Friday, March 22, 2013

Happy World Down Syndrome Day

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(one of her favorite things is snapping 100 self portraits/minute on my phone)

Today is the day we celebrate all those who live life with an extra chromosome.
I especially celebrate my sweet, silly, spunky Antalya who fills my life with so much goodness.
She is the light of my life and is absolutely perfect just the way God made her!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Christmas

If I had to sum up the holiday season this year in one word it would be "peaceful". I even found moments where I was truly bored and wished for something important that needed to be done. 

We enjoyed playing in the snow, sledding (a first for both girls), a ride on the North Pole Express, visits to Santa Claus, family, friends, nice weather, and reflecting on the gifts from the Savior. I feel incredibly blessed to have my family with me, our health, and for all this past year has taught us. 

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The girls loved the magic of Christmas this year, and it was so fun to watch their excitement build and build all December. Santa was kind to them this year and brought them both a bike. I can't wait for the snow to melt so we can get outside and start pedaling away. When Antalya was a baby I remember mourning the fact that she might never learn to ride a bike. But two years ago she mastered the tricycle and rode it everywhere until it finally broke last summer. I think she will enjoy the freedom and challenge of a big kid bike.

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Hope your Christmas was just as merry and bright!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Birthday Bash

To follow up with my visit to Antalya's classroom, Jason and I decided we needed to throw a big birthday bash for Antalya and invite all of her classmates and they other kids with Down syndrome in her school, so they could interact with Antalya in a fun, controlled-by-us, environment, and see that other people have Down syndrome too.

Her birthday fell during Fall Break, so we had to postpone the party for the week after her birthday, but I don't think Antalya minded.

I was worried we wouldn't get many people, but ended up with almost every child in her class, plus the kids from her special ed class. In total, we had about 30 little kids running around our place.

Luckily the weather was amazing and we were able to keep all the activities outside.

The goal was to create a party set up that would allow all the children to have fun, and give Antalya the flexibility to interact with them without having to participate in all the activities if she didn't want to. The last thing I wanted was for either her or me to get frustrated because it was time to play a certain game and Antalya didn't want to. So we came up with a carnival theme, and then made some changes to turn it into a Halloween party.

We had a food table that the kids could help themselves to, and different stations set up around the yard with games and prizes. My brother-in-law was kind enough to make balloon animals for all the kids. The stations were pin the face on the pumpkin, pumpkin bean bag toss, pumpkin bowling, donuts on a string, and making carmel apples. I had adults at all the stations to help the kids and give them their prizes.



When everyone was through with the games, we broke open the piƱata and had cupcakes. The Birthday Girl was on cloud 9 all evening from all the attention and presents, and all of the kids left happy. I consider the party a huge success!

It was a lot of work to plan and put on, but I have really noticed a difference just in the last week in the way her classmates treat her. One of the cutest things that happened at the party was when a little girl walked up to me and said, pointing to one of Antalya's friends with DS, "does that girl have Down syndrome too?" I think it helped her classmates to see that other kids have DS, and it's alright because they can all have fun together.

Teaching Kids About Down Syndrome

Several weeks ago, I visited Antalya's Kindergarten class to talk to her classmates about Down syndrome. This was an entirely new experience for me, and one that I thought I wouldn't have to take on until at least 1st grade, but the more Jason and I watched her with her classmates and talked about it, we decided it needed to happen. I got some great ideas from this blog.

Here's a run down of what I did; hopefully it can help out someone else.

I started by asking all the kids to look around and name all the things they saw about each other that was the same (all have noses, eyes, hair, shoes, etc). Then I asked them to look around and tell me some of the things that were different (hair color/length, size, clothes, eye color, etc). Then I told them I was going to read them a story about two little kids that were best friends. And I asked them to listen for all the things that were the same about the kids, and all the things that were different. Then I read My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson (a great book about a little boy who is normal developing and a little girl with Down syndrome).

When the book was finished we talked about some of the differences between the two kids. Then I told them that like the little girl in the book, Antalya was born with something called Down syndrome. I didn't get too technical, but just mentioned that inside all of our bodies are chromosomes that tell our body what color hair we will have, what things we will be good at, what color our eyes will be, etc. Most people are born with 46 chromosomes, but Antalya was born with 47. Because she has one more, it makes some things easier for her, and some things a lot harder for her.

I talked to them about some of the things that are really easy for Antalya (she's flexible, she's really good at sharing, she's good at showing love and is a really good friend, and I threw in the fact that she is better on computers and iPhones then most adults). Then I had the class tell me some of the things they have noticed that are really hard for Antalya. Some of the things that came up were that it's hard for her to keep her shoes on :), it's hard for her to keep her hands to herself, it's hard for her to write, and that it is really hard to understand what she says. We talked about what to do if she starts playing with their hair, bugging them, or just won't keep her hands to herself (One sweet girl raised her hand and said Antalya likes to play her hair, I reminded her that she can tell the teacher if Antalya doesn't stop. But she quickly said, "no, I like when she does!").

Then I had all the kids put a big marshmallow in their mouth and try to tell me what they ate for breakfast. They thought it was hilarious that they couldn't understand each other. I explained that that is what it is like for Antalya - because her tongue is bigger, it's like she's always trying to talk with a marshmallow in her mouth.

We ended with talking about some of the things they could do to help Antalya. Then I gave all the kids a coloring book to take home so they could tell their families about Down syndrome (I didn't use all the pages; I took out the ones I thought weren't necessary). Overall, it went really good, and I was really glad that I did it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

School Days

I just walked in the door from dropping Victoria off at preschool.
I have piles of laundry.
A kitchen stacked high with dirty dishes, and breakfast remains still sitting out.
Bags of grocery sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be put away.
I have two exams this week that I haven't even begun to study for.
And in 45 minutes Antalya's school day ends, and I'm back to 100% mom mode.

Life is busy. Most days I feel a bit overwhelmed, but things are moving forward one step at a time.

Antalya is enjoying school. I'm realizing we've entered a whole new ball game with elementary school. Somehow I thought because she has always exceeded and had friends in preschool, that kindergarten would be the same. I thought the mainstream approach would just happen naturally like it does with all kids. But I have had to face the realization that special ed will always be a part of Antalya's schooling. She is in the regular kindergarten class for most of the time, but she has been really struggling with sitting for so long and listening to so much instruction. So every day they pull her out for 30 minutes to work on additional math skills with her and a few other special needs kids in the special ed room. She's also pulled out every week for OT and speech. For the most part, I think her classmates are nice to her. But they know she's different, and they don't understand why she acts the way she does. I'm going to talk to her class about Down syndrome this week with hopes that it will help ease some of the tension and help the kids understand ways they can help and encourage Antalya.

Victoria loves going to preschool. It's at a neighbors house, so it's been really fun to walk with her in the mornings and listen to her babble on and on about this and that. Her vocabulary is exploding lately. In fact, did you know that young children learn an average of two new words a day? Just a bit of knowledge I have gained from my own studies this semester! Victoria is definitely there.

Lately I am so amazed at how easy life is for Victoria. She learns things so quickly, and the world around her makes so much sense. She doesn't have to work hard at anything. And her sister works so hard at everything! The vast difference is on my mind a lot lately. I wish I could help people see just hard Antalya works. I wish her teacher and her classmates would see how hard she works. I wish the world could more easily see past her weaknesses and disabilities and see the amazing strengths she has to share.

Maybe it's that I'm finally stepping into an advocate role. Up until now, I haven't felt much need to advocate for my daughter. But now that elementary school has begun, I feel that for the most part, her happiness and success in school and life for the next 13 years depends a great deal on how well I can advocate for her. I can feel the extra weight on my shoulders. I can't let her down!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to School

It's back to school time at our house!

Antalya had her first day of Kindergarten.
She was so excited when I woke her up this morning and told her it was finally the day she could go to Kindergarten school. Her smile lasted all morning!


Last Thursday I got a call from the charter school I have been hoping and praying for, that they just had a spot come available for Antalya if we wanted it. After meeting with the special ed director and finding out she would have a one-on-one aide in a mainstream classroom, I jumped on it. I think it will be an ideal set up for this year. The school is only two miles from our home. There are four other little kids with Down syndrome at the school, and two of those had her same teacher for Kindergarten the previous two years. 

I have a feeling it will be a great year for my little girl!

And today was my first day back at school. I graduated with a bachelors eight years ago, and have been wanting to go back to school ever since but couldn't decide what I wanted to do. These last few years had me thinking more and more seriously about becoming a speech therapist. I finally feel like the time is right for me to take some classes part time. 

After some research I realized that in order to apply to the Master's program I have to have a undergrad in communicative disorders. So, today, I began work on my 2nd Bachelor's degree. It will take a couple years of part time classes before I can apply to the Master's program, but that's alright. 

And Victoria starts preschool next week. I decided that if I was going back to school, I needed a few quiet hours a week to get my studying done, so I found a neighborhood preschool three days a week for Victoria to go to. She is so excited!


So, here's hoping it's a great school year for all us girls in the house!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Horses and Haircuts

Antalya has just completed her summer riding lessons. It's been a great experience for her, and I'm hoping we are able to do another session sometime in the near future.

Although there are many places near us that offer riding lessons, we opted to drive the extra distance to the National Ability Center since we had such an amazing experience with them last winter with Antalya's ski lessons (and did I mention they have scholarships available to help cover some or all of the cost?).


At each lesson, before she could mount her horse, she had to brush her, clean out her hooves, help get the reins and saddle, and lead the horse around the arena. I love that they teach about the whole experience, and make the kids participate in caring for the horse.


Once her horse was all ready Antalya would go for a short trail ride with her horse. She had to tell it when it to go, "walk on", and when to stop, "whoa", and listen for prompts to turn left or right.

On a completely different note, Victoria decided to give herself and Antalya haircuts on Sunday while I was busy doing the dishes. When she was finished she came to show me. She was so proud of herself that it helped distill most of my anger. Luckily she just cut a few inches from Antalya's hair, who is now sporting a cute little bob cut (pictures coming soon). But on her own hair, she had cut it clear to the scalp in several locations, and completely butchered everything on top from ear to ear. It was a true mullet! She is now sporting a modern chic look. I still think she is completely adorable, and in some ways, the short hair shows off her dark eyes more.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Splash!

The count down to school has begun.
Two weeks!
Just two more weeks until this house can get cleaned and organized again.
Just two weeks until we have a daily routine back.
 We've enjoyed the lazy mornings and late nights.
We enjoyed all the popsicles, splashing, campfires, and picnics.
 But I am feeling oh-so-ready for Fall!
Ready for structure.
Ready for busy mornings and early bedtimes.
Ready for whatever will come our way this next school year!
But for two more weeks we will soak up whatever summer is left!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just Go With It

Today we took an unexpected road trip from home and back again. 

Jason was supposed to catch a Greyhound bus to Las Vegas this morning, but due to some miscommunications we got him to the bus station just as the bus was pulling out. We were left with no choice but to drive him the extra 2 1/2 hours to the next stopping place along the route so he could hop on the bus there. And then the girls and I would have to drive the 3 hours back home again. Since we were already an 1/2 hour from our home, there was no time to turn back and get whatever distractions we would normally bring along for a day in the car.

Luckily the girls and I left the house this morning all wearing shoes (this doesn't always happen), and I had grabbed my purse and phone out of habit. But that was about all we had. No books, no coloring pads, no DVD's, no snacks, and with no radio signal across central Utah the only music option available was an old (and somewhat scratched) CD of Shakira.

But we did it. And we even smiled along the way!

It was nice to have a few extra hours with Jason before we had to part, and we got to stop in for a visit at Auntie Gayle's house. Uncle Steve and her live the home that my great-grandfather built with his own hands 60 years ago, in a town so small there isn't even a traffic light. If you ask me, it's like visiting a little piece of paradise. And the girls love visiting because they have what Antalya has named the "princess house" playground, and a little jeep the girls can drive by themselves. And in their eyes, the thirty minutes to play at Auntie Gayle's house was well worth the 3 hours in the car to get there.
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(The old one room log cabin in the background is the home that my grandfather was raised in, the newer cinderblock home in the far right corner is the one my great-grandfather built for his family with the life insurance money he received when his son was killed in the Korean war).

And tonight my heart is full of gratitude that what could've been a long and frustrating day turned out to be a very pleasant one. I am grateful for two little girls that have learned to just go with the flow. They constantly remind me to live in the moment, and enjoy the moment you are living. They are my heroes!