Sunday, March 29, 2015

Josie Turns 5!

500 Followers?!  Wow!  You guys are the best!  We never imagined when we started our little family blog that we would get so much support and positive feedback from folks all around the world!  Your timing couldn't be better either; you know why?  We just celebrated Josie JoJo's 5th birthday! 
 Mama Hop and Aunt Leanne joined us to celebrate this joyous occasion! 
 Aunt Leanne jumped right back into doing her aunt thing.  She dressed the kids for bed and read the bedtime story.
 I don't know what's happening in this photo but it looks intense and it makes me laugh so I included it!
 After we got the kids in bed, Travis, Leanne, and I went out on the town and we bonded over a little karaoke!  Leanne offered up the BEST performance of the night and she got the crowd rockin 'to "Cel-a-brate good times, Come on!"  For video footage, click here:
 On Saturday morning we set out for the noisy, chaotic, kid-infested abyss that is Chuck E Cheese.  It's amazing how different the experience is for kids versus parents.  They should really hand you ear plugs and a flask when you enter the premises. 
 Ah but the children love it so us grown ups happily endured two action-packed hours of running, climbing, shrieking, crying, fun.  My head is still spinning.
 So we played the games and earned the tickets...
 ...everyone except the birthday girl.  She could care less about the games and tickets.  Do you know why she asks to go to Chuck E Cheese at least once a day?
 You got it!  Enormous singing animals jamming out to today's pop tunes like Josie's personal favorite, "Shake it off".
 Yeah why get yourself tangled up in the noisy herds of hyper children clamoring for tokens and fighting over games when you can just get comfortable on the floor and dance until your heart is content?
 After we'd had our fill of pizza and pandemonium, we headed up the road to show Mama Hop and Aunt Leanne the progress on our new home!
 Unfortunately, it was prepped for painting so every surface was covered in plastic and it reeked of varnish from the staining process on the fireplace and stairs.  It wasn't the best tour but they got the feel for the layout...along with a fume-induced headache.
 The move in date is just over six weeks away and we can't wait!
 After a little afternoon rest, we got down to the ever-important birthday business of cake and presents!
 Oh and in case you were wondering, Josie is perfectly capable of feeding herself...unless her Aunt Leanne is sitting next to her.
 After the birthday girl was serenaded, musical gifts were opened, and cake was consumed, we took a step back and reflected on the last 5 years; five incredible years with this smart and sassy little girl who has illuminated our days with her smile.  We feel so fortunate to get to be her family.
Happy Birthday Josie!  We love you!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Another Sibling Perspective: Q&A with Jimbo's Sisters

I've been at this Down syndrome sibling thing for oh, let's just say 29 plus years...But through the magic of social media, I've "InstaFriended" another incredible family who have even more experience than I do. 
This is James (AKA "Jimbo').  He is a 53 year-old man with Down syndrome and he is an Instagram sensation!  More than 8,000 followers are captivated by his smile and his message of positivity.  He is a daily reminder that we are as happy as we make up our minds to be! 
That's why I felt like a journalist who scored the "exclusive" when Jimbo's incredible sisters, Pam, Julia, and Patti agreed to answer questions posed by our followers to be featured on Confessions of the Chromosomally Enhanced.  Without further ado, I am so honored to share their honest and inspiring story with you:
Background: James (aka Jimbo) is a 53 year old man with Down syndrome, who happens to be non-verbal. His parents had 11 children.he is the 9th in birth order. His sisters answering questions here are Julie, the 7th in birth order. She is married to Randy, with 4 adult children and 7 grandkids. Patti, 10th in line, is married to Sam, with 3 adult children. And, Pammie, 11th in line, is married to Marc, with 2 adult children. Jimbo lived in the home with his parents and siblings. His mom was a stay at home mom and his dad brought home the bacon!! :) His mother passed away in 1998 and he remained in his home with his dad until 2005, shortly before his dad passed away.
What are Jimbos living arrangements? How do the siblings work out the care of Jimbo in regards to shared responsibility and time spent together? How do they make sure he has the company he needs while sharing the load between siblings who have jobs/kids/etc?
He lives between Julies house and Pams house. Alternating weeks, Monday to Monday.
Julie is a stay at home mom/grandma who babysits a few of her grands and volunteers in the community. Pam is a mom with a part-time job that allows her to work around Jimbos schedule. Our adult children help us with Jimbo when we put out the call. Patti is a mom with a full-time job. She works it out to help us with Jimbo on the weekends when we need her to man-sit. (Hence, this is where the term, Jimbo is the mancame from.)
It all just works out!!
How was Jims transition from his parentshome to siblings? What were the biggest adjustments?
Surprisingly, it was a smooth transition. The alternating just happened to work itself out over the course of the first 6 months. We just figured out a way to make it work best for all of us. The biggest transformation that was noted by all, was the change in his personality. He was always a happy, loving guy but he was a 44 year old man living with an 88 year old man. He had aged beyond his years through no fault of our Dads. After a very short time, living with his siblings and our kids, he sprang to life. He suddenly was more active, on the move, being in the community more, meeting new people so he started acting younger and younger!! Its been a very positive for him and all of us!!
Describe what a typical day is like for Jimbo. What are his routines?
Weekday.Rise and shine, breakfast, get dressed, make the bed, off to workshop at 9:00. Workshop until 2:30running around town with whichever sister, niece or nephew picks him up or home to watch afternoon TV and whatever chores those sisters have cooked up. Dinner, bath, a little more TV.bedtime.
Weekends.Rise and shine, cooked breakfast (eggs are his favorite), get dressed, make the bed, off to whatever adventure those sisters or brothers in law have cooked up!! Usually some TV in the afternoon, dinner, bath, a little more TV.bedtime.
Its a nice, simple life.keep calm, stop and smell the roses, etc., etc.

What makes Jimbo laugh out loud? What cracks him up??

There is so much to say here. Jimbo is so FULL of joy and laughter. Thoughts in his head that only he can know crack him up!! He laughs at sitcoms with slapstick comedy, TV shows with explosions. He thinks its hilarious to play a game of throwing balled up socks at us and we throw them back!! Flicking us with a towel produces uproarious laughter. Piñatas are a hit!! (Pun intended.)

Does Jimbo have any hoardingor hidingtendencies? (Asked by someone with this experience with a relative with Ds.)

He actually has a paper obsession. Small scraps of paper, business cards, wallet size photos, receipts, etc. Anything that will fit or can be folded small enough to fit nicely in his wallets. He has two wallets that get VERY large from all of the stuff stuffed into them. Sometimes his pockets are so full that they drag his pants down!! :) When stuff starts falling out, he saves it in the drawer of his nightstand. :)

Have you looked into employment services or mobile crew options for Jimbo to work? If so, what type of transportation have you arranged? Personal or is there a public system for people with disabilities?

Jimbo attends a day program Monday thru Friday that is a vocational/occupational program. The workshop has a program that provides the clients warehousework experience and also has occupational classes and social events. Jimbos work experience includes packaging of nuts/bolts, stuffing envelopes, assembling gift bags, etc.

There is transportation available thru social services but we choose to use personal transportation because it works better into our schedules.

What do Jimbo and his siblings like to do together for fun?

Jimbo is included in all of our family activities as much as possible. We have a lot of get togethers, perhaps the nature of a large clan!! Just socializing, playing a game called Left Right Center is a favorite because it can include even the little kids. He loves to dance so having music is always a plus!! Weve recently gone camping. Just the same stuff that every other family likes to do!!                                                                                                                                 

How is Jimbo connected to his community?

The previous 2 questions pretty much answer this. Through the activities at his workshop he socializes with peers and through family connections he socializes with the typically developing community.

Has Jimbo fostered authentic friendships with both typically developing peers and peers with disabilities? How did the peer connection change after the school years?

At this time, Jimbos friendships are mostly focused on his family and typically developing peers through family contacts. He has friendships with peers with disabilities through his workshop and the social activities that they have.

How do each of you & Jimbo handle ignorance about Ds? Especially when it comes to people who arent thoughtful with their words.

We cannot be concerned in our day to day about the ignorance of others. Jimbo doesnt care because he doesnt fully understand so therefore we choose to ignore ignorance for the most part. We deal more with stares than with comments so we choose to just move on!!

Im curious to know how you deal with the totally flippant and offhand use of the R word(like when referring to shoes or homework assignment) and Im curious to know how your Ds siblings deal with it too.

First, let me state that you must remember that we are all over 50 years of age. (GASP!!) When we were growing up, the R wordwas used to describe our brothers condition.We didnt know any other way to describe Jimbo!! (I know this is very distressing to some who read this, but, we are trying our best to be honest here.) Sometime in our youth, the term Down syndrome was introduced to us and thats what we were told was the proper term to describe Jimbo.

So.having said all of that.we were guilty of using the R wordourselves for years!! And then the campaign to end the word began and we jumped onboard. Now if I hear the R word, especially in the presence of Jimbo, I just look at the person using it and say, Really!? Come on nowlets just not!!

Did you ever encounter others not being accepting of Jimbo, like your friends growing up? If so, how did you handle that?

Julie: Trying to recall if this was ever even an issue. Perhaps I chose friends wisely because I cannot recall having this be a problem for me.

Patti: I was super protective and defensive of Jimbo. If anyone gave him a look, a whisper, a stare, I was ready to literally jump into action. Punching may have been involved!!

Pammie: Ditto what Patti said because we were always together!! We have since outgrown this behavior!! For the most part our friends were fabulous!!

How often did your parents spend time with you separately (considering there are 11 siblings)? Just wondering how much alone time each needed with their parents.

Once again, lets go to our age and the fact that we grew up in the 60s-70s. There wasnt a huge emphasis on this type of thing back in the day. We dont recall ever feeling deprived of attention. We think our parents were just doing the best that they could and focusing on working, raising, housing and feeding that many kids. We think we learned to love and care for each other by following their example. The its not all about youlesson. Jimbo was the center of everyones attention.

How did your parents explain to you that Jim has Down syndrome? Was it a big family discussion that took place or did that just evolve over time?

Julie: I was 3 1/2 when Jimbo was born. I vaguely recall his homecoming from the hospital and only recall realizing he wasnt typical because he wasn't attending school with the rest of us. Back then, the state did not have inclusion in the public schools. He went to a special school for individuals with disabilities. Also, I remember asking our Mom questions as they arose and she would answer. It was not a big sit down discussion for me. I just wanted him to talk!!

Patti: Im 12 months and 16 days younger than Jimbo. I dont recall any huge revelation about finding out Jimbo has Ds except that he has two webbed fingers and I was most curious about that.

Pammie: Im 2 years and 4 months younger than him. I dont recall any discussionI just knew we needed to watch over him. Its just all we knewit was just natural.

Do you remember having a talk with your own kids explaining Uncle Jimbos Down syndrome? What was it like? Or did you just answer questions as they arose? Did your kids even ask questions or did they just accept him because he was always there?

Julie: For me, it was a very natural discussion as questions came up about Jimbo. He has always been a part of the lives of my kids and now my grandkids so there have been lots of questions over the years. Just leaving the door open for frank and open discussion has been the best for us.

Patti and Pammie: Dittowe all agree!!

How has the experience with a sibling with Down syndrome changed your life? Like if you could point to one or two things that you could say I would not be the person I am today in this area if I did not have him in my lifewhat would it be?

Julie: This is a tough one for me.because I get a bit emotional over it. I dont really know who I would be without Jimbo in my life. I actually have a hard time visualizing that. Im a pretty driven person with an inability to sit still. Im always in motion.but perhaps less so because of him. He has a calming effect on me, makes me slow things down a bit, hes comforting when Im sad or anxious. So who knows what Id be like without himhard to say!!

Patti: None of us know who we would be without him. Certainly lesser.period!! I have always believed that Jimbo is a glimpse into Heaven.

Pammie: This is hard. You just dont think about this until youre asked. Our family would not have been so close. I know I wouldnt be as patient, wouldnt have as much empathy, wouldnt be as tolerant as I am.
Does Jimbo find happiness and fulfillment in his life path? And what do you tell people who find it difficult to truly understand this fulfillment because it rides against the standards of our achievement-driven society?
We think hes happy. Fulfilled? Isnt being happy fulfilling? He is a part of a family that loves and cares for him deeply. Isnt that fulfilling? He is doing his job, showing us how to live, love, and be better people.
 Did you have a special bond with your brother when you were younger and did that change over the years?
Julie: I think being a part of the youngersin our family sealed the deal for me and Jimbo. I have no real memory of life without him. I was the original Mother Hento my 4 siblings that are younger than me. We used to pull Jimbo around our neighborhood in a little red wagon because he couldnt keep could we not have a special bond? That bond suffered a bit in my teenage years because I was too busy(sad to say on my part) but we have just grown closer as we grow old together.
Patti and Pammie: We didnt have an opportunity to NOT be bonded. We were with him all the time. It was fine with us.we dont remember suffering for it. There was no burden, no suffering, it was just part of life. As we got older, got married and had families, we werent with Jimbo on a daily basis. But now, the bond is stronger than ever.
That was better than I even imagined it would be when I first asked these lovely ladies to guest blog post.  Thank you, Pammie, Julie, and Patti, for this exclusive glimpse into your life with Jimbo.  It was honest, humorous, and heartwarming.  I only wish we lived closer so we could all hang out.
And thank you, Jimbo, for being you, and for enriching the world with your smile!
To follow @jimbo_is_the_man on Instagram, click HERE!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The message is worth repeating

This picture is old, but the message is worth repeating:
March 4 is a national day of awareness led by the Special Olympics.  It's designed to end the use of the r-word (retarded) in popular slang.  When the word "retarded" is used as a synonym for "stupid" or "foolish," it is insulting to individuals with intellectual disabilities. 
Over the years, I've heard the word "retarded" thrown around by friends and acquaintances and I honestly don't think anyone intends it to be hurtful.  I don't think people usually realize the association between an insult like "that movie was so retarded" and my daughter and sister.  Historically, the word "retarded" was once a diagnostic term to describe an intellectual disability, like Down syndrome.  It has since been incorporated into common vernacular to be used as a put down.
How does that sound to me?
Josie and Leanne have Down syndrome.  Down syndrome is characterized by a degree of mental retardation.  It's not a bad thing.  People with mental retardation can learn; but it just may take them longer.  It doesn't make them inferior - they just learn at a different pace.
You say: "That movie was retarded"
You mean: That movie was stupid/idiotic/foolish
Suddenly a term once used to describe a condition that my daughter and sister possess; a condition they cannot help; a condition that makes them different - but not less than - those without it, is suddenly equated to stupid...idiotic...foolish.
You simply said you didn't like a movie.  You certainly didn't mean to call my sister an idiot.  I get that.  But it stings.  Because she's not an idiot; and she did not ask to be a slower learner.  In fact, she works twice as hard to achieve tasks that we take for granted.  And she does it without complaining.  I think that makes her pretty darn admirable; not an idiot.
So what am I asking of you?  Remove the word from your arsenal of slang terms.  If something is stupid, call it "stupid," not retarded.  It's that simple.

Friday, February 27, 2015

February Update: We're still alive!

We sure hope you haven't given up on us because we are definitely not giving up on the blog.  Since our last post, we've been blessed and humbled by some incredible feedback that reiterates how important our little blog can be.  However, our current situation has contributed to sadly infrequent blog updates but we made it under the gun to offer you a quick hello before February is over...
Travis and I have always led a relatively adventurous and nomadic (bordering on downright crazy) life however this past year takes the cake!  We had a baby, moved to a different state, started the girls in preschool, began the process of building a house, proceeded with getting acclimated to a new community, all while living in a 2 bedroom condo!  And the next two months leading up to the big move in date aren't showing signs of slowing down!  Between day-to-day responsibilities of running a household and raising children, volunteer work, hosting guests, preparing for the big move, planning for summer, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera...suffice to say that most days don't allow for a bunch of spare (uninterrupted) time to sit down at the computer and blog. 
But before you roll your eyes and click the little "X" in the upper right hand corner of your screen, hear me out:  We've got some really fun posts coming up - including one guest blog post that we're really excited about sharing with you.  So please bear with us.  We love our blog and we love our readers! 
In the meantime, check in with us here:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Down syndrome and the impact on siblings: Focus on Dr. Brian Skotko

A friend sent me this article (click here, Mom) about my beloved Brian Skotko, MD, MPP and I knew I just had to share it with our blog readers.  I have such a profound respect, admiration and appreciation for this man who has devoted his career to improving the lives of people with Down syndrome.  As a brilliant physician and Harvard professor, Skotko spends his days researching, advocating, and celebrating individuals with Down syndrome.  What inspired this passionate focus?  His younger sister, Kristin Skotko, who has Down syndrome.
 My affinity for Dr. Skotko results from the fact that we were born into the same circumstance - both of us have a sister with Down syndrome - and he "gets it".  In a world where we feel like we have to constantly defend our siblings against society's unfair misconceptions, it's refreshing to find someone who is enlightening people to what Down syndrome truly is - and he articulates it so beautifully. 
 YES!  Exactly!  Thank you, Dr. Skotko.  Society may look at my sister and others in the exclusive chromosomally enhanced club as genetic blunders who are somehow inferior to those of us who are sporting only 46 chromosomes, but I've spent my whole life around people with Down syndrome and I beg to differ.  A person's value is not measured by his or her IQ score. 
I'm not the only one who feels this way.  Dr. Skotko did a study in 2011 and look what he discovered:

I frequently receive emails and comments from parents whose baby has just received a Down syndrome diagnosis and one of their primary concerns is how it will impact the child's siblings.  We brought Josie into our family and I knew her extra chromosome would be a special gift to her future siblings.  It would allow them to see the world from a totally different perspective.  It would allow them to step outside the mainstream outlook that focuses on academic, career, and monetary achievement; in Josie's world, the focus becomes kindness, unconditional love, and slowing down to appreciate small victories and less superficial sources of happiness. 

Maybe the "limitations" that accompany Down syndrome are not limitations at all.  Instead they remove obstacles that impede our ability to accept ourselves and be happy.  Prior obtaining her current job in the café, my sister, Leanne, was in a sheltered workshop environment where she packaged screws and other small assembly items.  She was paid based on her productivity.  And it didn't matter if her paycheck said $4.63 or $15.25, she announced it with enthusiasm as though it rivaled Bill Gates' paycheck and she took great pride in her work. 
Leanne can't golf like Tiger Woods.  She can't play basketball like Michael Jordan.  She can't design technology like Steve Jobs.  She can't sing like Mariah Carey.  She'll never make the list of the Forbes Wealthiest People.  But she could care LESS.  She delights in her Special Olympics events and to quote Brian Skotko, she "celebrates a third place victory with as much gusto as a gold medalist".  She plays her CD's on her boombox and sings at the top of her lungs.  She will never win a Grammy and she's quite fine with that.  And she wipes tables in a café and she makes dog biscuits and she collects a paycheck that would be considered pocket change - pocket lint - to the Forbes Wealthiest People.  But she's proud of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay and she's HAPPY.
For more on this study, click on the "Living With Down syndrome" tab on the top of the blog - it's truly enlightening.
People with Down syndrome are no longer isolated, and locked away in institutions.  Thanks to my parents' generation, they live at home with their families, receive an education, and make a valuable impact on their communities.  And today, thanks to the work of Dr. Brian Skotko and others who share his passion, individuals with Down syndrome receive even more medical care, therapies, and educational resources that allow them redefine the potential that their futures hold.

With more opportunities to be included in an educational and employment setting - to be included in and appreciated by society as a whole - the ignorance that exists about Down syndrome being defined by limitations and suffering is being replaced by a genuine appreciation for the contributions that individuals with Down syndrome make on the world.

 The best teachers don't lecture at us; they show us.  The best way to learn is not to hear or read about a subject; it's to experience the subject.  Leanne has been the single largest source of information about Down syndrome and the implications of the diagnosis that I could ever tap into.  I've been a student in her class since the day I was born.  And while not everyone has had the experience of growing up alongside an individual with Down syndrome, I believe that everyone who is fortunate enough to have crossed Leanne's path is a little more enlightened to what Down syndrome is.
And thanks to people like Dr. Skotko, more people can learn to appreciate the diversity of the human condition and realize that there is more than one path to a purposeful and fulfilling life.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Top 4 Moments from Christmas 2014

Greetings blog readers!  So glad you've decided to join us in 2015!  We've got so many good stories from Christmas to share with you that I considered breaking this into two posts.  Then I had a realization and I said to myself, 'Self, you know you'll have every good intention of writing a second Christmas post but then life will resume as usual and the chaos of day-to-day life will impede your good intentions.'  So instead, we will have one really long post just bursting with fun pictures like this one:
 Ah yes - we got to meet Leanne's new gentleman friend, Mike.  But more on that later...

On Christmas Eve, our family set out towards Mama Hop's house.  It's about a five hour drive and with little ones, that is a daunting prospect.  But we mapped it out around naps and we planned some stops to eat and to use the restroom, and it wasn't bad at all.  We even dropped in on Travis' grandparents along the way.  All of my grandparents are deceased so I always tell Travis how blessed he is to still have such vibrant grandparents.  Our children are fortunate to be able to get to know their great grandparents.  And much to Merryn and Josie's delight, Travis' grandma even had some "delicious" (direct quote from Josie) Christmas cookies for them!
 Grandmas and cookies go together like peas and carrots.  When we arrived at Mama Hop's house, she offered the girls their second helping of Christmas cookies.  Mama Hop even made hers to resemble her Siamese cat.  Merryn was impressed, although, Josie looked a little skeptical:
 Mama Hop and Aunt Leanne got right down to business doing what grandmas and aunts do while Travis and I took a load off and sipped "egg nog".
 On Christmas morning we woke up and put on our glitzy Christmas attire and we took some pictures before said Christmas attire got wrinkled, stained, and torn.  As usual, my children were perfectly posed little, one out of three will have to do:
 After mass we got down to businesses opening Christmas gifts!
 There's nothing quite like the excitement and joy that kids exude on Christmas!
 There's also nothing quite like the pride Leanne takes in distributing the gifts she bought for everyone.  Look at this - she painted a vase especially for Mama Hop:
 This is one of my favorite photos from Christmas.  Leanne presented Travis with new socks, proudly announcing that she worked hard and paid for them with her own paycheck.  She was filled with as much pride and enthusiasm as if she was handing him the keys to a new Mercedes.  No gift from Leanne is complete without a hearty helping of Christmas affection.  No Siree - nothing says "You're the world's best brother-in-law" like new dress socks and squeezing the life out of him.

The next few photos are devoted to Lydia.  If there is a Guinness Book of World Records entry for "Most Smiley Baby," her picture should be next to it:
Lydia loves the holidays.  Heck, Lydia loves every day. 
 She blooms where she's planted and she welcomes each day with a pleasant outlook.  She is a joy to have around...with the exception of one liiiiiitle vice...
She has an affinity for hair pulling.  You never know when she's going to strike nor who her next victim will be.  But watch your back because she's coming for you, with a vengeance!  Let's see how long it takes Travis to notice that the next assault is taking place right under his nose...
 He can't help but be oblivious to the complicated dynamics of hair; heck, he hasn't had hair for a good decade.  And just look at that lock-tugging grin that Baby Lydia is sporting.  She's quite proud of herself! 

After we opened gifts, Travis FaceTimed with his brother and then we had the kind of delicious prime rib feast only Mama Hop can create!  I didn't take any photos of the meal because we were too busy inhaling our food to stop and photograph it.
Though our visit with Mama Hop was brief, it was lovely!  It was nice to get out of the condo and be in a spacious and festively decorated home.  While it's hard traveling with children, it was worth it. 
Now on to the second half of our big, fat, Christmas blog post. 
My Top 4 favorite moments from Christmas 2014:
 4.  Merryn spreads Christmas cheer at the condo: During her recent visit, Mama Hop gifted Merryn with an "art box" (a box full of art supplies).  She also taught her how to cut out paper snowflakes and other fun things.  Merryn has been diligently working on her handwriting so she decided to merge these two interests and make homemade Christmas cards for the fellow residents of the condo.
Merryn made a custom card or each of our neighbors, carefully writing a personal greeting on each one.  Then she would prance down the hall and tape the cards to the residents' doors.  A couple days before Christmas, our doorbell rang and it was "Mr. Don," the elderly gentleman who lives next door.  Mr. Don said "Which one of you made me the Christmas card?"  Merryn proudly took credit and Mr. Don handed her a gift bag filled with peanut brittle.  Merryn beamed.  I did, too.  It was apparent that Merryn had added a bright spot to Mr. Don's Christmas.  Upon our return from Mama Hop's, we discovered that several other residents had left gifts and cookies outside our door for the girls.  No doubt, a little construction paper with a child's scrawl can put anyone in the holiday spirit!
3.  Josie spreads Christmas cheer at church - The seven of us attended Mass together on Christmas morning and there was an older woman sitting alone in the pew behind us.  Josie was really fixated on the woman.  At first, Josie reached up and grabbed the lady's hand while she was kneeling.  It turned into Josie lurching over the back of our pew to wrap her arms around the lady's neck and kiss her cheek!  As I apologized and tried to pry Josie off the lady, she said "No, it's fine!  My sister has special needs.  Your daughter just made my Christmas!" 
I grew up watching Leanne have this type of impact on people - her warm smile and friendly greetings could melt a heart of stone.  It's almost as if she has a sixth sense, detecting when people need a little extra affection to boost their spirit.  In my experience, this extra dose of charisma is frequently found in an extra chromosome and it is just one of the many gifts that our chromosomally enhanced friend's possess.

2.  Leanne introduced us to her new gentleman friend - Ok, so I'm not supposed to push this issue as far as Leanne's "boy friend" (two words) is concerned, but I'm nothing if not pushy and Mike is such a dreamboat that I'm ready to kick off my heels and dance at their wedding reception already!  Where did Leanne meet this new friend of hers, you ask?  Well, on the van to her day program of course.  Remember a few months back when we told you about the diva and her van butler (to read that post, click HERE)?  At the time we didn't have his permission to blog about him so we concealed his face and identity. However, we told his mom about the blog and she is all in favor of us letting our readers get a glimpse into the wonderful world of Mike.
Everyone should be fortunate enough to get to know Mike.  He is kind, considerate, friendly, smart, and a complete gentleman.  I loved every minute I got to spend with him.  I even filmed a few of our conversations, including a really insightful chat we had after Mike announced to me that he has Down syndrome. 

"I love Down syndrome"

Mike's remarks about Down syndrome and the positive attributes people with Down syndrome possess, reminded me of another blog post.  In this post (click HERE, Mom) I reference this article written by George Will, whose 40 year-old son with Down syndrome was celebrating a birthday.  Mr. Will discusses his son's "gift of serenity" and "underdeveloped entitlement mentality" saying that if his son is happy exactly as he is, who is anyone else to consider him inferior?  It's not uncommon to encounter the phrase "suffering from Down syndrome."  And to anyone who mistakenly believes this notion, I'd like for you to meet handsome Mike, pretty Leanne, and smart Josie.  There's not an inkling of suffering in sight! 
1.  Working girl struts her stuff - This year, Leanne got a job at a café that's in a large office building.  This job is a big deal because it provides Leanne with an opportunity to utilize her talents, acquire new skills, and interact with the community.  Not only does she earn a paycheck but she also receives an intrinsic payoff; pride that results from demonstrating her abilities.

I was dying to see Leanne in action so Travis and I drove out to the office building that houses the café and we waited for Leanne to assist us.  Travis was parched so Leanne fetched him a cup and filled it up at the soda machine.  Then she wandered over to the cash register.  Travis and I exchanged skeptical glances - counting currency has never been a strength of Leanne's - not to mention all of those complicated buttons!
Slowly and methodically, Leanne entered the sequence of keystrokes required to successfully complete the transaction.  I was in awe.  Of all people, I should know not to underestimate my sister by now.  My astonishment was quickly replaced by an overwhelming sense of pride and I literally floated out of that building so eager to recount the story for my mom!

That's my sister, y'all!  She knows how to use the cash register!  She.  Is.  Amazing!!!! 
We hope all of our blog readers enjoy a healthy and prosperous 2015!