And now as we celebrate Roo’s 4th birthday, I find myself wanting to give you another “State of the Zoo” address. But the title “Down syndrome, 4 years later” just didn’t seem right. This isn’t about a disability. This is about 1 amazing child, and the work God is doing through him.
So let me tell you a little bit about this 4-year-old who lives in my house.
He is incredibly sweet. Every morning when I walk into his room he says, “Hi, Mommy” in a soft little voice, trying not to wake up his big brother (who is invariably dead to the world). When I reach to pick him up out of bed (Yes, he’s still in a crib. Don’t judge me. I’m working on it.), he grabs my face with two hands and plants a beautiful kiss on my cheek. This is usually followed up with kisses to my shoulder and arm as I carry him to the changing table.
He is incredibly ornery. In fact, “incredibly” seems insufficient. “Ornery” seems insufficient. When we discipline him, he tends to respond one of three ways: 1-with a prolonged look of consternation, after which he decides, “OK, fine. I’ll obey. But only because I don’t really want to do whatever wrong thing I was doing anyway”, 2-with the same prolonged look of consternation, after which he decides, “Whatever. I’m cute. You won’t be mad for long,” and continues to do whatever it is you have just disciplined him for, or 3-by doing something completely ornery but so stinking cute that you have to walk away to keep from laughing—like making faces at you while you are trying to stare sternly into his eyes. Also, when I tell him to get out of a room (like my office, the pantry, the bathroom, etc), he will pause for a moment, then run away yelling, "RUN!!!!!" So he technically obeyed, while somehow making it out like he's being tortured by a monster and must get away. Or.ner.y.
He talks ALL.THE.TIME. We seriously do not have a moment of quiet from this boy, and it is wonderful. He still babbles in his own private language a lot, but he also has a ton of real actual words. Apparently he is much quieter at school, and after receiving his IEP report from the speech therapist that said she was hearing about 15 independent words from him (words that he spoke on his own, not just repeating what someone else said), I decided to make my own list of the words and phrases that he says regularly. The therapist’s goal was to get him to 50. So far I have come up with NINETY-THREE, plus some animal sounds and other noises. Next week I will share the list with you, because it is just so darn exciting. :-)
He loves music. LOVES music. Sing him a song, and he will start to catch on almost immediately. I have caught him in the grocery store, singing along with whatever is playing in the background, and think, “Where on earth did he learn that?” He especially loves “Jesus Loves Me”, “Happy Birthday” and “Let it Go” (from “Frozen”), but there are many, many others that he knows and sings. Far too many for me to list. Oh, but one bears mentioning: “What does the Fox Say?” If you ask this boy what a cow says, he won’t know how to answer you, even though he knows that cows say “moo.” The same if you ask him what a dog or cat or horse says. (He has trouble understanding questions.) But if you say, “Hey, Roo, what does the fox say?” He will answer emphatically, “Ding-a-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!” For real. It is fabulous.
In case you need a visual reminder of his love of music, check out his singing skills here…
And his dancing skills here…
He is a runner. This is a somewhat serious issue of concern for me. (Dear Lord, thank you for this boy’s independent spirit that I know is going to be an attribute someday… but could you reign it in just a little? Thanks.) Because of this, his classroom is the only one in the school where you will regularly find the door closed. It has also gotten him into trouble at church (and we go to a big church with multiple additions that can be a bit harrowing to navigate), where he has (to name a few) shut himself into a classroom and no one knew where he was for forty-five minutes, run out of the classroom while other parents were coming to pick up their kids (fortunately, I arrived just then, so I was able to snag him!), and taken off down a hall without our realizing it—and we caught him just as he was trying to push open a door to a staircase that could have taken him to any number of halls (or outside). This is scary business for me. It also means that I have developed a bladder of steel, because heaven forbid that I need to pee while we’re out somewhere.
He is not totally bald. Don’t let the pictures deceive you. The fact is, he has three hairs on the right side of his head. Mr. Fantastic wants to cut them. I think they’re adorable. Also, his eyebrows and lashes are growing back, which makes us wonder if the hair on his head will grow back as well—and wonder if we really want it to. I mean, he really does rock that bald head.
He is delightfully small for his age. I recently tried some 3T clothes on him, and they are still just too big. At his most recent doctor’s appointment, he weighed just over 27 lb. (An average 4-year-old weighs 40 pounds.) To be honest, I think this works in our favor, as I think it helps people to be more patient with him. They don’t expect him to behave like a “typical” 4-year-old. Well, at least some people don’t. At other times, it’s hard for people to understand that we are teaching him boundaries and social expectations and what is or isn’t appropriate, but it just takes him longer to get it. Which leads me to my next point…
He needs to work on sharing. A lot. Is Roo playing with a toy and you want it? Tough. Are you playing with a toy that Roo wants? You’d better watch your back. The other day we went to the zoo, and we were the only ones watching the sloth bear. Then another lady came up to the exhibit and stood at the far end of the glass. Roo ran across the front of the glass and tried to push her away. Again, please don’t think that I tolerate this behavior—I do discipline him, for real. But it’s just such.a.process. His stubbornness + his orneriness + his poor short-term memory = the need for much patience. We don’t do many play dates, and the ones we do often end in tears—for me, not him. Between his tendency to run off and his tendency to demand/take whatever he thinks should be rightfully his, I have to watch him like a hawk during all social situations, and it wears this mama out.
He loves school. He gets so excited to get on the bus every Tuesday and Thursday. I haven’t had many opportunities to visit him in his class, but he was having a blast every time I have been there. And I *think* he is better behaved there than for me. You know the above social issues I mentioned? I don't hear about those from his teacher, so I take that as a good sign. (In fact, when I visited last week, he immediately climbed up on the table. When they told him to get down, he did… and then threw himself on the ground and started to scoot along like a snake. They assured me that he has never done that before, which I found funny, as those are both regular occurrences at home.)
He enjoys reading… on his terms. His favorite books are Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See? Oh, and now a pop-up book that he got for his birthday. Try to read him anything else, and he will slam it closed on your fingers.
He will finally sit still for a television show. Until the past 2 months, this was not the case. He had ZERO interest in the TV. Not that I want my kiddos sitting in front of the tube all day long, but… well, come on. A tiny bit of a TV break every now and then is kind of nice. Somehow, though, he discovered a show called “Paw Patrol”, and he is enthralled with it. Also, he has seen “Frozen” approximately a bazillion times, and will still sit through an entire showing. Actually, that’s not true. He gets up and dances to every song.
He LOVES his brother and sister. Once I’ve had my good morning kisses, he turns his attention to his siblings. First he calls for Monkey. If Monkey is still asleep (which he usually is), Roo climbs into his bed to wake him up. Then he needs to check on Lamb. When we pick them up from school, he starts calling for them by name as soon as we pull in the parking lot. When they practice the piano, he sits in the chair behind them and babbles off commands, or counts random rhythms for them to follow.
He wants everyone to be happy. He can be wary of strangers coming up to talk to him (especially women—he absolutely LOVES men), but show him someone with a frown on their face and he feels the need to fix it. And the less interested they are in him, the more determined he is to make them smile. He will bellow out, “Hi! Hiiii! HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!” long after the unhappy person is out of sight, or make funny faces at people who are ignoring him in Walmart. If someone in our family is grumpy or sad, they immediately become his project, and there is no rest until he has elicited a smile or laugh.
He is irresistible. I think that's actually why some people refuse to look him in the eye--because they know they just won't be able to resist the cuteness if they do. People at our local Giant Eagle get upset if I come without him. People everywhere we go will stop and talk to him or tell us how adorable he is. People in random places will come up to us and say, "Oh, so you're Roo's parents?" Which always leaves us wondering how he knows more people than we do. But you just can't look at that smile without being affected. It is an amazing gift.
And that is my boy. All of that and so much more. He is a delight… and a challenge. He makes me laugh… and cry. I celebrate with him… and discipline him. He is by far my toughest child… and my most joyful. And when I tell people these things, they ask, “Why?” “Why did he lose all of his hair? Is it because he has Down syndrome?” “Why does he have no sense of danger? Is it because of his disability?” “Does Down’s make him more ornery and stubborn, do you think?”
I spent a long time being uncomfortable with those questions. (They are perfectly reasonable questions, by the way. Ones that I myself would have asked before Roo.) Attributing all of those things to a teeny tiny extra chromosome never sat right with me. No different than people telling me, “People with Down syndrome are always so happy!” (There’s a whole zoo full of people who witnessed me pulling Roo off of the carousel who could attest to the lie in that!) It’s just too simplistic.
So here’s my answer… It’s Roo. He does and is and loves those things because he is… Roo. God gave him desires, strengths, challenges, talents, weaknesses—and an extra chromosome. None of those things can be singled out, separated from him, because all of that makes up Roo. And that is pretty incredible.