Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day.  What is Memorial Day, you ask?  It is a day to remember my Grandpa.  Oh, wait.  Sorry.  Mom says it's not just about him (could have told me that sooner) but it's really about honoring those who have died in war.  My Grandpa Rhines didn't die in a war but he served in the infantry in Vietnam.  I never got to meet him because he died when my Momma was just 22 and I didn't come along until she was really old.  She told me a lot about him today.  So in honor of Memorial Day, I will share what she told me.

My Grandpa was funny.
My Grandpa was smart.
My Grandpa could cook.
My Grandpa wished he could play the guitar.
My Grandpa was the life of the party.
My Grandpa was proud.
My Grandpa was a proud liberal.
My Grandpa liked Peter, Paul & Mary.
My Grandpa loved my Momma.

I had to ask why, if Memorial Day is about honoring those who died in a war, were we remembering Grandpa who died twenty three years after he came back?  I didn't understand.  Momma told me that in many ways, Grandpa Rhines didn't really come back from Vietnam.  He saw a lot of terrible things that haunted him for the rest of his life.  Can you imagine?  Seeing things that are so bad that you never forget them?  And that because of that, he had a hard time adjusting to everyday life.  She said he felt guilty all of the time and that Memorial Day was a really big deal to him.  She said he had undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  (I had to have Momma write that down...those are really big words for a nine month old!)  Apparently, back when soldiers were coming home from Vietnam, they didn't have a name for it and they didn't do anything to help the soldiers who had it.  So, Grandpa did what he could to help himself and his prescription was PBR.  I don't know what that is but I hear that if you take enough of it for too long, it turns out to be really bad for you and that's why I never got to meet him.

There is so much that I don't understand about all that but the biggest is why do we go to war?  Why don't we take care of people who come back?  Momma says that there wasn't even a parade for the veterans of the Vietnam War when it ended.   That doesn't seem right.   But I know that my Momma is very proud of him.  She told me that a lot of times today.  And you can tell by the way she talks about him all the time.  I can't tell if it's because she talks about him all the time or if maybe I knew him before I was born because I feel like I know him.   That's pretty cool!

So I think I have it figured out.  We honor my Grandpa Rhines on Memorial Day because the war caused my Grandpa to be sick and even though he didn't die in that country, during that war, it was that war that got him 23 years later.  OK.  I overheard Momma say that :)  But it sounds about right to me.

Dear Grandpa Rhines:  I'm sorry that you had to go to Vietnam.  Thank you for fighting.  I'm sorry that you weren't honored well when you came home and that your sickness was ignored.  You deserved better.  I will honor you every chance I get...along with my other military Grandpa's and my military Grandma.  Happy Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Kissed a Girl

Yesterday was my mom's birthday.  She took the day off, not to celebrate but to unpack boxes.  What?!?  I thought birthday's were special days where everyone brings you presents and sings you a song and you get to do whatever you want and everyone has to be extra nice to you.  I think there's cake in there somewhere too...because it's your special day.  At least that's what I'm planning on for my birthday.

The day started out great.  A nice slow morning.  I took a little nap so that I would be all rested for the day's festivities.  Then my new therapist came to work with me.  She's the best!  Right away I was happy to see her and felt so comfortable with her.  I'm pretty sure that I smiled and chuckled through the whole thing.  I could tell that Momma was happy too.  She wasn't a big fan of the last therapists I had.  She said they were too negative and made her feel bad about everything.  I thought they were alright but I was never very excited to play with them when they came over.  I think Ms. Kristin and I are going to be friends.  I'll keep you posted.

Then Aunt Betsy and Lilly (she's kind of my girlfriend.  She's Kindergarten!) came over to our new apartment.  There was a lot of high pitch girly talk about how great the new apartment is and the couch looks so good blah, blah, blah....but the couch really does look nice.  Aunt Betsy is one of my favorite people.  Momma says that she's family even though we aren't related by blood.  Momma told me, "We're related by childhood friendship and all the good and bad that life has thrown at us.  Aunt Betsy is my best friend and sister."  I'm not sure I get it but I know that she's Lilly's Momma and I really like Lilly.  I even kissed her at the Olive Garden...but that's later in the story.  I'm getting ahead of myself.

So we went to the Olive Garden for lunch to celebrate Momma's birthday.  I was playing it cool, even flirting with the waitress a little to make Lilly jealous.  I think it worked because before too long, there I was sitting on Lilly's lap.  She's so nice to me and talks to me like I'm just a person.  She doesn't see me as different from any other kid or that I'm a baby.   She's the best.   All of a sudden I had this overwhelming desire to smooch her!  So I did!  I grabbed her face with both hands and laid one on her.  She'll never be the same.

Momma says I'm sounding too much like Daddy and I need to tone it down.

When we came back to our new apartment after lunch, Momma thought it was time to start unpacking.  We've already gone over this shouldn't do tedious work on your birthday.  So I decided that the only way I was going to get her to just sit and relax was to throw up all afternoon.  It worked!  We sat and cuddled on the couch for the rest of the afternoon.  Every time she put me down, I would cry.  She would pick me up.  I would throw up a little more.  We rocked.  She'd put me get the idea.  Eventually, she just gave up and we downloaded the first season on Falling Skies.  Aliens.  Yeah, I think I was born to a sci-fi nerd.  It's ok though.  We had a great day!

If you're wondering, this is the look I gave to Lilly just before I kissed her:
Do you think you could resist me?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Editor's Note: I Guess I'll Just Have To Get a Ladder

Normally Cooper writes in his voice about the events of his life but there is a larger topic that I want to explore that might be too much for an eight month old to understand.  Today, on Facebook, there has been a conversation among parents of children with Down syndrome about our birth stories and what we would have liked to have happened differently.  I haven't shared mine with the blogosphere yet and thought that since it's been on my mind a lot lately and since I've been sharing with a smaller group, now might be a good time to take a stab at it.

Everything about Cooper wasn't planned.  From conception to birth, he was a surprise.  I was thirty seven when I got pregnant and was very shocked.  Being a mom was not on my radar.  I know now that it was the best thing I ever did without thinking but then...I was kind of a wreck about it.  It took me most of my pregnancy to come to terms with it.  I will share with you the daydream that I had that finally got me over the shock and into being excited.  It was simply this tall young man reaching for something off the top shelf for me and handing it to me with a smile.  It was the smile of a soon to be grown up young man that is beginning to realize his place in the world.  He was confident and attractive and he was ready to help his old Momma out.  That's it.  Something about that made it ok for me.  

I had just started to get excited about being a mom when I went into labor a few weeks early.  It was the opening night of the 2011/12 NFL football season. I watched the Packers play some team I can't remember and fell asleep on the couch after eating too much Hudsonville Double Chocolate Almond ice cream.  

At about 1 am, my water broke.  Off to the hospital!

After way too long, my Dr. finally figured out that Cooper was breech and that they would have to do a C-section.  Since his heartbeat was really strong and regular they made me wait until after 5 pm before taking me in.  There are pictures from those few minutes leading up to the surgery that I still can't look at.  It's as if they are from another life.  It's life before Down syndrome and before my Mom passed away.  It truly is another life.  I can only explain it as what it might be like if you were able to peek at your life in another dimension.  I recognize the people and I remember the events but there is a foreign-ness to it that is a little heartbreaking.

I saw it immediately when they showed him to me above the blue curtain that separated me from seeing my insides.  There was something about his eyes.  I kept asking if he was ok and everyone in the room reassured me that he was fine.  There was something in their voices that I didn't believe and I couldn't shake those eyes.

I don't know what happened in the nursery when the Dr. told Bob and my Mom.  I've heard Bob's story about it but that's for him to tell.  I was in my room waiting for Cooper to be cleaned up and brought in, hoping that I was wrong and just a paranoid new Momma.  Bob told me how beautiful he was.  That was it.  I knew it.   He told me that they thought he had Down syndrome but I already knew.

I'm still trying to forgive myself for how I responded.  I am deeply ashamed of my reaction.  I sobbed.  I have never cried so hard in my life.  No, no, no!  This was not happening.  I desperately wanted the baby that I had finally come to love.  Who was going to reach things off the top shelf for me?  I didn't want this.  I wanted what I imagined.

What I know now is that what I imagined was never what I was going to have, Down syndrome or not.  I had created this whole person without ever giving my son a chance to show me who he was.  Cooper has taught me so many things in his very short life but the first thing he taught me was that I had placed my expectations on him and it wasn't fair.  Down syndrome or not, he deserved a chance to be whoever he was without all my baggage to carry.  It wasn't for him to make it ok for me to be a mom.  That was up to me.

Those first few days were pretty rough.  I grieved for the loss of the boy who could reach the top shelf.  I still do sometimes when I get overwhelmed.  But mostly I don't even see the Down syndrome any more.  He's just a little boy who I wish I would have celebrated from the instant I saw him rather than wasting so much time in fear.  Don't get me wrong, I loved him immediately but I didn't celebrate him and I deeply regret that.  I didn't celebrate learning of his conception and I didn't celebrate his arrival.  I think that might be why I bombard the internet with every photo, video and quirk of him.  This Momma has a lot of missed celebration to make up for.  You just wait for those birthday parties!

Cooper is amazing.  He has his own timeline.  He has therapists and a little cavity in his chest that freaks everyone out but the Dr.'s say is purely cosmetic.  Really,  everything that is "wrong" with Cooper is cosmetic.  He is a perfectly normal baby.  Who cares if it takes him longer to do stuff?   He laughs.  He reaches out for me.  He smiles.  He gets scared.  He's growing.  He's sitting by himself.  He can do raspberries for hours (no lie!) .  You can tell when he's proud of himself and you can see how hard he tries.  He's already got an amazing sense of humor...raspberries FOR HOURS!  I couldn't ask for anything better.  I wouldn't change a single thing about him.  OK.  That's a lie.  If he would consistently sleep through the night and it didn't alter anything else about him, I would maybe change his sleep patterns :)