Downright Joy

Discovering joy in unexpected places – a journey into Down's syndrome, Dyspraxia & Autism


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Turn Back The Clock

 

May is nearly upon us and, for me, this means one of my favourite things. Chelsea. Not the football club but the Flower show. Not that I’ve ever been. I’d love to, of course, but the demands of caring for a young family with additional needs prevents trips like that at the moment. One day I will go. One day.

For now, I’ll settle for a week or so of high definition images via the BBC and Mr Titchmarsh & Co.  Pure indulgence. A week of dreaming that my humble little back garden will somehow also be transformed into a panoply of perennials, a cornucopia of chrysanthemums and cordylines.

It never is.

I have dandelions growing in my conservatory roof.

I’ve yet to hear or see the humble dandelion get a mention at Chelsea. I’m not sure they’ve ever even heard of one.  After all, it’s a weed. Not wanted. No place for it. It would spoil the garden. Ruin it, even.

The dandelion is hated. People wage war against it, so much so we spend millions of pounds on products aimed at destroying it.

The dandelion will grow anywhere. Except where it has been eradicated.

Yet the dandelion is also loved. Childhood games spent telling the time with a dandelion clock. So perfectly formed, so intricate, so gentle and so beautiful to look at. Then, as the seeds are blown, delightfully, by a childish puffing of cheeks, they are carried effortlessly away on the breeze. Landing somehow, somewhere and there, they begin to make their own mark in the world. A world that doesn’t really want them. Wishes they weren’t there. Will do all in its power to eradicate them.

When do these same children learn to hate something they once cherished? When does fear replace this childlike acceptance?

I don’t know the answer but somewhere along the road it happens.

Fear.

And so it is with having a child who has an extra chromosome.

Fearful.

At least it was for me, and, given the statistics on how many terminations take place in the UK following a diagnosis of Down’s,  I think it is fairly reasonable to make the assumption that fear has a huge part to play for many who find themselves in the same position as I did.

I was afraid of the dandelion.

I was afraid of how it would spoil my garden. Take over. Damage. Ruin its perfect appearance. Make gardening harder.

Of course, my garden was never perfect, but I strived to make it so. I could not let the dandelion spoil this dream.

I was affronted by this ‘intruder’. I believed the lie. That the dandelion was harmful. That the dandelion was ugly. That the dandelion had no place in my garden.

But I could not eradicate it even though I was told it was possible. Easily arranged. For the best.

And, I am forever thankful, that my fears although real, were never strong enough to take hold of the situation. They were never allowed to go to the garden centre and buy the weed killer. Though, for a while, I am ashamed to admit, I envied those who could.

I began to love the dandelion. I began to cherish its beauty.

And, over time, the shame I had wrongly felt at having a garden with dandelions was replaced by a sense of awe and wonder at this beautiful plant. I discovered its beauty, its benefits and its immense joy. I love how it pops up anywhere, it’s deep vibrant yellow flower forcing its way through the most hardened of soils and singing in the sunlight. Enjoying life. Enjoying being there. Dandelion experts even tell of the health benefits it can bring. Who knew?!

The dandelion is not supposed to be here. Or so you would think.

I wish I could turn back the clock and re frame the dandelion.

It deserves it.

The dandelion makes me smile.

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Duck Life

Swimming pools are my worst nightmare. Public ones anyway. A cacophony of shrieks, shouts and screams. An echoing sensory overload nightmare for one of my children and a place of mainly slips, trips and falls for the other. Never a relaxing experience, usually one that ends in tears.

So our recent mini break was made all the more relaxing by the addition of, no, not a private pool, but the next best thing. A hot tub.

The girls loved it. Hazel learnt to hold on to the sides and step round it – this is a major achievement for someone who can barely stand, let alone go anywhere on her feet. M loved it too. Playing imaginary games with her mermaid dolls and plastic, grubby looking yellow ducks or inventing silly games. Admittedly, neither did much swimming, though M tried, achieving her width certificate in record time. Great fun. Until…

Two little ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away…..

You know the rest.

Quack Quack Quack.

Only one came back. Literally. When our backs were turned, the more adventurous of the two little plastic ducks went…

Over the edge.

 And into an abyss. Well, into the gap between the hot tub and the log cabin. But it may as well have been an abyss. Dark. Deep. Impenetrable. No way back.

Gone.

Tears. Of course. I empathised. I may have even cried some too – for good measure. To show I felt her pain. Ducky had gone and so we grieved.

Mummy you have to get it back.

Sorry, sweetheart. That’s impossible. She’s gone.

Daddy. You have to.

We’ll get another one. I promise her. It will be better. It won’t be grubby looking. New. Shiny. Perfect. She’ll soon forget about it. Move on. Life’s losses and all that.

It’s only a toy duck for duck’s sake. It’s not important. We can sort this.

Even now, I still underestimate my daughter’s powers of persuasion.

24 hours of intense protest and ducky has come swimming back. Nothing short of a miracle I might add. My husband going beyond the pale to reach down/under/bent double/contortionist style all for the sake of a sorry looking yellow duck.

Sometimes we forget what matters.

We dismiss. We minimise. We play down the value of others.

We think about ourselves a little too much. Or perhaps, too little. We underestimate what we are capable of doing, when push comes to shove. We don’t feel up to the task. We avoid difficulty and pain, sometimes selfishly, other times because we too, feel unworthy, unloved. Afraid.

We tell ourselves our comfort is paramount. Our lives are too short to spend on something that is too difficult or not important. Less than. Worth less. Worthless.

M didn’t. To her, that little duck meant the world. The thought of leaving it behind, saying goodbye, replacing it (as if!) not valuing it, well, that was beyond her reasoning.

Caring is what she knows. It’s inherent in her. And I love that she is wired to care.

Caring for people that the world tells us are worthless.  We can deal with that, they say. At both ends of life, start and finish. Get rid. Move one. Get another one. It will be better than this one. Burdensome. Forget about it. It’s kinder that way. Best for everyone.

Except the duck. Whoever that ‘duck’ may be. An unwanted foetus, an elderly person with dementia or suffering with some other incurable disease, a disabled person, a lonely person. And, for the record, I’m not calling anyone a duck as such.  Though I happen to think ducks are very wonderful creatures! That’s simply the toy she was playing with….M would have felt the same way had it been the mermaid that had disappeared. She does not discriminate between mermaids and ducks, they are equally loved.

I am thankful that my 6 year old is not as quick as I am to give up.

I live in hope that she and many others of her generation will want to explore – really explore – what caring for others should look like. They won’t simply accept the idea that because technology allows us to do something, we should. That just because we have a right we should use it.  Rights are fought for – hard won battles to supposedly allow freedom of choice and dignity. Yet I often wonder what society would look like if we focused less on our rights and more on our responsibilities to each other. Maybe those same ‘rights’ wouldn’t even be needed, if we truly cared about each other’s welfare.

And M, at just 6 years old, gives me hope that she will always be willing to go the extra mile for whoever needs it and not just look for the ‘undo’ button. Perhaps she will look for ways to rescue, help and care for those in trouble. She will look for solutions. She will want to care. Want to rescue. Want to love. Want to speak life over others. She’s already doing it, and, according to her teachers, it’s not just with ducks.

Her persistence sometimes drives me to distraction.

I thank God that it does.