Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Letting go.

Today I cried, laughed, smiled, cried, cried some more...and some more.  Today my girl started kindergarten.  This was her first day and she rocked it!

The most amazing thing?  She gets it...she totally gets it.  As we were completing her homework last night, I was floored.  She had to answer a few questions and write her name.  Her questions were all about her likes, dislikes and what she did this summer.  Every answer was spot on and appropriate.  What does she like?  Writing her name, reading and playing with her friends.  Appropriate answers for homework...don't you think?  She was in the zone.  She could have said dancing or playing with her American Girl dolls, Kenani or Kelly, or playing games on her iPad but instead she answered with grown up, big girl, kindergarten answers.  As she dictated and I wrote, I realized how truly amazing she is.  I am one lucky Mommy.

As I tucked her into bed, we read The Night Before Kindergarten...twice...well...actually three times if you count the time that Kayla read it back to me, describing each page with detail and picking a few words she knew out of each sentence.
I held her tight as she fell asleep.  I studied her beautiful almond-shaped eyes, wispy eyelashes, porcelain bisque colored-skin, rosebud shaped lips and each new freckle that the summer sun kissed upon her cheeks.  I studied her perfect little face until I could no longer see through my tears.

Kayla woke up so excited to start her day...and to discover what the Back-to-School Fairy brought her.

Our fairy even reeked havoc on our windows...but she loved it!
Over the top...I know...but it's those little details that helped keep my mind off of the reality of her being gone all day and gave her something to be excited about instead of getting nervous.  Who am I kidding?  I don't think she was nervous one bit...not one little bit.  She's a big kid and she was ready for kindergarten.  Was kindergarten ready for her?  That's a chapter still to be written...but if I know my girl...she is going to rock this year...making tons of friends and changing perceptions about Down syndrome along the way.  So to Kayla I say, write that chapter...I have no doubt it will be just as beautiful as each chapter that has been written since the day you were born.

Love the lunchbox?  Get your very own on my website by clicking here.

Those of you Mommy's that have babies and children with special needs understand.  We share that bond...you know that feeling of fear when your child is born.  You understand the anguish of all of your hopes and dreams being crushed the moment you realize your baby isn't "perfect"...the pain of having to live without perfection...having your child be judged for what they can't do instead of what they can.  But most of all...the unknown.  What I have come to realize over the past five years is everyday is unknown...special needs or not.  Everyday is what we make of it and we have made the most of every possible day.  The hundreds of hours of OT, PT, and ST...the thousands of hours working on everything learned in those therapies, the countless hours spent working on reading, writing and self-help skills...all of those moments brought us to today.  All of those hours have shaped and mold Kayla.  To all of her teachers and therapists that have walked this journey with us, we are eternally grateful.  You have helped us face each day with hope.Before we left home we took our first day of school pictures.  Hundreds of them.  Or as Kayla told one teacher {and a friend of mine from high school}...I took one hundred pictures...and then five more!  And there you have it.  Here are just a few...
{oh...and I have no idea why but this morning she chose to wear a hideous black watch from a McDonald's happy meal...half way through our photo shoot she decided to take it off and I decided to make it disappear...out of sight, out of mind}
To answer your question...no...she can't get much cuter.  I mean seriously...the glitter backpack...stop it.  It's like a disco ball.  She is in love and I at least dodged the Justin Bieber or Hello Kitty backpack!

Every year I seem to capture a picture of her dancing.  Here she is saying "kindergarten...awww, yeah"...

As Rick and I dropped her off at kindergarten, she hugged us goodbye and walked away.
I kept taking pictures until she was completely out of my sight {most of them blurry}.
I knew once I wasn't focusing through the lens of my camera I was going to cry.  I knew once I couldn't see her any longer it was very possible I would hyperventilate.
I knew that moment was coming and then it was there.  I was comforted, however, by the dozens of other Mommy's with tissues in hand, wiping tears.  One sweet mom comforted me as she walked with her daughter...noting she would be where I was {filled with tears} in just a matter of minutes.  I walked away from the school...looking back...looking for Kayla...wanting to be needed...wanting to hug her one more time...wanting to tell her to have a great day and I would be back soon.  Kayla, by the way, never looked back.

As I got into the car I immediately wondered if I told her I would be back to get her.  Would she know that I would be coming back?  After all, she left with a huge backpack, a "read and relax" blanket and a lunchbox.  More stuff than she takes to MomMom's for a weekend visit.  At that moment I cried.  I didn't just cry...I cried the ugly cry.  Not quite sure why I did my makeup this morning...I can assure you it took me longer to apply it than the amount of time it took for it to run down my face.

As Rick drove away from the school, he held my hand as I cried.  I couldn't speak.  I couldn't think of my girl without filling with tears.  He spoke words...most of which I don't recall.  I wish I could tell you we had an amazing conversation but I truly couldn't talk.  I do, however, recall him stating he couldn't believe how far she had come.  How he didn't know what to expect back on the day she was born...but neither of us pictured today.  Neither of us would have pictured Kayla walking into kindergarten...reading and being able to write her name...just a typical five-year-old.  Unfortunately we feared the unknown and the diagnosis.

As we drove further away, all I could think about is this chapter in my life.  This chapter is written.  It is over.  While she has gone to preschool for the past three years, her time away from me was no more than three hours...oh and I usually spied from the booth so we were never truly apart.  Since the day she was born we have spent nearly every lunchtime and afternoon together...enjoying a majority of of our days together.  Today all of that ended abruptly.  Today I had to let go...and it was hard...it was so incredibly hard.  I know she is in great hands and I know while the journey of getting to this school has been long and tiring...I know it is all meant to be, it is all worth it and she is going to learn and thrive and teach everyone at school a thing or two...perhaps a bit of fashion sense and even more important...she is going to teach everyone that people with Down syndrome are more alike than different.  But today I had to let go and I just wasn't ready.

My emotions had an all-out brawl in my body...a World War of emotions.  Yes...I am sad for me...because I missed her terribly today...but for her, I am so happy.  Those six hours were the longest six hours of my life.  As I watched the clock, minutes passed in what seemed like hours.  Thankfully we had junk food in the house from our "hunker down in the basement and eat your face off" stockpile from Hurricane Irene.  Dear Chocolate, you helped me cope today.  A little chocolate {ok...all right...a lot of chocolate and perhaps a few chips}, phone conversations with my friends Kelle and Jenn and my Mom and life was better.  And, of course, life was amazing at 3:20 PM when I had her back in my arms...disheveled hair, sleepy eyes, fake smile and all...

During meet the teacher night last week I noticed a quote from Stevie Wonder hanging on the wall in the classroom and the words of that quote have danced through my mind ever since.  "We all have ability, the difference is how we use it".

To my beautiful Kayla, I want you to know that you have the ability to do anything you set your mind to.  I couldn't be more proud of you and I can't wait to turn each page of this book of life with you.  Each chapter, each page, each word is more amazing than the one before.  Thank you for showing me the true meaning of love.  Your incredible smile brightens each day and you fill my life with more joy than I could have ever imagined.  Letting go today was hard but only because you are beyond perfect.

For those of you that follow my blog...thanks for hanging in there the past few weeks...it's been quite a summer.  I promise there are stories to still be told...I will get them on here...one day soon, I promise.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trophies, Tiaras & Tears {of joy}

We set out on our journey to Kewanee, Illinois Thursday evening and drove through the night {all 15 hours of the trip}...driving through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and finally Illinois.

The middle of no where Illinois...to a small town with a population of 825 {I know this because the hotel front desk clerk declared the town sign was incorrect, they rounded up to 900...the actual number was 825, as long as no one died that she wasn't aware of}. Yes, I'm serious...that's what she said!

In order to let Rick sleep a bit {he did drive 11 of the 15 hours, after all}, Kayla and I made our way into town for lunch. We decided on the Purple Onion, a cute little restaurant on Front Street. Walking in, we were whisked back to the quaint times of Mayberry...where the waitress knew everyone by name. A man with a beer belly in overalls named Billy, a woman named Gladys eating a Poor Boy and my personal favorite, Earl and Betty, the elderly couple sitting at the table next to us. There was a presence about them, an aura. In the moment I was just wishing it was a sign...you see, my paternal grandfather's name was Earl and my maternal grandmother's name was Betty. You may think it was merely a coincidence...I'm hoping it was a sign that my grandparents were there with us...looking over us.

Later that day we were onto our destination...the reason we drove nearly half way across the country. As we made our way to Kewanee High School, we passed through the town of Kewanee...and Kewanee, you had me at hello. While the homes weren't the most impeccably maintained, they were surrounded by love. Chairs and neighbors adorned the front porches and children were playing outside in their front yards. My personal favorite? The movie theatre marque...BYOB Tuesday...really? When can we move? Ok, but seriously...how fun is that?
Now onto the reason we drove 885 miles across country...the pageant...the Miss You Can Do It Pageant.

Kayla was one of 50 girls selected from across the country to participate in this National pageant for girls with intellectual and physical disabilities. This pageant was started eight years ago by Abbey Curran, who went on herself to win Miss Iowa USA in 2008. Abbey has always been passionate about believing in yourself, regardless of your disability. She was actually born with cerebral palsy and could have chosen to focus on what she couldn't do but chose to focus on what she could. Abbey is gorgeous inside and out with poise and polish beyond her 24 years. Listening to her speak, you wouldn't know she had a disability. Seeing her outer beauty shine, you wouldn't know she had a disability. And then she walked. Abbey, like many that live with cerebral palsy, clearly has difficulty controlling her leg muscles. She overcame obstacles and barriers and stereotypes as a child and is someone I now consider a hero, paving a beautiful path for Kayla and all of her friends with disabilities. To see the passion in her eyes for this pageant and these girls...nothing is sweeter.

When we finally arrived at Kewanee High School for rehearsal, I couldn't control my excitement. I couldn't wait for this event to begin but also didn't want to wish our time away. Walking through the doors, we were greeted by dozens of smiles and warm hellos...from people we can now call friends. This journey, this experience was nothing short of amazing.As we entered the auditorium with tons of lights and glitter and cameras rolling, we were eager for Kayla's magical weekend to begin. In a world where people often stop and stare and whisper...there was nothing but excitement, joy and applaud for these 50 amazingly gorgeous girls. For Kayla who wears her disability on her face and for the girls surrounded by hardware such as wheelchairs and walkers, none of that mattered this weekend. None of that made them any different. Nothing but tears of joy, pure hope, love, respect and admiration filled that room. Everything that followed was just more of the same...pure magic...

Miss USA 2008, Crystle Stewart, taught the girls how to work the stage {she was also a judge}...

The morning of the pageant Kayla woke up excited and ready. She talked about how she was going to wave and smile and blow kisses on stage. Her private interview was scheduled for 12:45 so we did some light daytime makeup and she got dressed for success in her brand new Lilly Pulitzer dress and gold shoes. Kayla loves anything that sparkles.
These pictures make me laugh...Kayla looks like she is telling Abbey what to do.
{why am I not surprised?}

Kayla wasn't phased a bit by the cameras surrounding her...she was a pro.
Once inside the interview room, the door closed behind her. I stood outside excited for her. I was a bit nervous but was simply hoping she was having fun. Apparently the judges were having fun because I heard an outburst of applause and laughter. Once out of the private interview I asked her how it went and her only response was she got a lollipop...so to her it was a success...and that's all that matters!

Next {after a short nap}, we were onto a pizza party hosted by Happy Joe's...
This is Happy Joe...Kayla thanked him for the pizza party.  I think it made his day!

Showtime was upon us. But first a little time to talk to the princesses. The conversation went something like this...
Kayla: You Cinderella?
Cinderella: Yes, I'm Cinderella.
Kayla: Oh...how you get here? Your carriage?
Cinderella: Yes.
Kayla: How did Snow White get here?
{the princesses both stared at each other}
I interjected: They came together.
Kayla: You gonna sleep in your carriage?
Cinderella: No, I sleep in my castle.
Kayla: Oh, with Prince Charming? Where is Prince Charming?
This conversation was long so I will spare more of the back and forth...some other great questions were...where is Gus? Where's your Mom? Where are your sisters? Good thing those girls knew their movies, that's all I'm gonna say...but Kayla was still skeptical...such a smart girl...not much gets past her!

And finally evening gown...

A twirl {and some oohs and aaahs from the crowd}...
Her on stage question...If you could have just one wish, what would it be and why?
Her answer...Be a princess...and be famous...and wear a tiara.
I think we have created a monster {at least she is a very cute monster}!

This is where I will tell you that I was glad to be backstage...as the older girls took the stage, their answers ranged from I just want to be able to take three steps to I want to dance with a boy...when Rick told me this, I shed tears...ugly cry tears. I know you can't compare disabilities but for all that we endure - the therapies, the extra doctors appointments, etc...wishing just to take a few steps just breaks my heart. That's the moment that you feel more fortunate than ever. The little things in life that we take for granted each day...just a dose of perspective.

Ok...so while I would love to focus on nothing but the amazing moments of this pageant, I have to take a moment and appreciate the fact that I am typing from the comfort of air conditioning. While the auditorium was air conditioned, backstage where the girls got ready was at least 90 degrees...no, I'm not exaggerating! It was HOT. Hot mess, hot. In fact, if they gave an award for Hot Momma, I woulda won...and not because I was looking gorgeous. I seriously don't know how people live without air conditioning and I would like to take a moment to thank the inventor of the air conditioner, whomever he or she may be. So while the judges were tabulating the votes, we were backstage...Kayla was in her glory...playing with princesses...
making friends...
coloring {below Kayla is drawing herself as a princess with a tiara on her head}...
and having the time of her life!

Crowning took place around 11:00 pm {midnight our time}...so she was slightly done...and after being in the heat all night backstage, so was I! But you would never know she was done. Back on the stage and it was game on...
And her big moment...Winning for Evening Gown...
The best part was when she grabbed the trophy and began her acceptance speech. A very long acceptance speech. Smiling all the while. A true beauty queen.
Thank you to the sweet family that gave Kayla flowers...this Mommy forgot that detail!

Kayla met some truly amazing people this weekend...
Dr. David Tolin {judge}, Shawn Diddy {emcee}, and Ron Davis {director/producer of Docutainment}...just to name a few.

Some great new friends and beauty queens...

I really wish I had more pictures from backstage post-crowning but we were just both done...
so this is what I got...

Abbey...words cannot describe how much we love the Miss You Can Do It Pageant. Thank you for creating such an amazing event! To the countless volunteers, each of you helped to create the most enjoyable atmosphere possible...thank you!

After a much deserved {and promised} ice cream cone, Kayla skipped down the hallway of of our hotel...still on cloud nine. Once in the room she couldn't stop talking...wanting to call everyone she knew. Priceless. Check out her complete joy...

We had the best of intentions to get on the road early the next morning but let's just say that didn't happen. It was a looooong night. So...all packed and ready to start our journey home we wanted to stop at Happy Joe's to support him back for his generous support of the pageant. Well....hello Happy Joe's...and the new love of my life...TACO PIZZA...

Whaaaat? Mmmm...It's almost worth the 15 hour drive back just for the pizza...I said almost...

With an incredible weekend, beautiful memories and a breathtaking sunset behind us, our journey home was long but worth it just for the smile on Kayla's face...oh and her cute little voice saying thank you Mommy and Daddy for take me to pageant...seriously...I could melt...

We left this weekend wanting to do it all over again...

Oh...and stay tuned to HBO in 2012 for the documentary that Ron Davis and his amazing staff are working on. Thank you, Ron! You and your staff are just wonderful...showing the world just how beautiful these girls are...and how they are all more alike than different!

A special thanks to my hubby for being the photographer and chauffeur this weekend...allowing our princess to have the most wonderful weekend...love you...you're the best!