Archive | September, 2012

This Is What Tolerance Looks Like

So, Kevin, age 15 and now a sophomore in high school, came home yesterday and was telling me about his day at school.  He said that in his art class, they have been assigned to create some artistic rendering representing Generation XY, and that it should have some sort of political statement (a potentially volatile assignment, for sure).  What he came up with is a cartoon of Freddie Mercury, Ian McKellen, and Billy Joe Armstrong, all people he admires, and all gay/bisexual.  The political statement Kevin wants to get across is that same-sex marriage should be legal.  When I asked him why he thinks same-sex marriage should be legal, he said, “Well, making it illegal is like making marriage illegal to someone just because their hair is blonde.”

Man, I love this kid.  And what he’s saying isn’t just regurgitated dogma fed to him by me or anyone else.  We, as a family, of course talk about tolerance – how could we not with Finn in our midst?  But Michael and I try to frame our discussions in a way that allows the kids to think for themselves.  I think that’s one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their children: the ability – the freedom – to think for themselves and to come to their own conclusions about the world.  I’d like to believe that Kevin was just born with an open, tolerant heart – actually, I believe that about pretty much everyone; it’s upbringing and life that changes that – but obviously having a brother like Finn has driven it home for him, and his ideas about tolerance and acceptance extend far beyond the world of disabilities.

So he and I talked about his project and his thoughts for a while.  I said to him, “You know, Kevin, that probably some of your very close friends don’t share your views about this topic because they come from families that are against it because of their religious beliefs.”  He said, “Mom, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have friends from just about every belief there is.  I have a Muslim friend, a Christian friend, Catholic friends, an Atheist friend, a Mormon friend, and a Buddhist friend.”

Maybe he’s just growing up in a different time than I did – maybe diversity is the way of things nowadays.  I’d like to think so, but I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just where we live.  But the fact is, Kevin could care less.  He seems to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, regardless of their skin color, their orientation, or what church they attend (or don’t attend).  And I have to say, that probably makes him more tolerant than me; I’m so weary of all the religious rhetoric.  I’ve become very jaded about it, and in all honesty, people who start going on about God become suspect to me: I doubt their ability to think rationally.  I know I’m not supposed to say that, or think that.  Like I said, Kevin is apparently more tolerant than I am in that regard.  And for the record, he’s undecided about what he believes.  Which I think is very cool.  He doesn’t seem to be easily swayed by whomever he’s hanging with.  He has a mind of his own that he’s only beginning to discover.

The older he gets, the more proud I am of the person he is and the person he is becoming.

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Preschool: Ready, Set, Go!

Today was the long-awaited, much-anticipated first day of preschool for Finn.  In a nutshell, it went terrifically well.

I’ve been a little jittery about it, but I managed to not drive myself sleepless over it last night.  This morning while Finn was eating his breakfast, he pointed to this wall-hanging we have in the kitchen and said “tree.”

 

Well, buh-low me down, as Popeye would say.  First of all, I’ve never heard him say “tree” before (did I mention – no, I didn’t – that he started back up in speech therapy yesterday after taking the summer off, and his speech therapist commented on how blown away she was by how much his vocabulary had grown over summer break?).  Secondly, I had no idea that he could identify something from a rendering such as this – not even a photograph, for goodness sake!  Michael then showed him another picture that had a tree in it and asked Finn what it was, and he said, “tree.”  Like, “Duh, Daddy.”

A little later in the morning when I was getting him dressed, he got his backpack and said, “backpack.”  I didn’t know he knew that word, either!  I swear, this kid never stops surprising me.

I figured these demonstrations boded (bode?) well for a first day of preschool.  So off we went.

On the short (very short) drive over, I chanted in my head, “I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry . . .” as I sniffled and hiccupped my way there.  Yes, I’ve been through this before – many times.  But leaving any of them at school for the very first time never fails to do a number on me.

Finn was totally fine with it.

 

Here’s part of the outdoor area of the preschool.  It’s amazing – not your typical playground, no.  It’s all gardens that the kids help tend, fountains, a treehouse, and more.  Very sensory rich.  I love it.

 

 

When we got to the classroom, Finn scampered off.  I really don’t recall him ever having any separation anxiety, so I didn’t expect that he would have any trouble saying goodbye to me.  He made himself right at home, and I took my leave quickly.

 

When I got home, Scarlett was asleep in her car seat, so I tiptoed her to the bedroom and closed the door.  And the house felt deathly quiet.  I honestly cannot remember the last time I experienced such utter quiet.  And unlike last week when the older kids all went back to school and I basked in the relative quiet, this time was different.  I felt lonely and a little lost.  I will have to get used to this, and make good use of the two mornings a week Finn will be at school.  And I will – I have goals!  Cleaning and organizing, writing, putting together photo books – all kinds of things I’ve been putting off forever and a day.

Three and a half hours later, it was time to pick Finn up.  When I got there, he had paint all over his shirt – a sure sign of a fun, successful day.  His teacher said he did just fine, only got upset at one point during song time when they were singing “John Jacob” really loudly, and she couldn’t figure out if he was bothered by the volume or by having to sit down with everyone.  I’m guessing it was the latter since she said he wasn’t covering his ears.  She said he got along great with the other kids, and kissed everyone night-night when they went down for naps (Finn doesn’t nap, so I pick him up when the other kids go down for naps).

A good day.

 

Birth Order

Alternatively titled, “Can a Boy With An Intellectual Disability Be a Big Brother?”

and/or “How Does a Late, Surprise Baby Fit Into the Fam?”

Those are two questions I think about a lot.

As it is right now, Finn is fairly smitten with Scarlett.  Not overly so (like the other kids, who can’t seem to keep their hands off her, no matter how many times I say, “Leave the baby alone!”).  While I was pregnant, I was worried about jealousy on his part.  Very worried.  There didn’t seem to be any way I could really prepare him for the coming arrival and his position as baby of the family therefore being usurped.  I tried to tell him many times over the months that Mommy had a baby in her belly, but I’m pretty sure all he got from it was that “baby” was another word for “belly.”  Thankfully, now that the baby is here, he does seem to get that “baby” and “belly” are two different things – and hey!  Baby has a belly, too!  Neato!

Anyway, I do think there is some jealousy on his part, or at least a sense of adjusting to this new family member and what it means for him.  At first, he seemed to actually be afraid of her – and who could blame him?  Here’s this tiny, funny looking creature who makes A LOT of VERY LOUD noise.  What the hell?  What is it and when will it go away?  (Okay, I’m putting words in his mouth, but I doubt that’s very far off from what he was thinking.)  Then he seemed angry, and he did take it out on Scarlett a few times, by smacking her and raking his fingernails very hard across her head.  That only lasted a week or two, thank goodness.

Now, he likes her just fine.  I think he’s still not too happy about getting less attention, but now he takes it out on me instead of on the baby.  He seems to get the most pissed off when I’m closed up in my room, nursing Scarlett and trying to get her to sleep.  He’ll stand right outside my door and yell at the top of his lungs, all angry like.  Or he’ll lie on the floor and kick the door over and over.  Or he’ll yell and kick the door.  If I’m nursing the baby and not trying to put her to sleep, I’ll let him climb up on me, too.  I know he still needs me, I know he still needs to be cuddled.  As for Scarlett, he likes to pat her (gently) and kiss her (repeatedly – one kiss is never enough), and he likes to tell me when she’s crying.  “Mommy, Baby Scarlett,” he tells me (“Scarlett” still sounds something like “Garlic” coming from him).  But he can sort of take her or leave her.  He doesn’t go looking for her, and he doesn’t seem to miss her when she’s tucked away napping or whatnot.  Out of sight, out of mind?  Maybe.

I’m sure Finn’s and Scarlett’s relationship will evolve over time.  I just wonder how it will evolve.  How will it look in, say, a year?  Five years?  Ten?  When they’re adults?  Will Finn be the protective older brother?  Will he teach her things?  Will he scold her?  Dote on her?

Or will it be the other way around?  Because, I gotta be honest: she’s going to pass him up – developmentally, intellectually – at some point.  I’m okay with that, it’s just the way it is.  Okay, yeah, there’s a little sadness there, a little worry, I confess.  It doesn’t eat at me, but I do wonder.

Regardless, I do know that Finn will enrich Scarlett’s life – and she his – just like he has enriched all his other siblings’ lives, and they his.  That’s something I don’t have doubts about.

And Miss Scarlett.  I wonder about her place in the family, too.  Sometimes it makes me sad that she’s probably too far behind the other three girls to ever be a full-fledged member of their little club.  Annabelle, Daisy, and Lilah – they’re tight, those three (Annabelle and Lilah, especially – which is interesting considering that Annabelle and Daisy are the twins).  They’re two years apart in age, two grades apart in school, they share a room, they share clothes, they share extracurricular activities – they’re pretty much a unit.  Scarlett is about five and half years younger than Lilah, the youngest of the threesome.  There’s no room to put her in their bedroom, so when she moves out of our bedroom in a few months, she’ll share a room with Finn – a boy.  A boy who is four years older than her.  A boy who is four years older than her and who has Down syndrome.  Huh.

Who will be her cohort?  Her compadre?  Because all my kids seem to have special alliances with one or another of each other.  Who will Scarlett partner up with?  Who knows – maybe it’ll be Finn.

I just wonder, worry, if she’ll go through life feeling like an appendage, an after thought.  An only child in some weird way.

I probably worry too much, right?