Motherhood is a Garden

I tend to my children like a gardener to his prized rose bush.

I pray that the soil, water, sun, rain I give them (or the patience, love, late nights, early mornings, snotty noses, wicked coughs, scary doctor visits, lullabies, life lessons, morals, good manners, tough lessons, little treats…) helps them blossom into whatever shape, color and size of bloom they so desire.

I lost my mother at an early age after a lengthy illness that some days it feels like I never had a mom of my own at all. Then, other times, I hear her laugh or feel her presence or remember her traditions and loves. Those days, my heart aches with such an intensity I am afraid my place in the garden is overrun with weeds. It is on those days most of all that I know the importance of a mom.

I have had pseudo-moms and mother figures and terrific Mommy friends who have inspired me, enlightened me, supported me. They have taken middle-of-the-night messages and calls, tears on both ends. They have said the right things, even if they weren’t the things I wanted to hear. They have been true and beautiful and honest and encouraging. A tall flower is beautiful indeed, but a row of colors is even more precious a sight. And a field of blooms can take your breath away — that, that is the vision of the moms in my circle.

My children are my legacy. They are the most important garden in my life.

I have tended to many flower beds in my life. Some of them I am so proud of; the sights and smells will stay with me forever. Others have not survived the summers of my life. The sun too hot or the rain too much for the little seedlings to handle.

But Zack and Addie. Sigh. Oh my. I have done well so far.

I hope they forget the bedtimes I missed; hope they understand the meals I didn’t cook or the playdates we didn’t have early on; hope they know my goal was always to help them. Sometimes, the rose doesn’t know about the foundation you created, only the moment its roots set into the soil you’ve tilled in places where weeds used to reside.

They are two different varieties in one shared corner.

Zack is the one who made me a mother. I recall a Mothers Day with my first pregnant belly, wondering and planning and wishing and hoping. Zack came quietly into this world and made a large statement right away — Do not plan, do not wonder. Just live, Momma. Just be. I relate to his solitary tendencies — his love for reading, his amazement in simple beauties of leaves and individual blades of grass in a yard of green. He has made me the mother I never knew I wanted to be, or knew I could be. His love is so simple and pure. He gives kisses and hugs away to anyone who asks, but that doesn’t make each wrapped arm around your neck any less special. His jagged-tooth-smile and those slanted blue eyes make me thank all the gardeners before me for such beauty. I have no doubt that Zack’s garden will be the kind that makes you stop in your tracks and admire its creativity and uniqueness. I am honored to sit among his life’s blooms every day that I am given the privilege. It is there I find peace.

There was a first Mothers Day with my Dude, holding him tight and not yet understanding even then.

And then one, me about to pop, and her fighting her way out with punches and kicks. It was just days before she joined our world.

Addie. Oh, that crazy girl. She resembles me physically but her vibrant personality is what makes me a stronger gardener. I admire her bright colors and the fragrant whiffs and bursts of blooms. They can be challenging, though. Something so beautiful needs extra cultivation and refinement. It could run over its borders and sometimes, that’s perfectly fine. I don’t ever want her to be stifled or limited. I want her to be a  bird of paradise in a world full of dandelions. She makes me think, she makes me toughen up and stand taller and try myself to be a vibrant bloom.

Last Mothers Day, my world was upside down and every which way. We let grass grow and weeds take over where flowers should be and our garden became so disheveled. The love for it was there as always, but it was a difficult season.

And here we are now.

My day has just begun, but I know it to be my best one yet.

We honor three generations of gardeners with our love for purple and a planting of seeds. We will have quiet moments and loud moments and everything in between. It will be much like every day in that every day is different and we find special in the simple. We have our arms covered in stickers, aptly heart-shaped ones, and I am surrounded by that beautiful sound of “Momma” in repeat. In question form and statement form and among excited laughs.

When the clouds dominate, we create sunshine.

When rains are heavy, we are the umbrella.

When weeds are encroaching, we will dig with our bare hands in order to protect.

It is never about the gardener, but about the blossoms she can produce. I stand proud in this garden. I wave my petals at the flowers behind me, the ones standing tall next to me and the little blooms we see before us.

We are mothers, we are gardeners. We are makers of the future and protectors of the past. And we do it all in the future, with a little luck and a lot of love.

 

Happy Mothers Day to the many moms.

The almost ones, the ones who lost, the ones who are new, the ones whose blooms have gardens of their own, the ones who act it and live it and the ones who wish it — you are all amazing, you are all doing a wonderful job and your love has helped my garden grow.

 

 

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Adventures in Housewifery — Homemade Coffee Creamer

Hi, my name is Wendy and I am addicted to coffee.

The sweeter and more flavorful the better. I love me some lattes and cappuccinos and mochas and frappucinos, oh my!

If I’m on a car trip that’s three hours or longer, I stop at a Starbucks at a rest stop each way.

If I’m visiting a new town or someone else, I request a stop at a local cafe. I LOVE sitting with a great cup of coffee people-watching from a window.

And do not even TRY to talk to me before my second cup of coffee. No bueno.

So at home, I make my own little caffeinated concoctions — mixing this K-cup flavor with that coffee creamer flavor. I can tell you all about how some of the Girl Scout Cookie flavor creamers just don’t work in any nut-flavored coffee. And too much vanilla is a bad thing when it’s vanilla creamer in vanilla coffee, especially in a cream or white-colored cup.

No, seriously, I should be a connoisseur.

The thing about my sweet, creamy coffee cravings? It’s expensive, yo.

 

So, in my quest to save my hard-working man some money, I continue brave housewifery adventures — like homemade coffee creamer.

 

Again: simple, cheap, fun. WIN!

 

Here’s what you’ll want:

 

SWEETENED condensed milk

Half-and-half and/or some heavy cream

various extracts/flavorings (think: vanilla extract, almond extract, ground-up coffee or espresso beans, maple syrup, etc, etc)

A couple of containers with lids that are easy to pour (I purchased a two-pack of those water bottles with the snap-close lids — they’re like 20-ounce bottles so they can hold a good amount of creamer that will last a while)

 

 

I would recommend starting small with this one until you tweak it just to your liking.

My first batch was basically Prohibition-era stolen rum. It made Scott drunk just smelling it the first morning and I had a buzz for three days after my first cup of coffee.

 

Less is more when it comes to extracts, folks. Less is more.

 

What I like to do is take care of two creamers at once. So, I use one can of the condensed milk and split it between the two containers. I add just about the same amount, maybe slightly more of the Half-and-Half and/or heavy cream (the latter makes for a much richer flavor but of course is heavier in calories if that really means anything to you for your one teaspoon of creamer a day. I’ve noticed not much of a taste difference. Use what you have). Then add a few DROPS of extract/flavoring gradually. SHAKE VERY WELL! (With the lid on or else you decorate your kitchen counter with maple-almond creamer, tee hee) Do a sniff test or a drop on your fingertip test for flavor and throw it in the fridge.

I just label with scotch tape and a Sharpie, but you can get as creative as you want. Mason jars would be so cute for company, but really, people, I slaved away for HOURS, errr minutes, on this HOMEMADE COFFEE CREAMER. Be grateful I’m sharing my coffee… I mean…

 

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My first two creamers consisted of a little coffee and some vanilla extract in one and a maple syrup-almond extract combo in the other. I love them BOTH!

I find I’m not using as much of this as I used to use of the store-bought creamer and as long as you keep in mind the expiration dates of your milk products (usually about three weeks), these ought to last you a while.

I’ve got peppermint extract and cocoa to mix for my next batch — can’t wait!

 

Cost:

My favorite coffee creamers (flavored CoffeeMate ones, 16 ounces) typically cost $5-6 each. Two last a week if I’m lucky. We used to buy 2-3 each shopping trip.

Half-and-half: $3.50 for 1 quart (lasts several weeks, makes at least three creamers)

Sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces which makes 2.5 creamers): $3

Now the extracts can cost as much as $3-5 each. I stocked up on about four I didn’t have in stock that I could use for this but also figured I would use for other creations, so keep it simple and remember, you’re only using a FEW DROPS per creamer!

(I’ll be creating my own extracts down the road so WHOA will I save money!)

 

I figure you’re cutting your coffee creamer cost in half, doubling cute factor and tripling creativity and imagination. That’s good math to me.

 

Now I need a cup of coffee.

Enjoy!

 

3 hours and 47 minutes

Addie went to “school” for the first time today. 

For this little almost-two-year-old, it means she went to the same church her brother does three times a week, stomped down the stairs wearing her little dinosaur backpack and marched down the hall from Zack to a little toddler room with blocks and a fish tank and six boys and girls that had no idea what they were in for with this little pink blur. 

Haters be hatin’ because when you say she’s too young and it’s not necessary and it’s whatever, well let me tell you what. I didn’t see a suffering baby girl screaming to be released from the pain and torture of (GASP) playtime with kids her age; nay, I opened up a door and saw a little girl lying down nicely on her mat, a smile creeping over her face as she showed me drawings, all with purple crayon, that she made for Momma. 

For one day a week, she doesn’t have to remain in the car watching Princess Sofia while I take her brother into this mystical place of mystery. For one day a week, she gets a break from Momma, and yes, oh yes, Momma gets a break, too. 

From the time I tiptoed sneakily out the door while she knocked on poor Fishy’s tank to the moment those blue eyes gazed up at me during Quiet Time, we had three hours and 47 minutes. 

 

I went grocery shopping. (No squirming or singing songs about squeaky wheels or condiments)

I put said groceries away. (All at one time)

I talked to my stepmother on the phone. 

I had a second cup of coffee (in one sitting).

I ordered food for Addie’s birthday party. 

I listened to (rap) music REALLY loud while driving by myself with all four windows down because I could.

I made playdates. 

I finalized Mothers Day items.

I worked on some Mary Kay things. 

Organized upcoming photo shoots.

I sat on a step outside, coffee in one hand, pretending to be planning some garden plants, but really and truly, I was planning (and, in a way, not planning at all) the potential for these Monday mornings. I could do nothing. I could do many things. I could do everything. That’s the thing. For four freakin’ hours a week, I have no said plans and no kiddos. 

I truly believe that these four hours will help me appreciate the good bad and ugly of the other 164 hours I’m focused on the kids and/or other people. 

But what these four hours mean to Addie are even greater. These could be her first best friends; her first lessons, her next burst of vocabulary or skills. 

So for three hours and 47 minutes, we all regrouped. 

We joined forces, marched out of that church, backpacks worn and steps being counted. Zack yelled “white car!” as he always does when we get to a parking lot and he and Addie proceeded to “gab” to one another for no less than five straight minutes. And we didn’t make it five miles down the road in that time, or even two miles, because there was one very happy Momma sitting in the front seat watching the interaction from a rearview mirror. She had many accessories — a headband, some sunglasses, and a badge of immense pride, hanging right there next to her heart on her Momma Sleeve. 

All because of three hours and 47 minutes. 

All better!

Addie’s newest phrase to say is “Allllll betta!”

I got her out of her crib this morning and received an “Alllll betta!”

Gave her her breakfast. “Alllll betta!”

Got her sidewalk chalk so we could color pictures. “Alllll betta!”

There is a glimmer in her blue eyes and a little proud smile to accompany her phrase. 

I have told her “All better” a thousand or a million times to let her know I took care of the problem, changed the diaper, kissed the boo-boo, helped make her wish come true. And now she shares “All better” with me — I am so, so lucky. 

She says “Dank oo” for every good deed done to her and done by her and even started this thing where she does a fake sneeze and says her version of “excuse me” while covering up her mouth. She waits… and you better deliver a “Bless you” or she will for you. Then she says her “Dank oo” and the cycle continues. 

 

I think my post with the letter from the kids the other day confused and worried some of you. I intended it to come across with a message of I am doing pretty well and I see that. Sometimes it just helps me to write things that have been bothering me or things I know my other Mommy friends will “get” and I don’t always stop to make sure my writing is doing my goal justice. 

So, as Addie would say, that post made everything, “Alllllll betta…”

 

We are enjoying Spring temperatures and sunny skies. We have family get-togethers to look forward to next week and a super-special wedding to celebrate; we have dirt to get under our fingernails and sunshine to land on our faces; there is a certain polite little girl’s second birthday party to plan and a thousand memories to make in between. Our world is very, very good. 

From a year ago (can you believe a year ago we started words like distrust and separation and ultimatums and even worse ones?!), it’s:

ALL BETTER. 

 

Addie loves to transfer things from one container to another. She has a little bowl of goldfish that have, in just the last ten minutes, gone into a toy coffee pot from her play kitchen to a toy plate, back into the little bowl, and now in a little yellow pail. Zack is at school, where he was greeted by high-fives and “HI Zacky” exclamations and teachers that love him and help us. We’ll pick him up soon and, like I do three times every week, I will watch those two faces in the backseat of my car and that white Jeep will be filled with happiness, joy, contentment, blessings. I do not take for granted what I’ve gained and learned; I do not wish it to fly by and leave me with independent kiddos too cool and busy for their mom and fake sneezes. 

 

I love our crazy, busy, confusing, hectic, messy, non-stop, interesting journey. 

It makes me feel “Allllll betta….” 

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Have a great weekend!

Adventures in Housewifery — Homemade Laundry Detergent

My friend Nicole is amazed that I am becoming a master of housewifery (yes, it’s a word and yes, it does sound like sorcery) and said I should start sharing some of my adventures, good and bad, as I experiment with new routines and rituals, ways to cut corners and ingredients to save money on basic supplies.

 

My first true foray into being one of THOSE moms — you know, the pseudo-hippie, cost-efficient, wise-and-beautiful-simultaneously mommas — was making my own homemade laundry detergent.

It started with a panicked moment after Addie (brace yourselves, ye of weak stomachs) smeared poop from her diaper across the bars on her crib, the wall behind the crib, in her hair, among all of her stuffed animals and oh yes, across every square inch of sheet and blanket.

The best part? We didn’t have a drop of laundry detergent in the house.

So I did what any freaked-out Mom would do — I Googled.

Page after page, blog after blog displayed many of the same similar ingredients and a super-easy process.

For my test run, I simply used:

ONE bar of ZOTE soap (found in the laundry aisle of most large grocery stores/Wal-Mart)

THREE cups of Arm&Hammer Washing Soda (Do NOT confuse this with Baking Soda!)

 

I shredded and grinded up the soap until it formed very tiny little strips (I used a food processor; you can also use a grater, etc)

I then mixed in the washing soda powder, put it in a labeled bucket with a lid and handle for easy transport. (Aren’t my labels cute?)

 

(Sorry about the photos — I wasn’t expecting much to happen with this and just snapped a few quick shots with my phone — I’ll do better)ImageImage

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Now, you can use Borax with these two ingredients, too, to add a little stain-fighting power, but I didn’t have it my first time around and, quite honestly, I thought my colors stayed bright and my stains came out great (even dirty bottom-of-toddler-socks marks!). It’s got a fresh scent to it, but the clothes don’t have much of a scent to it when they’re all done. (Some people swear against Borax and some swear you can’t do homemade detergent without it, so decide for yourself).

I’ve also ordered some essential oils (lemon, orange, lavender) to add a drop or two in every load for added grease removing powers (as suggested by several Mommy Bloggers) and for a little smell.

My next batch will be much larger (probably doubled or tripled) and I may try the Borax and definitely the essential oil.

 

To use, I let just less than 1/8 cup of the mixture dissolve in warm-hot water for a few seconds before I change it to cold water and add my clothes.

I then do my load of laundry as normal — fabric softener, etc.
ALTHOUGH… I have a recipe for fabric softener I’ll be trying shortly, too!

 

We do a LOT of laundry in our house. Between kids’ clothes, Scott’s work clothes and regular clothes, workout clothes and the occasional poop-a-polypse in cribs destroying half of a Bubble Guppies stuffed village, it’s not unusual for us to do five to eight loads a WEEK. Detergent is bought at LEAST once a month.

These are not EXACT prices, but on average, our detergent costs about $13-14 for a bottle that’s supposed to do at least 60 loads of laundry (doubtful, but sure). That works out to almost $.25/load.

With the Washing Soda ($3-4/box of 50-plus ounces) and Zote soap (about $2-$2.50/bar), and not needing to use as much as normal detergent for a load, I believe it costs us about… wait for it… $.03/load.

21 cents difference over five loads a week for four weeks a month = $4-5/savings a month, just for the low end of our laundry. I’m OK with saving $60-plus a year (probably closer to $100 for us). For us, it’s more about dropping that $14 -$28 purchase every month on our grocery trip and only needing $6 in soap and $3 in washing soda.

Now, the essential oils (about $3 each, but will last FOREVER) and Borax (still not sure if I’m even going to use this) will add to our per-load cost, of course, but still a good deal.

 

 

Upcoming homemade adventures:

Fabric softener

Coffee creamers

Febreze

Swiffer Wet sheets

Dryer sheets/balls

Various cleaners (all-purpose, furniture polish, etc)

Got any suggestions or ideas for me?

 

 

 

Dear Momma (A letter from the kids)

Dear Momma,

Zack and Addie here. We thought you might need us to remind you that you’re doing a great job.

We’re pretty young but we definitely know a few things.

We know you’re too hard on yourself. We know there are a hundred moments every day where you wonder if you’re just doing alright. We know sometimes you crave a moment by yourself, with a good song and sunshine on your face. And there are other moments you feel like you’re the only adult in the world; the loneliness sneaks up on you and digs firm roots in your heart like the viney weed in the dirt.

Momma, you’re doing more than just alright.

We certainly don’t make it easy on you.

There’s no telling when we will take advantage of you standing over the dinner on the stove to dump the cat food bowls onto the floor. Or when your bladder needs to be relieved in the worst of ways and we choose those 90 seconds to grab a cell phone, checkbook, wireless mouse and remote control off of the desk, but not before we enter some Japanese food store into the search bar of the Internet.

We see the hand smack on the face when you’ve just put clean cushions on the couch and we crunch a slobbery goldfish on it, all while holding up our now empty bowl asking for more crackers as crumbs crash on the floor.

We see the way you come up the stairs for bedtime some nights, moving so slowly, holding your back from bending over weeds during nap time and carrying four clean loads of laundry upstairs after our impromptu dance party in the living room. You still pick us up and sing to us and squeeze us as tightly as you can, but we bet you go downstairs and fight back tears from the pain.

You think sometimes you can’t handle two kids alone — how the simplest tasks like groceries or mailing a package become insane. How one of us is running up the hill on the driveway while the other one screams in their carseat, kicking wires out of the DVD player as you glance at the clock because, again, we are running late. But then some days, Mom, you watch us and our bestie Aubrey and you’re a pro. We all feel equally loved.

We know this is still a transition for you. You’ve gone from business suits and time clocks to jeans and diarrhea diapers. You don’t know if you’re even appreciated some days, or if every one of your friends even remembers your phone number anymore.  There are no bonuses or holiday presents for your new job.

Speaking of jobs. Your kicking some butt balancing Mary Kay and your photography business in all of that free time we give you. You know, the 20 minutes we aren’t fighting or crying or asking for more freakin’ CRACKERS.

Or at nap time when all you really want to do is put up your feet and watch a Hepburn movie. Sometimes from your phone in bed while Da-da is snoring and you can barely keep your eyes open.

You quit your anti-depressant a month ago. You held us both in your arms that afternoon and said you were scared of the lows but wanted to feel the joy we brought you stronger than ever before. You hated the numbness, missed the way that excitement and laughter could fill up your belly, fly up your throat and come out in happy tears and silly giggles. You wanted to feel, you told us. You prayed for you and prayed for us and we petted  your hair which made you so happy.

We saw you the other day. The way you appreciated us listening and behaving so that we could all spend hour after hour of uninterrupted bliss outside in the sunshine on a beautiful Spring day. You stopped as Zack held a leaf and ran it along the edge of a wall telling a story with words like “people” and “go” and “walk” and “outside” and Addie colored a chalk picture on the sidewalk, looking up at you with pink smeared across her cheek and a spot of blue on her hand. “Everything has come alive,” you said softly. You wiped away a tear and the dirt from your gardening glove smeared by your eye and we laughed. “You’re both so smart, so happy, so big, so full of life,” you added, talking more to the ivy on the sidewalk than anything else. We saw you that day, Momma.

 

You’re doing a great job, Momma. But here’s a few requests:

– Stop sweeping the floor so much. Wait until we’re asleep. Or we’ve moved out. Either option is safer and less frustrating.

– Way to go with the homemade laundry detergent and other housewife adventures you’re trying. And remember, you haven’t burnt down the house yet and we’ve had three meals every day.

– Don’t be so hard on yourself. About us or about yourself. You’re a good mom and you’re a great person.

– Pick your battles. Addie loves “washing hands” in the bathroom. It’s annoying but she can’t drown. Good hygiene is a nice habit to get into, too. So what if her sleeves get wet. Pick your battles.

– Keep taking risks. Create spontaneous memories for yourself. You’ll create beautiful memories for us, too.

 

By the way, we know you’re hiding the cinnamon jellybeans somewhere. We will find them.

Oh, and we’d like more crackers, please.

 

Seriously, you’re a pretty great Momma.

We love you.

Zack & Addie

 

 

 

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Knowing him has… (World Down Syndrome Day)

I very often share our world here; how DS plays a role in it and how Zack and his sister shape it in so many different ways.

But today is World Down Syndrome Day and our little Zack Attack, 3 1/2 years old now, doesn’t just change the ways his mother and father think; he doesn’t only make his sister Addie smile. No, our boy has touched many lives and warmed many hearts.

After Zack was born, I promised myself, hands clenched in fists alone in a hospital room, my son cooing in his bassinet nearby, that I would spend every day of my entire life opening doors for him.

Yet, as evidenced by the outpouring of love shared below, Zack is the one opening doors. And eyes. And minds.

Zack is the one making a difference.

Please consider a donation in Zack’s honor to the National Down Syndrome Society HERE.

 

 

 

Wendy’s mother-in-law Debbie:

Zack’s diagnosis was devastating! No way around it! Broke our hearts and broke our hearts to watch Scott and Wendy trying to be so strong. They were strong because Zack needed them to be. This precious child was placed in their arms and he was their son, no matter what, for now and forever. Through her research, Wendy learned everything she could about Down Syndrome and connected with other moms of DS children. She also started blogging to allow her to share her feelings and work through the roller coaster ride of emotions.
One of the most amazing things that has come from this experience is that we have gotten to know so many wonderful people. First it was the Early Intervention therapists, who came to the house and worked with Zack but also let us share our thoughts and concerns. They were amaziing and became like extended family. Their care and affection for Zack was evident as his face would light up when they came to the door. Now he’s in preschool a couple days a week. His teachers and the other children have taken him in with open arms and support and encourage him. Through the local IU8 program, Zack is getting continuing therapeutic exercises as well as speech therapy. The atmosphere at both locations is one that teaches respect, kindness, patience and understanding. We are so fortunate that Zack is in such caring environments.
Zack is amazing! He has come so far in the past 3 1/2 years. Have I mentoned that he’s absolutely beautiful? From the angelic face with blue eyes and blond hair lost in concentration as he’s reading a book or watching TV; to the mile wide smile and laughing eyes that greet me at the door with a shout of “Gammaw” as he runs to wrap his arms around my legs. Moments I will treasure forever.
But Zack’s just getting started; he has the whole world in front of him. He will learn and grown and be whoever he wants to be. I have no doubt about it. He will thrive because he will always have his family behind him to pick him up when he needs picked up; to push him when he needs to be pushed and to encourage him every day of his life.
Wendy’s friend Krystal:
I remember when I heard that Zack was diagnosed with Down Syndrome feeling my gut sink to the floor. I couldn’t believe it. I remember feeling a sense of guilt for the rest of us having healthy children and then I stopped and thought about what the Zooks had to be feeling. Becoming a first time parent is tough enough emotionally and physically let alone hearing anyone say that there is something wrong with your child. Without Zack being born I don’t know that I would have the relationship I do with his mommy today. I feel we bonded over Zack and other things we have way to in common. We grieved together whether we realized it at that time or not. I was hesitant to talk about Down Syndrome with Wendy at first. I never wanted to make it all about Down Syndrome because it was about the blonde mohawk blue eyed boy that we all love, but I didn’t want to ignore Down Syndrome either. It was now part of their life. I was scared for Wendy, Scott, and Zack. Parenting is unknown territory. We all try to prepare ourselves however it is usually a day to day fly by the seat of our pants rollercoaster. When you are pregnant we daydream of what the days will be like as our children grow. All of these hopes and dreams we have for children. I see your family as motivators, advocates, loving, kind teachers. Zach is such an inspirational little man. He is a loving, adventurous, mischievous, curious little man and I have all the faith in this would you as a family will give him every opportunity to him to be independent. He has taught us all to appreciate each day and brings a smile to my face each time I see him. I think of the lessons he will teach all of our children. The way society is today I know there will be struggles and bullies; however I know he will have a strong support system and I hope my children are standing beside him to stand up for him and cheer him on every step of the way!
Wendy’s OB/GYN nurse/friend Jennifer:
Wendy, I have been trying to think for days of what I would like to say about Zack. Not that I know this little boy as well as most people do but I think I could say I had a personal interest in the care of Mommy while she carried this lovely little man that we all get to see today & are bless with. Like some when I first saw Zack I had no idea that he had Downs, maybe be cause I could not get past that wonderful smile, those eyes, and of course Wendy you know, when he reached out for me to hold him “WELL” OMG The boy might as well & he did that very day took a piece of my heart and has had it ever since. And I think his mom knows this because now she uses this lame excuse of him being in school for me NOT to be able to see him!!!! LOL I love you guys & was BLESSED the day you came to see me.

Wendy’s sister Shelby: I spent the weekend with him and it wasn’t until I saw a post about him having Down Syndrome a few weeks later and asked (brother) Shamus if he knew and he said yes. I never thought that he was anything more than my mohawk man.

Charity, Zack’s Occupational Therapist/Wendy’s friend: Oh what to say about Zack! When I first met Zack he was a happy little boy who was having some trouble with solid foods. He had a hard time biting off pieces and chewing and Scott and Wendy wanted him to be able to eat with them. With a little practice and patience Zack was chowing down on his goldfish, jello cups, crackers, and cheesies in no time! Zack amazed me every week I saw him. I would come in to see him for OT and he would be doing something new or would have learned a new trick. He quickly learned how to feed himself with a spoon (of which I think the most fun was practicing in the bean bin and Zack throwing them all over the living room!). I was so excited for him when he learned to use a spoon and fork all by himself. Soon he was drinking out of a straw cup. Although this wasn’t my “area”, I also remember Zack saying some of his first words, like “ball” and Zack learning to walk and climb the steps…and although he has down syndrome he did ALL of this in only a short year and half that I was able to see him. When I ran into Zack recently at his new school, I was AMAZED at how well he interacts with the kids, completes his school tasks, and most of all I was sooo proud when he sat up to the table and fed himself his lunch and drank from an open cup with no problem! Zack is such an amazing little man and I sure do miss seeing those smiles every week and watching him torment those cats at your house! Zack has such a bright future and you and Scott and his grandparents and everyone else in his life had made and will continue to make Zack a great little man! I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for Zack!

 

Wendy’s cousin Andy: I really don’t think of Zack having Down Syndrome…to me he’s just a cute adorable kid..he can at least figure out a smart phone which is more than I can do now!

 

Wendy’s friend Reva: I think back on being pregnant along with you and the expectations we both had of motherhood and that always takes me to the day we brought Owen home which was the first time we had heard about zacks diagnosis. I remember just sitting on the bed holding my newborn baby and I just bawled my eyes out. I cried out of fear, cried for Zack, cried for Owen, but mostly i was so upset for you Wendy. I cried because I realized that everything we couldn’t wait for with our boys would be changed for you completely. It took me actually sitting down and researching Down syndrome and it took talking with you and it took holding and bonding with Zack for me to realize that Down syndrome was not this big scary end to a perfect boys life but that it was something so amazing and so wonderful and something to celebrate every day. We have watched how in nearly 4 years Zack has become this beacon of light for your family and the most inspiring thing about it all is that through every one of zacks milestones big and small your entire network of family and friends celebrate with him. Our kids play together and will grow up together and will always have their Own little support network. We all know he is going to do great things with his life and I know I personally can’t wait to be able to say I changed that kids diapers lol! I watched him grow and I was there when he learned To crawl and walk. I’m so thankful to have Zack in my life because he reminds me everyday to celebrate this life I have no matter what.

 

Wendy’s friend Drew: As having a sister with mental disabilities myself, I just never thought as Zack as any different.  My favorite moment was walking up to aunt alice’s front door and watching alice and zack dancing

 

Zack’s Sensory Therapist Kristan:I think Z is awesome. I am just starting to get to know him but he is super smart and is going to do very well in school. His personality cracks me up. My favorite is when he sings into his toy microphone (whatever he can find to resemble) and bobs his head while making up his own tunes.

 

Wendy’s friend Allison: I had never known anyone who had Down Syndrome before Zack. I didn’t know anything about it, but that the kids who had it were “different.” As I grew up and learned more, I discovered the value of seeking information and now can appreciate just how “different” these folks are. They are kind in a world of ugliness, generous in a time of selfish entitlement, loving and affectionate to people they barely know and can put a smile on the faces of a million strangers (which you know is true if you’ve ever seen a FaceBook post from the Down Syndrome page.) I believe there are a lot of things to learn from kiddos like Zack…patience, persistence, and shear, unadulterated happiness. He’s a special guy for a lot of reasons and I feel blessed to know him and his family the way that I do!

 

Wendy’s cousin Melaney: I actually do think of Zack as having Down Syndrome and how knowing him has expanded my awareness; my awareness about DS and the unique strengths and struggles of children and adults living with it. Zack is also a sweetie who is just as cute and lovable as can be who I am lucky enough to have in my family.

 

Wendy’s friend Lindsay: Zack is the first child with Down Syndrome that I’ve had the opportunity to know on a personal level.  The way he smiles, his eagerness to know and learn about the world, and the way he loves his sister and pets are just a few of the things that showcase his sparkling personality and huge heart. Looking at Zack is like looking in the mirror at the pureness and goodness we were all born with. He’s a beautiful child with a beautiful soul and it’s been amazing to watch him grow, thrive, and tackle new challenges!

 

Wendy’s “uncle” (B)rick: This is a little easier for me to answer because of having my own special needs child. When a special needs child is born to a family who really has never experienced such a situation there is a fear that looms over everyone. Basically, it is a fear of the unknown. Everyone does not know what to expect. The fear can be crippling in some aspects,more so to relatives than to the mother and father. A mother and father while experiencing the initial trauma of the unexpected, sooner rather than later, adjust to the fact that in the game of life, they have been dealt a wild card. Parents, while being overwhelmed with there fear, adapt as they begin to reap the unique love that a special needs child gives on to them.

The relatives, however, need to be guided through there fears. The parents need to expose there child to the families and show the bravest of faces. We can only hope that our relatives are brave enough to face the unknown.

These children really have no concept of their uniqueness. They go forward through life with the loving encouragement of all who surround them.

My daughter, being so severely challenge, has been the most difficult of experiences. My family, while they tried, have never truly adjusted to the situation. This is honestly justifiable due to difficulty they experience in trying to communicate with Chris.

As you know through your own original fear and experiences, the dread is quickly dissipated as you show love to your child and he in turn begins to return your love. You will always run into people who are unable, or unwilling to deal with such situation. You can only drive onward with life and do the best you can with the card you have been dealt. Never assume that Zack can’t do anything. Children have a way of surprising us.

 

Wendy’s friend Nicole: I’ll always remember the night I learned that Zack was born with Down syndrome.  Two little words seemed to bring our worlds crashing to a halt, bringing us to a scary unknown.  For a little while, those were the first two words that bubbled up to the surface when I thought about Zack.  The words were as foreign to me as they were to his parents, and they and their family and friends grappled with this new reality.

But you know what?  It’s been three and a half years and those two words are just that:  two little words.  They in no way define that amazing little boy.  Now, what I remember the most when I think of that little boy that lives 500 miles away from me is his infectious laugh.  He has this bubbly laugh that builds up as he gets going, and it’s so joyful and contagious that you can’t help but burst out laughing yourself when you hear it.  And now his sister has the same laugh.  I remember how Zack always grabs the iPad when his mama and I skype, and how he’ll march it around the house.  I’ve gotten some really good tours of their ceilings, as well as some slobbery internet kisses that way!  I think of his soft blond hair, the kind way he has with the cats, how much he loves to settle in and read in his special little chair.  I think of the mischief maker and all the little messes that he gets himself into as he’s exploring his world.  I don’t think of DS.  It’s there, but it’s under the surface.  That’s what he and his family have taught me over these past few years.  They’ve opened the door to this whole new world of acceptance, of inclusion.
This year I’m thrilled to have a student with DS in my regular education classroom.  I get to work with her every single day, and I see amazing advances in her and in the other students as they learn to work together with their friend and accept all differences, big and small.  Those two little words are just that, now:  two little words.  Nothing more, nothing less.  They’re there, but they’re not all that is there.  They no longer define Zack, nor do they define my student.  These are just a few lovable kids with almond eyes and big dreams.  Let’s remember that.  :o)
Wendy’s aunt/Godmother Alice:
I’m ashamed to admit that when Zachary was born I was disappointed to learn that he wasn’t going to be a “normal” child but he proved me so wrong. Who are we or rather, who am I to say what is normal? When I held him in my arms for the first time I realized I was in love with him; my third great-nephew, my late sister’s grandson.  Zachary makes me laugh, fills me with love, and is the greatest joy that I never knew could happen. This little boy with the extra chromosome is such a smart boy, such a happy boy, such a loving boy and we are all better for it and so blessed. I hope he can forgive me for my initial reaction for he is incredible and will prove that he can do anything.
Wendy’s cousin Laura:
I remember how happy I was when I heard my little cousin was having a baby.  The same little cousin I was never too close to due to age difference and perhaps technicalities only making us “cousins-through-marriage.”  Regardless of the details, I always thought so fondly of this little cousin and could not be happier for her.  When I received the news that Zachary had graced the world with his presence, I couldn’t wait for pictures.  Over the next few days, the news of Zack’s diagnosis made it’s way to my side of the family.  It didn’t necessarily shock me or devastate me as it may have others.  I am a Special Education teacher so I know how much love these special little munchkins have to offer and how they seem to brighten any room they enter.  I was however, worried for my little cousin and her family.  I didn’t know how she was feeling.  I didn’t know how her family was feeling.  I know it takes a special kind of person to accept the challenges life throws at them and while I was pretty sure she was just the type of person to handle it, I can’t begin to understand how she must be feeling.  As the days, then weeks, then months passed by I received updates and saw pictures but still wasn’t quite sure how my little cousin was feeling about motherhood.  I knew the holidays were approaching and I was keeping my fingers crossed I’d be seeing her for Christmas.  I was looking forward to giving her a big hug and seeing for myself how she was handling these “challenges” that life had thrown her way.  I also secretly couldn’t wait to get my hands on this cute little bumpkin I’d only seen through pictures!
I remember walking into my mother’s house and seeing my cousin across the kitchen, snuggling with her little man who was sacked out in her arms.  It only took a second; just one quick second and it was clear.  My little cousin was not only glowing, she was a natural at this whole “motherhood” thing.  And really, how could she not be?  Because that was also the moment I met Zack… and in that moment, I fell in love too.
Wendy’s Uncle/Godfather Joe:
Like most people my age, I had little prior experience with Down Syndrome children; certainly there had been none in our family or of close friends of which I was aware.  During my day these children were pretty much hidden from the public, either kept sequestered at home or sent to special schools or institutions.  Only occasionally would we glimpse a DS child (commonly called by that horrible name “Mongolian Idiot”), outside the home, usually being forcefully led by an older and frequently poor woman.  We rarely if ever saw an older DS person.  So, having Zack being born into our family was met with not a little apprehension, sadness, deep concern for his and his parent’s future, and, of course, a great deal of ignorance.  But from that moment on we started to become more educated, more hopeful and more welcoming of this child, almost on a daily basis, through Google and his Mother’s blogs and updates, and, of course, by just being with Zack himself.

Seeing him for the first time, I was taken aback by his shock of sliver-blonde hair and fair skin (I didn’t know “they” came in different colors) and his surprising lack of what I had come to think of as “typical” DS features: swollen protruding tongue, Asiatic eyes, etc., though they are present at times if you look long and hard, but to me they are still not very obvious.  And, of course, there was no way at that time to really judge his intellectual abilities which is also one of the characteristics of DS.  But as the months went by, you tended to notice more his smile, warmth and easy disposition.  He just didn’t seem to fit squarely in the DS box that I had been brought up to expect.  Sure, his legs were disproportionately shorter than his body and his motor movements seemed to lag behind others of his age, but none of that seemed to hinder him from getting around – often too well – using his “crab crawl” or to keep everyone, myself included, from wanting to hold and cuddle him at every chance and to respond to his smiles.

But what amazes and fascinates me most about Zack, since he was about two years of age, is his profound love of books and how he quietly sits and turns each page carefully and “reads” them, full of inflections and emotions and verbal outpourings punctuated by finger pointings towards certain obviously favorite characters, almost always animals.  There is simply no way, watching him, that you can believe that he isn’t actually reading them, line for line, enjoying them and being totally engrossed in them, not unlike his Mother and her love for books.  His quietness and need for occasional solitude do not represent to me anything antisocial or abnormal in the least, but simply his preference for and enjoyment of quiet and alone time at times, especially to relax and enjoy his books, something I can personally identify with.  I think that his easygoing and loving nature – as well as that wonderful smile – and his need at times to be alone in order to read his favorite books are those characteristics that most define him as a person and most endear him to me.  Regardless of whatever level his intellectual or motor skills might progress to in later life, I am certain that Zack will do well in life, foremost because of his loving and supportive parents, but also by virtue of his sweet personality, loving nature towards all people, especially family, his love of books, and his love of and need for moments of quiet reflection and solitary enjoyments, in addition to other activities.  Would that we all might be such a similar person……

Madeline, NDSS: 
When I first started working at NDSS, I did not have a personal connection to Down syndrome.  I knew a little bit about Down syndrome and knew the physical traits but I did not know much else.  Coincidentally, I started in September which was Buddy Walk®  event month and the first event I worked that had interaction with the families.  Meeting the families and being around people with Down syndrome changed my life immediately.

I noticed how dedicated and devoted parents of children and adults with Down syndrome are.  I noticed how many different personalities, abilities and interest people with Down syndrome have.  Some people I met were dependent on their parents and families and others were totally independent.  Some kids were well behaved and others were not.  Some had jobs and families separate from their immediate families.  Some needed some extra attention and support.  And with noticing all that, I noticed that children and people with Down syndrome were just like typical children and people; with different degrees of abilities and accomplishments.

Fundraising for NDSS promotes value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.  We have a policy center in Washington, DC, whose purpose is to fight for the legislative rights of people with Down syndrome.  We have an extensive website with current information about Down syndrome-programs, health, education, and transition. We have publications that range from new parent information to an aging guide.  We also provide scholarships for post-secondary education programs.  Your donation will benefit these initiatives so that children like Zack have the same opportunities as anyone else.

So in closing, when I first started working for NDSS it was just a job.  Now, 12 years later and thousands of connections to Down syndrome, it’s my life’s work.

Please consider a donation in Zack’s honor to the National Down Syndrome Society HERE.