Downright Joy

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


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Sacred

My non verbal daughter has no words, only sounds.

Sacred sounds, echoing throughout the kitchen temple; our church.

Where sacrifice and worship and silent gasping prayers rise, mingled with coffee and toast and sudocrem.

There are crumbs in the butter again.

Mmmmm is one of those sounds,

And that is the sound of my name.

Immanuel. This is God with us; with me.

Here.

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Birthdays

Image by M W from Pixabay

You love a birthday, you.

No matter whose it is. 

Candles lit, you know what follows;

A song, golden flickering flames that vanish on a

cake that others will swallow.

You love a celebration, you.

No matter what the festival.

Be it Christmas, Easter, or any other occasion,

you were born to share in another’s joy

Amplified by your elation.

You do not ask for anything, you.

Nor do you come to me with a list,

Though I would fulfill it in a heartbeat if you had.

You desire not to possess the latest fashion,

So why does this still make me sad?

You do not know tomorrow is your birthday, you.

Anticipation comes at the moment you see

Not the presents, they cannot hold your attention.

But the cards, the candles, the faces that sing

Happy Birthday to You in joyous affirmation.

You won’t know it’s your birthday when I’m no longer here

to tell you the moment you open your eyes.

If you have not anticipated your special day then there can be no pain

Or disappointment when no cards arrive, nor the candles

 that I’d light for you again and again.

You don’t know how much you are loved, you.

Or how my fears simply cannot come to pass.

You are surrounded by those who love you as their own.

You were never mine to keep, your gift is to so many

And I know you will never spend your birthday alone.

Happy Birthday Hazel x


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Cost of Loving

Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

The barriers have been going up lately at an alarming rate. As we move into a new stage of life with my daughter who has Down’s syndrome, so her needs have increased whilst the help she needs is held back.

I’ve wondered at times if the joy I’ve written about here would follow us through the years, or would harsher new realities emerge to crush it? Am I a fraud, claiming Downright Joy when faced with increasing barriers surrounding care needs as well as a few more challenging behaviours? Then there are days of staring into the unknown of what if’s and how will we cope’s of her future? Those are bad days, where joy is elusive.

Authorities are increasingly, or so it seems, putting more and more hurdles in our way to jump over. Not just authorities, but every-day life sets out its barriers at the start of each day. Road blocks all around us, forcing us to divert, often at the last minute. Satellite navigation voices sounding more and more urgent telling us to turn back, we’ve missed our opportunity. Find another route.

Is this what they meant, eleven years ago, by referring to her as a burden?

And yet I don’t recall them mentioning these things back then. In the sonographers room we were quickly told what she probably wouldn’t be able to do. No one told us about the things she wouldn’t be able to have.

Yet, after she was born I quickly learnt that the doing wasn’t all that important after all. We all do things differently anyway because we are all different. But the having is a different matter because we all have needs, even if those needs vary.

So why did they not tell me about the things she wouldn’t be able to have as opposed to the things she wouldn’t be able to do?

Was it because that would shine a very uncomfortable spotlight on us? On society, on Government policies, on community and on our own value systems? A spotlight on lack of resources as well as unwillingness to pay the price of putting others needs before our own.  It’s an uncomfortable conversation very few are willing to have.

Sacrifice.  Sacrifice is an ugly, painful word to many.

A word often now devoid of its sacredness.

No. Instead they focused on her. On her extra Chromosome. She’s the one with the problem. Not them, not us.  And if she were to make it past the 3rd trimester then she would still be the one with the problem. Not them, not us.

They made sure I knew this before I turned down their final solution. But they did not tell me everything.

They did not tell me that there will be so many things she can’t have “because we won’t allow it.”

At birth, she’ll be given a different Red Book to every other baby on the ward. Because she’s different.

They did not tell me this.

As she grows up, the clothes we sell on the High Street won’t fit her, she is the wrong shape. The shoes we sell will not support her mis-shapen feet. But we’ll provide her with a pair that do fit; however we’ll repeatedly let you know just how expensive they are. Please do not ask us for a new pair until these have completely worn out, useless and are falling apart.

They did not tell me this.

Oh and she won’t be able to use the same toilet facilities we do because they will not meet her needs. Please do not ask for ones that do. They are far too much money. You’ll have to lie her on a filthy floor instead. Better still, don’t go anywhere, stay at home instead.

They did not tell me this.

Her school will be different. Good but different. She will be hidden away there from her community but still cared for and loved there by those who know her worth.

I already knew this and it gave me hope. There are good people in our communities and especially in our schools.  We need them so much.

She can join in the very limited activities that we will pay other good people to provide, but you will have to attend countless meetings, fill out numerous forms and open your life to intense personal and painful scrutiny in order to access the funding we have set aside (under lock and key) for people like her.

They did not tell me this either.

There will be so many more experiences she cannot have, but not because she cannot do. And when, eventually, she leaves school, the opportunities for her to be part of her local community in a meaningful way will probably dry up to virtually nothing.

They did not tell me this. But others who are further along this road than me are already signalling what (doesn’t) lie ahead.

Doing things differently should never be a barrier to being part of a community. Love can always find a way, but love has to be an action not just a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is hard work. Love is sacrificial.

The cost of living crisis began a very long time ago, but many did not notice.

What is spoken over the unborn with Down’s syndrome is a discourse agreed long before their parent(s) set foot in the clinic. An unspoken discourse….

All things considered, we’d rather you didn’t come in. Don’t take it personally though. No, no, see it as a kindness! To you, to your parents and to the rest of society. The intelligent, sensible thing to do. We really can’t afford to be quite THAT welcoming. Look, we’ve even developed this great new test which will help matters enormously. Routinely even; It’s no big deal, really. It’s for the best.

Diversity? Yes of course we like diversity. But only the diversity we like.

Obviously, we will leave the decision up to your parents. That’s the accepted thing to do. We won’t tell them what you can’t have in your life, just what we think you can’t do in your life. Make it a matter of personal choice, thus absolving us of our collective responsibility. 

They can be the ones to take the blame; your parents. Not us.

Either way. 

Either way you lose

When the cost of living is deemed of higher value than the cost of loving we all lose. To diminish one of us is to diminish us all. I now see exactly where the burden comes from, and it isn’t from my daughter who has Down’s syndrome.

I am glad that they didn’t tell me these things; even if they knew of them. Telling me what she would not do was enough of a barrier to overcome. A prediction based on a value system I do not share.

It seems to me that we’ve got this idea of scrutiny entirely the wrong way round.

We are scrutinising the wrong thing. Instead, the camera, the tests, should be focused on the scrutinisers, on our society, on us. Searching our genetic make-up, and finding out how and what went wrong? When did we allow these anomalies to creep in?  When did we become a society that is so focused on perfection, on achievement and success, so focused on ourselves? When did we forget that in order to truly live, we need first to love.

Downright Joy is found in the daily sacrifice.

It’s in the harshest of environments. It is breathtakingly humbling, eye-wateringly costly, yet remains the greatest privilege and honour of my life to receive. 

They won’t tell you that, but I will.


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Two’s Company

Image by Silvia from Pixabay

I never saw their faces, but I knew who they were. From behind.

Two adults holding hands. One taller, one smaller. One leading the other; slowly.

Walking.

A familiar outline, her unmistakeable shape and gait. Heads bowed, looking down at the pavement. Shuffling a little. Like a Charlie Mackesy illustration, but in real life.

Though in real life very few want to own this masterpiece.

And though I’d never set eyes on either one, I have seen them both before. I have heard others speak of them. This shuffling pair. 

One person being led by another. Their image a negative left to develop in the darkroom of pity and now imprinted on the societal mind as such.

What a shame, they say. What a terrible shame. 

Imagine

So sad. 

Pity them.

Who will care when she cannot?

And they sigh.

I used to think there was no power in pity. Yet I see that pity brings powerful judgement. It asks questions that end with full stops. Pity does not want to know what the solution might be; that would mean purchasing a new book. Finding a new way. Too costly both in time and money, perhaps. Pity allows for no appeal in the Court of its judgment.  

Case closed.

This mother. Her daughter. Perhaps I judge them too? Two women, one caring for the other but each one enjoying the other. If you look a little closer you might see this too. You might see what they see. You might see them.

The scales do not tip in one direction if the weights that are placed on them are of equal value.

Two humans walking around my home town. I walk where they do, only instead of holding a hand I hold handles – those of my daughter’s wheelchair. Mickey Mouse spins and grins inanely from the spoke-guards; evoking smiles from passers-by as opposed to frowns, thankfully. But pity is still there, I can feel it; and although Mickey is a welcome walking friend just now, we will one day outgrow his company.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So is pity. I say. And there is nothing pitiful or even outdated about the two women I saw walking today.  However slow or painful they might appear to a world that rushes on by.

Their outline. Their conversation. Their caring.

Their walk

If there is sadness, which certainly there is at times…… it is that they walk together, alone.

So often.

Two is company, but three is not always a crowd.

This walk; this very familiar walk of theirs; of ours, of others too.

It remains a walk that is illustrated by love; the details of which can readily be seen, shared and marvelled at by those who are willing to move aside the highway and step into our Camino.

Walk with us.

#Downsyndrome


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Circus of Curiosity

Image by Claudio Kirner from Pixabay

There was no time to prepare you, we were running late. The show was about to begin, we had to take our seats. I pushed you through the heavy canvas opening, into the darkened arena. I’m not sure how much you could see, your eyesight is blurred even with your powerful bifocals. 

What did you see first?

Was it the red velvet carpet laid over the sawdust covered ring? Was it the faces of the audience, eagerly anticipating the start of the show. A show they’d been anticipating for days, weeks or months perhaps. Talking excitedly in the days leading up to their visit about what they would see. I often think that anticipation is the best part of the good and wonderful experiences we have in life. And when I stop to think that you do not live life like this it makes me sad. It shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t.

The tiniest of spiralling particles caught your eye as the spotlight fell. You had no idea what this was, where you were or what was about to happen. 

I knew what to expect. At least, I thought I did. Yet, somehow, you knew how to anticipate something you did not understand. You picked up on the atmosphere. You understood you were somewhere new, somewhere exciting, somewhere different. 

You were not afraid. You were not alone, of course. I was by your side, my eyes were talking to you over the sound of the band that had struck up loudly; reassuring you, letting you see that this new experience was a good one. I held your ear defenders in case you needed them, but you pushed my hand away. 

Curiosity was your ticket to the circus. You were born with a lifetime membership.

And unlike most people, you have never learnt how to live your life without it. 

Mexican music filled the tent and your curiosity took you right into the heart of the Mariachi band.  There you were, in the midst of the violinists, trumpeters, guitarists, vihuela and accordion players, though you never left your wheelchair.

Curiosity made you listen and led you straight into a dance.

You did not dance as though no one was watching, for it would not matter to you what others think. You danced anyway.

Curiosity said this was what you should do, so you did it. Curiosity called you, moved you, as it always does. 

Your ticket to the Circus was the same price as everyone else’s, though you entered via a different doorway and were given a different ringside seat to the rest of the audience. And I’m thankful for the Front of House Team who went out of their way to welcome you to the Circus. They sought you out even from a distance as I wheeled you across the field; not to turn you away but to honour you and make you feel welcomed. 

I have a feeling that those who live their lives in the Circus are born with the same ticket as you. They know that curiosity is a sacred thing.

You saw the same acrobats perform as I did; you saw trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, musicians, dancers, actors as they told us a story. A story of triumph and joy, formed over years of practice, of falls, of knocks, of getting it wrong, of picking themselves up and starting again. Of determination, of commitment, of blood, sweat and tears, of silliness and joy, of community, of travelling to unknown destinations and pitching their tents in strange places, of wondering at times if they are going to make it. Of an uncertain but exhilarating future. 

We went to the Circus with hundreds of others last week, yet I believe you saw more, experienced more and took more from it than anyone else in that tent that day.

Years ago I was told by well meaning people that it would be kinder for you and for me if you were not born; only because you have Down’s syndrome. They did not know that bolted onto your extra Chromosome was a Golden Ticket of Curiosity with a ringside seat. 

And I’m convinced that you still have the best view.

Photo by Alison Morley


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Lemons and Pomegranates

I recently took time out from caring for my disabled child who has Down’s syndrome and took a trip to Italy to visit family I had not seen for a very long time.

It was also an opportunity to spend more time with my eldest child, and introduce her to a whole new cultural experience as well as meet some of our family for the first time. For one entire, exhilarating week, we wandered the cobbled streets of Sorrento, savouring the sights and the sounds of this beautiful coastal town in the Bay of Naples. 

Lemon trees lined our pathways, Orange trees also. In the narrow back streets, shops and bars jostled for space and competed for customers, their baskets filled with ruby red pomegranates and lemons the size of grapefruits. Leather goods spilled out of doorways giving off an intoxicating air of ‘We are Quality and we know it.

Sorrento, according to Greek mythology, was home to Sirens, who lured sailors onto its rocks with their mesmerising songs. Today, tourists and locals alike gather above those rocks, lured not by song but by sunsets. A place to stand and pause, capturing a memory or two against the vibrant colours of blue, fiery reds, orange and deepest yellow hues that fill the skies.

A short train ride along the coast finds the ancient city of Pompeii and its neighbour Herculaneum. In AD 79, a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, known to locals as His Majesty, destroyed the lives of over 16000 inhabitants and the livelihoods of those fortunate enough to escape the suffocating clouds of ash or the pyroclastic flow.  Wandering through Pompeii’s ruins, our local tour guide brought this legendary city to life as she told us stories of some of the people who once lived and worked here. The rich, the poor, the everyday and ordinary lives and their extraordinary blueprints for so much that we know and use today. Who knew, for example that house builders in Roman Pompeii knew the design for LEGO centuries before LEGO did? Our guide told us much of what she knew; human stories of human lives, achievements, hardships, joys and sorrows. Baking bread, shopping for clothes, going to the theatre, gossiping in the town square. Every day life of men, women and children, living and thriving in community.

‘Lego’ type design found on building blocks in Pompeii

One of the most remarkable outcomes, at least to me, of the story of the Volcanic eruption in AD79 is how the surrounding area eventually recovered from this catastrophe. The whole region is famed for its produce. Olive groves aplenty, vineyards, oranges, lemons and much more are to be found on the slopes of Vesuvius in abundance. And, according to historians and geologists, the land became far more fertile as a result of the eruption. The economy recovered relatively quickly and future generations enjoyed the spoils from the enhanced rich soil. They thrived. His Majesty Vesuvius brought life as well as death.

When my daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, was born I was given a poem. The poem was about a planned holiday to Italy being diverted in the air and landing in Holland instead. This poem is well known in the Down’s syndrome community and is a bit like marmite in the way it divides opinion. Personally, I found it to be well meaning, but deeply disappointing. No offence to the Dutch; I’d love to visit their country too one day. But I will not allow anyone to steal Italy from my heart or my dreams.  Having a child with Down’s syndrome is not a diversion or even a different destination; who knows where any of us will end up in life after all? Neither is it a catastrophe as some think or express.

What happened in Pompeii was a catastrophe. Having a child with a disability is not.

I do not minimise the challenges that come with bringing up a child with Down’s syndrome. I never have, I hope. The opposite in fact. I have no desire to ‘lure’ any parent faced with the news that their baby might have a disability into a false sense of security, when the journey is clearly fraught with, at times, hard, rocky places. But modern day Sirens still go off where disability or, in particular, a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome is concerned; bringing fear, panic and urgency in decision making. They need always to be tempered, in my opinion, with a softer, sweeter song. A song not of falsities or deception, but of hope. There is still life to be had, to be lived, to be enjoyed. And in many ways it is a life more vibrant and verdant than before.

I do wish that my daughter’s life, and the lives of others born or unborn with disabilities are seen first and foremost as the humans that they are. Perhaps, if they were, there would be no need for a Down’s syndrome community or a disabled community.

Just a community would be enough. 

A community more welcoming, more supportive, more vibrant, more fertile, more prosperous and hope-filled for all its inhabitants, its humans, than ever existed before. Thriving.


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Lost and Found

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

I don’t remember the last word you spoke. I had no idea you had no more words to say, so I did not think it important to make a note. 

I wish I could remember when you last spoke. I had no idea your speech was reaching an end and I did not notice it slip away. Your words carried off into the sky on the breeze of busyness. For a while I did not realise they had gone.

If I’d known I would have looked up sooner at the sky, the trees. I wonder if their branches would have caught your words, and held on to them….at least for a while. Giving me a chance, perhaps, to climb up and take them back for you. One by one – no phrases. In reality, only a few words anyway, now tangled high up at the top of the tree. Out of reach.

Like a child’s once preciously held balloon and now abandoned to the elements, your words disappeared. Snatched out of your hand whilst no one was looking. Taken from your lips. But unlike that child, you did not cry or alert me to your loss. How could you know what to say when what was missing was needed to say it? You let it go without a fuss.

Occasionally someone notices the balloon in the tree. In winter, no more than a dash of colour against prison grey boughs. In summer, glimpsed only from within, under the canopy. Protected by the greenest of leaves, but still there. 

Oh no, they proclaim, someone has lost their balloon!

Perhaps they know the sinking feeling of watching their own child’s balloon float away. Just…. out…..of…..reach……. Momentarily, or perhaps for longer, they feel that pain.

I still notice the balloon.

I see that tree every day and I see the balloon. Your balloon.

For a long time, the lost balloon has made me sad. I have tormented myself with questions as to what more I or anyone could have done to help you hold onto it. Treasured, painful videos from back then remind me of the time you had with your balloon. 

Whatever the reason, the balloon took flight and has not returned. And I can no longer see it in the tree.

You don’t even look for it. It does not matter to you. You spend no time worrying about the things you do not possess, even if they were once yours.

Instead, you notice what and who really matters in your life. With your entire being you speak eloquently and joyfully, leaving me in no doubt of what is important to you. No words required. You hear a song and your body sings it back to me. You understand melody with the best of musicians. You see someone or something you love and your hands give a speech of their own.

You also notice the tree, but simply because it is magnificent! Like you. And like those around you who never had a balloon in the first place. Some of them your classmates or friends you have made along this different path. They too are magnificent, and like you, they speak in ways too lofty for most people to hear. Maybe that’s where the balloon has gone. Higher up

You look for what remains, for what is. Not for what has gone, though the balloon was nice whilst you had it.

Love remains. 

And if you never speak another word in your life, love remains. Or if one day you find your voice again and never stop talking, love remains.

The balloon was desirable; so many things in life are, and I missed it when it let you go.

Yet love is far and away much easier for us both to hold onto and is tied in such a way that cannot easily come undone.


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The Garden

Image by BARBARA808 from Pixabay

I settle back in my chair. By the window, looking out on to The Garden.

The chair I have just bought so I could look out at the garden I have just planted. 

Aching legs, tired arms, calloused hands.

Weary. Content. Exhausted.

Her garden. I mean it’s mine, ours. But I have planted it for her.

Grasses that will sway, Lavender that will seduce. French, naturally.

Hustling Hostas; each one thinking they are the star of the show. 

They do not realise how much they need each other

A copper windmill, jewelled with stones of purple and red and blue. Ponderously regal. Disdainfully, it shares the stage with a water feature….a resin hand-pump masquerading as cast iron, surrounded by a family of acrylic white ducks. Yet it might as well be Royalty. To her it is a thing of great beauty. Its diminutive trickle of water elicits sounds of great joy from her. She is non verbal. My daughter.

So I love it too

Oh and there are butter yellow Calla Lilies! Still beaming at dusk; positively shouting at dawn.

Like her.

There are spaces yet to be planted. Gaps. Bare patches. Problem areas. This garden is incomplete. I hope it is never finished, for where would the joy be in that? 

We will do things differently. Experiment here and there. Get things wrong. Get things right. It will be hard work, often very lonely, but it will also be rewarding. Not in Gold medals or Silver Gilts, as we are unlikely to ever meet the criteria for those; but none the less, so very rewarding. There is no competition.

And though we still live on a busy road, in a busy town, where noise, traffic and so much more disturbs our peace, where there is so much about our lives we cannot change, though we would like to…. and though passers by and those who pass us by, may have no idea even of our existence; we will be enjoying the garden.

For it is a safe place for her. 

And me.


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Emeralds and Rubies

Photo by Sarah K Graves @ Pixabay

It’s a thing of beauty, my daughter’s favourite toy. It stands apart from the usual plastic playthings a child of her age may be drawn to. There’s a quality in the workmanship that can only be admired.

Bejewelled with rubies, sapphires, amber, amethysts and emerald ‘stones’, it spins on its wooden base with the lightest of touches. A little encouragement is all that’s required to make it dance.

Place it in the path of sunlight and it positively sings with joy.

And yet it’s fragile. Prone to tumbling off the table and clattering loudly, ungainly, disappointingly to the floor. Brushed off, knocked down, discarded.

And unless I am there to pick it up and put it back on the table, that’s where it stays. You see, my ten year old, non verbal, autistic daughter who has Down’s syndrome has never learnt that when something or someone disappears from her view, it or they are actually still there or somewhere else. Existing or existed, but now hidden. She has not learnt that her favourite toy can be experienced or even enjoyed again if only she would look for it. So she turns her back and walks away. She forgets the joy the toy brought and moves on to her next experience. 

Out of sight, out of mind. 

Until last week.

Last week was different. What changed, and why, I have no idea. Others more widely educated in these learning processes can explain. All I know is the toy dropped as it often does but this time she went looking for it. She bent down, she picked it up and it was she who put it on the table then continued to play with that which brought her joy. Her delight carried on as before, but her world had, in that moment, opened up and my delight was off the scale.

A first. An action I had given up on ever being possible. 

This time, there was no turning away and moving on to another experience. This was the one she wanted and she took hold of it with both hands. She noticed it had gone and that now mattered enough to go looking. My assumptions about her were wrong. 

Rubies, emeralds, amber and sapphire danced again in the columns of warm spring sunlight that streamed across the table. 

An ordinary table in an ordinary kitchen on an extraordinary day.

A pleasure that was hers for the taking and she was finally able to seize it.

Some ten years ago, after many weeks, she came to be discharged from the neo natal unit that had been her home and our place of safety.  A kindly consultant handled our departure and, sensing my unease at having to leave what we knew, told me of how much the world had changed even in a relatively short space of time. Just twenty-five years earlier her cousin had been born with Down’s syndrome and was routinely put into an institution. 

Out of sight, out of mind. 

The sadness in her eyes stayed with me. The if only was palpable. 

She knew there were so many colours waiting for this baby. My baby.

Ruby reds, ambers, sapphire blues, emerald greens.

I noticed she spoke only of her cousin in the past tense.

I hope someone walked with him and pointed out colours.

Like in a rainbow; though I imagine he noticed them first.

Last week the colours got a little sharper in our Down’s syndrome world. And now my daughter knows she can at least hold them in her own hands. 

I see others similar to Hazel, they are picking up brushes and painting rainbows like I’ve never seen before. New colours coming to the fore in a shifting landscape. Emerging artists taking up residence in a world that still struggles to embrace their art form. Their Down’s syndrome. 

We should not take their palettes away thinking they cannot paint. Neither should we begrudge what they find or what they are given. I have found they will share their lives, their experiences, their possessions willingly and extravagantly. They are not the ones needing lessons in humanity. From my little window on the world of Down’s syndrome Ive noticed they are often the first to show empathy to anyone who is treated differently.

When another cries in the room, my daughter cries too. Every time. 

Instead I want to stand back and watch them pick up the colours that matter to them. However they pick them up, whatever their understanding or ability is.  What will their world look like to them? How will they depict it, shape it, colour it? Who or what will they paint into it? 

I no longer want to assume I know what’s best for my daughter or for others with Down’s syndrome, or anyone else for that matter. I do not speak for them. They are not voiceless and never have been, it’s just our world paid no attention to their voice or afforded their particular art any worth. The loss of colour to humanity must be, I have often thought, incalculable. No. Instead, I want to learn from them, from the experts, the artists. I’m convinced we can all move forward into new and more vibrant life experiences when we do.

Of course I’ll have my own opinions, and in future I’ll try harder to keep these to myself if I cannot be sure they will do someone, somewhere some good. But I do want to see a people group who, though in the past were routinely placed in institutions and are still discriminated against simply because they have Down’s syndrome, are now brought front and centre where their colours can be seen as they were always meant to be. Not because they are better than anyone else, but because they’ve spent more time than anyone else under the table.

Out of sight out of mind

Some say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. I say it’s emeralds and rubies, and they can be friends to anyone.


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Listen

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

You’d think after ten years of knowing you, I’d be an expert in you.

You’d think I’d have learnt so much about this thing called Down’s syndrome.

You’d think I’d have learnt so much about what makes you tick. Your likes, your dislikes. Your needs and your wants.

You’d think.

I am your mum after all. To some, like me, the title ‘mum‘ is badge worn with honour in all situations. To others, it’s a lazy or condescending title, used to belittle and control. Don’t call me mum they say. With feeling, with reason.

I hope they are heard.

Some say I’m supposed to be an expert in you, yet there are no letters after my name. They mean this as a compliment I think. To me it’s just a pressure. I am no expert in you. If I were, I’d know what made you cry instantly. I’d know what you were really experiencing as you bit down on your hand, making it bleed in, well I don’t know…is it pain, is it frustration, or is it fear? Help me out here will you? I’m no expert.

I ask you, every time. What’s the matter? But you cannot reply. Not in the way I wish you could. And it takes rather more than a degree or a PhD to interpret the reply you undoubtedly do give.

I try to help you learn to eat, but do you want this food? Is it to your liking? Or is it too hot or too cold? Too difficult to swallow? Too sweet? Too sharp? Shall we just give up and use your feeding tube instead? I don’t know.

And about learning to walk…how are those orthotics feeling today around your ankles? Do they hurt? Are they too tight? Is that why you fall to your knees and stay in one place, or is it because those boots are just so darn heavy?

Why have you taken your glasses off? Did they rub your nose or does the prescription need changing? Ahhh I see they need a clean. Here, let me help you with that. If only you’d said.

What would you say to me if you could?

I am no expert in understanding you. In reality, I know so very little about you. But my face is always turned towards you. My ears are attentive to your plethora of sounds. Your cry. I am sorry I don’t always give you what you need. This is not ok. I wish I could.

Sometimes I may see what it is you want but do not give it to you. This is ok. It may not be what is best, not just for you but for others around you. You are part of us and we all matter.

What matters to me most is that you are always heard, even if you are not always understood. Even if what you ask for I cannot give as it is outside of my ability to either understand or grant or it is in someway detrimental to another.

Heidi Crowter

Our friend, Heidi Crowter…who really is our friend and who we have enjoyed spending time with in the past, has recently been asking for something. Unlike my daughter, she is able to say what it is she wants. Whether or not she gets what she wants is another matter, and one not for me to decide thankfully, though she has my support and my sympathies.

What matters most to me, I’ve been reflecting on, is not the outcome of her case. As others have been quick to highlight, the judge said her appeal was unlikely to succeed. They may well be right and of course, time will tell.

No. To me the most extraordinary thing of all about her journey so far – whether one agrees with her case or not – is what took place last week in the Court of Appeal in London.

Heidi Crowter: a woman with Down’s syndrome stood publicly to speak in the Court of Appeal and was not shut down, either as she spoke, or by the decision of the judges that ensued in allowing her to appeal. All of which happened on International Women’s Day of all days.

Type the words Down syndrome into Twitter, or Google and you’ll soon find, as I did just the other day, words of hatred spoken about people with Down’s syndrome. Words that seek to destroy and shut out people with Down’s syndrome – even from life itself. I even reported one such abusive tweet that referred to another child with Down’s syndrome as “an abomination to this planet ” and that they “wouldn’t consider it as human”. Twitter responded by saying this tweet had not broken any guidelines.

Twitter replied to me, but did they hear me? I’m not so sure.

Whatever happens next in the Heidi Crowter case, that historic moment in the Court of Appeal will never be taken away from her. And I’m no expert, but I am thankful to the two judges who are. They listened to and they heard Heidi. And, I believe they understood and recognised her need to be properly heard in the highest court in the land, regardless of whether her wishes can or should be granted.

That is extraordinary.