Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Thank You to My Brother's Teacher, 40 Years Later

We all have one. A teacher who holds a special place in our hearts, who will forever be remembered and cherished. They may have gone the extra mile, believed in you when you didn't believe in yourself, or even pushed you when you didn't think you could accomplish something. But the impact they made on your life is something you will always remember.

Mine is a woman named Mrs. West, who I am still in contact with today thanks to social media. When I was placed in her class in the 2nd grade I cried. I begged and pleaded with my mom to switch me to a different class, Mrs. West was mean and everyone knew it! My mom told me that if I still felt the same way in a month, then I could switch. Well luckily she gave me the freedom to make the choice on my own. She ended up being my most favorite teacher of all. She was my teacher in 2nd grade, 3rd grade and even for a few classes in 8th grade. That's a small town for ya! She was something special, and by the way she wasn't mean at all. Strict, yes, but she was loving, gentle, and helped instill confidence in me. She will forever be "that" teacher in my heart.

This brings me to the whole reason I'm writing this post. My brother Danny has been talking about his Head Start teacher Karen ever since I can remember. He's 13 years older than me so it seems like from my first memories as a kid I can remember him talking about this awesome teacher of his. My brother has a memory like a steel trap and can recall things that happened when he was 4 or 5 years old that blow me away. He talks about how she was encouraging, loving, and she wholeheartedly believed in him. It impacted him in a way that stayed with him, for over 40-something years to be exact!

About a year ago my brother picked up his phone and called the information line. Who knew that still existed!? He asked for Karen by name and the town she taught in, which was in California. He was connected to a lady on the phone. Danny giggles when he recalls how he said in his deep voice, "hello, this is Daniel, I am Karen's student from 1969, I was 4 and 5 years old when she was my teacher." The woman on the other end was Karen's sister-in-law, and she knew Karen would be absolutely thrilled to hear from one of her students. 

When Danny and Karen connected over the phone I wondered if she really remembered him. This was over 40 years ago, and as a special education teacher she had taught many many students in that time. Well they started talking on the phone quite frequently.  Not too long ago Danny excitedly told me that Karen was coming up to Oregon to see him, along with her brother. What? She is? I thought he was surely messing with me.

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Karen in person. She and her brother came all the way from California to see my brother. Let me say that again. They came all the way from California to see my brother, 40-something years after she had him as a student!! They stopped by my house to meet me and my kids. When I opened the door Karen proclaimed "You look JUST like your mother!" It brought a huge smile to my face. It was wonderful to hear her talk about my mom and my brother. Hearing about Danny as a little boy, just Luke's age was so neat to me.

She helped Danny pick out gifts for my kids, coloring books, crayons, pads of paper and more. The boys knew the story behind Karen so they were showing off everything they knew, writing their letters, putting together sentences, counting, you name it. They were excited to have a teacher in the house and she seemed genuinely impressed! I got to sit and chat with her about her life, how she had been a teacher in Head Start and went on to be a speech therapist. She is now retired from teaching. I loved hearing about her students with Down syndrome who she has watched grow up into independent adults. She had such uplifting and positive information to share with me. 

And as to whether she really remembered my brother? She absolutely did! She remembers details such as his favorite movie as a kid. She remembers how smart he was and how funny he was, even way back then! She cares for him so much and it shows. While visiting Danny they even had dinner at my mom's with my other brother Matt and sis-in-law Diane, then went to the casino with my other brother Kevin. She got to meet part of our big crazy family and she said it was one of her best vacations ever. She said she and her brother never stopped laughing.

Danny and Karen
Danny and Karen's brother Dave

Uncle Danny and Ellie
The whole group!
Karen, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hear a lot about how I will have to fight for Ellie once she's in school, be her advocate, and that it won't come without major challenges. I have been avoiding letting my mind go there because I know at age 3 she will be in the ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education) program and will be out of EI (Early Intervention) where we are now. I feel safe in this place and so the thought of her being in school scares me. We are only a year away! Fear was creeping into my heart, but meeting you has replaced that fear with hope. I am so grateful for teachers and human beings like you. You genuinely care for my big brother and I hope and pray that Ellie has her own Karen someday. Thank you!!

For this week's song I thought about my bro and his favorite music. He loves his Irish tunes and is so proud of his heritage. One of his most favorites (besides Wild Rover) is Danny Boy, hmm I wonder why? Here is a great version by one of Danny's favorite singers, Johnny Cash.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I Missed My Flight and So I Stayed

I haven't posted in a couple of months, time seems to be slipping right through my fingers. This is going to be another pictorial recap of September and October. We have had a whirlwind of a time I tell ya, with the Buddy Walk, a once in a lifetime family vacation to Hawaii, Halloween, Ellie whistling like crazy and her health update! And she's going to be 2 years old in two months!

The boys started school in September, we have a Kindergartener and 2nd grader now. Luke rocked his purple shirt, tie, and purple Nikes. I still remember to this day the way I felt when I started Kindergarten. Horrible butterflies and a sick feeling in my stomach. A feeling I still get to this day when I have to do something new that makes me uncomfortable. Luke on the other hand is nothing like me in that way, he was excited for his first day.

We had Ellie's Buddy Walk, it was amazing. We had a big group of walkers and it was an absolutely beautiful day. I had set a goal to raise $1,000 for the Down Syndrome Network of Oregon. We ended up tripling it and we raised over $3,000! I couldn't believe the outpouring of support from my coworkers, family, friends, even some of my new online friends that I have yet to meet in person. We are so grateful. Thank you to those who donated and joined us in our walk. It means the world to us.

In September I had a little mom's get together at my house to talk about my appointment with our Naturopath Dr. Peirson. Having local moms to talk to in person is so important. The kids all play so well together. We spent most of the time talking about our stories and how we received the Ds diagnosis. There's something I have noticed in many of the stories I hear. I've heard stories about years of fertility struggles and then all of the sudden they were pregnant with their child with Down syndrome. Or they weren't expecting to have anymore children and "surprise!!" there they were! Or the dream thing, one of the local moms I chatted with also had a dream of their child before they were born. There's just a little shred of magic in these kid's conception and I am always left in awe. I wonder what that's all about... hmmm...

Speaking of my mom support, I am planning to meet many of my online rockin' moms in 2015. I'm so excited I can hardly see straight. I'll be going to a conference in June and I'm hoping to go to a retreat in September. I've made so many lifelong friends thanks to Ellie and I'm so grateful.

A couple of fun things that have happened recently, I had another blog posted on The Mighty, I sure love that inspirational site!! It was the one where I wrote about my big bro Danny and Uncle Dave.

The Mighty also made a shout out for parents of children with Down syndrome to share their thoughts about raising a child with Ds and somehow my quote was picked. How cool is that? These 24 People Have Advice For Any Parent Who Just Received a Down Syndrome Diagnosis.

I also entered Ellie in a photo contest for an awesome site called Stand Up For Downs. They use humor and comedy to raise money, awareness, and get people laughing. I can so appreciate their mission. They had a funny picture contest, and we could have won $1,000 to the charity of our choice! I was hoping I could raise funds for our non-profit (the DSDN) and we were SO CLOSE at 5th place!! The winner totally deserved the #1 spot, you have to see the photo that won it's hilarious. Here’s the picture I submitted, it makes me giggle:

October was also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I did this little photo of Ellie to celebrate. I actually printed this at Costco to hang in her room. Her face just kills me, she's so darn kissable!

We also went on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate Jesse’s Uncle Jack. He turned 60, and he is by far one of the coolest dudes I know. It was a big group of us, my in-laws, Jesse’s Grammy, along with our family that moved to Vietnam last year. It was soooo relaxing and so wonderful to watch the cousins together again. The boys were so excited for their first time on an airplane. Ellie traveled like a champ and made friends everywhere we went. We drank lots of mai tais and ate really good food thanks to the cooking skills of my sis-in-law Dani. There was lots of swimming, sunning, and giggling. This was a trip we will remember forever.

As we were exploring the island I kept thinking about the people that live there. Everyone seems so relaxed and friendly, it has such a laid-back vibe. I wondered what do they do for a living here? How much does it cost to buy a home? Could we pick up and leave and come live here and never go back? “I WISH!” Jess and I kept saying. When we were sitting in Uncle Jack’s backyard (I mean back sand.. on the ocean, not really a yard)… I told him how I completely get why he lives there. It's paradise! He then told me that 28 years ago, he was 32 years old and living in Oregon. He went to Hawaii to visit, and upon returning home had missed his flight. Oops. “So I stayed” he said. Just like that. He never looked back. He just decided to stay in Hawaii and he’s lived there ever since. See? Dude.

Uncle Jack with his great nieces and nephews in his backyard :)
He’s awesome and it was so great to get to know him in his element since we usually only see Uncle Jack when he's in Oregon visiting. He took the kids for rides in his yellow car, gave lots of noogies, and snuggled Ellie up a ton. Will told me today that Uncle Jack went 90 miles an hour in that yellow car and that they almost hit a wild turkey. I highly doubt it was that fast, but in a 7 year old's mind it's something he will never forget. I’m so grateful we could all go to Hawaii together to celebrate this awesome guy. I took over 1000 photos again, and surely my computer is going to explode from being over capacity at some point. Here are some of my faves:

During our vacation I also ditched all of Ellie’s supplements, her sure steps (braces for her ankles), her hip helpers (to keep her froggy legs aligned). It was awesome (I said that in a singing opera voice in my head)… I gave her thyroid meds every day but that’s it. And you know what? I felt like she was stronger and progressing better than ever after that. Why does that always happen?? She's now back on everything, we are following PT’s rules as far as wearing all of her therapy gear, and we are back to our routine but damn it felt good to be a rebel! And she loved it too.

Halloween started off kind of awkward this year. You see, every Halloween since the boys were tiny we would trick or treat in our little town with the cousins, but that isn't possible now that they live in Vietnam. So last year we realized we needed to find a new tradition, and we went with our best friends and had a blast in a new neighborhood trick or treating. Well they moved to Texas in August, so that tradition ended too. Can you sense the self-pity?? Wah waaaah. I feel like everyone we love is moving away from us, and I don't like it! So I called our OTHER best friends and invited ourselves to hang out with them. I have no shame. Luckily they said it was fine! It was a lot of fun, the kids scored tons of candy, and it was fun to catch up. Jen, you guys better not move away too!

Our boys together
Ellie was Minnie Mouse, Will was a dead skater boy, and Luke was a zombie. I found out how to do the make-up from watching youtube and hounding my friend on facebook who is a zombie face make-up master (thank you Michelle!!!!) It was easy and the boys LOVED it. 

Here’s a quick how-to: You will need liquid latex, which you can buy from the Halloween store or in my case Amazon because I have a sick addiction to buying stuff on there (free shipping in 2 days? Count me in!)… anyhoo, paint on a thin layer of latex, put a piece of tissue paper over it, paint another layer of latex over that and let it dry. Use tweezers and pull the paper and rip it. Then you just paint over it with cheap face paint you can get at the Halloween section of any store. Wah-lah! You have scabby peeling sores on your face! The boys said it was their most favorite costumes ever. And I had fun doing it!

OH, and THIS! This happened:

Brag alert! This is a drawing by my niece Karley, she is 15. I can't tell you how many times Jesse and I, as well as the boys, have studied this dude's face. She drew this with pencil on a piece of copy paper. I still can't believe it, I can't tell you how absolutely proud I am of her. She amazes the hell out of me. She is the most talented artist I know and I can't wait to see what her future holds.

OK, Ellie’s health stuff.  She is now on thyroid medicine. She had 3 teeth come through after being on the meds for 7 days, 2 top molars and one of her front teeth- NO JOKE. Her hair is shinier and growing faster somehow, her tone is better. She now pulls up to stand and goes from the couch to the table with no fear. It took her forever to get to this point but once starting the meds I kid you not, she is a confident little stander-upper now! Everyone noticed the huge change in her, my mama-in-law, my mom, our babysitter, everyone! Walking is still a ways away, but I feel like we are heading in the right direction. I am now giving her the meds two times a day based on her latest blood work. I truly believe this is what she needs and it feels right. Although the Pharmacist at Walgreens made a snide comment "WOW, you have your child on thyroid medicine ALREADY? Isn't she a little young for that?" She's lucky there was a window in between us because I wanted to throat punch her. OK not really. Ok well maybe just a little bit. :)

I have been waiting months for Ellie to say “mama”. One of her first words was "dada" and in the past year I've been trying to get her to say mama, but she will look at me with a twinkle in her eye and say "dada". Then it finally happened, but it wasn't the way I expected. See the below video. And note this was a month ago and she still says it this way. Yep that’s my girl... she's such a stinker. 
Ellie Finally Says Mama

Her other awesome new trick is her whistling. People freak out over it. Her OT said “in all my years working with kids I’ve never had a child able to whistle at 20 months old!” I think it must be genetic. My dad was the best whistler ever, and I whistle every day. And hey it’s good oral motor therapy if you ask me!
See clip:

Ellie Whistling

I also want to bring up our DSDN Holiday Card Campaign. We are making a shout out to families who have children with Down syndrome to send a holiday card to their medical providers (NICU Team, Pediatrician, OB's Office, etc). Please share your beautiful families far and wide as a reminder how loved our little ones are. 

Here are a few more photos from the past couple of months.

Ellie's left eye is turning green and you can really see the difference in this pic. 
Yes, yes you are my girl.
One of my all time favorite pictures of her!
I made this shirt for sis, I think it's so cute on her. We also sent one to Ellie's boyfriend Mason, how adorable is he??

Every once in a while I will have a shirt idea and have found Spreadshirt to be really great in regards to quality, ease of designing, and quick shipping too. This is also where I made the boy's shirts for our first World Down Syndrome Day. Luke wears Will's old one now and it's getting too small. I think I'll reorder some bigger sizes soon because they love to wear their "sissy shirts".
Here's my little shop with the different shirts I've come up with: Spreadshirt Shop I highly recommend them if you have an idea for a shirt!!

I love this photo, look at how small my babies are! Oh my heart!

Well that wraps it up for now. We are looking forward to hosting Thanksgiving at our house again, and then Christmas is right around the corner and Ellie's birthday too. Can someone slow down the clock a little please? I can't believe it's the middle of November already. Sheesh!

I always end each post with a song that is special to me. As I've said before, I always have a constant soundtrack playing in my head. For this post I asked Uncle Jack to choose the song. He is a music buff and has impeccable taste, so I knew he would come up with something perfect. Thank you Uncle Jack, I think this is a wonderful choice. I especially like this part:

So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello"

Hello In There - John Prine