In the making of a home

It was once said in a famous saying of a classic movie:

There’s no place like home.

Well could anything be more accurate? It is, after all, a place that is nothing like the mall or a gas station or a Chick Fil A (unless, of course, you live at Chick Fil A — which I may as well have in 2013 when we lived across from one).

Because “home” is not really as much a dot on a map as it is a place in that small little cranny of your heart of hearts that nothing can ever move or take away.

And so I shuffle around this house: Home-making. Nesting. Building, moment by moment, the place that builds these children. I tuck them in with well-worn lovies, wash their grass-stained pants, bake their sandwich bread and sweep their crumbs. I scrub that one part of the shower that is so darn hard to clean and drink out of the coffee mug with the soft chip on the edge. I pet my Azaleas and sweet talk my Euryops and sweep my porch as though the job were given to me by God Himself.

And really, wasn’t it?

Even the most majestic of places don’t live on after you leave them. The most awe-inspiring museums are only stains in vacation photos. The most thrilling of amusement parks are but receipts stuffed in desk drawers.

But the home is where little boys grow to be men, where little girls grow to be women, where 30-something-year-old moms grow to be old. And in all this growing, we are rooting. Digging in deep. Becoming more ourselves as we’re nourished with eggs and bacon on Sunday mornings and bedtime prayers whispered in a moonlit room.

Too often we think we need to become world travelers to discover ourselves, but oh you know the old saying about looking for something and then realizing it’s right where you started from.

Home is where we start. And what, I think, we continue to look for as soon as we leave it.

And as I sit on this couch with the milk-stained arm next to a wadded up sun dress and a crinkled sleeping bag and an empty coffee mug, next to a carpet of crumbs and scattered toys — and is that sippy cup leaking? — I am tempted to ask aloud in this rare quiet moment: who made this mess?

But ah, it is all in the making of a home.

And it is all so very worth it.

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Now I know why old women sweep porches

I used to wonder why

old women in house shoes swept their porches

day after day.

The dirt just comes back, I thought.

Isn’t that sort of Sisyphean? A task, rather,

that can’t ever be completed.

But slowly, as life swept me up like a dustball in the corner of a hot summer porch,

I found myself at dusk one spring

sweeping, sweeping, sweeping

the dirt balls of a 6-year-old thinking that

this here was nothing short of paradise.

Now that seems an exaggeration, I am sure, but truly

— isn’t it that the task is not always about the result —

but more about the task itself?

This tidying of a driveway at dusk,

the breathing in of the evening air,

the meditative hush of the

swish, swish, swish

against the concrete —

the chore became nothing less than an act of love.

And in that moment it was the best I could do to say

thank you 

for the simple fact

that I have been given a porch to sweep

in front of a house that holds

my greatest joy.

The dirt comes back

And so do the dirty diapers

Another lullaby to sing

Another dishwasher to unload

Another dryer to fill

Another goodnight prayer to say

And just when I think

why bother?

— there’s always more to do —

I find myself wondering

Well, what else would I do anyway?

Nothing, I’m sure, that would be all that fulfilling.

And maybe it seems a bit overdone: really, a poem about sweeping?

But, of course, it’s not about the sweeping at all.

And that’s what those old ladies in house shoes

know better than anyone.

Hallelujah is our song

They sat in front of us at the Easter service today. I’ve seen them before.

Three adult children and two middle-aged parents who smile easily. He sat in the middle between his dark-haired brother and sister — I’m guessing all three are in their 20’s. He’s a bit shorter than the siblings he’s sandwiched between, with a thicker waist and rounder stature than they have. But he has his brother’s hairline and his sister’s smile.

He chuckled when his brother gave him a hard time and affectionately squeezed his shoulders. He peeked back when his mom subtly pointed out Kate to him with a warm grin (though I saw them all peeking).

There was nothing out of the ordinary while watching their family — except, perhaps, their radiant joy. It was noticeable. You could tell they enjoyed being together. You could tell that having a brother and a son with Down syndrome was both a big thing and yet, nothing at all. And while the choir sang Hallelujah, I felt tears welling in my eyes.

I was hoping to chat with the mother of that family after church today — but we were lost in the crowd as the congregation piled through doors to hug and take pictures and hurry home to honey ham and Cadbury creme eggs. But I am also sort of relieved that we’ll have to meet another day — today I probably would’ve been a bit weepy.

Not because I’m discouraged that we share a bond of two mothers who have children of all abilities at our side — but rather, because I am so very grateful. I rejoice with a resounding Hallelujah that I know with a whole heart the truth that Archbishop Chaput spoke when he said:

“These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect, and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy.”

And on this day where we sing and where we celebrate real hope and real joy in the realest sense of all, my heart is so very full.

“What hope we have, even in the longest night, for the light will overcome. We will not fear, for we know the sun will rise. Hallelujah is our song.” — Sarah Hart

The real things

I pushed the big black wheelbarrow wearing big black mud boots through the cleared path of the forest nestled up to our yard.

After scanning the scenery, I found just what I was looking for: a pile of pine needles and decomposing leaves settled into the wet, black earth. My struggling azaleas needed more acidic soil and more shade, so I moved them for respite next to the shadier side of the house and now needed to tuck them into their new bed with some mulch.

With a full wheelbarrow and two blonde, panting dogs at my feet, I tromped back through the new wildflower field in its first bloom, across the chalk-scribbled driveway and past three children in search of a moth. The sun felt hot on my burning arm muscles as I dumped the cool forest soil into the fresh bed (and almost upon the dog who had settled in for a nap.)

It’s official: Spring is here.

I’ve seen it coming for weeks as the wildflowers started peeking their little colorful faces. But now, it’s in full blast. Rabbits are hopping across our country road, squirrels are in abundance chasing up and down the Pine trees, tree frogs are perched on our water hoses, flowers and weeds and grass are all growing — and a weekly mow of the lawn is almost not enough.

Seasons really are a great gift from a God who knows we humans like to keep things fresh and new. Just when we get weary of the wintery cold, the flowers bloom. Just when we wish for more water play and watermelon, summer arrives. Just when the heat becomes a bit too much, the leaves start to fall — and then, we’re craving cozier weather once again.

A new dog with white paws adopted us this winter and decided that we were hers. We found her cold and wet and afraid and after a couple weeks of warming up to a neighbor and us, she told us she wasn’t leaving and we obliged. So now she has a collar and a name and a new best friend in our golden lab and belly-scratching children.

And now this isn’t much of a blog post is it, really? But these normal, everyday things always make me want to write. They are full of beauty and wonder and the comfort that as much as things change, in so many ways they are always the same.

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

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What I didn’t know about Down syndrome

Back before I had my 4-year-old, daughter, Kate, I didn’t know that Down syndrome had a capital “D” and a lower case “s.”

I didn’t know that another name for Down syndrome is Trisomy 21 — or that it is caused by a third copy of the 21st chromosome. I didn’t even know how many chromosomes we had. Or that we had pairs.

I didn’t know that some people have high tone and that others have low tone. Or that the heart has four chambers (But then again, I’ve learned a lot about the heart in these past years — how it beats, how it works, how it grows and changes.)

And in 9th grade, I didn’t know why tears welled in my eyes when I watched the young girl with Down syndrome dancing in my mom’s Jazzercise class. I had no idea what to think about people with Down syndrome — after all, I didn’t know any.

Years before I had any children, I didn’t know why a friend confessed that she longed for a child with Down syndrome.

And before the rainy day we received a Down syndrome diagnosis with our second child, I didn’t know what it felt like when everything you think you know, you suddenly don’t.

A mother once emailed me after a story I wrote about Kate was published in the Chicago Tribune saying that she didn’t know why people called children with Down syndrome “a gift” until she had one. Another mother said she didn’t know what the future held for her child, but really, do any of us? There is much we don’t know.

But there is so much we do.

I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and that Kate will giggle when I tickle that one spot on the side of her tummy. I know that she will fuss a dramatic cry if one of her siblings gets put in time out, simply because her nature is one of peace-maker. I know that if a door is open, she will shut it. If a drawer is open, she will unload it. If a heart is open, she will fill it with a great sense of love.

I have seen with my own eyes the way she melts the faces of grumpy old men into tender smiles. I have seen the way that by simply being herself, she brings out an authenticity in others. I suppose we all have the qualities to affect the world this way if we could so easily be ourselves.

I would guess that what conflicts the hearts of many expectant mothers carrying a child with Down syndrome is not the stuff we do know, but the stuff we don’t. It’s the what if’s and the why’s. It’s a prenatal test result and a cold doctor’s office and a whole world outside the window that feels different than before.

But if only we knew that a prenatal test knows so little about life and love and the greatness of the human spirit.

The tricky thing about a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis is that it is often delivered at the most vulnerable of times with the caveat of: “Here is all you need to know: An extra chromosome. Extra challenges. And are you strong enough to raise a special child?” Many of us would feel incapable with that plain of an explanation. I know I often did in those first days with knowing so little. So little about myself. So little about Kate.

But now, I know better.

Now I know why parents who already had a child with Down syndrome congratulated me when Kate was born. I know why advocates flock to downtown city halls to fight for the rights of their loved ones. I know why the mom of a 19-year-old son with Down syndrome told me in line at Target, “Welcome to your beautiful journey.”

When Kate was a baby, I took her to talk to the youth group at my church. With arm rolls and a purple onesie, she sat in my lap with a contented grin, blowing bubbles. And as I began my talk, the first thing I asked all 100 middle and high school kids on the floor in front of me was, “How many of you know someone with Down syndrome?”

I was comforted when at least 30 hands enthusiastically rose to the sky. Because this knowledge is what will change the world.

These children didn’t know that Down syndrome had a capital “D” and a lowercase “s.” They didn’t know about the chromosomal makeup of a person with Down syndrome or any of the other random facts I shared — but they knew so much more than I did when Kate was born.

They knew people.  They had friends with Down syndrome. They sat by kids with Down syndrome in school and had neighbors with Down syndrome. They loved and babysitted and laughed and played with people with Down syndrome. And that was all they needed to know.

They didn’t need a pep talk about potential. Or a handout with statistics. They knew that people with Down syndrome are of great value and worth (like all of us) just as I know that one plus two equals three — because it’s fact.

Kate’s new favorite phrase comes out of her pink little lips as a habit every time I ask her for a kiss:

“I love you,” she says confidently as I respond with a smile, “I love you, too.”

And as it is for every parent and every child of every ability forever more — those simple words are the most important thing we need to know.

What I didn’t know about Down syndrome