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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Category: Philosophy

Day 880: Swings, Songs and Advice for New Moms

Almost three years ago, one of my favorite friends and mentors had a baby boy. His name is Colin, and he has always been one cool cat, even at seven months old when I first blogged about him.

Because it’s been a few years (no idea how that happened), I asked Colleen if I could interview her again – this time, about about motherhood, wifehood, babyhood, toddlerhood, and what she would say to a new mother who receives the same diagnosis for their baby that was given to Colin.

Colin

Colin is a measured performer and a quick study. He can figure out what makes you laugh and then milk the situation before you even know what’s going on. I asked Colleen what Colin’s personality is developing into, and what she sees in Colin of herself and her husband, Chris.

“Reading and entertaining rank high for Colin. Book was his first word. I think he would spend the entire afternoon being read to, if he could. And while you are reading to him, he will inevitably make a funny face, snort or try to get you to smile – that’s the entertainer in him.

He’s a huge fan of Louis Armstrong. And he loves to swing, be surprised,” [Interjection from me: it’s true – he loves to be surprised. Whereas I’d probably cry and pee my pants a little, he just laughs.], “sing along to any number of songs, and play ball. He throws better than I do.

Colin Swinging Down Syndrome

Case in point.

He has Chris’ sense of perfection. Before he was walking, he would practice pulling himself up in hiding before he did it in person. We would watch him on the baby monitor. He has the persistence to keep trying something over and over until he is happy with it.”

As a nearly three-year-old, Colin walks, runs and takes exuberant leaps off one of the chairs in the living room (which has since been turned around to face the wall as a preventative measure). He’s also one of about 400,000 people in the U.S. living with Down Syndrome.

Advice

The original diagnosis was an admittedly scary and difficult one for Chris and Colleen. They received it moments after Colin was born, and they weren’t sure how to react. True to form, they made it through the initial tumbling and came out smiling on the other end.

“I knew Chris would be a good dad, but there is a whole other level of falling in love with your partner when you see them as a loving parent. I couldn’t really understand what that looked like until I saw it firsthand.”

Knowing what she and Chris know now, I asked Colleen what she would say to new parents of a baby with Down Syndrome. 

“Recently I read something that really rings true, so I’m going to steal the thought. If you were to go to a new parent and tell them all the things that would go wrong in their child’s life – like, when they are six months old they’ll get really sick and you will be up with them for nights on end trying to figure out what’s wrong. Or at seven, they’ll fracture their arm jumping off the bed. Or their best friend won’t be their friend anymore when they’re 11, and it will really hurt their feelings – If you told a new parent all the bad things that would happen in the future, instead of helping them be overjoyed with their new child, they would be scared to death. How can a mom protect her kid from that? But that’s not how it happens for most new mothers, thank God.

We were told (or read on the Internet) all the things that could/might happen to Colin throughout every stage of his life. But the truth is, some might happen and some might not. So I would tell a new parent to throw all the opinions, presumptions and thoughts aside and know that someday very soon, you will not see your child as any different.”

Colin Selfie Down Syndrome

Colin’s first selfie. JK, mom took it.

She also offered some incredibly sage advice to all the new mothers of all the babies, regardless of their situations:

  1. “Go easy on yourself. In the beginning you can become delusional due to lack of sleep. Everyone will say ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’ If you can do that, great. If not, then do what you can do to relax. I couldn’t sleep when he slept, and I beat myself up for it over and over.
  2. Find a small group of people you trust, who will listen and talk with you. Thankfully, I had a handful of people who would answer the phone or text me back at 3 am. Remember that someday these people are going to need you to return the favor.
  3. If you don’t have a doctor (or occupational therapist or physical therapist) you trust, then get out of your current relationship and find a new one as soon as possible. And don’t be embarrassed to do it.
  4. Take time to allow yourself to welcome this little one into your home. This baby needs the same things from you any other child would need.
  5. Surround yourself with the people who look at your child the way you want the world to look at your child.
  6. Remember that people mean well. Really. I’m sure I said some stupid things to new parents when I didn’t really know what being a new parent meant. (They either forgave me or were so tired they weren’t even listening.) People will have opinions about your child and what you are doing/should be doing/shouldn’t be doing, and so on. That’s ok. They want to support you any way they know how, and they probably have no clue what is going on in your life. So listen, say thank you, and then call someone in the group from #2 to talk about it.
  7. For the proud new mamas of a child with Down Syndrome, you may want to run and hide right now, and it doesn’t feel fair. But once you come to terms with reality, just know that the child in front of you will blow your mind someday soon. Their capacity to reach their goals is the same as any other child when given opportunities and support.
  8. Remember that your child will be their own person even if they share the same diagnosis as someone else. People will make generalizations, like, ‘Oh, those Downs kids are so stubborn/sweet/easy/loving, etc.’ Is that true of Colin? Sure, sometimes. It reminds me of when people used to assume I played basketball because I’m tall. My son and your kid will be different from each other. Will they share similar characteristics? Sure. Do I share similar characteristics with some WNBA players? Sure.”

Right? Sit with that advice from my wise friend and pass it along to the people in your life who need it. And if you want to learn more and support people with Down Syndrome, check out these great organizations:

Ruby’s Rainbow
Changing the Face of Beauty
Think College

Day 815: Like Taking Candy

So, I was clearing out some blog drafts and I came upon this one from August 28, which was about two months after I started dating Joe.

A few things have changed since then. I’m 32 now. I have bangs. Joe and I have met each other’s families and made each other meals and agreed that we want to share the same balcony from the same apartment. But for the most part, this draft still holds true.

I’m publishing it today as an ode to a balanced, imperfect relationship. One that I want to keep.

Warning: it’s a little gushy and it’s totally something I would have hated (secretly loved?) reading when I was single.

File this one under the category, “Things people say to you and you roll your eyes, but then later you realize they were right.”

At 31, I’ve had a good number of dating experiences. I’ve had a long-term, loving relationship that just didn’t work out, and a series of shorter-term relationships that have ranged from from fun to serious, to confusing to honestly-I-can’t-believe-you-thought-I’d-like-that-movie.

But the key marker in my adventures is that they’ve all been complicated in their own ways. However compelling, there’s been a problem to be solved.

My friends and family have been relentlessly supportive of whatever and whomever I chose, but often with the gentle sighing caveat, “You know, I really think it should be easier.”

It should be easier.

That’s a particularly easy statement to ignore, because it can be intellectually overridden with facts about why it’s hard now but will get easier later, or snorts that maybe not everyone gets to glide down easy street in the beginning of a relationship. It just sounded too simple, and I truthfully figured that “easiness” just wasn’t in my nature. I enjoy complicated tasks – things that need to be untangled and wrangled and sorted out.

But that was before I met Joe.

I’m telling you, there’s something to this easy thing. We like each other, we tell each other we like each other and we have easy conversations about complicated topics.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. His cheap, black socks leave little fuzzies all over my apartment, and I swear they look like dirty spiders and it drives me freaking crazy. And my work life often bleeds into my after-work life, and I know I have a hard time disengaging when I’m focused on a project.

But. It’s easy. We like each other. He’ll buy new socks and I’ll turn off email notifications. He’ll teach me how to love cycling and I’ll teach him how to think performance art is beautiful (some of it, at least).

I’m not writing this to say that something’s wrong if your relationship looks or sounds different. If it doesn’t seem easy, it’s still okay. You’re the only one who knows what’s right for you.

But from one logical justifier to another, it’s been SO worth trying for easy.

Also, we met on Tinder.

Zeus Jones Holiday Party

The only photo of us from my work holiday party.
Captured by Colleen at 2nd Truth Photography.

Day 701: Time to Be Gentle

It’s fall – a gorgeous fall – and it’s a sad, sweet season. Things are slowing down, dying, preparing to fold into themselves and hunker down for winter. People (like me) are mirroring nature – we’re going to bed earlier and sleeping later. Waiting until the last possible moment to slip sideways out of bed, hoping the sun has gotten up, too.

In Ayurveda, a system of traditional Hindu medicine – often cited as the sister science to the philosophy of yoga – the dry, windy, cool and somewhat erratic nature of fall is easily reflected and amplified in the body. And if we’re not paying attention, we can get knocked off balance by this subtle season.

Taking a step sideways, the Ayurvedic view is that all systems of nature are bound and balanced by three primal energies, or doshas – vata, pitta and kapha.

Vata contains ether and air, pita is fire, and kapha is dominated by earth and water. Everyone has a mixture of these energies, or biological types. Vata types are typically thin and airy, with cold hands and feet. They can be creative and carefree, but also restless and emotional. Pita types are energetic and muscular, with an aversion to heat and a propensity for high intelligence, competition and aggression. Kapha types are typically heavier and stable. They tend to be serene and thoughtful, and may not seek excitement or activity.

(I’m summarizing fairly complex concepts, but if you’re interested in finding out what dosha may be most prominent in you, here is one of many online dosha quizes.)

Fall is the vata season. Dry leaves become dry skin, short days become short spans of energy, windy days become upset stomachs, etc. Instead of swinging too far into the vata energy of fall and becoming increasingly anxious and scattered (especially if your constitution is already primarily vata), you can cultivate the opposite energy to create stability and balance.

So if you’re like me, and are feeling a little too swept up the season, here are some tips:

  • Drink warm beverages with lemon and fresh ginger.
  • Use warming herbs when cooking, like ginger, cardamom, basil, cinnamon, rosemary, nutmeg, vanilla and oregano.
  • Wear soft and warm clothing, and cover your ears when the wind is cool.
  • Exercise consistently, at a slow and steady pace, as opposed to in quick bursts.
  • Spend time in silence, and breathe deeply while you’re there.
  • Eat oily, nourishing foods – like cooked vegetables, grains, soups and stews.
  • Avoid cold foods and iced drinks.
  • Wear reds, yellows, oranges and whites.
  • Regulate your cycles – go to bed and wake up at consistent times.
  • Focus on grounding down and rooting, particularly with yoga.
  • Be gentle to yourself and with others.
  • Quietly pay attention. Notice things. It’s hard to come down when you’re already too far up in the air.

October

Fall leaves, from my walk to work yesterday.

Day 632: About Not Being Scared

I started writing this piece before I learned of Robin Williams’ death.

And in full disclosure, I don’t suffer from depression the way many of my friends, families and peers do. I’m honored to have heard some of their stories over the past few days, and to have been privy to the depth at which depression is managed with grace, grit and sometimes deep, deep loneliness.

Cheers to the depressed. May you press on and keep sharing.

_____

Original post:

The other day, I had a moment. I woke up, took a shower, lay down on the floor, and stared up at the ceiling while tears sort of unceremoniously streamed out of my eyes, down my temples and into my ears. I felt exhausted. And hyper-aware that my wet hair was soaking the carpet.

In that moment, I felt anxious and incompetent. Logically, I knew I didn’t have anything to feel sad about – and I knew I could snap out of it if I really, really wanted to. But I didn’t want to. I felt compelled to stay there, stretched out, feeling anxious and incompetent, wondering how much longer I could delay the rest of my day. It was comforting in an incredibly uncomfortable sort of way.

I think sometimes life is just kind of scary.

And sometimes we should feel comfortable talking about how life is just kind of scary.

There’s a reason we thrive in communities – it takes all kinds of different relationships (dare I say a “village” of them) to support an individual’s emotional well-being. We need champions, advocates, reality-checks, comic relief, passion, warmth and challenges – and in the best communities, what an individual takes in in balance with what they provide.

But we (perhaps women, in particular) still struggle with this concept. We think we should be able to do it all and have it all and work it all out ourselves. We have to give more than we take. And we can’t talk about our sad or scary moments, because they make us seem weak and fragile, instead of normal human beings with deep emotions and strengths.

I’d like to be part of the movement that says it’s okay to talk about these things. That it’s okay to not have it all together, and it’s okay to ask for help. Asking and seeking is not weak – it’s productive and smart. It says you’re willing to grow and be challenged. And isn’t that a brave, beautiful thing?

Day 555: I Saw a Beautiful Thing Today

If you live in a city like mine, you’ve seen the women and men who stand on intersection medians and ask for help during red lights. Their cardboard signs identify themselves as Veterans, mothers, fathers, widows, unemployed workers, addicts, alcoholics, etc. They share the same titles as many of their car-driving, stoplight-waiting counterparts; just different circumstances.

Lately, there have been a number of times where I’ve been the first car in a line of cars right up against the median, sitting less than two feet away from a person reaching out for help. Last week, I had groceries in the car, so I passed along a bag of grapes. Today, I sucked on the straw of my soy chai and just sat there.

My stoplight today was a particularly long one, so I had plenty of time to wrestle with my ethics. I had about $10 in cash in my purse, but dollars didn’t seem like the right kind of help. I thought about making eye contact and offering a welcoming and/or I-see-you-and-I-wish-you-well smile, but I also worried about coming across as condescending. The more I went back and forth, the worse I felt. Then I felt bad for feeling bad, because how gross is that? I’ve been incredibly lucky, and who’s to say that he and I wouldn’t have swapped lives with different support systems?

As I slunk and drank and sat, I noticed a teenage hipster-ish girl across the intersection, standing in a sort of weird and dangerous spot in the road. She seemed to be trying to cross to the median, which was angled, and between two converging/diverging roads that run along the lake (in other words, not particularly pedestrian friendly). I wrote her off as trying to take a shortcut to the water and watched carefully as she tried to pick a good time to cross.

Eventually, she zipped through a long line of cars, crossed in front of me, and stepped up onto the median. She had a plastic bag with her, and I glued my eyes on her sideways as she greeted the median man, offered him her hand as an introduction, and asked him how he was doing. They introduced themselves to each other and exchanged pleasantries, and she started pulling goodies out of the bag – a giant bottle of water, peanuts, granola bars, a Tom Clancy book. She had scoured the gas station across the street on his behalf.

And then (this is my favorite part), she stayed there. He guzzled the water, the light changed and I pulled away, and I watched in the rearview mirror as the two of them sat down on the median and unloaded the rest of her plastic picnic basket, both of them smiling. She seemed interested in him as a person – not as a concept, not a representation of homelessness, not an uncomfortable part of an otherwise privileged daily experience. And because I think the full picture is important here, I’ll also point out that their skin tones didn’t identify their privilege one way or another. His was white and hers brown. Both wearing ripped t-shirts and jean shorts – his torn by wear, and hers by a manufacturer.

She’s my hero today. I don’t know her and I’ll probably never see her again, but she – likely half my age – exhibited the kind of understanding of human connectivity that every person (and especially every leader) should exemplify.

So. Here’s to the girl with the plastic bag, here’s to the guy reading the espionage book in the intersection median, and here’s to remembering we’re all part of the same thread.