Category Archives: Uncategorized

Will’s Post


Today’s guest author is non other than the fabulous Will Beischel. Another former student and current Junior at Loyola University Chicago. We are so glad to have had the great honor to get to know him in the four short months he studied here. If I had to pick one word to describe Will, it would be laughter. Not only because of his totally awesome and contagious laugh, but because it seems to constantly follow wherever he goes. You don’t want to miss a minute when Will’s around. His laugh, like Annie’s smile, can light up the darkest room. He is an incredibly talented writer, a perfect shopping partner, and a tremendous friend. And his dance moves can’t be beat. Although, I do recall hearing about a close call during a dance-off with my husband in Tunisia. Annie and I were tucked snuggly in our hotel beds at the time. So we’ll just give Will the benefit of the doubt. We love and miss you, Will. Thanks for your perfect words!


I can say with the utmost confidence that knowing Annie Beazley has changed my life. The first time I met Annie, I honestly had no idea that she had Down Syndrome. All I saw was a beautiful, well-behaved baby that possessed this magnetism that drew everyone to her with open arms and loving expressions. Whenever I saw her face, and even now just thinking about her jovial attitude and sassy looks, I could not help but smile. Annie truly elicits joy in whomever is in her presence. Whether that has to do with her diagnosis or not, who is to tell? Does it even matter?

As a psychology major, becoming familiar with Annie has done wonders for my understanding and views of developmental disabilities and “abnormal” functioning. When I learned that Annie had Down Syndrome, I looked with new eyes upon this precious little person and saw that nothing had changed. I think that’s when I realized something: Annie’s Down Syndrome is a part of her, just as much as my infamous laugh is a part of me. I can’t tease the two apart, nor would I ever want to. I just wish more people personally knew Annie and others like her who might view the world differently than most people. Maybe then everyone could stop using labels and misconceived perceptions to dismiss those who don’t perfectly fit into their idea of a society.

I can’t know what it’s like to be Annie Beazley, but I do know the light she brings into this world, a light that is invaluable and should be cherished. So I would like to thank Annie for that gift and would wish upon the world for that gift to be spread as far and as wide as possible. I love you so much Annie! Keep sharing that light and I can’t wait to see you again.



Mitch’s Post


Today’s guest author shares a special place in Annie’s and my heart. He studied here as a student last Spring and has become a dear friend ever since. Mitch Catalano is currently a senior at Loyola University Chicago. He is one of the bravest young men I have met. He wears his heart on his sleeve and loves without hesitation. He is EVERYONE’S friend. It would be hard to find a more genuine person than Mitch. He would go out of his way to give anyone in need the shirt off his back. And Annie is absolutely in love with him. (It must be all that facial hair!)

To give you a tiny glimpse of the type of guy he is I’ll share my favorite Matt and Mitch story. (Matt is Mitch’s best friend who studied here also, they are joined at the hip, and he is just as stellar of a guy as Mitch!) At the end of the semester when all the students were packing their bags to head back to the states, Matt and Mitch were headed off for another 10 or so days of travel with their last two days to be spent back in the Eternal City that they had spent the past four months falling in love with. And for those last two days, instead of heading out for one last gelato from their favorite gelateria, or visiting their favorite piazzas one last time; they chose to spend both of their final days abroad in my living room with Annie. They watched her favorite movie, the Muppets, with her and laughed with her at all her favorite parts. I told them they were crazy, but they assured me that there was no other way they would want to end their time here than with a few more moments with her. We miss you guys! 

Thanks, Mitch, for this heartfelt post. You are the greatest and we know love will always follow you wherever you go!

When one travels abroad you encounter many things. Different cultures offer such a broad variety of new customs, languages, and behaviors, that a person could never properly prepare themselves for. It is a time to let oneself let go of everything they knew before and become an open palate for life to paint on.

I can tell you that my palate was certainly wiped clean when I first arrived in Rome in early January of this year. I was prepared to learn everything possible about Italian culture. The language, the cuisine, the everyday workings of Italian life. It seemed as if the list would be endless and it was. While all of these new experiences filled my head, I found that there was still something missing. Some part of me was not yet fulfilled by this amazing experience.

I realized that this part was my heart. There was so much longing inside me that I had to do away with. I contemplated on what more I could do to fulfill this desire and, as life would have it, I was able to find it in the last place I would have looked for it.

That place was in the eyes and heart of Annie Beazley. The love she was able to illustrate is one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. So amazing that it is even difficult to describe. She showed it with her beautiful smile, her clapping, and her desire for constant physical contact. She shared it by imitating our every action, touching our faces, and shouting joyously every time she was held or gently flung into the air.

The truly incredible thing was how her love was entirely selfless. She always gave more to others than she ever asked for herself. Certainly she was given so much love and care from everyone she met; however, those who knew Annie best agreed that they never could truly repay her for what she had given them. For me, she proved that love was not an intangible thing we all try to attain throughout our lives. It was tangible, it was attainable, and it existed all around us. All we had to do was open our hearts like Annie did hers and we could find it.

The lessons Annie taught us all helped me find some of the most important relationships I had ever come across. Friends, mentors, confidants, and a romantic partnership that I will not forget until my dying day. All these people filled a void I had left open for so long and it was Annie’s shining example that gave me the courage to do so.

I hope the readers of this blog and those who know Annie best can and will take this as an example of how people should never be defined by the physical attributes assigned to them. As Mom always used to tell me, it’s about what’s on the inside that really matters. I truly believe that those who have experienced Down Syndrome in their life know this to be true. Individuals born with the condition have an emotional intelligence that surpasses any “normal” individual I have ever met. They are in no way less fortunate. They can still feel what “normal people” feel, think what “normal people” think, and function as an important part of all our lives.

If nothing else, let’s remember that every human being has a reason for their lives and should never be defined by the physical attributes they have or lack. Whether entirely healthy or affected by Down’s Syndrome, every person has a gift they share with us and we should all recognize these. Annie’s gift is illustrating to us what love really is and what it really means. For me, the picture that was painted by my time abroad was completed by her gift and for that I will be forever grateful. I love you, Annie, and I know you love me too.

Kathleen’s Post


Today’s guest author is yet another former JFRC student. Kathleen is currently a senior studying at the University of San Francisco. We met Kathleen practically the first day she arrived to study here. Last Spring semester Annie’s aunt Rachel came to study too, and within hours had found Kathleen, her soulmate. The two of them quickly realized they were meant for each other and have been best friends ever since. Kathleen has a wicked sense of humor, an unbelievable talent for writing, but her greatest attribute is her enormous heart. We are so glad Rachel “found” her and brought her into our lives. Kathleen, we look forward to many pictures of the three of you like this, with Annie as a girl, teenager, and young woman. Sending lots of love from Rome. Thanks for sharing your incredible writing talent for the Amazing Adventures of Anne Kathleen! 

Last Spring I had the opportunity to spend the semester as a student at the John Felice Rome Center. The first few days in Rome were hectic to say the least. I found myself faced with the rush to unpack, stock up on red wine (for health purposes obviously, good for the cholesterol), and attempt to befriend as many people as possible for fear that I would end up in a corner of my room eating Crunchies in sweatpants and practicing the least creepy way to say “Ciao, tu essere mio amico?”

Luckily, the universe is merciful, and within a day I met Rachel Beazley.

Now, I’m not sure if you are familiar with the protocol of making friends, but as an obvious expert, I can offer a  failproof method. The best route to solidify a friendship is to haunt the significant other’s footsteps night and day till they feel can’t function without you. This is the basis of love. Or, you know, stalking.

It was through this method that I first had the chance to meet Annie the next day at lunch. I’m sure there was a lot said that afternoon along the lines of “I LOVE BABIES”, “:unintelligible fawning noises:”, “I want one!” but looking back now there is only one thing that I can remember saying, and it’s a moment that I will never forget. Because the next words out of my mouth were:

“What a beautiful baby! Is she part Asian?”

I would love to blame this moment on jet lag, but the truth is I had never really met a child with Down Syndrome. When Rachel corrected me, I could literally feel my heart sink (embarassment might have been a contributing factor).  It would be easy to say now that I didn’t see Annie differently after that, but I did. It was like the words complicated her, made her something fragile and difficult. Just hearing the words “Down Syndrome” led me to a lot of assumptions about someone I had known for only minutes.

Having spent so much time with Annie since, it’s hard to admit to my initial reaction, but I think it teaches an important lesson: That there is a stigma around individuals with Down’s Syndrome. A stigma that leads people to think that to have Down Syndrome is to be somehow less whole. To be less capable than those around them. But it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have learned more from Annie than almost any individual I have met in my life.

Just being around her has an effect on you. She literally radiates. Annie’s personality is so unique and enormous, the kind that fills a room with warmth. I have watched her light up when Rachel sings, start to learn sign language, and I’ve seen her brain-freeze face when she eats gelato. There is something about her that reaches you and connects in a way that is indescribable. Every person I have spoken to who has spent time with Annie is overwhelmed by how incredibly beautiful she is and how fortunate they feel that their lives were touched by her.

It takes a remarkable person to fill the world with so much love. And even if I only managed to scrape a B in Italian, I was able to learn that Annie truly is that remarkable.

Ryan’s Post


Today’s guest is another former student. Ryan is currently a junior at Loyola University Chicago.

The first time I met Ryan Bedell was on an orientation bus last Spring. This handsome young man from a few rows back approached me before the wheels were rolling and said “Hi, I’m Ryan and if you need someone to hold your baby so you can have a break I’d be happy to help.” Without a thought I plopped Annie immediately in his arms. I know men have a soft spot for babies too, but it’s usually the female students that are anxious to get their hands on Annie. Maybe the guys are embarrassed or uncomfortable, I’m not sure. But then along comes Ryan! He was the first student from that class, other than her aunt, who held Annie. And as I witnessed that first interaction between them, I saw it. The inevitable. The melting of hearts. But as obvious that it was that Ryan’s heart melted in that instant, it was ten times more evident that Annie’s melted in return. Ever since Ryan held Annie that first time, she seems to prefer the male students over the female population that outnumbers them. I don’t know if it’s the lack of maintenance to their facial hair while they study here or their bigger and broader embrace, but whatever it is, she eagerly jumps into the arms of men. Thanks for that Ryan! (If you can’t hear my sarcasm, I want you to be sure that it’s there.) We love you and miss seeing your contagious smile around campus. Thanks for contributing to Annie’s blog and helping to bring Awareness. 

My first week in Rome, I remember the first time I met Annie Beazley. I hadn’t thought much about children with Down Syndrome before. I had never considered what it would be like if I had a child of my own with Down Syndrome. Annie made me begin to think about these questions. Annie is the most adorable child on the face of the planet. It is very saddening to me that so many parents who test prenatally for DS terminate their pregnancies. Annie is a gift to all those she meets. Her smile and playful nature made my day every time I saw her. I tell everyone she was the hardest goodbye I had to say when I left Rome, and I still miss her very much! Some of my favorite Annie memories were how she liked to scratch the whiskers on my face and how she would dance to The Band. She is one of the first things I bring up when people ask about the JFRC. I know two hundred students who miss her just as much as I do. Annie had a profound impact on all of us students. All of us have our favorite Annie moments, and everyone misses her. I would be incredibly lucky to have a baby as adorable, well behaved, and loving as Annie someday. Mike and Colleen are the best parents around, and she’s a lucky young lady!

Sam’s Post


Samantha Sleva is a former colleague of Mike’s. She worked for him for the entire 2011/2012 academic school year. And though we only got to spend one short year in Italy with her, she instantly became part of our family and always will be. One of my favorite Sam memories is coming home after a date night while she was babysitting with another colleague to the two of them sitting on the couch with bowls full of popcorn watching our unedited wedding video. I think we walked in while they were on hour 5! We miss you, Sam, and can’t wait to visit again in Chicago. Thanks so much for sharing the impact Annie had on you. We are also forever grateful for the impact you’ve had on all three Beazleys. Sending love from your other home! Please come back soon!

I met Annie Beazley in August of 2011 when she was just 4 months old. I was preparing for a year abroad working as a Student Life Assistant at the John Felice Rome Center, where Annie calls home. I was certain that this year of work would be transformative, I just didn’t know at that point that this little one would play such a role in that transformation. I knew very little about Down Syndrome before meeting Annie, and I will admit that I was very ignorant about it. That’s why I think this blog is such an important tool. It has the power to show the world that Down Syndrome isn’t that different, and it has the power to share the sunshine that Annie brings to so many people. 

When students walk through the green gates of the JFRC, they expect that they will learn from their travels, their experiences, hopefully their classes, and from the Eternal City itself. However, what most people don’t expect is how much they will learn from the Beazley family. Here are a few of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Annie and the Beazleys in the short year that I spent with them:

1. Celebrate the small victories. There was nothing sweeter than when Annie would master a new trick, or learn a new word in sign language. We would always celebrate with cheers and “brava’s”. Every tiny victory was the next step to something greater, and I think its important for us all to remember how important the little things are in life. If you can find pleasure in the simple joys, it makes life that much sweeter.
2. Sometimes the most difficult times can be the greatest blessings. Colleen has shared how difficult it was learning of Annie’s diagnosis when she was born, and I feel comfortable addressing it here because I know its something she has and would share with anyone who asks. Many of Colleen’s blog posts this month have been about the importance of positivity. October 15th’s blog post was spot-on in my opinion. Just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean its a bad thing. In fact, every difficult moment in my life has made me better for it. If we didn’t have those moments, the good ones wouldn’t be so sweet, and you can’t grow if you’re not challenged.
3. Have high expectations for the ones you love. I know that Mike and Colleen let Annie reach her milestones at her own pace, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the highest of expectations for her. It is through this that she has already achieved such great things! Like any little one, Annie can be stubborn sometimes, but Colleen is always there to make sure that Annie is doing her therapy, always teaching her new signs, and making sure that she is challenged to keep growing and learning. I’ve never seen Colleen or Mike feel any limits to Annie’s potential, and that has been the greatest attitude to witness. I know that this is not always easy, but that’s why point number two is so important! What I’ve learned the most from this little one and her amazing parents is the power of support. There are so many children who don’t feel like they can reach their potential because no one believes that they can (and I’m not limiting this to individuals with Down Syndrome). One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Suess – “If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will go its whole life believing its stupid.” Everyone has their own potential to reach, and I hope that everyone can learn from this wonderful family that anything is possible with some support, a little tough love, and a positive attitude. I’m quite far off from having children of my own, but I know that this will be a lesson I carry with me when I become a parent one day.
Learning about Down Syndrome has changed my outlook on so many things! It has especially made me realize that Down Syndrome is NOT THAT DIFFERENT! Honestly, most of the time, I didn’t even think about it. That’s why awareness is so important. I feel blessed to have met the Beazleys and to be part of Annie’s life. I am certain that she and her parents will continue to inspire the students who pass through the green gates of the JFRC, and I can’t think of better role models for young people.

Kelsey’s Post


Kelsey is another one of our former students here in Rome. She is a senior at Loyola University Chicago. Last May when I wrote to ask students if they’d be willing to write about their experiences meeting and knowing Annie, she was the first to respond. This was in my inbox the very next day. I am so honored to have her as a guest author. She’s right, I don’t remember that day in the cafeteria when I handed Annie over to her.

Kelsey, we love and miss you! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and my bet is you’ll make the world’s greatest mom when the time is right!

Babies freak me out. I’ve said that for as long as I can remember. They terrify me. Maybe it’s just something that many women my age feel – we’re young and able and ready for the world. Maybe it was because I was one of the youngest in my family – there were no babies for me to play with, to learn with, to understand. Maybe it’s just because the whole idea of children is the lifelong unknown. Having kids can’t be that hard, right? If it was, the population probably wouldn’t be quite so huge. But to me it is a big, hard, scary thing. I can’t imagine having any child, but what if I had a child with special needs? How could I cope?

When I arrived in Rome, there was a family living at my school. Mike, Colleen and Baby Annie. They are the nicest people. They were there for us through our whole Italian adventure. It was amazing how quickly the entire school took to Annie. She is this sweet little girl with Down Syndrome. No one said anything negative. No one made it a big deal. Instead, everyone raved about this wonderful, happy little girl. We joked that when she turned 16, she would have to bring her Italian boyfriend home to meet her parents – all her parents, all 200 of us.

One day, Colleen sat by me at dinner in Mensa. (She probably doesn’t even remember.)  Baby Annie was in her arms. Colleen needed to grab something – I don’t remember what she needed, there was a baby staring at me and I didn’t know what to do. That was all I could focus on. As I mentioned, babies freak me out. Without thinking, I said I would hold her and Colleen plopped her on my lap. And there she was, staring up at me, her tiny tongue moving around in her mouth. All I could think of was how she was extra fragile. I just knew I was going to break her accidentally. She looked up at me. 

And then she smiled.

And suddenly, I felt okay. I wasn’t scared to hold her. I wasn’t nervous that I would break her. I didn’t feel like I was going to do something that might make her upset. I just bounced her a little and made a noise and watched her smile at me. Then that was it. Colleen was back and Baby Annie was off my lap.

I’m not going to say that I’m cured of my fear and that I want to have my own baseball team, or anything. But in that split second, Baby Annie made me realize that she smiles the same way I do. And somehow that’s enough to make me not quite so scared.

If I do end up having kids, I hope they smile just like Baby Annie.

The Eternal Gift I Found in the Eternal City…by Luke Jorwic


Today’s guest blogger is a former student, Luke Jorwic. Luke studied here last Spring. He was one of the students I got to know extremely quickly and maybe too well. Not only because I could hear and see his dorm room parties from my living room across the courtyard, but because he became one of my “projects.” One of my favorite things to do is to frequent the common hangout spots on campus and kick students out. I push the stroller through the coffee bar or library and “yell” at the students to get out of here. I remind them that they are “in ROME for goodness sake, so stop wasting time here and go get to know her!” It’s easy to get stuck in our comfy Information Commons. Luke was a regular in the IC. I first thought he was obsessed with perfect grades and was constantly studying. I quickly learned  he’s addicted to real estate and can’t keep away from listings. Anyway after MANY occasions of forcing him to get out to explore, he became a quick friend. Now he feels more like family. It doesn’t help that he’s become one of Annie’s aunt Rachel’s best friends. He’s constantly in touch with us and we are so glad he is part of our lives. His words are overwhelming, even just his title brings tears to my eyes. We love you Luke and we think you are 110% cooler than us! Thank you for being a guest blogger.

The Eternal Gift I Found in the Eternal City

When I moved to Rome, there were a few things I was expecting. I expected to travel around, drink some wine, “study”, and hopefully have some experiences I would never forget.

What I didn’t expect was to find friends that I would think of every day and people so far from home who reminded me so much of my family. When I had the chance to meet the Beazley family I instantly thought we would be friends. Well really, I hoped I would have a chance to get to know them, that they would think I was at least 10% as cool as I thought them.

When I first met Mike, Colleen and baby Annie I was delighted to see a family living on campus, and saw the way they interacted with all of us students on campus as a real gift. They weren’t just a family living on campus in case Mike had an emergency; they were the heart of the campus family. Now when I met baby Annie, I was instantly pulled to her, as we all were, and also to the parents that were surrounding her. Not just doting on her, but providing her with experiences that I knew would last her a lifetime.

I instantly felt connected to the Beazleys as they reminded me so much of my family back home.  My older brother Chris has Autism, a fact that enriches and shapes my perspective on life every day, and seeing this budding family working through a diagnosis in such an amazing understated way while thousands of miles away from family left me amazed. I knew we shared the same perspectives and viewpoints without ever having to discuss them. This connection is one I hadn’t ever felt before.

Watching my fellow students interact with Annie on a daily basis made me happy each time, and seeing Mike and Colleen fearlessly answering questions about Annie’s disabilities furthered my faith in the future for individuals with disabilities. An outlook that for a lot of my life growing up wasn’t always so positive.

There is one particular night, on one particular terrace that I will never forget. It was a really transformational conversation for me and my experience with disabilities; cementing everything I’ve come to believe in over my last 20 years as a sibling to an individual with a disability. Colleen and I talked about every side of every issue that could possibly face a family with a child with a disability.

I finally verbalized what I had always known and thought. That my brothers diagnosis was a gift, one I would never ask to give back, and that it had enriched my family immeasurably. The gift of that realization is one I can never repay, and I was so happy to share it with the matriarch of my favorite Roman family. I can’t even fathom all of the amazing things the Beazley’s are going to do, boundaries they will tear down, and lives they will each individually touch, but I cannot wait to sit back and watch Colleen, Mike and their sweet baby Annie.

Gina’s Post


Today’s guest author has quickly become a part of our Roma family. Gina Crovetti has worked with Mike as a Student Life Assistant for the Resident Life Team since the Fall of 2011. We are so glad she is signed on to work for the JFRC for another year. We love having her around. Not only is she great with the students and super at her job, she is the best chef/baker, a wonderful babysitter, and an enormous friend. Last year while she was rigorously training for the Rome Marathon, Gina approached me with tears in her eyes telling me Annie’s been such an impact on her that she would like to run the Marathon for the charity of our choice. Last March, Gina raised almost $4,000 for our favorite Down Syndrome Organization, Gigi’s Playhouse Chicago. As the three of us watched her cross the finish line with an 8X10 photo of Annie pinned to her back, I was overcome with emotion. Annie’s impacted so many in the short time she’s been here already, but because of her interactions so many more have impacted ours. We love you Gina! 

Wow, contributing to this blog holds quite the expectation.  I have only read the most beautiful and awe-inspiring things from those who have left their mark here for baby Annie.  And add to that the endless talent of a writer such as Colleen.  When Colleen first proposed the idea of posting everyday and including guest-bloggers, I knew I wanted to write but knew that words don’t always flow onto paper (or electronic documents) quite as easily for me.  It wasn’t until I was with some co-workers in her apartment and Colleen was telling some of the best stories in her arsenal, how she met, fell in love with, and married Mike, that some light was shed upon my motivation to write.

I know for a fact most people do not get to know as much detail about their boss as I do, and I have Colleen to thank for most of that.  Her gracious ways with words have left me many places on the spectrum from laughing on the floor to choking back tears.

Although we’re only going on 2 years of knowing each other, I’ve gotten the chance to hear Colleen tell the memories of her past to new people in her life all the time.  We live in an ever-changing environment, with students coming and going in quite cyclical patterns.   Yet her stories stay the same, and bless her heart, so does her delivery.  Every time she starts the story of her engagement, how they found her on her wedding night knuckle-deep in cake, her pregnancy, Annie’s birth, and her first birthday, I break out the popcorn kernels and sit back and enjoy.  And each time, I get to see the faces melt off her listeners.  They “aww” at every kiss, laugh at outrageous moments, and smile bigger than I’ve ever seen when it’s over.

Then I realized one day, this immense love between Mike and Colleen, this connection of lives and hearts, this ability to retell the same story with the same passion, could only create something as beautiful and wonderful as baby Annie.  It only makes sense that this butter-ball of energy and light would come from the relationship of unquestionable love between her parents.

To me the Beazleys make perfect sense.  Everything just fits and the bond is so secure. No one thinks twice about how wonderful Annie is.  It is fact.  There’s not a person who can disagree with her smile, turn away from her laugh, frown at her excited clapping.  And I’m writing today to insist that there is no other possible outcome to Mike and Colleen’s love than this little girl we have all come to know and love.  (And by love I mean become obsessed with – because that’s the level the student’s reach.  I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times.)

Colleen has taught me to never settle until my heart is full to the brim with love for another person.  And that person will feel even greater towards me.  The best part is, it’s not something you look for, it’s something that finds you, knocks you off your feet, and proves to be something you can never run away from.  This is what I cannot wait to feel in my future partner, but it is also exactly how I feel about Annie.

I had no concept of what my boss’s family would be like when I took this job in Rome.  I did not know how many meals we would cook together, how many homesick days we’d spend watching movies, how many pots of kettle corn and bowls of oatmeal we’d eat with no shame.  And I absolutely had no idea I would meet this little girl who would change me forever.  I didn’t go looking for someone like Annie, didn’t know that’s what my heart needed, until she found me.  She knocked me off my feet, opened my eyes, and made me feel unconditional love.  She absolutely has proven to be someone I can never run away from.

I haven’t told Colleen this, but I know there will come a day (but I secretly hope this won’t happen) where we won’t be able to see each other for long periods of time, with life picking up and us continuing in different cities, and we’ll set up a date at some local coffee place.  Annie will walk through the door, as a teenager, as a girl, as a woman, and I will loose everything.  The tears will stream and I’ll be baffled that for once, I’ll be the cornball telling her, “I used to hold you before you sat up on your own.  I used to try and teach you new signs, attempt to put shirts on you, watch your parents wedding DVDs after you fell asleep.”  And she’ll be beautiful, with the same gorgeous blonde hair and those big blue eyes will stare at me while she tells me about what she did over the weekend.  And I will melt.

My job is temporary, and in fact will be done next July, but there’s no going back from what I’ve built with Annie, with Colleen, with Mike.  No way it can be undone, no way I can feel less love, no way it can revert to how it was before I knew them.  My hopes for love are through the roof.

If I could look through a crystal ball to see what was ahead, I never would.  I would only hope it would knock me off my feet the way Colleen describes meeting Mike, and the way I met Annie.

Oh to be as blessed.

Kaylea’s Post


Today’s guest blogger is my sister Kaylea. I am the oldest of six children: three girls, three boys, in that order. Kaylea is the youngest of the sisters. She along with our sister Molly is so much more than a sister, my closest and best friend. For the three years before we moved to Rome, Kay was off living in Florida studying to become the kick-butt attorney she is today.  So we didn’t get to see her that often. Now, we see her even less. (Though she is currently tied with Molly for most visits to Rome with three visits each!) We treasure every moment with her. She is my rock when I start to crumble; she never fails to bring the fun when days seem dim. I see so much of her personality in Annie. Zia Kaylea, we love you and miss you so much!

I’ll never forget the moment I found out I was going to be an aunt for the first time. My sister Molly and I were the first to hear the news, which was only shortly after Colleen herself saw the double pink lines on that little white stick.  It was the day of Colleen and Mike’s big going away party, almost exactly one year after another unforgettable party celebrating their matrimony.  Now, if you’ve ever been to a party at the Weiler house, you know that the phrase “quite the ordeal” is a major understatement. And I’m not talking about the parties we kids threw when mom and dad were out of town… although those were fun too! I’m talking about the REAL Weiler parties that my amazing dad somehow manages to find the time and money to throw together at least once a year.   REAL Weiler parties seldom have fewer than 100 guests in attendance, never end before 2:00 am and usually start the night before, as dozens of cousins and friends come over to prep the food (stuffing sausages and cabages and rolling out the dough for homemade pasta, mixing the batter for potato pancakes and/or making buckets full of sangria), clean up and more importantly drink lots of beer!  

What my parents’ living room looks like on nights before and after REAL Weiler parties. All beds, couches, and floor space are filled to maximum capacity.

 So of course on the day we had the big send-off for Colleen and Mike, there were at least twenty people at the house by 10 am (when the party was to commence at 3:00 pm), and there was a LOT of running around to do.  At that point it had not even hit me that my oldest sibling was about to leave the country indefinitely.  So when Molly and I returned from a hectic beer run that involved three shopping carts full of beer, wine, liquor and snacks, and twenty minutes of freaking out because we had lost the car keys somewhere inside the huge grocery store, we weren’t thrilled when the first thing we heard as we pulled in the driveway and attempted to start unloading was “Girls, Colleen says she needs you and she says it’s urgent.”  Then as we walked in the house, carrying all the purchases we’d made for HER party, we heard Colleen shouting our names from the top of the stairs, wrapped in a towel.  We both immediately said, “Coll- it doesn’t matter what you wear, you will look beautiful in anything.”  We really thought the important thing she needed us for was fashion advice. 

 So after attempting to ignore her yells for fifteen minutes or so, we finally ascended the stairs to see what the emergency was all about.  She handed us the little white stick with a purple cap and asked, “Is this positive?”  Now the second pink line was slightly faded, but it looked like a pretty clear positive to me.  I immediately became teary-eyed, started jumping for joy and hugged my oldest sister.  Molly, the nurse, had a very different reaction.  She told Colleen that before she gets too excited, she should go to the doctor to see for certain and to make sure everything was going ok.  

From left to right; Kay, me, and Molly on that first day we found out about Annie. Mike was the only one who knew that day as we were surrounded by hundreds of family and friends to say goodbye.

 Rewind to March of 2009.  A few weeks after my wonderful brother-in-law proposed to my sister, he sat me down and asked me what I would think if he one day got a job in Italy and had to take my sister away with him.  I, thrilled that he valued my opinion, answered that although I would miss them greatly, I would also be 100% excited for them and would seize every opportunity to come visit them.  What hadn’t crossed my mind at that moment were all the things I wouldn’t be there for.  

It wasn’t until a year later when I helped my pregnant sister check in at the Alitalia counter at the O’Hare airport with her four enormous suitcases, not knowing when the next time I would see her would be, that I realized what all this meant.  I would have to see her first ultrasound picture over the internet, I would have to hear the news learned at each doctor’s visit over Skype or email, I wouldn’t get to feel my niece or nephew kick inside her belly and most disappointing of all, I would not be in the hospital with my sister when she became a mother for the first time.

 Still, when on April 1, 2011 at approximately one in the afternoon (Miami time), I received the news, by way of a phonecall from my mother, that I had a niece named Anne Kathleen Beazley, I was overwhelmed by emotion.  I was extremely happy and excited to be an aunt, but at the same time I was sad and almost felt guilty that I was not there with my sister.

It wasn’t until the morning of April 2, 2011 that I found out about Annie’s diagnosis.  As I revisited the pictures of the tiny bundle I had just seen fewer than eighteen hours earlier, I looked at them in a different light.  I analyzed them thoroughly.  “But she doesn’t LOOK like she has Down Syndrome.” “Yes, I guess her arms look kind of limp at her side, whereas other newborns clasp their hands close to their face…but she JUST DOESN’T LOOK LIKE SHE HAS DOWN SYNDROME.”  “Maybe that means it’s only ‘mild’” “Maybe she’ll be more like a ‘normal’ child than most other babies with Down Syndrome.” Looking back, I cannot even believe I had these thoughts.  SHE LOOKS LIKE ANNIE, and she’s beautiful.  And she gets more and more beautiful every day.  She has Colleen’s bright blue eyes, Mike’s button nose and light redish-blond Beazley hair.  She is part Weiler and part Beazley, part Colleen and part Michael, and she is 100% ANNIE.  The “Down Syndrome features” that she does display do not make her any less beautiful.  They do not define her. 

 As I analyzed the pictures of Annie’s first days, a new emotion came over me.  I was scared.  I was frightened and nervous for my sister.  I was terrified about the life she now had ahead of her, a life that would be much different than the one she dreamed of.  Scared for the challenges she would face.  But most of all I was scared because she would have to face them without me and Molly and Mom and Dad and Danny and Tommy and Bubba.  And although I was scared for her, I knew that she would be able to handle it.  And I said to her the only thing I could think of to “console” her.  I said, “Colleen, we have always known that you and Mike are going to be amazing parents.  God gave Annie to you because he knew that if there were any two people on this earth that could handle this, it’s the two of you. You can provide so much for her.  You can teach her so much.”  And of course I meant these things and believed them to be true.

 But I was wrong.  It was Annie that would teach us so much.  And I should never have had to “console” my sister for this gift that turned out to keep on giving and giving and giving.  And yes, Colleen and Mike are amazing parents, but God didn’t give them Annie because he knew they could “handle” her.  He gave them Annie because Annie would bring more light and love to their lives and to the lives of so many people around her than anyone could have imagined. 

 In a previous post, my brother Danny wrote about the well thought-out things HE said to Colleen after hearing of Annie’s diagnosis. I don’t know the exact contents of that email he sent to her eighteen months ago, but I know that one thing he said was something along the lines of “Annie is going to be so loved by so many people.”   And we all know I RARELY admit when this happens, but DANNY WAS RIGHT.  I just don’t think even he knew how right he was at the time.  Although I am sad every day that I am an ocean away from my sister, brother-in-law and niece, I know that every day Annie is surrounded by so many students, teachers, faculty and even Italian strangers who absolutely love and adore her. And she gives them so much love in return.  

Annie with Aunt Kay and Uncle Danny in our neighborhood park in Rome.

 This weekend, I had the honor of spending a little bit of time with the 94 year old grandmother of one of my best friends, Sandy Reitman.  When our friend Jon asked this incredible woman if she had any advice for the younger generations, she calmly responded, “I live my life based on two words.  ‘Attitude’ and ‘Acceptance’, and if you have one then you’ve got the other.”  As I thought about this later on, I realized that a one-year old baby girl with Down Syndrome had already taught me this very same thing, although she wasn’t able to communicate it to me in words as elegantly as could Mrs. Alicia Reitman.  Annie accepts absolutely everyone with open arms and a smiling face, and as she does so, she teaches others to be accepting as well.  Annie doesn’t discriminate, and neither should we.  


Off to Poland! Week of guest bloggers…


A few months back, I wrote to some former students, family members, and friends to see if they would write about how knowing Annie has impacted them or changed their views on Down Syndrome. I knew I wanted to bring awareness this month by sharing Annie and I thought the more perspectives I have of her the better. The more Annie stories we can tell the more awareness we can bring. And better coming from more mouths than just mine. (Plus I knew we’d be away for Fall Break and that I desperately needed a bit of help.)

The response has been unreal. The words they have written have knocked me off my feet, brought tears to my eyes. There is no way I could ever tell them how much their words mean. Nor to thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules to write about our daughter.

While I knew they “fell in love” with Annie from observation, I didn’t know how deep that love went. I am overwhelmed by their honesty. Floored by the impact my family has had on them. I want them to know that their impacts on us are 21 times as great as they claim ours on them to be.

Mike, Annie, and I leave for Poland today. By the time this post goes out, we will be in Munich waiting for our connection to Warsaw. The next eight posts or so will be taken over by guest authors. I am honored that they have volunteered to be a part of my little blog. They are spectacular and we love them all!  Thanks for helping me to bring 31 straight days of Awareness for Trisomy 21!

Please read all their posts! There words are much more powerful than my own! And as forewarning….there will be some tears shed in the next eight days!

For now, here’s a pic of Annie while we were packing for our trip to the beautiful, but very cold, country of Poland. Hope it makes you smile. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure her legs are appropriately covered too!