Friday, March 20, 2015

Life with Charley Book Launch for World Down Syndrome Day on Live at 5 at 4

Look at Charley on TV!

He is quite excited about the book, but equally excited that he was able to say hi to his friends on TV.

Great job, Charley Palmer! Click on the link below to view!


You can find Life with Charley on Amazon, or ask your local bookseller if they can order it for you.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Our World" Day

Life With Charley Giveaway...

Announcing our World Down Syndrome Day "Life With Charley" Giveaway. Hurry, contest ends March 21st. Here's the link: 

There’s a reason we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day, Trisomy 21 Day, or in our house, as we call it, “Our World Day”. (March 21, 2015).

How else could we raise awareness of God’s gift to humanity?

I say this without reservation. There are people in this world who have no idea how what a gift people with DS are. Worse, there are those individuals who would use the “R” word in reference to these people we love so much. 

We can only pity those people. First, for their cruelty, and second, because they have been deprived.

Pity they don’t know the fun that comes with DS. The uninhibited, unbridled dancing in the street. The silliness. The laughter. The funny little jokes they play on us.

Pity they don’t know the loyalty. 

The got-your-back-no-matter-what, warts and all.

The “Dis is my Mom,” and “Dis is my Dad” pride in their voice when they introduce us to strangers in the grocery store.

The I-love-you-anyway bottomless way they forgive us for our imperfections. 

The unconditional acceptance. The gentle kisses and the arms around our necks.

The simple, no nonsense dialog, and the continual efforts to make us understand when we can’t decipher what they have tried to articulate for the umpteenth time.

I’ve known people with Down syndrome all my life, even way before we adopted Charley. I believe I have earned the right to say that there has never been a more generous person than the one who lives in my house.

Charley is 24 years old now. For twenty-four years, Brad and I have been celebrating him. And yes, we have been celebrating his Down syndrome and everything that means to our lives.

If God gives me another 24 years of Trisomy 21, I will continue to count myself the most blessed person in the world.

Why? Because every day in our house is World Down Syndrome Day. Because Charley is “our world”. And that indeed,is something to celebrate.

*   *   *  
For information about World Down Syndrome Day, 2015, please visit

*   *   *
Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of, Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Man Who Could Be President

It seems only fitting on this President's day to talk about Charley’s political views.
First, and let’s get this over with right now, when Dad was alive he would call Brad and ask whose turn it was to take Charley into the voting booth.
It doesn’t take a political science genius to figure out that Brad and I cancel out each other’s votes. At least, that’s what I want Brad to believe.
The truth is, Brad never knows who I vote for because I don’t tell him. It drives him crazy, but since it’s one of the few things I don’t have to tell, I don’t. Besides, if I tell, it won’t be fun anymore.
Dad's theory was that whoever's turn it was to take Charley into the voting booth got to vote twice. But he would be wrong. Neither one of us tell Charley who to vote for. We may help him if he needs it, but that's it.
Most people would assume Charley knows nothing about politics. After all, he has Down syndrome, right?
Well, let’s see about that.
First, Charley knows exactly who the President is. He always has. When Clinton was in office, he would point at the TV screen and say, “Cweantone.”
I'd say, "You mean Clinton?"
He'd say, "Yeah."
When Bush was in office, Charley would point to the screen and say, “Pwesident Bus!”
When Obama took office he’d point to the screen and say, “Daddy, look! Bama!”
Charley is. Bipartisan. He's always liked the President, who ever he is.
Second, he doesn't care if the President is black, white, yellow, green with pink hair, rich, poor, likes or hates broccoli, stands for gay-pride, or has Howdy Doody ears. The President is the President, and it's Charley's job to cheer him on.
This is and always will be one of Charley's greatest gifts, and a for me, a source of Momma-pride.
One of his favorite movies is The American President. Although, I think it sometimes confuses him. One minute he’s pointing to Michael Douglas and then there’s a commercial with Obama, and then back to Michael again, and he's looking at us like, what the heck?

He doesn’t stay confused for long. Charley has a small black radio and he listens to Rush Limbaugh on the radio every day. Rush is always fussing about President Obama. So much so, that he fusses at Brad and I if we talk during Rush’s program.
“Mom, Dad, no talk. Da Pwesident’s on.”
“That’s not the President, Son, that’s Rush Limbaugh.”
“Uh uh, Bama, dat guy said so.”
“No, Son, he’s fussing about Obama.”
“Uh uh, Dad.”
“Yuh huh, Charley.”
And Rush gets cranked up again, yelling “Obama care” into the microphone, and Charley looks at us and says, “See? Dat Bama, dat guy care,” like, gees, you guys just don’t get it.
I suppose there’s no way we can convince Charley it’s not Obama.
But what about the boy at the Special Olympics?
Brad and I both went to the park one afternoon to watch Charley compete.
Charley wasn’t exactly happy about this. We weren’t sure why, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably because he was afraid we were there to take him home.
But there was one athlete who was thrilled.
No one else had on a suit and tie, but since Brad had a lunch meeting he was dressed in business attire. He stood at the top of the stairs watching Charley on the podium, as he was presented with his medal. Moments later, a wide-eyed athlete climbed the stairs and came face to face with Brad.
Clearly a fan, he looked up at Brad. “Are you the President?” He asked with a big grin. Brad tried to hide it, but I saw the ego boost on his face.
By the time Brad shook the athlete's hand Charley was standing beside them. “No silly,” he said to the boy. “Dat my Dad."
Seriously though, as far as Charley is concerned, Brad could be president. Make no mistake about it though, I'm the speaker of the house.
Presidents come and go. We see them on TV. We listen to them on the "hollow." We celebrate their birthdays. But in our house? There's only one president. One leader. One Dad.
And we all know who the president of that fan club is.

Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption, available at

Please follow Charley's Facebook page:  Life With Charley - And Down Syndrome

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Disability and the Special Prom

The following article, "Disability and the Special Prom,"  was posted today by my friend, Stephanie Holland, of "The Road We've Shared." Here's the link:

If you know of someone who has a loved one with Down syndrome, please, won't you take a moment to share?

Thanks Stephanie, I couldn't have said it better. Your brilliance and experience with your son reaches across the internet into so many hearts.

Note: Charley will be attending one of these Special Proms on February 21st.

As a mother of a young man with DS, I watch every day, how he wishes he could be a part of the world where dances are a rite of passage. But for people like Charley, the opportunities to socialize with people like him are sadly, limited. When he attends one of these proms, it's like his world opens up. Somehow the social schism of differentness narrows just enough to put him in an arena where he is able to be just like everyone else just by being himself. At the Special Prom he's not special needs. He's just Charley.

There's freedom in that. Freedom in being who you are.

For all who spend their time and money on providing my son with the time of his life, THANK YOU.

Charley, getting ready to dance his feet off!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Circle Unbroken - A Special Olympics Post

When I saw this on Facebook today, I thought immediately of Special Olympics.

Sad to say, but few of us in this world understand this message. But happy to say, Special Olympians do.

There's a group of special needs students from Knoxville at Ober Gatlinburg right this very minute. They may not be sitting in a circle with their feet together, but their arms are around their buddies.
Special Olympians understand the concept of the circle..."what's good for the group." They know that in order to cross the finish line, their buddies have to cross it too. They know that in order for a circle to encompass a spirit, it must be unbroken.

I've seen it. Even wrote about it on this very blog. Here's the original blog, written nearly two years ago. I'm rerunning this post not because I'm too lazy to write a new one, but simply because even though it refers to an outdoor sport, if I wrote it again for the winter games, the message would be the same.

Here it is...

The last time I saw Charley compete in Special Olympics, he was standing in the middle of a circle. Right in the middle of a volleyball court, crying. Not because he didn’t win. Everyone’s a winner at the Special Olympics. It’s about standing shoulder to shoulder with your fellow teammates, and mostly, having fun.

He was excited that day, putting on his official Special Olympics T-shirt, and he would have had a good time too, if I hadn’t fouled things up.

I can’t always go to his Special Olympics events, but that morning he put his arm around me and said, “Mom, you comin’?”

I started to blurt, “I can’t. I have to work.” Seems I'm always working on the important days. But the fact is, I didn’t have to work that day, so, Brad and I were there to cheer him on.

As we entered the gym he came running up to us. “Guys, dis my Daddy, dis my Mom,” he grinned and pointed us out to anyone who would listen. I don’t know who was prouder, him or us.
Brad and I made our way to the bleachers and sat down, when moments later Yvette (Charley's teacher) suggested we move.
“You can’t sit here,” she said, “Families sit in the upper level out of harm’s way.”

Even Brad pleaded with me to move to a safer seat, “Let’s move to the no kill zone,” he said.

But I had picked my spot and my fat little rear end wasn’t about to budge. “I can see better here,” I insisted, when, five, four, three, two, one. BLAM. A volleyball right in the kisser. After that, the only thing I saw was stars.

My face was bleeding, my nose was smashed, and my lip was cut. I tried not to cry as Brad escorted me to the hallway and helped me find the ladies room where I wiped my face with a wet paper towel and collected myself. 

 I considered leaving and going home. I couldn't see the game anyway; my glasses were a twisted mess. Besides, I didn't want to embarrass Charley any more than I already had. But Charley wouldn't understand if he looked up and we weren't there, so we went back to the gym.

As I opened the door I expected to see a volleyball game in progress. Instead, I saw a circle. There, in the middle of the floor, beside the volleyball net, was my son, surrounded by a circle. A circle that included not only his team, but the opponents as well. He was crying, and his buddies had turned their attention from their own moment of glory to make sure Charley was okay.

"It's okay, Charley," I heard one of them say.

"Your Mom be alright," Another said.

I walked over to him and he threw his arms around me and cried some more. I assured him that I was okay, his teammates (and yes, the opponents) slapped him high-fives, the excitement returned, and the game resumed.

I learned several things that day. First, if you are going to bend the rules, you might end up being the one who’s bent. Even Moms are supposed to respect boundaries. Including me.

Second, there’s a reason they call it Special Olympics. It’s called sportsmanship and there’s so much more to it than beating the other guy. It’s all about the dream and the team. The dream to be a winner, and the team that loves the sport, but more importantly, the team that loves each other.

Above all, it’s about helping a teammate find his smile so he can get back in the game. Because when you help someone else win, you win too.

And third. Isn’t it ironic? Those who are often considered the least of us because of their special needs are often the ones who teach us the most.

Somewhere in Ober Gatlinburg there's a group of athletes racing toward the finish line. Whooping and hollering and cheering each other on. Slapping high-fives when they win, and more importantly, when they don't.

I borrowed this image from Pinterest 

Special Olympics gets it right.

In a world where reality TV encourages and captures a 
"me-ism" mentality, isn't it nice to know there's a group at Ober practicing "we-ism?"

Will the circle be unbroken? It will if our Special Olympians have anything to say about it.

******                                     *****                                       *****

Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption.

Available on Amazon:

Follow Sherry's board Life with Charley and Down syndrome on Pinterest.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Countdown to Gatlinburg...Hat's Out of the Bag!


Jeans, "wonderwear," socks, the cat.

The CAT?

How do you pack a cat?

The answer is, you don't have to. They pack themselves. Just unzip the suitcase, and in they go.

Until, they are ousted. And ousted, it was.

More packing. Long johns, toothbrush, toothpaste, jeans for the dance. And, of course, the essentials - CD player, music CDs, batteries. You know, the stuff that matters.

Last night I posted on Facebook, a picture of him in his newly knitted hat. I never could have imagined the support I would have received from my knitting friends at Knitting 3, and on Charley's page. Post after post, the comments poured in. They were mostly about Charley, cheering him on, wishing him luck in the Olympics. What a great bunch of friends! 

Charley will be leaving today at 1:30 and heading to Ober Gatlinburg where he will compete in speed skating (and most likely, flash dating).

But first, there's this thing about the hat. The weird, pointed, alfalfa hat.

 I've been knitting this hat for a year. Bottom line is, I hate knitting hats. I knit other things such as fingerless gloves, cowls, shawls, ponchos, socks, and scarves. But hats? Well, let's just say for me to even consider knitting a hat is a major labor of love.

Not sure what propelled me to finish it. Maybe I took leave of my senses and all of a sudden thought I could actually do it. Maybe I fashioned I wouldn't get caught by the fashion police.

Or, maybe it was something deeper than that. Maybe I wanted him to take a little piece of me with him to the slopes in Gatlinburg. Or at the very least, when he reaches up to pull his hat down and it slips off his head, maybe I want him to know his Mom is rooting for him.

Maybe the thought that I slovenly allowed last year's Special Olympics to come and go while the half-knitted hat hibernated in the knitting bag. The very thought that I sent him off on his trip without a special gift from me. Bad Mom!

But in my defense, I was recovering from that accident. A convenient excuse if there ever was one. Thing is, there wasn't a thing wrong with my fingers...last I heard, my fingers weren't in a body cast.

Truth is, I just couldn't seem to get it done. Last year I saw the date approaching and well, just couldn't seem to make it across the finish line.

Where were my priorities? I'll tell you where they were, they were with my successes.

The things I'd knitted that actually worked. That grey wrap. The one that makes me think I actually look like that model in the picture wearing it. Yeah, that's the one. Or, the peacock-colored poncho (the one made with the  yarn my sister mailed to me to cheer me up after my accident). Or,
the fingerless mittens made out of that alpaca. The scarf with those handmade clay beads.

Those...those were the compliment magnets. Those things us knitters consider music to our ears...

I love your scarf!

Did you make those beads?

That wrap is so elegant!

How long did it take you to make that?

 Yep, it's all about the successes. Those things that make us look good. Or, at least those things that make us THINK we look good. It's all about the bragging rights.

So as I sat down last week and began furiously knitting my fingers off on Charley's red hat (yet again), it occurred to me...I couldn't knit a hat if my life depended on it. And why? Because I hate patterns. Just give me two sticks and a string and let me knit. If it ends up being something then let the bragging begin. If not, I can always cram it back into the bag where it lives. At least, until the next attempt.

Something else occurred to me though. I was knitting this for the one person who never gives up. The bravest person I know.

As I thought about that my fingers knitted faster. I stopped for coffee. Bathroom break. lunch. But that's it. I would finish that hat. I wouldn't give up. He would have that red hat. Or, else.

At one point he came out of his room and walked over to me. "Mom, what doin'?"

"Hat's out of the bag!" I announced. "See?" I held it up. It looked like a red thing. Not a hat, but a thing.

I guess he could see it was important to me. "Oh. Nice!" he said, and started to walk away.

"Want to try it on?"

His face said, "Not exactly." But his hand reached for the hat.

Down over his eyes, it traveled, swallowing his face.

"I'll get it done before Special Olympics, I promise."

He took the hat off and smiled at me, like, It doesn't fit, but whatever you say, Mom.

"It's my special present to you, Charley."

Thing is, was it a present for him? Or was I working on bragging rights? I've never successfully knitted a hat. Not one time. Would this be that time? Would I cross that finish line with an actual hat?

The motto of the Special Olympics is, Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.

When I thought of all those special Olympians who cross the finish line with a smile on their faces whether they win or not, I couldn't help but keep on knitting. And smiling.

How many of us smile when we don't win? When our plans don't quite work out the way we planned? When the bragging rights deflate like a party balloon that's lost it's happy gas. When the knitted hats don't work?

Oh how much the rest of us dweebs can learn from them! Oh what they teach us about being brave. About crossing that finish line with our heads held high.

...about being brave in the attempt.

Thank you Special Olympians everywhere. Thank you, thank you, Charley.

Thank you for wearing my failure on top of your head and wearing it proudly with that contagious grin. Thank you for making me more important in your eyes than the perfection of a hat. Someone on the Facebook Knitting 3 site said it looked like a Hershey's Kiss. I'll take it.

You, Charley Palmer, deserve all the kisses you can get. You, Charley, keep me in stitches every day.

So go. Board the bus in that silly red hat. Have the time of your life. Whoop and holler, and slap those high-fives. Be proud, Olympian.

And when you cross that finish line, keep on going.

Remind us what it means to be brave in the attempt. What it really means to be a winner.

And about those bragging rights? They are on the lips of your mother. And believe me, they have nothing to do with the hat.

Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of: Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption, available at


Friday, January 23, 2015

Milestones and Smilestones

Saw this post on Facebook by Catherine Krebs Rice today, regarding her darling daughter Charlotte, and couldn’t resist asking her permission to repost on “Life with Charley.” She was gracious enough to say yes!

Catherine’s posts always catch my eye. How could they not? Just look at Charlotte! But this particular post reached right out and grabbed me.

She says it just right when she talks about milestones. When it comes to seeing what matters, sometimes our children (yes, I’m talking about Charley too) are miles ahead of us. I've always said that Charley not only reached milestones, he reached smilestones. Smilestones are those moments when our kids with DS manage to let us see that part of us we didn't know existed until they came along. Charley knows just how to give those smiles.
From the looks of it, Charlotte does too...

Little Charlotte is the granddaughter of one of my lifelong friends, Linda Smith Allen!
Isn't she a doll?!

Here’s the post:

Hello Spiders!
As many of you already know, often kids with Down Syndrome may struggle with making milestones. Even though Charlotte is behind in eating, crawling, walking, talking etc.....I try to see that Charlotte's strengths aren't measured in milestones. Her strengths are looking into other people's eyes and seeing there souls. It's a powerful thing that she does. It reaches beyond any words or actions.

She definitely has reached a milestone! A milestone that many people don't often reach until they are perhaps near death. This is HUGE! And it is significant.
So....all that said.....we keep trying to help Charlotte make those typical milestones. We won't ever give up on those. But meanwhile....we learn from HER!!

Have a great day and weekend!

Thanks Catherine, for sharing Charlotte with us! She is truly a gift to us all.
Sherry Palmer is the Author of Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption, available at

Monday, January 19, 2015

Happy birthday, Martoofer

I never know if Charley completely understands everything we talk about, but we talk about it just the same. I tend to think he's more savvy than I give him credit for. 

I had this conversation with Charley that was eerily like the one we had last year at this time, only with a few differences. The basic premise is the same. It went like this…

“Member Mom, Marking Day a-mowwow.”

“Marking Day?”

“Yeah. Thomas Center closed. Woohoo!” He punches the air with his fist.

Oh. I get it. He’s telling me that the Sertoma Center is closed tomorrow because it's Martin Luther King Day.

“You know, Son, there's much more to Martin Luther King Day than getting the day off.”

He studied me for a moment. “Yeah,” he said. “Martoofer birdday.”

“That’s right, it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.”


“Do you know who Martin Luther King was?”


“Well, who was he?”


“Do you know why we celebrate his birthday?”


I waited, thinking he’d offer the reason, but he was busy playing with the buttons on the car heater. Turning them up, turning them down. Burning us up, freezing us out.

“Well, why is his birthday so important?”

“No Thomas Center!”

“So that’s it? Sertoma Center is closed? Is that all?”


He then started playing with the radio station buttons. Country. “I Love You this Big.” Pop. “Baby, Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” Oldies. “Come On People Now, Smile on your Brother, Everybody Get Together, Try and Love one Another Right Now.”

“Hey, Charley, that’s the first song I ever learned to play on my guitar!” I said, “It’s a great song for Martin Luther King Day.”

“Oh, coolt.”

More button pushing.

“Hurry into xxxxxx store for the Martin Luther King sale. Everything is 50% off,” the announcer said.

“See?” Charley said, "Martoofer birthday."

“Okay son, we need to talk. First of all, they are having a sale to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. That’s not what his birthday is all about.”


More radio station surfing.

“Mom, I boat.”

“You what?”

"I BOAT. Geeze, Mom." He rubbed his face with the palm of his hand like he does when he's close to calling me an idiot.

"Say it again, son."

“I boat. You boat. In da boof."

"You mean vote?"


“You get to vote for President?”

“Yeah, Pwesidence day.”

“That's right. We vote for President, but not for Martin Luther King.”


“Martin Luther King wasn’t President; he was a civil rights leader.”


“Do you know what civil rights means?”

“Stop it, Mom.”

“It means he fought for the rights of people like you, Charley.”


“Yes, you. And me, and Daddy.”


We didn't talk for a moment. Just listened to the next commercial, about some other MLK sale, and how we needed to hurry before everything was gone, because it only happens once a year. 

I was the one who broke the silence.

“Charley, do you know what Down Syndrome is?”


“Do you know that you have Down Syndrome?”

“No I are not.”

“Yes you do.”

“Not me.”

“Charley, Down Syndrome is not a bad thing. It just means you are special.”


“Yes. It means God loved you enough to give you an extra chromosome. That means you have something most of us don’t have. It means that some people think of you as different.”

“Not me,” he said.

“It’s okay to be different, Son.”

“Yes I are.”

“Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted everyone to be treated the same.”


One of the things I like most about Charley is that it's never occurred to him not to be comfortable in his own skin.

“Yay! I like dat King guy.”

“He would have like you too, son.”

* * *

Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of “Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption,” available on 

Perhaps my friend Stephanie Holland says it best on her blog. Please visit “The Road We've Shared” at this link:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Air Up There

Super excited that Charley gets to go do this again...

Special Olympics - Team Gibbs

I hate to say this, but Charley has been crying lately. To put it mildly, he’s been having withdrawal symptoms.

Not drugs. Not alcohol.

No, it’s something more toxic. It's in the air. It’s withdrawal from connections. Those connections that tell him he matters.

Everyone needs connections. It validates us to know we are accepted just as we are.

Charley is no different. But ahhh, where he gets that validation from, that’s the thing.

Each year right after Christmas, Charley comes to me in tears. He says, “I miss um my fwents.”

And I do that Mom-thing, of grabbing him around the neck, hugging and kissing him, and telling him I know he misses his friends, and that I’ll do my level best to see what I can do…

But to tell you the truth, what I’m really doing is holding my breath. Wondering, will there be a spot for him? Will he get to go do the one thing that makes him feel like he is his own person? That place where he can just be himself? The one thing that assures him he does indeed, have friends? Friends who haven’t forgotten about him?

If you have a special needs child you know what I mean. If not, then, here’s the deal…
Charley just wants to be a regular guy.
He wants a girlfriend. He wants to date. He wants to be viewed as a person who has hopes and dreams. Bottom line, he just wants to be himself. He wants to have friends.
That’s not always possible for Charley. Unless someone calls him or comes to pick him up and take him out, he waits. He doesn’t have the same options you and I have. He can’t just pick up the phone and call someone.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for him, always trying to fit into a world that would have him be different. Or, at the very least, would have him change just enough to fit in.
What if changing just enough to fit in means compromising who you really are?
I see it in my son every day.
He heads to a sheltered workshop where there are others like him. People who would have nowhere else to go if it weren't for the workshop. Several are older than he is. There is little opportunity for meeting girls. For making friends. The kind of friends that will go out running around with you without your mom having to drive you or lurk in the wings.
He enters a classroom that has activities he is expected to participate in, and little vision for what he wants to do or wants to be.
Do this, Charley.

Don’t do that, Charley.

Stop it, Charley.

Charley put on your jacket. Mrs. Palmer, Charley came in without his jacket today.

Charley ate his lunch on the way in the door today.

Come here, go there, Charley.
Do they know he is tech-savy? That he can fix things? Do they have any idea how brilliant his mind is?
Do they even have time to know? They are so busy with agenda.
That’s where Special Olympics comes in.
While most of us are tucked away in our warm houses in the winter, Charley is taking to the slopes in Gatlinburg. Strutting his stuff. Showing off for whatever girl he has his eye on. Making friends.
At Special Olympics, he’s not warehoused. There's a different air up there. He’s free to be who he is, the way he wants to be. Free to breathe.
Most of all, for a couple of days he has friends. People who see who he is, and who he can be. People who may tell him where to go and what to do, but it’s a different kind of telling. People who tell him to go for that next jump. “Go for it Charley!”
Go Charley Go!
It’s camaraderie. An acceptance of who he is, and when they say, “Just be yourself,” they mean it. And he knows it. They don’t mean, “Be yourself as long as it is within the parameters of what we think you should be.”
That’s why each year we hold our breath. He comes home from Special Olympics a different person. Not as a person who has had to be what everyone else wants him to be, but what he wants to be.
A regular guy.
And why not? He’s been to a place where it’s okay to dance. To flirt. To laugh out loud. To compete, and to slap a high-five with your teammates. To know you are part of a team that wants you just the way you are. A team that tells you the team is more fun when you are there.

To say we hold our breath doesn’t even begin to describe it. Each year Brad and I look at each other and pray, “Please God, let there be a next time.”
It’s as important to Charley as breathing.
It fills him up.
It puts that twinkle in his eye. That pep in his step.

For a few years now, Charley has been included on the Gibbs Special Olympics team. Even though he graduated in 2013, they have managed to find a spot for him. They probably don’t know this, but it’s as important to him as breathing. That’s why we hold our breath.

Last week the call came. The one that said there was a spot for him. The one that made me cry into my napkin at lunch because when he cries about missing his “fwents” I’ll be able to say, “How's the air up there?” He knows what that means he's headed to Ober Gatlinburg. Yeah baby!

In two weeks, we will take him to the parking lot where he will board the bus and head to Gatlinburg. The bus that will pull out of that parking lot and leave us in the rearview mirror as he settles into his seat for the time
 of his life.
When people find out he’s going to Special Olympics and will be gone for a couple of days, they often say, “That will give you a breather.”
And they are right. For a couple of days we breathe. Not because he’s gone, but because we know when he returns he will have breathed a different kind of air.

Up there.

                                                  * * *

Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption, available at:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Countdown to Gatlinburg (a Special Olympics Post)

I wrote this last year after Charley left for Special Olympics. He's heading to Gatlinburg again this year, thanks to the support and outreach of Gina Legg and Gibbs High School. These folks who give of themselves to make sure Charley has the Special Olympics experience have no idea how much it means to him. I hope over the next couple of weeks to change that. 

So I begin this series of Special Olympics posts by looking back. It is with this in mind, that we look forward. 

Here goes... 

A Little Extra Oomph...

It’s Monday night, and I’m struggling with writing. All writers will tell you they sometimes stare at the blank page for what seems like forever, and that’s what I’m doing. Or, at least that’s what I was doing, until I received a text about ten minutes ago. 

     Charley’s an easy subject for the most part. With his shenanigans, his laugh, and what we call his bullheaded chromosome, he’s anything but blank. But when he’s gone my oomph goes with him.

     You see, Sunday he boarded a bus and headed to the winter games of the Special Olympics in Gatlinburg. But back to the text – oh how I needed it, because there, on my cell phone was a picture of him, standing on the ski slopes with his teacher, Miss Gerry.
     He’s temporarily ditched the grey muscle-man shirt he lives in and is sporting a red hooded sweatshirt like the rest of the team.
     He’s wearing brand new jeans that bend in all the right places when he unleashes his dance moves that make him look cool on the dance floor. He’s put on aftershave to give him some oomph, even though he didn’t shave before he left. But most of all, he’s wearing a grin and a twinkle in his eye.

     He’s staying in a hotel room and partying the night away. He’s probably meeting a girl but will most likely forget to get her phone number and will arrive home expecting that we will magically know how to call the girl he now refers to as his “Purty.”
     It’s all because of Special Olympics, created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in her back yard in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s so that her sister Rosemary would have a place to play. I wonder if she knew that somewhere in Gatlinburg nearly 63 years later, a man with intellectual challenges would be having the time of his life because someone saw past disabilities into the core of abilities.

     Someone envisioned a better way of life for people like my Charley. Someone looked around, counted her blessings, and showered others with opportunities. Because of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he is running, lacing up a pair of ice skates, and hanging onto the handlebars of the walker-like support device that steadies him so he won’t land on his backside. But so what if he does? He’ll think of himself as a winner because he had the courage to put one foot in front of the other, and try.
     Fascinating, how a traditional team practices until they are ready for the big game. Only a select few get to run out onto the field to the roar of a thundering crowd. Over and over, they practice their moves; fine tuning their technique that will make them legends in their arenas.

     Special Olympics practices too. They practice patience, support, respect, encouragement. Somewhere in Gatlinburg, there are teachers and coaches who have taken time out of their personal lives to make the Special Olympics a reality for someone else. While their own families are at home, these individuals provide hands-on assistance to the participants, so that life can have a little more meaning. No one makes them do this; they do it out of love for their students, so they can be included. So they can have their moment. Their thundering crowd. Their arena. A little extra oomph.

     If you know of a teacher or coach who has given so much of themselves for these special athletes, take a moment won’t you, to thank them on behalf of all Special Olympians everywhere.

Tell them Charley sent you.

                                                                          *  *  *
Sherry Palmer is the author of, "Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption" available at: