Bubba’s my brother, my baby brother. Though it’s hard to call him that after reading what he has to say here. When I was ten my mom lost her sixth (and what she thought was her last) pregnancy when she was eight months pregnant. Because she had had five previous c-sections, six was the limit the doctors were permitting, it would be too dangerous to carry a seventh pregnancy. When I was twelve, into our lives came Bubba. Since I was about fourteen, I have always referred to Bubba as “Our Glue.” He has always had the capacity to hold us together through the roughest times. The baby boy who wouldn’t be here had that little baby girl entered our lives just two years before.
Bubba (James Thomas) has always had something extraordinary about him. A little wise beyond his years. An innate capability to understand others compassionately. When I was fifteen and the first boy in my life broke my heart, I remember sobbing with my head in my hands on the staircase. Before I could even hear him coming, into my lap crawled three-year old Bubba. He gently pulled my hands from my face, looked up into my red eyes and said “Colleen, I really liked Kyle too, but you can do better.” He was THREE!
When he was eleven and an avid tennis player traveling all over the country for tournaments, a hard-hit tennis ball hit him directly in his right eye. He lost all central vision in that eye, suffered from terrible headaches for years and had to give up the sport he loved. A year later when he found out he needed glasses and would have needed them despite the injury, and my mom turned to him after that appointment angry and upset saying “Bubba if you had had these glasses just one year ago, you wouldn’t be blind in that eye, the glasses would have protected you.” Bubba, not yet twelve, turned to my mom and said, “No ifs, Mom. It doesn’t matter, I am fine.”
When he was five I left for college. On the morning I was getting ready to leave home for the first time, Bubba pulled me into the living room and told me he had something for me. He got out his “Tarzan” cd and placed it in the stereo system and played the song “You’ll be in my heart.” He cried a little and gave me a hug I’ll never forget. I never thought a Disney song would forever get me choked up. Especially not one from the movie Tarzan.
After his injury, he put all that energy once devoted to tennis into acting. He quickly had an agent and lots and lots of jobs performing in some of Chicago’s oldest and most important theater companies. A supporting role in a Lifetime movie. In his teen years he established quite the resume. I am in awe of his talent, but blown away by his humility.
For two years while he was in junior high, I taught fourth grade at his school. We drove to work/school together everyday. And when he was just twelve, my baby brother became a best friend. I’ll never forget those two years with so much time with him.
Now that three year old toddler who made me laugh on the first day my heart was ever broken is nineteen! He’s studying theater and playwriting at NYU. He makes all five of his older siblings prouder of him everyday.
More importantly, long before Annie, my baby brother was the one teaching me so many important lessons about life. He lives every day to the fullest and doesn’t let any obstacle get in the way of his dreams while still treating others everyday the way he would want to be treated. If you meet him you would never know of his amazing accomplishments.
Bubba, I am so glad that Annie has such an amazing role model in her youngest uncle. But I am even more grateful that I have had such a tremendous role model in my own youngest brother.
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Annie has blue almond shaped eyes, chubby cheeks, chubby legs. She has two teeth, golden blonde hair, the goofiest smile. Ten little signing fingers, two music-loving ears, little wet lips for cow noises and kisses. The infinite, crazy love of thirteen aunts and uncles, two (soon three!) cousins, four grand-parents. The best mom and dad a kid could ask for. Hands that clap when she wakes up, a butt that goes up in the air when she sleeps. A cry that will break your heart. A laugh that will make your year. Down Syndrome.
These are some of the wonderful things that make up Anne Kathleen Beazley. The parts of the whole, equally weighted, that by some miracle were put together to become the most delightful person I’ve ever known.
Annie is (we all are) a mosaic. The small, intricate, unique parts of her are beautiful on their own but together they create something bigger, more beautiful, transcendent.
You may see in Annie’s mosaic, a tile you’ve never seen before. It may be a different color, a different shape, a little shinier than most. You may be drawn to it; interested in or unsettled by its difference. You may find yourself focusing on this piece of her and I don’t blame you. It’s fascinating, unique, beautiful. But, please, take a step back. Expand your gaze. You’re missing the show.
Looking at Annie and only seeing Down Syndrome is like looking at the Sistine Chapel and only seeing brushstrokes.
But please, don’t ignore the tile. After all, you wouldn’t, you couldn’t, ignore her beautiful blue eyes. It’s crucial, pivotal, essential. Without it something would be missing. Like Rome without the Trevi Fountain, Annie without Down Syndrome isn’t Annie. Rome would still be an impossibly amazing city, and Annie would still be my niece who I would love without end. But the Annie we’ve been given—and of this I am perfectly sure–is the best version of Annie there is.
If you are willing to expand your gaze, if you are able, (really it’s pretty easy, Annie does most of the work for you) in front of you will appear the most magnificent sight. You will see a girl who in the morning opens her eyes, remembers the world exists and that she’s a part of it, and claps and squeals for joy. You’ll see a girl who always shares her food with her uncles. Who loves to make her parents kiss. Who dances her heart out. Who lights up when her dad walks in the room. Who has some deep personal connection with the Muppets. Who can wash away your bad day with a smile and a pat on the back. Who has stolen the hearts of us all without saying a word. Who brings an impossible amount of joy to everyone she comes across.
You’ll see Annie. Beautiful, playful, happy, infinitely-loving Annie. In full view.
I remember the first time I laid my eyes on her, completely, fully. My eyes swelled, my heart pounded, my head became light, and I had to leave the room. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I felt for her and from her. I couldn’t understand how so much love and joy could come out of one little girl. I still don’t really. But I have a feeling it might have something to do with that beautiful, unique, precious little tile.