Sunday, December 23, 2012

Waiting for Santa

Remember when we were kids, how exciting it was to wait for Santa? Seeing Santa in the store, sitting on his lap, tugging his beard, and telling him what we wanted? And then, out of nowhere, some kid on the playground had the nerve to tell us the truth. “You mean you still believe in Santa?” HAHAHAHA.
            I can still hear that boy sitting on the teeter-totter laughing and pointing at me, when spoiler alert, “Fatty still believes in Santa Claus!” No offense or anything, but that boy didn’t turn out so well. Most bullies don’t.
            I acted like I’d known all along. Like, sure, what stupid idiot still believed in Santa? And then I went behind a tree and cried. Somehow, Christmas wasn’t the same after that. I didn’t get quite as excited when the weatherman gave the Santa report and the sleigh moved across the TV screen, indicating that Santa was on the job, wondering if my house was next.
            Just this morning when Brad announced from the pulpit that he saw the reindeer pulling Santa in his sleigh, I studied the congregation. They smiled but had that look of those who know the truth. Charley, on the other hand, bounced up and down, grinned wide and rose out of his seat just enough to look over the pew, at the base of the tree, looking for presents.
            Maybe it should, but it doesn’t embarrass me one bit. I love that he is a man, yet can’t contain his excitement. And I wouldn’t demand that he be anything but who he is.
It’s Charley who gets us in the Christmas spirit at our house. Each year Charley comes to the living room several times during the season to ask, “Mom, Dad, Santa comin’?”
And just tonight he ran out onto the lawn looking for the reindeer in the sky.
       He still believes. Or, at least he wants us to think he believes. Charley’s no dummy though. He figured it out the year Brad played Santa at church. While the other kids all watched, Charley followed Santa around the sanctuary yelling, “Daddy, what you doin’ in dat Santa soup?” And then he’d point and say, “Dat my Dad in dere!”
Perhaps it’s his gift of Down syndrome that allows him to know the truth while refusing to compromise his right to the magic of Christmas. He may be the kid on Christmas morning, but after the hoopla, he always hugs us and says, “Kanks, guys.”
            Still, before the big day when someone asks what Santa’s bringing him for Christmas, he knows exactly what he wants and gets that wide-eyed wonder look. “I getting new TV, CD player, DVD player, ipad, computer…” 
And they look at us, like, “What the…?”
            That’s where we chime in. “He has a great sense of humor doesn’t he?” And then we assure them we haven’t won the lottery. Well, at least not yet.
            But then it occurs to me. Maybe we have won. We have a twenty-two year old who makes every day seem like Christmas. Because he believes. Because he loves unconditionally. Because he never gets too old to love life.
            So what is it that you want? Whatever it is, I hope all your wishes come true.
What do I want for Christmas? The same thing I’ve gotten every year. I’ve gotten a two hundred pound teddy bear with a heartbeat. I’ve gotten to see Christmas through his eyes. The crescent moon shaped eyes of Down syndrome innocence.
And you can’t ask for more than that.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Shine, Little Lights

         This is Charley about the age of the children who lost their lives in Newtown. He may be twenty-two now but sometimes his Down syndrome allows him to still be that little boy anticipating Christmas. Innocent, full of joy, waiting for Santa.
            Charley was a funny little thing, always easy to shop for. While other children were asking for the latest toys, Charley wanted flashlights. It didn’t matter what kind, either. Lanterns, pocket flashlights, spotlights with handles, rotating lights, toys that lit up, globe lights spinning around, and oh, if it had a siren or made noise?  All the better. And every year, the Christmas list was the same – “Batawees.” Still, he had trouble keeping the battery from failing.
Time after time I explained that if he kept the light on all night it would eventually burn out. But Charley is uncomfortable with darkness. So the flashlight stays on.
And that goes for Christmas lights. He doesn’t understand why they can’t stay on all night.
It wasn’t until he was about eight that he began to make the connection between twinkling lights and Christmas. As Charley’s gotten older he’s taken on the job of turning on our lights. It’s part of the Christmas spirit.
Only, this year there’s a damper on Christmas. At first I thought it was the stampedes we all witnessed via TV on black Friday (or was it black Thanksgiving night?), where people pushed and shoved trampling other shoppers in pursuit of the latest electronic whateveritwas that they just had to have. Forget the other guy, just get the thing.
But I was wrong. Seeing grown-ups act like children wasn’t the damper. Seeing children blown away? That’s the damper. That’s the unthinkable. The unbearable.
            This week the community of Newtown came together for a memorial service as the country looked on. The media kept showing pictures of the shrine outside. Who knows how many candles there were? Symbols that the tiny lights we lost this past week will continue to burn.
            Charley didn’t watch the program. I didn’t want him to. Instead, he went to a Christmas service with one of his teachers. By the time he returned home, it was getting late and we had already turned out the Christmas lights.
            Downs does not mean dumb. He knew something was wrong. He saw his Dad cry. He saw his Mom put her face in her hands. He knows sadness when he sees it.
            “You okay, Daddy?” he said and then looked at me. “Mom?”
            “We’re okay as long as we have you,” Brad said, and hugged him tight. The three of us huddled on the couch until Charley realized the lights were out. “Hey!” he said, and sprang to his feet.
            “We don’t need Christmas lights at this time of night,” Brad said.
            “Uh huh, Daddy,” Charley said, and turned on every last light. “See? Kimass!”
            As I sat there watching him I couldn’t help thinking that in some of my darkest moments Charley’s been my light.
            My hope is that the families who have suffered unspeakable loss will know that this is a time of darkness for all who cry with them. It’s Christmas. Not a time to grab gifts and shove our way through the crowd, but a time to hug our loved ones, assure them that they are loved, and a time to remember the tiny lights that call us out of ourselves and show us the way.
It’s dark. But in our darkness, and if there be purpose, so let their little lights shine.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In the Advent of a Hootenanny

     Sometimes it must be hard to be Charley. Wanting to fit in. Sitting on the fence of different and same. If he stays on the side of different, the way is cleared for him to be a twenty-two year old boy in a man’s body, refusing to take a shower. If he stays on the side of sameness, wanting to be like everyone else, then what we have is a man in a man’s body, expected to take the shower like a man.
         What we forget is that his Down syndrome is the gateway to rising to the next level. The person who sat in the back seat asking, “Where goin’ Daddy?” is the same person who went with us to the Camp and Conference center for an Advent dinner Friday evening. He didn’t want to go. Not for one moment did he want to put on a suit coat, and hang out with us old fogies. Typical.
            From the moment we arrived, he tried his best to mingle. Those of us who live with Down syndrome know only too well how the tangled tongue gets in the way of casual conversation, so he stood with chatting people, trying to act like them, until he couldn’t stand it. “I got me wawet,” he blurted. But try as they might, they had no idea what he was saying, and quizzed him until he finally pulled out his wallet only to show them a picture of Harry, from Harry and the Henderson’s.
            So much for mixing. He plopped onto the couch and slumped into the cushions. I walked over to see if he was okay. “Dis bo-wing,” he said.  And why wouldn’t he be bored? The people at the party didn’t speak CharleyEase, which made him odd man out. Meanwhile, I felt a lump in my throat and visited with other partygoers, while watching him out of the corner of my eye. Poor guy. Poor him. Poor man who wants to fit in.
            “He’s doing well,” someone said. “You aren’t kidding,” I said, because right about then in walked a blonde girl (we’ll call her Girl #1), and she was what Charley would call, “Hot.” And just like that, he had a date. Well, he had a dance. The music duo played their guitar and fiddle. Hootenanny, anyone?
            He thanked Girl #1 for the dance, and in my watchful silence I thanked her too, for saving an evening that had the potential to crush my son under the weight of the knowledge that he was and always will be Downs and that there’s not a thing he can do bout that.
Still, Girl #1 put a smile on his lips, and just as we thought that was that, in walked Girl #2, a brunette, who accepted his invitation to dance.
The next time I looked, he was dining at Girl #2’s table, following her to the buffet, helping himself to an iced tea he had no intention of drinking, and glaring at me like I’d better stop watching him or else. I tried not to look. I did. But what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t give him a dirty look when he used his sleeve as a napkin?
            Meanwhile, Girl #2 spent the rest of the evening with him, and Charley was no longer odd man, he was simply a man.
Because different or same, when you have Downs it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on, as long as the girl’s on your side.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Season's Ringings

Seasons Ringings

T’was the day of Black Friday and all through the town, the ringers were ringing, that holiday sound…

We see them every year, the bell ringers, the freezing few who stand outside the stores, reminding us shoppers that there are those in our communities who need our help.

When Charley was younger he’d try to talk the ringers out of their bells. “I me one,” he’d say, and Brad would give him a dollar to put in the bucket and then we’d be off on our way to celebrate the season.

He’s twenty-two now, and he still wants the bell. Every year he says, “I have it?” as he puts his dollar in the bucket.

So. Brad decided this year would be different. This year, Charley would get the bell. At least for a little while.
“Where goin’ Dad?”

“We’re ringing the bells,” Brad said.


“Because there are people whose needs will go unmet if we don’t. People are hungry, cold, and lonely. Bell ringing provides food and shelter. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about the loneliness.”


“Yeah, Charley, there are lots of people who have no one to share their lives and that makes them lonely. We have to reach out to them.”

“Okay, Dad,” Charley said, as he put on his red apron and picked up a bell.

Ring, ring. Ring-a-ding dingy. The two men in my life set out to keep people from being cold and hungry.

Now, if I recall from years past, the ringers stand still, and their arms go up and down, ringing. But at no time do I remember the ringer dancing and singing, but where tradition ends, Charley begins, and new traditions are born.

Dancing, ringing, singing, and informing everyone on their way into the store, “Need money here,” pointing to the bucket, doing the happy dance. That’s the Charleyway.

Into the bucket went a dollar.

“Kanku,” Charley said. “Oh sir, money pwease.”  Plunk, another dollar.

One poor woman was heading into the store.

“Hello, Maam, you got money?”

“I’ve already given several times,” she said.

“Again!” he said. “Money fo da po, over here.”

Into her purse went her hand, and yep, out came a dollar.

Shopper after shopper, the teenage girls got a handshake or a hug (no one’s lonely on Charley’s corner). Even the kids gave him money. “Call me,” he’d say as they slapped him a high-five. Unless they didn’t give. Then he’d clear his throat and say, “Uh-hem. S’cuuuuse me, you got money?”

Brad told Charley that soliciting was one thing, hounding was another. “You are NOT to embarrass people into giving,” he said.

“I no bawassacud, Daddy. I winging da bell, dey got dollars.”

“But you’re not supposed to chase people down the sidewalk, Son…and you are NOT to hit them up twice.” The thing is, Charley would collect a dollar on their way into the store, and then talk them out of another on their way out.  One man admitted to stopping at the ATM because he didn’t want to come face to face with Charley. Not unless the happy dance followed.

Maybe it’s his Down syndrome innocence that opens the hearts around him. I don’t know. But I do know this; sometimes it takes a special needs person to remind you that if you are going to give, give with your whole body.

If you are going to ring, make sure the bell is heard.

And if you venture out this season, do it with a dollar in your pocket.

You never know where Charley might be lurking. I mean ringing.