This is what I learned really quickly after becoming a mother: mothers are very interested in other mothers.
When I started my blog, I hoped to at least entertain my close friends and family, and had a little dream of building a loyal local audience.
My expectations were met and exceeded. Week after week, you readers, you mothers, sit down and read my ramblings, gleaning them for tips, advice, a chuckle, but mostly for validation. You share back at me and with each other and I find myself terribly curious about who you are.
We all pay close attention to each other. In the park, at the mall, online. That other mother. How does she do it? Why does she do it? Does she do it the same way I do? Would I do it like her? Can I learn from her?
So, in the spirit of not boring you all to death with my story week after week, I’d like to introduce you to each other, your fellow 6:30 and a Glass of Wine mothers. Starting with Charlsey Davis….
In the north of Maine, up above the populated coast, keep going past the last American outposts of cinemas and strip malls in Bangor and Augusta, lies the big, forested, potato country of Aroostook county or, “the county”, as it’s called here. In the county, the people are few, the trees and moose are many, the land is beautiful and twenty-nine year old Charlsey Davis lives there with her husband Sean and their adorable four year old girl, Hadley.
Hadley has Down’s Syndrome.
Charlsey invited me and “Baby 6:30” as she calls him( I love it and am stealing it!) to attend Hadley’s fourth birthday party. Not one to miss out on a party, I happily accepted the offer and packed little 6:30, Miranda the nanny, and myself into the car and headed up north.
It’s clear to see how sweet Hadley is. Her family are a hoot! The food was delicious. We had a great time.
The first thing you need to know about Charlsey is her full name: Charlsey Anganetha( Greulich-Garnett) Davis! Say what?
The second thing you should know is how funny she is, and how she uses her sense of humor to weather some of the awkward moments of raising a child with Down’s.
You cannot offend me. You’re talking to the family that refers to the Jack Daniels drink as Down’s Home Punch and Hadley’s accent as a Downseast accent! If you can’t have a sense of humor about something, what do you have?! I had someone ask me once when she “got” Down Syndrome. Instead of responding “I’m pretty sure she was conceived the first weekend in August…so probably then. Hospitals are germy places, but you don’t just catch Down’s there!” like I REALLY wanted to, I responded…”Oh. She was born with it.”
I was concerned about Down’s Syndrome when I was pregnant, what with my “advanced maternal age”. When my screen results put my baby’s risk for Down’s at roughly that of a twenty-one year old, I relaxed. Charlsey was twenty-five when Hadley was born. She’d had no screening, no tests. She was completely blindsided.
I knew the first time I held Hadley that she had Down’s. No one said anything about a diagnosis so I put it in the back of my mind and was just enjoying the fact that I had a new baby. It wasn’t until three days later when she was transferred to the NICU that anyone even mentioned Down Syndrome. At that point, I think both my husband and I were in a state of shock and denial. Up until the blood test came back and confirmed Trisomy 21, we were still talking to the doctor’s like “IF she doesn’t have Down Syndrome….” I’m sure they thought we were ridiculous! I was a wreck the whole time she was in the NICU. She was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect (a relatively minor heart condition!) and to me it was the end of the world. Secretly (and sometimes not so secretly), I cried for six months after Hadley was born. Not because I didn’t want her or I was embarrassed of her but just because of the unknowns… Would she talk? Would she walk? Will people make fun of her? Will she face health problems from here on out? Will she get married? Who will take care of her when I’m gone? I am so happy that I had her. I’m so proud of what she is and does. I love her personality. She makes people smile. My goal, like any mother, is to make her life the best that it can be. She will be fine. Just because she has Down’s doesn’t mean she can’t do great things, get married, or change the world in some way!
I didn’t know what to expect of Charlsey as a mommy. Would she be nervous and over-protective of her girl? Nope. In fact, she was considerably less nutso than a certain other mom( er..me) might have been at her child’s birthday party. But that is a blog for another time….
And Hadley? Like any four year old girl at her birthday party. Excited, cute, bored, shy, playful…..
When we spoke outside, after the cake and ice cream, Charlsey told me how she parents a little light in the discipline. She suspects that she may be the target of some Juthering in that respect, but is unconcerned. As she sees it, Hadley learns from all her exploits, and ultimately growth and development are the goals, however Hadley gets there.
I think that there is a huge misconception that Down Syndrome people are happy all the time. Because I have a child with Down’s, my daily life must be full of rainbows and angels singing. Not so much. Hadley is NOT happy all of the time, she has a temper, she is defiant, when she is mad her strength is superhuman, she is as stubborn as a mule, and sometimes I feel the need to refer to her as “Satan” or “It” and drive my own head through a wall. But guess how happy I am that my child has that personality and the ability to think for herself? She painted her entire body with fingernail polish? Hey…at least she could figure out how to get the bottle open. She told me she doesn’t like me? Hey! At least she can speak! (Of course, these reactions are all long after the action takes place…usually at the time, I have to call my aunt and curse like a sailor to calm myself down). If she wants to stand on the table, run out on the lawn naked, climb the stairs, or play with the remotes, I don’t harp on her. I pretty much just let her do it. She’s exploring and that’s how she learns. She’s pretty independent and actually learns a lot by herself. I don’t know that raising a child with Down’s is really any more difficult than raising any other child…but I don’t know the difference so it’s the norm to me. And, trust me, there is nothing normal about my house.
Most of us probably can’t imagine living in such a remote location as the northern woods of Maine, but it’s home for Charlsey and her family. And like most small communities, everyone is treated like family- a blessing for Charlsey and Hadley.
I think being from the county and a small town has had a huge influence on our lives. My family and friends came together after Hadley was born and every one of them deserves credit for having a hand in raising her. Each one of them exposes her to a different kind of fun, discipline, interest, etc. How many one year old’s have 60+ people at their birthday party? Hadley did! People from the area truly care. They speak to her when we go to the store, they send her Valentine’s, and they show that they genuinely care! I’m sure that if we were from a larger area, that same thing wouldn’t happen and people would have no idea who she was. A child needs love…and Hadley has that here!
Charlsey’s thoughts on motherhood:
I guess my mothering philosophy is kind of a fly by the seat of your pants/mother knows best/pick your battles. We came home from the NICU on a Saturday, my aunt stayed with us the first night home, and my husband went back to work on Monday. I remember that feeling of panic that I was going to be home with this small being. A.l.o.n.e. I had no idea what to do! Then I realized that I would just know…and we fell into our own little routine. I’m sure people have judged my parenting, my lack of discipline, the fact that I sometimes laugh when she swears, or that I wipe a snotty nose with my sleeve when I have no tissue handy…but it works!
Charlsey has no regrets. I asked her if the challenges of raising Hadley had influenced her decision about more children? Not at all.
If I could have ten more like her, I would.
Thanks again to Charlsey, Sean and Hadley for welcoming me to their celebration.