision about me and went about my days being blissfully ignorant.  
I had rushed and joined a sorority which only fed the fire of their assumptions, but lucky for me, I was busy with that and didn't really notice.

I liked Billy Joel, Elton John, the Beatles and Foreigner.
They liked country.
They were both from rural towns.
I was from suburbia.
I liked preppy clothes and 501's.
They were Lee jeans and cowboy boots.
They both had boyfriends.
I wanted none of that.

About six weeks into school, we had a show down.
We had our first big talk about things that mattered...
I found out that I really could relate to the logical, no-nonsense smarts of Pauline.

She shared some of her music with me.
Turns out, Alabama is pretty good.

She told me about her family and her boyfriend, Bruno.
Her parents had immigrated from Holland.  
Her dad was an independent trucker when he wasn't working on a neighbor's dairy.
She was the second of three daughters and her older sister hadn't gone to college (yet).
Pauline was valedictorian of her high school -- a college counselor recognized Pauline's potential.  That careful guidance landed her with a scholarship and financial aid enough to attend college away from was huge!

Pauline was not about to mess around in college.
She was a serious student and expected the same from her friends.
Bruno's picture (an 8x10 glossy) was next to her bed.
Life was very black and white and clear for Pauline.  I liked that.

Another few weeks later and our room-mate, Cheryl, revealed that she was leaving college at the end of the quarter to get married.

Pauline and I created what can only be called an 80's type intervention.
It consisted of a lot of begging, pleading and challenging the logic of such a crazy idea.
We assumed she was pregnant...she wasn't.
When she told us she just loved her boyfriend and missed him, we argued the feminist approach.
We tried to help her see that college was a great opportunity for her.
She was determined to marry her 25 year old policeman boyfriend by Christmas.

Exploring Antarctica seemed to make more sense than that -- for Pauline and me.

After that, the teams switched.
Pauline and I distanced ourselves from that insanity.
In Pauline's case, even though it wasn't rational, she felt an odd sense of betrayal...after all, Cheryl was her first friend away from home.
Together, Pauline and I grew closer.

Pauline got to know the guys across the way.
They encouraged her to rush as a Little Sister a fraternity -- the ag fraternity, of course.
She loved it.

Bruno's 8x10 found it's way into a drawer.
Pauline shared her beloved favorite Dutch candy with me: Dubbel Zout.
(I spit it out in horror...turns out it means "double salted licorice"...pure salt.)
I shared my mom's cookies.

We studied together, laughed together and became real friends 
living for two more years together in college.

That was 31 years ago.

Today, Pauline is married to Bruno.
She has three kids and lives just a few hours from me in a rural town.
We exchange Christmas cards and when our kids were little we met up halfway at a park to play and catch up.  
She isn't on Facebook.  We don't Instagram. 

I think of Pauline as such a big part of college for me.
She was everything that I wanted in a friend -- trustworthy, kind, funny, honest and ready for fun.
But it didn't start off that way.


And now it's Mary Kate's turn.
She has her room-mate, Taylor, from a very different town and a very different life circumstance.
They are three weeks into it...maneuvering and negotiating...still feeling each other out and getting to know if they can trust each other and become friends.


Yesterday, was my birthday.
I was missing my baker-daughter and my sunny son...both away at college.
I was wrestling with the profound lessons that are learned each day away from your family...when no one but you can fix it for you.

John called me outside.
There standing before me was an 18 year old boy, known only from pictures, Zeke.
He introduced me to his girlfriend who is a freshman at UC Davis.
He handed me some chocolate mint ice cream.
"My mom wanted you to have this for your birthday.  She hopes you still like chocolate mint."

Pauline's son.  And Bruno's son...all grown up too.

Out in the world.
Our kids are sharing their sunshine and still doing weird things for their mom.

I was so touched and tickled and shocked.
It was just what I needed -- the perfect birthday surprise.
Just the reminder that friends never really go away.
Those memories are tucked in a safe place and those moments are still real.

Mary Kate has a chance to find her Pauline.
Jack, too.

I hope they seize that chance and don't let differences prevent them from seeing the commonalities that they both share.

They might miss out on something great.

Thank you, dear Pauline, for your thoughtfulness, your kindness and your friendship.
31 years, 2 husbands and 7 kids later...
I'm the lucky one and I know it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Truth or Dare

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived or dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."  
-- John F. Kennedy

Tell me the truth...
stop and really consider it.
How do you feel about Down Syndrome?

Does it gross you out?
Frighten you?
Disgust you?
Make you uncomfortable?

Time for a little truth telling.
I'm gonna keep it real and hope you last until the end.

Do you dare?

Down Syndrome is not frightening.
It's not the problem.
It most certainly does not warrant the death penalty or loss of life in utero.
The problem is the pervasive and concrete-like myths that persist.
Time for a little jack-hammering.

Myth #1:  "They are so happy."

Ummm....not so much.  Patrick has the full deli counter assortment of emotions: anger, loneliness, joy, confusion, sadness, happiness, calm serenity, extreme excitement, embarrassment, love.
Yes, what ticks him off is not what ticks you off...but isn't that true of your other friends and family?
He does not sit around in a perpetual dumb happiness every day -- in fact, that whole idea is just plain silly.

Myth #2: "They are stubborn."

People with Down Syndrome are under a microscope.  
Like it or not, they are held to higher standards behavior-wise than the typical population.
Imagine a line full of kids.
Imagine all of them pushing, poking, and acting unruly.
Who gets nailed almost every time??
Yep, the kid with DS.
He (or she) is easy to spot...I get it...but it's a bummer.
Being "stubborn" could also be called being persistent, having perseverance, demonstrating grit (the hip word in parenting if you haven't gotten the memo)...but almost always, in reference to children with Down Syndrome it is labeled "being stubborn".
I don't buy it.

Myth #3: "Children with Down Syndrome are a burden."
Honestly, this is the one that really prevents children with DS from living a full life.
Children (Down Syndrome or not) are NOT a burden.
Every single child on our big blue marble is a remarkable, stunning, one-of-a-kind gift to all of us.
They are gems...rare and beautiful.
How is that burdensome??

Is there more work involved with a child with Down Syndrome??
Does that make it not worthwhile??

Don't you have to dig deep (and hard) for diamonds??
Aren't our kids more precious than diamonds??

If I could crush this myth into diamond dust I would...because this is the vortex of all prejudice.

If people consider you a burden, then you don't get equal access.
Heck, you don't really deserve to live.
If you are trouble, people avoid hanging out with you.
If you are difficult, well then, it's easy to leave you out, exclude you and close doors of opportunity.

Today, this very day, I spoke to two different moms about their children with Down Syndrome and their education.  Both of them are fighting for the chance to have their child fully included in the typical classroom.  One is in second grade, the other in fifth.  One lives in Florida, the other in California.

Honest, gut-level truth right now: their child is not the only struggling student in their class.
Their child could very well be a better reader and yes, a better student, than another child in that class.
Their child is the one singled out.
The one that needs to prove their worthiness to even get access to the regular room.
Because of the pervasive prejudice that continues to this very day.

Here's my truth and I've been a mom to someone with Down Syndrome for 14 years...
so, I'm not Polly-anna, crazy-in-love, rose-colored glasses girl...
just a mom who lives with her gem everyday.

This is my truth.
I don't notice Down Syndrome in my child.
I notice Patrick.
I can see him, his whole beautiful self, clearly.
That is the blessing of loving someone.

I don't believe any myths now about anybody.
Because the myths that people tell me about Down Syndrome are so far off the mark that it's offensive.

My heart got bigger when Patrick was born.
My citizenship with the world was not only renewed it caught fire.

I see myself in every mother...
the one who forgets her child in a car...
the one who doesn't have enough food in the fridge...
the one who can't figure out which end is up and is so clouded in judgement she believes not living is an option.

My truth is clear.
But I wonder about the others...
who will share their truth??

Who will dare to consciously, mindfully crush to dust these pervasive, destructive myths.

Only with truth can freedom ring.

Just a brother with two sisters: truth.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

From Here to There

"Skipping is oxygen for the soul." -- Jessi Lane Adams

If you hang around young children, you get to see them skip...from Point A to Point B, skipping is most definitely the preferred mode of locomotion.  

Children can't seem to help it.  
The joy in having these amazing bodies, the zest for living each and every day in this land of wonder and amazement, the natural predilection for fun no.matter.what requires skipping.

The young child is proud of himself.  
It's quite an accomplishment to maneuver that body up and down in a dancing sort of way.  
Smiles just must accompany the movement.

But up around age 7, kids start to notice that adults aren't skipping much.
These readers, writers, monkey bar enthusiasts can't help but slow it down.  It's unintentional, of course, growing up always is...but the average 7 year old doesn't skip as often as her kindergarten friends...except on the soccer field, it seems.

Maybe it's the wide open grass, 
or the companionship of friends, 
or just the joy of a Saturday of exercise and cheering and fun --
I don't really know what triggers it but the skipping just happens.

I cherish the skip onto the playing field...because I know it won't last long.
This bridge from young child to older child isn't a long one and the skipping seems to slow way down as they move across it.

I mentioned it today as I watched my baby girl skip out onto the field after a quarter of rest.
I said out loud, "I love the skipping," to a mom next to me.
Her one and only child was right next to mine on the field.
She paused as if noticing it for the first time.

"I know," she said.  "They love to skip."
Her daughter's in third grade...that much farther across the bridge. I mentioned that it wouldn't last long.  That skipping was a territory in the Young Child Kingdom and that the Older Child Realm wasn't too partial to that form of movement.

As if seeing it for the first time, she pointed out the others.
Three kids from the other team skipped in a staggered line onto the field.
Another one of our little team-mates from the Blue Lightning skipped her way onto midfield.
On the field, impatient to get kicking, little girls couldn't help it...their bodies were dancing and wiggling and giggling and joy-filled.

This tiny window of time is so precious.
And such a reminder.

Our bodies are pretty damn awesome.
Why don't we skip more?

Can you imagine Obama and the rest skipping around D.C.??
Yeah, me neither.
They have sucked the joy right out of that town.

How about those poor people in Syria?
How about Putin?

Skipping is free.
It takes no equipment.
You don't need to be fluent in a language, literate or know any rules to the game.
You can do it anywhere -- although wide open spaces do actually beg for it.

So why aren't we doing it??
Because we're all a little weighted down.

You need to have a light heart, a real ability to live in the moment and a sense of joy.

Young children carry those things in their back pocket.
Adults, not so much.

So, today I'm grateful for the skipping.
Grateful to the young children who do it on a daily basis.
Grateful to be reminded that I have a healthy body, a joyful life and the chance to skip.
You'll find me skipping around the block and if I'm really brave, I won't even have a kid next to me.

Why not?
I could use the joy, the lift and the fun.
Who's with me??