29/12/17 Happy Hibernation.

I’m going to say this very quietly, otherwise I may come under a hail of heavy missiles from my fellow parents …

We didn’t get up until ten o’clock this morning.

We (that is, Daddy and me) went to a wedding reception last night, leaving Freddie in the care of his big brother and sister, who are almost 21 and 18 respectively. They are both perfectly capable, and legally old enough, to look after him, and he is happy and confident in their care. In fact, big sister got him tucked up in bed and asleep before we left the house. We had a very pleasant evening; I danced for a whole ten minutes before my knees began to complain (with somebody young enough to be my son, but unfortunately Daddy didn’t notice – he was too busy with his duties as an elder, advising the Groom that he must now knock out a couple of kids as soon as possible, because to carry on living a carefree existence now that he has joined the ranks of married men simply wouldn’t be fair to all the others). We got home just after eleven, bearing milk and bread we had picked up on the way back (marital responsibility is never really very far away).

Freddie woke up at about 7.30. this morning. I made sure his stool and toilet seat were in place, fetched him a drink while he went to the loo, then got back into bed. He came in for a snuggle, and then amused himself quite happily while we snoozed (whether or not we will be happy with the way he chose to amuse himself remains to be seen, however — we’ve come down to find faces drawn on lampshades before …)

In our house we are close to declaring Christmas a Festival of Hibernation. Daddy usually has the whole week off work, but you won’t find us taking rictus-grinned selfies of ourselves engaging in regulation ‘Quality Family Time’, festively hurling missiles of compacted ice at each other in the local park (though it is much more tempting to visit when you can’t see the dog poo for the snow): or savouring the luxury of a crowded restaurant where your drinks come diluted with waitresses’ tears, because the kitchens can’t get the orders out fast enough: or enjoying the pay-through-the-nose priviledge of listening to a hundred or so other kids screaming and tantrumming at the Panto, while Freddie looks on, clearly mystified, perhaps wondering in his head if that’s how people are supposed to behave when they’re in a theatre. I know, I know, you shouldn’t complain about other people’s children, after all, kids will be kids, and they’re only young, and so on … unless it’s obvious that your child has a disability of some kind: then everyone and anyone has the perfect right to complain about your child, loudly, in your hearing, or even in your face, apparently. I say ‘apparently’ because I know many, many parents who have experienced this, but I never have myself. This is not because I am especially competant or especially blessed in some way, but more likely because I have been cursed with a case of Resting Bitch Face so bad it would make Medusa jealous. Nobody who didn’t have an active death-wish would bloody dare. Maybe this face is a blessing after all.

It’s not that we can’t go out and enjoy Quality Family Time, but because, at this time of year, we can’t be arsed. We really do just nestle down in the house for a whole week, enjoying the comforts of soft pyjamas, fleecy blankets, hot chocolate, films, books, and FOOD. I wish we could do that right through till March, to be honest. I’m sure I have evolved from some sort of hibernating species.

Actually, there was a small flurry of fully-dressed activity on Boxing Day (was that Tuesday?). Daddy put on his DIY clothes and built a Lego Triceratops with Freddie (well, you can never be quite sure how these things are going to turn out – even the most innocuous craft-type activity with children can easily result in the need to repaint walls). Lego seems to be very good for promoting the development of fine motor skills and concentration. In my day, though, we didn’t have all these fancy sets designed to build something specific, you just got a big tub of assorted components that required you to use your imagination to decide what you wanted to build. And, very often, even more imagination to see the resemblence of the finished model to the thing you intended it to be. I love Lego. there’s bound to be someone out there with an objection to Lego, but I love it. I think we should do more Lego with Freddie, especially through the winter months: living just a couple of miles away from an area knkwn as ‘The Marsh’ it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to use the basketball set before May, although I could probably run a profitable side-line in illicit mud-wrestling contests — you know, like underground bare-knuckle fights, but with swimwear and no skull fractures. I’m sure my neighbours wouldn’t object (especially if I gave them a discount).

 

This Christmas has been marked by a noticeable absence of plastic tat. Freddie has received mostly books (non-fiction, about animals), Lego (plastic, but not tat), and die-cast vehicles (also not tat, Cars 3 merchandise – therefore mainstream-interest, and yes, he has seen the film, at the cinema, with other kids). I stand by my unconventional choice of lamb for Christmas dinner, because all the leftovers have been eaten – very finely chopped the remaining meat made a tasty Shepherd’s Pie, something Freddie will eat till the cows come home (but obviously not till the sheep come home, because they’re not going to be coming home, are they…)

I know what you’re thinking: this is supposed to be a blog about Down’s Syndrome, and I haven’t mentioned it once.

That’s how little it has impacted on our day-to-day lives this Christmas. It’s true he has been on antibiotics for a skin infection, to which he is prone: but this is a far cry away from the promises the doctors made when he was born – that we would spend every Christmas at his bedside in hospital while he battled dire chest infections. Touch wood, he hasn’t yet been an inpatient since he was six weeks old. We’ve had only one major outbreak of stubborn non-compliance, when I forgot to warn him in advance that half-way through the morning he would have to stop playing, put on his coat and get in the car so Daddy could drop me off at the dentist, but that was my own fault for not following procedure.

Oh, and I was inordinately pleased to see actor Daniel Laurie appearing again in Call The Midwife on Christmas Day.

 

Footnote: a few days before Christmas my daughter announced that she had read that Brussels Sprouts are now being selectively bred to taste sweeter. This is not good. I like the distictive taste of sprouts, the fact that if you put a sprout in your mouth blindfold, you will know without question that it is a sprout and not anything else. Why should everything be made to taste sweet? Why do some people want the world to be forced into some endless parade of bland, homogenised conformity?

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been a day of wrapping and baking, in preparation for Freddie’s birthday tomorrow. Yes, I’ve got him a ‘proper’ birthday cake from a shop, but I wanted some egg-and-lactose-free ones too, so that mummy could have done cake too. I think I deserve some cake – after all, it was me who did all the hard work on that day nine years ago 😆.
As I was putting the smarties on the cakes (I’ll have to pick mine off), an Amazon parcel arrived addressed to the young man himself! From whom, I do not know. How exciting. Now I can hardly wait until tomorrow to find out what it is.
Should I be feeling guilty that most of his presents are books? This year is the first time he has asked for something other than cake, candles and balloons when asked what he’d like for his birthday – and it was a book.
Freddie still loves anything with big, bold pictures, but the stories in most picture books are perhaps getting too babyish for him. I’d already privately decided that perhaps it was time to invest in some factual books for him – as they often have great illustrations, diagrams, photographs, etc that will catch his eye, and he will learn something about the world while he’s at it. Handily, he has recently become almost obsessed with a book I bought him a couple of years ago – the Nat Geo Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs. It’s aimed at children a little younger than him, but, though Freddie’s sight reading (whole word recognition) age is comparable to that of a typical child his age, his understanding of context and meaning is somewhat behind, so it’s probably just about right. It has a glossary in the back and we’ve already learned three new words – palaeontologist, hypothesis, and extinct; and because he currently wants to read it every night were getting lots of repetition of the meanings (cos I ask him to remind me what it means each time). The book he asked for is another one in the same series. So what if it’s a little young for a 9-year-old? If it piques his interest in a subject, and gives him the basic information, it’s a stepping-stone to the next level. There will be those who will say I am holding him back, that I should be pushing him to be ‘age appropriate’. But Freddie has a developmental delay, so chronological age means very little. I prefer to encourage him to be ‘Freddie appropriate’ and go at a pace that is comfortable for him. I’m not a mum who is desperate for all her kids to become rocket scientists or brain surgeons so she can bask in the reflected glory. I just want them to find happiness and self-esteem in being exactly the people they were born to be. It’s not unusual, when Freddie goes suspiciously quiet, to find that he’s not up to mischief but is,in fact, sitting on his bed looking at a book. So, it seems I may have answered my own question.
Do you think books make a good birthday gift, or are they an absolutely rubbish present?

Our Lived Perspective:  Close Encounters 2.

This latest post from Our Lived Perspective is, again, another old one: and, again, it was brought to mind by a thread in which someone had shared a negative comment they had either seen or received, posted apparently by the mother of an adult with Down’s Syndrome, who seemed extremely embittered with her life, who blamed her daughter for everything that was wrong in her life. Some queried what had happened to make her so bitter. Others, however, pointed out how much harder it must have been decades ago when parents did not receive the support that is available now, and we’re simply told that their children would never learn anything and there was nothing to be done. I’m sure it must have been.

But, if the encounters I have had with the parents of (now) older adults with Down’s Syndrome are anything to go by, there have always been families who thrived, regardless, even back then in those days of bleak prognosis. You may say that those who had a negative experience would not come and talk to me, because they would not be eager to talk about it, especially to a stranger, and I would have to agree. But if most parents in the past were struggling, were miserable, and embittered, then you would hardly expect anyone from the older generation to come up and talk to me at all. And yet, I have had many such encounters – positive encounters. So, here’s another post about a random encounter I had with a parent from an older generation: once again, I think it demonstrates the difference between the reality experienced by the families of those with Down’s Syndrome, and the mistaken perceptions held by the public (and medical profession) of what our lives must be like. I promise you, what lady said to me about her elder daughter’s wish for a baby just like her sister is, truthfully, what she actually said. I did not make it up for emphasis. It surprised me at the time, but then, as I have learned, people are infinitely surprising:
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS IN PRIMARK.
Primark is a great place to find a bargain; but, whilst shopping for cheap shorts and tee-shirts for Freddie’s first holiday, I found something I hadn’t bargained for.

Freddie was eighteen months old. I was browsing tentatively, keeping an eye on him as he craned out of his buggy, trying to reach the nearest garments to snatch them off their hangers. ‘Hiya’ was his only word at that time, and he shouted it enthusiatically at every passer-by, hoping for a reaction. Soon enough, he got one. A lady, well into her seventies, came over and began to coo at him in a grandmotherly way. Freddie lapped it up and became utterly charming, making eyes and flirting outrageously. I joined in the conversation with some apprehension. Would she notice? I knew the words people of my mother’s generation used to describe children like Freddie, the negative preconceptions they held.

Suddenly she called out to someone I could not see, presumably a baby-loving companion: ‘Jan! There’s a little one here.’

My attention was on Freddie, I was looking down, wiping his chin. A lady’s feet apppeared in front of the buggy, a head bent over it and was treated to a luminous Freddie-smile.

‘Has he got Down’s?’ she asked

‘Yes,’ I said firmly and looked up … into a pair of distinctively almond-shaped eyes. ‘Just like me,’ she exclaimed, beaming.

We talked and talked, all shopping forgotten. The conversation glowed warm with love and positivity, as did the good-natured banter between the lady and Jan.

When Jan went off to look at something that caught her eye, the lady said: ‘If everyone was more like my daughter there’d be no wars. She sees the good in everyone.’ She told me that she had another daughter also, and four grandchildren, and, to my complete astonishment said that this other daughter had always hoped to have a baby with Down’s herself, so much did she adore her sister. ‘Longed for’ were the words she used.

Primark tee-shirt — £3.50. Finding acceptance and love among the racks and rails — Priceless.

Our Lived Perspective: Close Encounters 1.

Today’s post from Our Lived Perspective is another old one. What brought it to mind was a thread in which someone had shared a negative comment they had either seen or received, posted apparently by the mother of an adult with Down’s Syndrome, who seemed extremely embittered with her life, who blamed her daughter for everything that was wrong in her life. Some queried what had happened to make her so bitter. Others, however, pointed out how much harder it must have been decades ago when parents did not receive the support that is available now, and we’re simply told that their children would never learn anything and there was nothing to be done. I’m sure it must have been.

But, if the encounters I have had with the parents of (now) older adults with Down’s Syndrome are anything to go by, there have always been families who thrived, regardless, even back then in those days of bleak prognosis. You may say that those who had a negative experience would not come and talk to me, because they would not be eager to talk about it, especially to a stranger, and I would have to agree. But if most parents in the past were struggling, were miserable, and embittered, then you would hardly expect anyone from the older generation to come up and talk to me at all. And yet, I have had many such encounters – positive encounters. I’d like to share a post about one particular encounter I had with an elderly gentleman, because I think it demonstrates the difference between the reality experienced by the families of those with Down’s Syndrome, and the mistaken perceptions held by the public (and medical profession) of what our lives must be like. It also addresses the question ‘what about the siblings?’

MEMENTO MORI.

I had another life-validating encounter in town last week. I’ve had quite a few of them over the last six-and-a-bit years. When I say life-validating, I am not mistaking the term ‘life-affirming’; what I mean is … well, I’m struggling to put it into words exactly … but what I mean is this:

I was in a shop in town with Freddie. As we walked down the aisle in one direction, an elderly couple approached from the opposite. The man was frail and stooped, leaning heavily on a walking stick. Freddie shouted out a cheery ‘hello’. Hearing him, the man looked up, then made his way over to us. His face bore a rather wistful expression as he ruffled Freddie’s hair, and stroked his cheek. ‘What a grand little chap,’ he said. I could have sworn there was a slight edge of emotion to his voice as he repeated, quietly: ‘a grand little chap.’

‘We had some wonderful times with our Alan,’ he continued in a faraway voice. The lady with him, who I presume was his wife, explained that ‘Alan’ was the gentleman’s brother, who had also had Down’s Syndrome. She confirmed that they had, indeed, had many wonderful times with him over the years. We chatted for a bit — the man told me about the sort of things that Alan used to ‘come out with’. The couple’s smiles were genuine, twinkling in their eyes, but they seemed, as I observed, rather wistful.

Then the lady said: ‘He’s passed away now.’

‘But he was a good age,’ said the man. ‘He’d turned sixty.’ (Two generations ago, this would have been a very good age for a person with Down’s Syndrome.)

I knew then why they were so wistful — because he had brought so many good things into their lives, and they missed him. On second thoughts, perhaps this should have been entitled ‘The Loved Perspective’.

Bringing Us Together

Our ‘Lived Perspective’: Hand Gym.

Here we are, having a thoroughly miserable time and sponging off the State again: doing extra handwriting practice instead of having fun on our so-called holiday, using resources that have been provided free by the country instead of buying our own.

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Alternatively, for those not viewing this through bile-tinted spectacles: here’s a little boy playing on the beach, writing letters in the sand with a stick he found. This is ‘The Lived Perspective’. It’s the difference in viewpoint between those who actually live in a particular situation day-to-day, and those who just try to imagine it from the outside.

It’s true that Freddie does need extra handwriting practice. He is hypotonic, meaning he has low muscle tone, which can make holding things like writing implements and cutlery difficult. He can write, but his hands quickly get tired trying to grip the pencil, and then his letter formation quickly degenerates. It’s not really ‘a biggie’, though, as these days we all tend to use keyboards for the majority of our written communications, and he will have no trouble typing, as soon as I get round to teaching him. And there are therapies that will help to increase the strength and dexterity of his hands.

OK — I admit, we have had some input from a professional Occupational Therapist. This consisted of precisely two one-hour sessions. The first was an assessment of Freddie’s needs, from an O.T. point of view. The second visit was to deliver some stuff — not loads of expensive equipment paid for by the tax payer and thrown at us free, gratis and for nothing, that’s not what O.T. support is about: it was a few sheets of paper, on which were printed the instructions for some exercises and activities that would aid the development of fine motor skills, some suggestions for everyday household items that we could use to make the activities more meaningful and/or fun, and a list of reputable suppliers from whom we could purchase any more specialised equipment that we might need. He talked me through the exercises and activities, and added some suggestions of his own. From now on Freddie’s Occupational Therapy will cost the nation precisely … Fuck All, because his therapist will be me. And before you start, I’ll just point out that being the parent of a disabled child does NOT automatically entitle you to receive Carer’s Allowance, or indeed any other State Benefit (apart from Child Benefit, which everyone who has a child is entitled to). So, Yes, I am a very cheap therapist indeed: and a very good one, because I have a vested interest in the outcome, and a great deal of love for my little ‘patient’. His triumphs are my triumphs twice over.

Anyway, our homemade ‘hand gym’ consists of clothes pegs, paperclips, rubber bands, buttons and marbles, and white board pens, purchased from Wilko’s (and a white board easel I already had), one of the most sensibly arranged ‘My First Shoelaces’ books I’ve ever seen, picked up from Lidl (it’s amazing what you can find in the Aisle of Shame), and an ‘Undo Me Cube’, which is used to practice fiddly clothes fastenings — the only specialised piece of equipment we bought.


As far as Freddie is concerned this is all play. As far as I am concerned this is all play, something I’ve done with all my children. As far as ‘The State’ or ‘Society’ or ‘The Taxpayer’ is concerned it’s cost nothing. Welcome to our ‘Lived Perspective’.

 

 

Sharing The Lived Perspective: no 1

I am sharing a series of posts that show aspects of ‘the lived perspective’ of Down’s Syndrome and/or answer some of the points most commonly raised by negative commenters. The first post I am sharing is an old post of my own: though it is ostensibly about choice, it also addresses an aspect of choice often targeted by negative commenters – that is, ‘who pays for these women’s choices?’ These Naysayers always refer to ‘women’s’ or ‘mother’s’ choices when referring to the choice to proceed with a pregnancy in which Down’s Syndrome has been identified, and I think this says something very significant about societal attitudes. It would not be acceptable, indeed it would be seen as extremely rude and bizarre, if I were to say to the parents of a typically-developing child ‘He might not be one of the high-functioning ones, you know. What if he doesn’t pass any exams and get a good job? Who pays for your choice to have a child if in the future he becomes unemployed, or gets involved in crime and goes to prison, or becomes an addict, or chooses to smoke or drink himself into a state of decay, or if he’s one of those who goes on to develop cancer, or this condition or that one?’

And it would be very rude and bizarre indeed to ask a person such questions, which is why I never would. So why do people feel justified in asking ME very similar questions about my son? So, here we are, my post entitled ‘A Woman’s Right to Choose:

We talk about ‘a woman’s right to choose’. Eight and a half years ago I exercised my ‘woman’s right to choose’ to the fullest extent. I chose to continue with my pregnancy knowing that my child would have Down’s Syndrome.

I am a rational adult. Given accurate and balanced information (that’s another story in itself) I am perfectly capable of evaluating the data and weighing up the pros and cons of any situation or argument. I made a conscious, rational choice in the full knowledge of what I was doing.

I made my choice knowing that I would not have to sacrifice my life, because nothing feels like a sacrifice when you have made the right choice.

I made my choice knowing that my son would not be a burden to me; he would be my child. Yes, I would have to look after him for longer, and he would always need more help than most, but he would bring me just as much joy, and love, and pride, as his brother and sister.

I made my choice in the knowledge that my son need not be a burden to you, the taxpayer, when he grows up (let’s face it, that’s what you mean when you talk about a burden on ‘the state’ or ‘the NHS’). We, his parents, are rational adults – we would plan ahead for his future, for when we are no longer here. I made my choice in the knowledge that my family also pays its share of tax (we don’t begrudge extra care to others who need more than we do, not even those who have smoked, drunk, or drugged themselves into an early decline – everyone has their frailties. And while we’re talking about cost to the state, let’s consider how few, if any, adults with Down’s Syndrome will end up in prison – it’s a valid point).

I made my choice aware that my life would not perfect: it never has been, but then, whose is? Life does not have to be perfect to be happy. When you make the choice that is right for you, it is much easier to find moments of contentment day-to-day: this is the root of happiness.

So, if you see me and my son hand-in-hand in the supermarket or at the park, please accept that this is what a ‘woman’s right to choose’ sometimes looks like.

Because a ‘choice’ where only one alternative is deemed acceptable, is no choice at all.

Bringing Us Together

The Storm After The Calm.

The Odd Sock Diary has been quiet for a while because we’ve been on holiday. On the first day, a few moments after these photos were taken, as Freddie and I were jumping over the frothy edges of waves breaking on the beach, my phone fell out of my pocket into the sea.


 

It took a few days for the wretched thing to dry out properly and recover most of it’s functions (except for the camera and torch), but this turned out to be a good thing, because it meant I had no choice but to have a break from social media – which meant I was not distracted from being ‘in the moment’, enjoying time with my family. Crucially, it meant that I avoided having my holiday mood spoiled by the slew of reports about, and responses to, both the Australian ’60 Minutes’ documentary about prenatal testing and the CBS report on the ‘eradication’ of Down’s Syndrome in Iceland. When I returned home, and my phone to (almost) full function, my newsfeeds were full of them. Worst of all, of course, were the hateful Facebook comments — the sort of thing no one would dare say to your actual face for fear of getting their own face rearranged.

A certain level of ignorance is to be expected amongst people who have never had any reason to learn about Down’s Syndrome. Such ignorance is forgivable – I, myself, am ignorant about many things which fall outside my life experience. But the nasty way in which some of these comments were expressed was staggering. I get it — not everybody wants, or would be able, to raise a disabled child. But the sheer spite and contempt directed at people with Down’s Syndrome and their families was totally un-called-for, and, frankly, disturbing. At times I felt like I’d wandered by mistake into some digitised archive of the Third Reich.  What can have happened to these commenters to leave them so eaten up with bitterness and fear? Or are they simply professional trolls, who get a perverse kick out of causing hurt and offence to others?

I was struggling to even begin to formulate a response to the things I’d read. Then I saw something that let me off the hook: a motivational meme that someone had left lying around on their timeline. It said: ‘The world is changed by your example, not your opinion’. So maybe the best way forward is not to respond directly to these things, but to carry on simply showing the world what a good life, what a happy, worthwhile and quite ordinary life, people with Down’s Syndrome, and their families, can have.

That said, I am a woman of strong opinion and strident voice, and I feel better when I have my say, and I realised that many of the ‘points’ raised by negative commenters are things that I have addressed in some way in previous posts. So I am going to re-share some of them over the coming days, and I would like to ask my fellow advocates and colleagues in the ‘Down’s Syndrome’ blogging community to share my posts too (if you see them and feel they make a valid point), and I will do likewise with yours on my Facebook page and on Twitter.

How do we, as individuals, and families, live our lives? How are we the same as ‘typical’ individuals/families, and how are we different? How do we meet the challenges we face, and overcome them? I’ve no idea how to do one of those Linky things, but if you’ve got something you’d like me to share, please drop me a link to it, via the comments, or messenger, and I’ll share it around.