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Archive for October, 2014

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million. (Walt Streightiff)

Ella runs into our house. Enthusiasm exudes from her being. She carries a present for her daddy’s birthday—from her. The package is about the size and shape of a pound of delicatessen hamburger; it is gift wrapped in her artwork.

Daddy Steve laughs. “She told me in the car what it was: coffee.”

Of course we can’t wait for the traditional present-opening moment: dinner and then a loud rendition of the birthday song, careful cake slicing that gets messy anyway, followed by ice-cream scooping. “Do you want to help Daddy open his present now?” I ask.

A spoken answer is unnecessary. Her jump into action is response enough. A bag of bold-flavored coffee appears under the wrapping. And Ella doesn’t know that her real gift is the love of a blonde five-year-old girl with a spirit that could charm a wolverine.

She will need that power soon. Ella was born with an A/V canal defect. Only half of her heart worked. Her surgery was successful. She plays with the same vigor any other young child displays. However, a routine echo cardiogram showed a blockage. It is causing no apparent problem now, but as she grows it will interfere. She faces open-heart surgery again after the first of the year.

Her surgeon has an excellent reputation. In these days open heart surgery is almost a routine procedure. However, the gentleness of her heart requires no repair. She draws people to her with gravitational power. She gives lessons: in patience, spontaneity, forgiveness, and resilience. Moreover, she charges no fee, only a willingness from her observers to change, to be aware of perspectives, to see hidden beauty that has always been there. Unnoticed.

I think about how I felt as a child as I stood, the top of my head at a grownup’s belly button. A higher stature seemed unreachable. Moreover, I felt perpetually unworthy. An adult was another species, a creature-from-another-world who didn’t spill juice or make too much noise in church. The importance of rules of behavior was ingrained into my soul long before I could read or prioritize. So, life’s directives were vague, negative, built on shame.

Since then I’ve learned to see differently—I don’t live in the past. It’s simply a place to visit now and then. However, I make sure that my grandchildren and I live on the same planet and that we learn from one another. As an adult I may have the advantage of years, but my granddaughters offer freshness.

Ella has Down syndrome. Many people may look down on her because of it. But those who look into her eyes know that she offers all that she is—and she doesn’t even know that is unusual.

when a child gives you a rock

 

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­C­­­­orrection does much, but encouragement does more. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) 

“I have to read to a grownup for homework,” Rebe says. Her sister, grandfather, and the television create a distraction so we go to the computer-toy room, door closed, her idea. She lies across a pillow on the floor and I sit on the rug. She can’t see my smile as I revel in her first-grade-cadence: the words she amazingly sounds out, and the ones I’m surprised she misses. To me the particulars are not as important as the privilege of hearing her enter the world of books.

I stroke her hair. It’s thick, wavy, a dark red, but it isn’t any physical feature I’m admiring. I relax in this grandma-granddaughter moment.

“You have to sign this paper and write how I did when I’m finished,” she tells me.

At my granddaughter’s age I read extremely well. However, I doubt that I would have been open enough to encourage anyone to write a solitary word of criticism about my performance. First-grade Terry wasn’t that secure.

Of course I also remember being on my own most of the time, too, as far as achievement or anything else was concerned. My parents were too busy with their own chores, with staying out of debt, with the day-to-day struggles of existence. Perhaps that was the way of the times. Children were meant to be seen and not heard.

I loved my maternal grandmother and was absolutely certain she loved me. She made an aqua dress in my size based on a design I’d drawn and then left lying around. The dress was a surprise, created without a special occasion. However, snuggling and compliments, sharing of our ideas and lives rarely happened.

My granddaughters and I have options. We pretend, swim, crack eggs for breakfast and jokes on the way home from school. When the playground isn’t crowded I have even been known to climb next to Rebe on sturdy equipment. I think about that as I watch her close one thin book and open another. She is doing well. Perfect isn’t necessary—not the way I thought it needed to be more than a generation ago.

“I’m proud of you, Rebe,” I say. And I hope she knows those are not cut-and-paste words suited for any occasion. A forehead kiss serves as a kind of softened exclamation point, something like interpreting expression in dialogue, the kind the reader needs to discover—learn as she goes and grows.

 raise words not voice Optimism Revolution

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If you see the world in black and white, you’re missing important grey matter. (Jack Fyock)

Ella’s charm draws to her at least seven children from the YMCA pool.

“Will you play with me?” one girl asks, and Ella nods.

“What do you want to play?” the girl asks.

Ella hesitates.

“How about pretending to be frogs?” I suggest, slowly stepping away, giving the kids space around my precious granddaughter.

“Yeah,” this leader girl answers. “Frogs!”

“Hop. Hop,” Ella says moving along in the shallow water.

One boy with black curly hair shows me his swim vest, his ebony face bright with pride. “I brought it from home.”

“Looks great,” I tell him.

“Are you her mom?” one blonde girl asks me. I grin, grateful for her edited eyesight.

“No, I’m her grandma.” I wonder if grandmothers are supposed to hop like frogs in shallow water.

One look at the clock tells me this time will be short. Ella and I need to meet Grandpa in the lobby in about twenty minutes for our picnic lunch before Ella goes to afternoon pre-school. “Ten minutes and then we have to get dressed,” I tell her. “I brought tortilla chips today.” They are one of her favorite snacks. I hope they are enough encouragement to get her out of the water.

“No,” Ella responds.

“She can stay here,” one of the children offers.

I smile at the boy’s innocence.

“Is she a baby or does she just talk like one?” another boy asks. His voice indicates no condemnation, only curiosity.

“She isn’t a baby…but she is learning…” I answer, without any hint of censure in my voice. I don’t explain the what-or-how-of-her-struggles-or-accomplishments. The boy doesn’t pursue the issue with further questioning. Besides, I’m not sure how to answer. Each person learns at a different rate anyway. Ella has been reading for months, at least. Someday I hope to catch up with her when it comes to acceptance of people as they are. However, fine-tuned tongue movements and some motor skills may take her a bit longer to master.

Our little girl is a fresh five-year-old. She has not yet faced the full brunt of prejudice inherent to the life of anyone born outside the so-called norm. The little folk in the pool have not yet learned to recognize the facial characteristics of Down syndrome. Besides, our granddaughter wears them beautifully with her sunshine-white hair and huge blue eyes. They defy the brightness of a perfect summer day. Her smile could melt an iceberg. The children seem to recognize that gift intuitively, knowing she is real and a dependable friend.

The children wave good-bye. Our Y friends stop by our lunch table to say hello, more to Ella than to Jay and me. And that is okay. Ella isn’t worrying about what happens tomorrow—or the next day. She cries when she needs to cry and the tears end easily. She laughs when she recognizes the humor in life. And that happens often.

I’m not saying that every day is easy. But few things that are worthwhile come without effort anyway. I guess Ella is my constant reminder that the world in black-and-white misses out on a lot of color—as well as grey matter. Later I have the opportunity to leave the house to go to another exercise class, if I want to go. But, I don’t want to miss an extra minute with Ella. Not today. She may have a life lesson I will need to use later.

flying turtle

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Innocence is one of the most exciting things in the world. (Eartha Kitt)

My old cell phone hasn’t had a battery for who-knows-how-long. However, five-year-old Ella picks it up and brings it to life with her imagination. She mimics the motions she has seen in adults, complete with subtle movements and voice tones. When her conversation has ended she closes the flip top slowly, deliberately. I’m the follower in this scenario, the fortunate observer. Ella understands but is not able to fully verbalize what she knows.

I guess the phone has rung again as she says, “hello,” hands the blackened screen to me, and adds, “It’s Dy,” short for Daddy.

She grins when I say that he is playing baseball and not at work. Daddy is working, but explaining an office setting to a five-year-old doesn’t create fun play.

“Should he stop at the store and get bananas on the way home?” I try for mock seriousness and hope she buys it.

“Yes,” she answers.

“What else?”

“A bike,” she adds.

I refrain from laughing. Nothing seems random in a child’s world. After we finish with several quick turns saying hi, bye, and what-are-you-doing-now, we enter a pretend playground where Dora, the Explorer; a tennis ball; and a plush ladybug all take turns going down a plastic slide. Reality is suspended for a while.

And I feel strangely free, privileged, invited to this spot on the floor surrounded by toys on an ordinary Thursday morning.

The folk who read my blog regularly know that my youngest granddaughter has Down syndrome; Down syndrome does not own my granddaughter. She continues to play as I get her ready to leave for the day. I have trouble getting her shoes on properly. They need to give her adequate ankle support. She seems to understand my frailties and doesn’t fuss. I thank her for her patience and wonder how much she intuits. This little blonde with the huge blue eyes is amazingly easy to love.

I envision her at Daycare after school some day as she plays with a toy phone. Does she ever say, “Hi, Mawmaw?” This isn’t the kind of thing I am likely to know. My hearing isn’t that good within the same room, with amplification, much less from one part of town to another. Nevertheless, I smile thinking about it.

She smiles back now. That’s more than good enough.

the world as it should be

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