As this special month for Down Syndrome Awareness approached, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I’d like to share the most about life with Down Syndrome. If I could share nothing else, I’d be happy to spread the message that it’s not that different. I confess that at the time of Annie’s birth I thought it would make our lives so different, so much harder. But then we brought Annie home and quickly realized we wouldn’t want her any other way, what a tremendous gift we’d been given. And I thought, “I was right, Down Syndrome has made our lives different. It’s made our lives so much better than it would have been without it.” And it has, I truly believe it has. But now that I am a little further along in this journey, I realize we’re not that different at all, not better, not worse. Our family is as “normal” as any family without Down Syndrome.
We enjoy the same activities, have sick days, and travel. We have tickle wars and movie nights. We eat together, play together and pray together. We cheer for favorite sports teams (especially the White Sox and Bears!). We participate in swim lessons, go out for ice-cream – I mean, gelato. We love the zoo. We have favorite movies, favorite meals, and even favorite times of the year.
I know Fall officially begins in September, but it never really feels like Fall until October. Aside from being an important month for Down Syndrome Awareness; it is also one of my favorite months of the year, as my favorite season kicks into full gear.
I love Fall… LOVE it! If I had to pick a season to be eternally “stuck” in, it would hands down, 100%, be Fall. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the wonderful things about every season. But for me, nothing beats the crisp refreshing air of Fall. The sun falling on newly colored leaves. Warm drinks. Sweater weather. Spiced lattes. Pumpkin flavored, well, everything. Roasted squash. Perfect weather for parks and touch-football games.The crunching of leaves and twigs under your feet. The colors. The smell of cinnamon and burning leaves.
Let’s not forget to mention the fabulous activities associated with Fall: Apple and pumpkin picking. Halloween. Candying apples. Chili nights. The year’s last outdoor bonfires. Hayrides. Haunted Houses. Farm visits. Carving Pumpkins. Trick-or-treaters. Cuddling on couches for football games. Jumping in the piles of raked leaves.
Unfortunately for me, most of these activities aren’t really “Roman.” Rome doesn’t really get the same kind of Fall I grew accustomed to growing up in the midwest. The weather can stay warm until November. Instead of having nice, sunny, crisp days when all you have to do is throw on a comfy sweater and jeans and walk out the door, you can’t survive without an industrial strength umbrella. When it rains here in the Fall, it’s impossible to stay dry. The rain is dumped out of the sky in sheets and it doesn’t stop. The leaves certainly change, but we don’t get the same colors or crunching under the feet. I don’t think I’ll ever become accustomed to seeing palm trees in Fall. Yes, Rome has palm trees. Our roses stay in bloom through mid-December. There is no pumpkin picking, and although it’s becoming more popular, Halloween isn’t really big here. There is no raking leaves for piles to play in. No football Sundays or Monday nights. Unless you count their “football” (soccer), which really isn’t a big deal for Fall because the teams play almost all year. If we want to watch an NFL game we have to find a pub that is streaming the games live and with the time difference, that rarely happens. I have yet to stumble upon a Haunted House or an apple orchard.
Here in Italy, my saving graces for experiencing the most treasured parts of my favorite season are few. Castroni, an import store here, carries incredibly overpriced cans of spiced pumpkin, when I’m craving a taste of Fall the extra cost is well worth it. This time of year Gina, one of Mike’s colleagues, spoils us and makes pumpkin cookies and other “Fall tastes from home” treats. The weather does get a bit chillier so I can start to bring out the sweaters. The university throws a Halloween party, so I can dress Annie up for the day, though there are no other children running around the neighborhood in adorable costumes. We host chili nights for friends. Towards the end of October, pumpkin flowers are in season here, and any chance I can, I’ll sit down at a restaurant for one of my favorite Italian dishes, pumpkin flower risotto.
Though I miss all the activities, (especially now that I am a mom and would LOVE to be taking Annie apple picking right this very instant) there’s still one thing that exists here that is fall at it’s finest… and it might be my absolute favorite part of the season.
It’s time to bring out the boots! So go ahead, if you haven’t already, dig into the depths of your closet and pull out your favorite pair, grab your kids or friends and go pick some apples. Yesterday the weather was perfectly Fall, and though there was no apple picking, we got to enjoy our first day in boots. And it was perfect!
The whole point of all of this, is that if I hadn’t sat down to write a post for Down Syndrome yesterday morning, I don’t think the words Down Syndrome would have crossed my mind. The day felt like Fall and it made me miss my favorite things about Fall from back in the States. So Annie and I dressed in our new Fall apparel we’ve been so anxious to wear and headed to spend as much time outdoors as possible. That’s how our days usually go. We get up, we eat, we read some stories, we go for walks, we play and interact with others, we make the best of beautiful days and rainy days, we meet new vendors at the market, we look forward to Dad coming home from the office. We have schedules and routines. Just like everyone else.
It’s rare that I think about Annie’s Down Syndrome. Most of the time, I forget about those words. Of course there are therapy appointments and exercises and things to work on for speech development and so on. And at first those made it hard not to think of the Down Syndrome, not that it was bad, but just that it was there and that’s why we were doing all these things. But now those appointments and exercises have just become part of our family routine and the therapists have become our friends. As much as football or swim practice or piano lessons or play groups have become a part of your family’s routine. We get up and ready for the day and sometimes we head to swim lessons and sometimes we head to the osteopath for therapy. It’s just what we do. We don’t look for or think about Down Syndrome, we look at and concentrate on Annie because that’s what there is. She’s Annie, not Annie with Down Syndrome. She’s Annie.