Making Miracles

About a year ago I came up with this idea.  It’s an idea that came from my story, Everyone Needs a Vince, about growing up with my childhood best friend Vince who has Down Syndrome.  In short I told of our adventures.  Our heartbreak. Our friendship.  Through the years I never saw his disability.  I saw his person.  And as the title suggests, I felt everyone in the world needed their own Vince.

But how?

How do you begin to inspire someone to see the person and not their special need?

Cue Hue.

Hue is part of my village.  She has been for a dozen plus a handful more years. Hue is also a gifted artist who turns people into art through her photography.  Last fall, after all of her senior portrait sessions were done for the year I asked her if she was looking for a project during the winter months.  I asked her if she would be interested in hearing about something I was dreaming of.  I asked her if she would be willing to step into this dream of making the world see the child and not the disability with me.  Her response?  Absolutely!

The next step was to find the captivating subjects of our photoshoot. I wanted toddlers. I don’t know why I was fixed on that age range, but they had to be toddlers.

Cue Kelli.

Kelli is a part of my village too.  My adoption village.  Our sons were in Ethiopia together and a few years after she and her husband brought their boys home they welcomed through adoption a newborn baby girl with Down Syndrome. I sent Kelli a message that started something like this, “I have something I want you to ponder…trust me…its all good!”  I went on to ask her if she would be interested in hearing about something I was dreaming of and if she and her daughter Amy would be willing to step into this dream of making the world see the child and not the disability with me. Her response? Absolutely!

After, I asked her if she knew any other toddlers who might fit the bill.  It took Kelli less then ten minutes, well, actually less then five minutes to introduce me to Brooklyn and her bubbles, Seth and his stick and hat, and Hattie and her books.

The weather where we live has been unseasonably wonderful, almost spring-like during what should be the dead of winter. We couldn’t have pulled this off during a typical Pacific Northwest winter. On a warm January afternoon, with the help of a crew of energetic 12-year-old boys who chose to put down the video game controllers and nerf guns and instead help out by holding reflective panels and toys to make Amy’s face light up, our first model danced in the sunlight with angel wings on her back to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.

And she was magnificent.

When it was all said and done for the day, I think what struck me the most was the moment when I was explaining to one of my 12-year-old helper’s parents what our goal was, to see the child and not the disability, that their son turned to me and said, “Wait. What? Amy has Down Syndrome?”  He had spent an entire afternoon playing with her, dancing with her, making her smile and he never once saw her disability. It was then I knew this dream might just become a reality.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks Hue and I welcomed Brooklyn, Seth, Hattie and their families into our dream. Each meeting started with shy, hide behind mom’s legs looks, but within minutes each child evolved into their own personality that by the end of the photoshoot had everyone involved charmed to the core.  Charmed to the heart.

I can fill your mind with a whole lot of statistics about Down Syndrome.

I could go on and on about the sheer number of children with Down Syndrome waiting to be adopted both in the United States and internationally. On RainbowKids alone there are 162 Down Syndrome children waiting for their forever family to step forward.   But I won’t go on. Not today at least.   Instead, I will just let you sit back and see Amy, Seth, Brooklyn, and Hattie for the beautiful loved exceptional children they are.

There is this incredible village among us and within this village there are phenomenal families who look beyond the disability and see their child as we all should see their child. As I saw my Vince so many years ago.

Simply.

Amazing.

Amy

Amy

Seth

Seth

brooklyn

Brooklyn

Hattie

Hattie

Posted in ...and In My Humble Opinion, My Heart, Published Work | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Precious

UnknownI had a really bad night sleep.

It started off great but by 3:17am it just went down hill. I still don’t know why my cats have to choose the floor by the foot of the bed in the dead of the night to huck up a fur ball. Jeff barely acknowledge the inside out retching.  I didn’t.  My mind swirled with images of Jeff stepping out of bed at zero dark thirty and into a pile of furry puke so I grabbed my flashlight and the carpet cleaner and got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed that carpet clean.  At 3:19am.

We don’t say I love you with cards and flowers and chocolates at the Barclay house. We say I love you by scrubbing cat vomit off the carpet at 3:19am so the other won’t step in it in the morning.

So I climbed back into bed, ode du Spot Shot replacing the essence of calming lavender.  It took about 30 minutes to bring myself back to my calm place and right when I was ready to plunge over the edge into Dreamland our cat hucked up another fur ball. In the hallway. I woke up just enough to calculate the sound of the heaving in relation to my pillow and deduced that it was out of Jeff’s morning ramble to the kitchen so I rolled over and muttered to my pillow, “Screw it.”

I was pretty much back to a sound sleep when our phone rang, at 5 flippin’ 52am.   Who calls at 5:52am?  Well, I’ll tell you, I didn’t give that person a chance to identify themselves because I was still smelling like Spot Shot. He sounded nice though, at least his stuttered words between my DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS? rhetorical rants did.

After that I laid my head back down on the pillow and looked up at the ceiling and mumbled in defeat, “I’m not going back to sleep.”  But I did!  Until Jeff came out of the bathroom in the dark and in order to avoid the site of the cat vomit he knew was there although chose not to acknowledge at 30 minutes past 3:19am, rammed into the wall and yelled out a single word expletive. I had no words. I just laid there in bed and laughed while Jeff limped down the hall.

So, I’m going on with my morning.  Doing some work.  Getting stuff done on minimal sleep when the phone rang.  It was the same number from this morning.  This was my chance to tell whoever called at 5:52am that was not cool.  I picked up the phone loaded and didn’t let them get a word in edgewise before I hung up, satisfied I had won the battle. Two minutes later, the phone rang again. It was that number!  I picked it up and firmly told them, “Take me off your call list!” and hung up. Then the curious part got to me.  Who was calling me?  I went to my phone and pressed the Caller ID button and got that number.  I dialed it on my cell phone and as I was waiting for someone to answer, my phone rang again.  It was them!  Like a well calculated Civil War battle my flanks had been surrounded.  For a brief second I was in shock at this assault but quickly regained my composure when I answered and then immediately slam down the landline phone with the incoming call as my cell phone call was picked up on the other end.

“Teleflora….”

Teleflora?  Flowers? What?

I explained to the young lady on the other end there must be a mistake, I have no idea why they would be calling me so much.

Her response? “It is in regards to the promotion …” and as hard as she tried to complete her sentence I shut her down.

“This is a mistake. Just stop calling.”

Because you see, this branch of the Barclay tree doesn’t say I love you with cards and flowers and chocolates.

Satisfied that in the end, I won this tireless battle, I sat back down at my computer and started working again when the phone rang.  Again. Teleflora!  After four times of going all attack mode on them I thought, I’ve got to kill them with kindness or this is never going to end.

So I answered, with probably a slight hint of defeat in my voice, “Hello.”

The voice on the other side was firm, yet so southern smooth, like the firmness of Hillary Clinton meets Maya Angelo meets Scarlett O’Hara smooth.  “Ma’am, my name is Precious, and before you hang up I have a question for you in regards to a flower order.”

Precious. Her name was Precious. Not Kate or Jennifer or Susan.  But Precious.  Well played, Teleflora.  Well played.

“Okay, what do you want?”

“Last week a flower order was made by a Jeff Barclay on your Alaska Airline credit card and we wanted to know what account you wanted those airline points added to.”

My response? “Wait. What?  This has to be a mistake.  Was our credit card account hacked? Because after 26 years of knowing this man I know he knows me well enough to not give me flowers for Valentines Day.”

Precious. Firm smooth Precious.  She reached through the phone with her voice and it was as if she grabbed my hands in hers and locked my eyes with hers and she calmly said, “Oh baby, I hate to ruin the surprise but your man bought you flowers.”

My response? “Damn it, Precious! Does this mean I have to buy him something now?”

Didn’t she get it?

This branch of the Barclay tree doesn’t say I love you with cards and flowers and chocolates.  We say I love you by scrubbing cat vomit off the carpet at 3:19am so the other won’t step in it in the morning.

That’s what this branch of the Barclay family tree does.

Really.

At least it was.

Until today.

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Never Turn

10339581_10202438148593260_6955960170831758957_nWhen Nick was in third grade my best friend was dying of cancer.  When we met in college, Kris immediately became my ‘sister’. We were both small town girls who still valued our small town ideals even though we were at the big university.   Looking back at our time together I have often said we grew up together…not in the terms of spending our childhood together…but in sharing monumental life changing events.  We grew together as novice mom’s seeking each others advice, we grew together as angry friends trying to cope with a devastating disease, we grew together as compliant friends knowing our time together here on earth was so short but in return so very precious, and finally we grew together as we held on to each other in the final days of her life.

Kris was a favorite “aunt” to my kids.  They loved her almost as much as they loved me, their own mom.  I was okay with that because everyone needs a few ‘moms’ in their lives, right?  When Kris’ husband called to tell me her death was imminent I was faced with a choice I never wanted to make in my life…do I take my children to say good-bye forever to someone they loved so dearly?  I thought hard.  I mean, I thought really hard about the impact this good-bye would have on my sweet Mayberry children.

I will be the first to admit I am not overly religious to the point I attend church every Sunday.  I do, however, believe in God and the power of the strength of faith. I was a witness to that faith every day in Ethiopia, when I would wake to the chants of the faithful being broadcast across the rooftops, awaking even those who seemingly have nothing to wake up to.  But each morning they rose to find faith in their God and that faith was enough to pick themselves up off the side of the road and start their day all over again. I admire that kind of faith.  The kind of faith that isn’t found between the leather covers of a bible. I find it ironic that on this occasion, where I was digging deep for an answer, it came to me in seven simple words extracted from a bible verse quoted in a Readers Digest I had plucked from a magazine rack while waiting in line at the grocery store.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.   I was sick and you visited me.

And there, in those seven simple words was my answer. Regardless of how troubling it was for me to face, I was not the one sick.  I was not the one dying.

A melting blanket of snow covered the ground on that Sunday morning in January when Hannah, Nick, and I set out for our good-bye visit.  As best as I could, I explained to them the situation.  They were as prepared as I could prepare them for what they were about to face sixty minutes south on Interstate 5.  When we pulled into Kris’ familiar driveway, Hannah immediately sidled up to me and in a panicked voice told me she couldn’t do it.  She couldn’t face seeing Kris so sick.  I respected her choice.  And I loved her all the more for her honesty. Kris knew Hannah was “with” her.  Nick, on the other hand, my snips and snails and puppy dog tails boy, didn’t flinch. J2032x1520-01024

Nick was into magic that winter.  He got a magic kit from Santa a few weeks earlier.  Little did I know he had snuck a deck of trick cards into his coat pocket.  About an hour into our visit, I heard a faint knock on the bedroom door.  Nick poked his head in and asked if he could show Kris something.  I scooted my chair back away from Kris’ bedside to make room for him.  Not only did he come directly to the bedside, he climbed up on the bed, settled in an Indian style pose, and then with a crooked smile looked a dying friend in the eye and told her he was going to show her a “magic twick”.

So there, on that wintery January day,  was my nine year old son, a magicians deck of cards in his hands, sitting on Kris’ hospital bed showing her his magic trick.  Kris, with all the strength she could muster, opened her eyes and watched.  She smiled. Reached out. Touched. Let go.  I watched her exchange with Nick.  Seated in the chair out of her line of vision I cried.   From the hall, Kris’ son Trevor called to Nick and as swiftly as he entered the room, he was gone again.  Off to play with a friend whose mom was dying. That is how Nick said good-bye forever to Kris. I scooted my chair back to be next to her bed and reached out to grab her hand, and I held on as tight as I could, never wanting to let go.  But eventually I did.  And she did too, six days later.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. 

And with that, on that snowy winter day, Kris and I taught my children our final lesson together. The most powerful lesson we could ever teach.

To never, ever turn your back.

Posted in Good Kids, Growing Up, Herding Boys, Life With More Than 2.5 Children, Snips and Snails and Compassionate Tales | Leave a comment

Listen

Free-Hugs

Call me Pollyanna, but I believe in the future.  I’m not giving up.

There is potential and it is in the hearts of children, some of them whose beginnings were nothing short of grim.

I believe that every child in this world has the potential to do great things. And regardless of the beginnings it is their middle and end that will save us.  The one catch though is we as parents have got to stop stonewalling that potential.  Look what happens when we allow ourselves to park the mini van, put the year round cleats in the closet for a season, stop trying to live our lives through our children, and just listen to them.  They have a message for us.  They have a message for our world.

Listen.

“Free Hugs”. Two words on a sign and a child, making our disillusioned hearts grow three sizes, like a Grinch on Christmas Eve.

Clean water.  Two words and a child speaking out for nameless villages across the world because he knows better than most people his age that where you live should not determine if you live.

Cupcakes. One word and a child bringing a smile to those who wander the streets with a little reminder of what is truly sweet in our world.

Hugs from Heaven. Three words and a child honoring her grandma by delivering bags filled with blankets, shoes, hats, and stuffed animals to babies in a NICU.

Shoes.  One word and a child collecting 25,000 pairs of shoes for those who have none.

What do these children have in common?  Someone listened to them. And then someone else listened to them. And then, movers and shakers listened to them.  And then, the world listened to them.

Listen.

We can give our kids balance.  There is room for both extra curricular and service but the center pillar must be reality and the reality is if we don’t listen to our kids and give them a break in their scheduled-to-the-minute days to allow them to take action to be the change, that balance will permanently be tipped towards the ME rather than the WE that the change in this world so desperately needs.   Change will never happen. I promise you that.  It will never happen if you don’t just stop and listen to the children.

So tonight, instead of asking your kids what team they want to be on next ask them, “What do you want to do to change the world?”  Ask them.

And then…just listen.

Posted in ...and In My Humble Opinion, Good Kids, Growing Up, Life With More Than 2.5 Children | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gift Exchange

20141011_162049Eleven years ago yesterday I met my eighteen year old son for the very first time.

I remember sitting on the lemon chiffon colored leather couch in the perfectly lacquered and polished greeting room at the Beijing Children’s Welfare Institute thinking, “This is my delivery room. This is where I meet our son.”  But on that morning, in the smog filled capital city of China, I was delivered more than a son, I was delivered a life changing gift. It is one I will never ever forget.

I remember sitting there, waiting for this rock star to walk into the room when the door slowly creaked open and this little boy barely tall enough to rest his chin on the door knob walked in.  He stood in the doorway briefly and during those few seconds I scanned my new son from head to toe.   He was tiny.  And so frail.   So not the giant rock star persona his thumbnail images represented in my mind.  I looked down at his hands.  His bony hands, where every tendon was a network of ridges, and in those hands he held a simple paper bag the size of a lunch sack.  I looked at that bag and under my breath I said, “Isn’t that sweet.  He’s brought me a gift.”

ME.

We were introduced.  He called me MaaMa.  I called him Baoshan.  His smile captured my heart.  I gave him a blue paper  bag full of little gifts.  A watch.  Bags of fruit snacks. A matchbox car. Sculpey clay.    Then I coaxed him into handing me the bag he held in his hands. A gift exchange!   The bag was feather weight.   As I began to open it he snatched it back into his hands.  He reached into it and pulled out a sea shell, like one that would house a hermit crab.  Glued to the narrow end of the shell was a red straw cut to about an inch.  He brought it to his lips and blew.  It was a homemade whistle. After he showed me how it worked he carefully placed it back into the brown bag, folded the top of the bag over and put it inside the gift bag I had brought.

He had made me a whistle.

I didn’t think much of his grabbing the whistle and putting it back into his brown paper bag.  I thought he was going to hang on to it for me.

I certainly wasn’t thinking like an orphan who had been institutionalized for several years.

Then, not much later, as we were gathering our documents and getting ready to head back to the hotel,  I looked around for a small suitcase or backpack or something that  held his stuff and I realized he DIDN’T have anything to carry out to the van…no suitcase…no overnight bag…no nothing…and it hit me like a sucker punch to the gut.    That  brown paper bag?  The bag I thought I was entitled to because I was coming across the ocean to bring him home?  The one that held the simple sea shell whistle? That bag wasn’t mine.  That bag and what was in it was everything that little boy could call his own.

And it was then, at that moment, my entitled world shifted.

I’ve never been the same.

My son.  My eighteen year old son who on the day we met for the first time eleven years ago yesterday couldn’t speak a word of English but in our defining first moments as mom and son I gave him the gift of fruit snacks and he in turn gave me the gift of humility.

 

 

 

 

Posted in China Adoption, Growing Up, Older Child Adoption, Special Needs Adoption, The Waiting Child Adoption | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment