Remember that one time when you had to ride the school bus with no one you knew? Remember when you moved to a  brand new town? Do you recall how exposed your nerves were when you started that new job or a when a familiar face was not to be found on campus? What about how timid you felt when you sat by yourself at a restaurant while laughter swirled around you? Remember the way your feelings swallowed you whole when you felt alone, frightened, inferior? Ok, so those feelings to the tenth power, that is how you feel when you enter the new world of parenting a baby with Down Syndrome.

Now, think about that first warm smile you finally found across the room. Remember how it melted your fears into a puddle at your feet ?Or when you spotted a familiar face and sighed a relief that made you actually weigh less. What about when you shared one lunch with a new friend….. then two, then three and you wonder why you were ever so scared in the first place?  Think about how some of your loneliest days were followed by meeting some of the very best that you have ever known…and that is what GiGi’s  Playhouse means to our little Craver family.

It all started on World Down Syndrome Day in March, just four months after our peanut was born….and while we went to the event, twenty people deep, hoping our family and friends would shield us from any pain… we didn’t need it.  We loved the support, and soaked it all in ceremoniously  but we did not need it.  We were met with knowing smiles and cozy handshakes; hugs even.  We won gifts, exchanged stories, and while we protected ourselves by being with the ones who loved us unconditionally, we saw the joy that surrounded us. Others we didn’t know dressed in blue and yellow with their mismatch socks and they rejoiced, celebrated and did nothing less than beam about knowing someone with Down Syndrome. On that day, frowns were erased and replaced by giant, “they make it look so easy ” grins.

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Our next encounter we braved solo. Bobby, Calvin,Judah and I packed ourselves up in the van and attempted GiGi’s   for open play. I was nervous, jittery, afraid I would over-talk as if to compensate. So I overcompensated, wiped beads of sweat from my brow and had the time of my life. Hours escaped  as I introduced, played games and took in beautiful black and white photos of others with that common chromosome. Calvin had a ball too. He didn’t notice a thing except for toys and smiling and friends. Ahh, a child’s life… that precious time before society mandates who is acceptable.  We spoke to one marvelous young lady named Julie. She was an awe-inspiring advocate. She traveled the country and proudly gloated about her accomplishments.  She handed me her heart shaped business card and she just happened to have Down Syndrome.  She was a force.  The whole ride home, Bobby and I could not stop sharing all of the virtue we witnessed.  When we chatted about Julie, Bobby said that if he was speaking to her and not facing her, we would have never known she had Down Syndrome, so true,…..but she did and she was noble and she was our friend and everyone was majestic and they made me downright giddy. My heart lightened even a little bit more and I remember deciding… yes, this will be my cause too. It is everything that is right about this world, and I want in on the feel goods.

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So, when GiGi’s  had a family fun night , it was only fitting that we roll up with the all 18 of the Shore/Craver crew.  We came  in hot, with our traditional dishes to pass and 7 kids under 7.  As we kept filing in I thought “uh-oh, maybe this is all too much.”  After all, we were brand new to the world of the Playhouse and everything Down Syndrome….yet we were taking over some serious real estate.  Luckily,  just as I anticipated,  everyone was terrific.  This is not to say that we were flung into the spotlight where everyone ooh’d and ahh’d over baby Judah.  No, it was better than that….we were just part of it.  People grinned at us and we prattled on about the food, about the kids, about our jobs.  Meanwhile littles of all ages and of all abilities whirled around us doing their kid things.  Some things nice, some naughty and all so very ordinary. It was a peek into our future, a future filled with normality and specialty all at the very same time.

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I think our latest rendezvous was specifically designed just for Bobby and I.  It was a glorious fundraiser held at The Bull and Bear Roadhouse.   It was complete with celebrity guest bartenders, a silent auction and shots for sale to benefit GiGi’s .   Unexpectedly, even some of our friends showed up!!  We were sponges at this event.  We were able to see the reality that there is a part of life without the kids and without the guilt.  I mean, lets not act like Bobby and I haven’t enjoyed an adult beverage since our little prince was born.  We all know that would be a fib….but something spectacular happened here. Other parents who had children with Down Syndrome were letting loose too.  They were reminding themselves that they were a couple once (first) before they had a child with special needs.  They were celebrating the spark that brought them to it , the one that would guide them through it….and they (we) were having loads of fun doing it….Every giggle and high five screamed “you are allowed to have fun with this life.”….and thank goodness, because I can’t even begin to envision a life without fun.

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Speaking of fun…….the reason I brought you to this little blog post today.  I promise I won’t usually have ulterior motives, but on this day I do. Now that you know what GiGi’s Playhouse means to our family, I am hoping you will want to see the magic first hand.  We have created a team for the fun run on August 22nd and it is appropriately named Team #joysofjudah.  Our team will be running (I will be walking) smiling, cheering and supporting… all to help out Gigi’s Playhouse and ultimately our Bubba.    Please join us on this day, we would LOVE to have you… and really, who doesn’t like smiling????  If you can’t accompany us, please consider donating to our new friends, our hope, our future.  Judah thanks you from the bottom of his big, loving heart!

You can join here .

As always, thank you for loving us.  xoxo

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