11 December 2010


My oh My! It has been a while since I blogged. Two months in fact! I have never before been so silent, and this is not like me… In truth it has been a mixture of over-busyness (most of the time) and lapses into deep laziness (temporary but so rejuvenating). It is not that there is nothing to report. It is more that too many fingers into too many pies don’t do much for Reflection.

The main event, the one that I have wanted to post about for a while but did not get around to, started a few weeks ago. In itself, it is one of those “little things” we take for granted. One of these steps that occurs as part of life with a young child, that parents (and grand-parents) celebrate but don’t make that much of a big fuss about, because it is expected, it is the norm. In Cathal’s case, of course, it is much more.

When Cathal’s Mammy was very small, she liked playing on her own in the house, but came to a stage when it became obvious she needed more. Also her little brother was on the way, and I needed more time for me. So at age 2 ½ she went to playschool. She was the youngest there, and started as a shy but observant little girl, not saying nor doing much for the first few weeks, just watching thoughtfully. Until one morning the teacher asked, in Irish, what colour was the object she was holding… perfect silence around the circle of children. And then Cathal’s Mammy timidly puts up her hand. You see, from birth her dad spoke Irish to her, and her mum spoke French to her, and she heard English all around… so colours in Irish were no problem to her, even at 2 ½! From that day on, there was no stopping her.

When her brother reached the grand old age of 2 years minus 1 week, something had to be done: he could not understand why his big sister was going to school and he was not. He would go around the house feeling sorry for himself, sighing, and generally looking so bored it broke my heart: I could recognise myself in him, having grown up as an only child until I was twelve, and having hated so much the loneliness and boredom due to lack of siblings around me. So the week of his 2nd birthday, he was farmed out to playschool a couple of mornings a week, and he loved it!

My children may have gone to playschool a little earlier than most, at least by Irish standards at the time, but it was inevitable that they would go, it was expected, it was part of the curriculum every child goes through.

Cathal took his turn to starting playschool a few weeks ago. In itself, nothing major about it. Except that it is a Montessori school. Not special needs. Not Early Intervention. Not Skip. Just good old-fashion, run-of-the-mill, ordinary Montessori school. And THAT is major for Cathal.

Finding such a school was not that easy. The fact that Cathal does not walk, and that he is still in nappies, meant a few “no’s” were expressed in what would have been his parents’ first choices. And then this one came on the radar. It is also a crèche, and the Montessori sessions (e.g. the school part of it) are also available to all the children in the crèche from 12 months of age. So bum-shuffling nappy-wearing little ones are not an issue there. Cathal was more than welcome.

The first time, he was there for just one hour. His Mammy reported that he was happy to see her, but not over enthusiastic at going home. The second time, he was there for two hours, and almost ignored her when she came back. Since then he does not want to come home, and is now staying a full three hours once a week. After Christmas, he will go twice a week, giving his Mammy a well-deserved break and quality me-time (especially before the new baby arrives!) Most importantly, Cathal gets right in the middle of things, follows the other children, gets involved in all the activities, has his 11 o’clock break like anyone else. The other children do not know any different. He does not know any different.

In short, total integration. More than anything else he has experienced in his life so far, that is the first true step towards independence. No matter what kind of education system he follows later on, mainstream or special, this little school is contributing to giving him his own space in society.

I am very proud of him for willingly accepting this new challenge, and very proud of his parents for ensuring he is given this chance. I am also very thankful to the playschool for saying “yes, no problem”. And I am wishing all educational places that come along his path in the future will have the same attitude towards him.

10 October 2010

It’s the little things

Ce sont les petites choses

It is so easy to go along life taking things for granted, and then despairing that progress is not taking the more conventional route. Cathal is constantly reminding me that Little Things matter much more than I would have given them credit for.

Il est si facile de voyager dans notre vie en prenant les choses comme des événements naturels, et en se désespérant quand les progrès attendus ne suivent pas la route espérée. Cathal me rappelle constamment que les Petites Choses ont beaucoup plus d’importance que je ne suis prête à leur donner.

Little things like standing:
Most children start standing around 8 to 10 months, to start walking around 12 to 16 months. When a 10 months old child pulls himself standing for the first time, we naturally marvel at this new acquisition, yet we expect it. It’s the way it should be.

Des petites choses comme se tenir debout :
La plupart des enfants commencent à se tenir debout vers 8 à 10 mois, et commencent à marcher vers 12 à 16 mois. Quand un enfant de 10 mois se met debout de lui-même pour la première fois, naturellement nous émerveillons de ce nouvel acquis, mais en fait nous nous y attendons. C’est dans la nature des choses.

Cathal is 2 ½ years old and he does not walk. In fact he does not pull him to stand up on his own… Or does he? A couple of weeks ago, he was in my home and I was preparing a bath for him (he had asked me for it). There I was, getting it ready. There he was, sitting on the bathroom floor, flinging toys over the side into the tub. I turn around to take his sponge and bath gel, turn back – Cathal is standing up all by himself, holding on to the side of the tub, looking in with delight at the floating toys. Progress – Little Thing – Big Joy.

Cathal a 2 ans et demi et ne marche pas. En fait, il ne se met pas debout tout seul… Mais cela est-il bien vrai ? Il y a deux semaines, il était chez moi et je lui préparais un bain (il me l’avait demandé). Donc je préparais le bain. Il était assis par terre dans la salle de bain, lançant les jouets par dessus le rebord et dans la baignoire. Je ne tourne pour prendre son éponge et le produit de bain, me retourne – Cathal est debout comme un grand, se tenant au rebord de la baignoire, regardant avec plaisir ses jouets qui flottent. Progrès – Petite Chose – Grande Joie.

Little things like eating sweet food:
We expect all children to like sweet food, to be inquisitive enough to want to try everything, and develop a taste for what we perceive as “nice”. And Chocolate being a favourite for most people, we expect all children to like it. And most do.

Des petites choses comme manger des aliments sucrés :
Nous pensons que tous les enfants aiment les aliments sucrés, sont assez curieux pour vouloir tout essayer, and développent un goût pour ce que nous pensons être « bon ». Et comme le chocolat est un aliment aimé par la majorité des gens, nous pensons que tous les enfants l’aiment. C’est le cas pour la plupart.

Cathal is very particular about food. He used to eat very varied types at one stage, but at one point decided to eat only his favourites and nothing else. And his answer to the suggestion to anything outside of the list is “NO”, or more often a very teenage-sounding “Noooooo”!… Or is it? Lately he has been very interested in some biscuits that he takes out of the packet himself, when he thinks that we did not know what he was doing. But always staying well away from the chocolate ones. This until a few days ago, where one was devoured with great satisfaction, and then the proof was shown to us with mischief. Another Progress – Another Little Thing – Another Big Joy.

Cathal est très difficile en ce qui concerne la nourriture. Il fut un temps où il avait l’habitude de manger toutes sortes de choses, mais il a finit par décider qu’il ne voulait manger que ses aliments préférés et rien d’autre. Et sa réponse quand on lui suggère quelque chose qui n’est pas sur la liste est « NON », ou plus souvent un « Noooooon » aux accents d’adolescence !... Mais cela est-il bien vrai ? Ces derniers temps il est très intéressé par certains biscuits qu’il sort lui-même du paquet, quand il pense que nous ne savons pas ce qu’il fait. Mais il évite toujours ceux au chocolat. Ceci jusqu’à il y quelques jours, quand un fut dévoré avec beaucoup de satisfaction, puis la preuve nous fut montré avec beaucoup de malice. Un autre Progrès – Une autre Petite Chose - Une haute Grande Joie.

But the best little thing lately has been that Cathal, unlike most 2 ½ year olds, recognises letters, knows their sounds, and associates them with other concept. This clip gives a flavour – though of course as any true star he was more interested in watching himself on the camera screen that being recorded! This is more than just Progress, this Big Thing – Big Joy.

Mais récemment la meilleure petite chose est que Cathal, comme peu d’enfants de 2 ans et demi, reconnaît les lettres de l’alphabet, connais leur son, et les associe à d’autres idées. Ce clip vidéo donne une idée – bien que, évidemment comme toute star, il était plus intéressé à se regarder sur l’écran de l’appareil plutôt que d’être filmé ! Ceci est plus que du Progrès, c’est une Grande Chose – une Grand Joie.
(Petite explication qui ceux qui ne connaissent pas l’anglais : dans cette langue, le son de la lettre « i » est aussi le son du mot pour « œil »)

Little things make all the difference, show us that progress is happening, even though we might not believe so. Instead of thinking of what is not happening, we should always focus on what is.

Les petites choses font toute la différence, nous montrent qu’il y a progrès, même quand nous n’y croyons pas. Au lieu de penser à ce qui ne se passe pas, nous devrions toujours nous concentrer sur ce qui se passe.

19 September 2010

Never Too Young to Start Reading James Joyce

Books have always been part of my life. I do not know when I was given my first book, but I know they are always there. My earliest memory is of a brightly illustrated version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There was also at some point an Atlas of the World with illustrations of animals. I remember going over it, page by page, for years. So when my first child was born, I passed this love of books on to her. And the same with her brother three years later. They were barely a few weeks old and they would get to listen to stories, and hold the books and play with them. Meg and Mog were favourites. So were the Billy Goats Gruff. As they got older I was given the chance to catch up on the classics of English language children’s literature (having missed out of them as a child since I was brought up in the French language): the original Winnie the Poo (not the sanitized Disney version), the genius of Roald Dahl, the fabulous Narnia Chronicles (I have been slowly savouring those again in the last few months) but to name of few.

So when Cathal was born, the magic was passed on by his parents, and myself, and books appeared around him within a very short time. In a way, they became quite important for him, especially when he was very sick in hospital after his open-heart surgery. I noticed that reading to him a short book, pointing out to the picture, getting him to “touch & feel” were ideally suited to him at that time: easy activities as they required little physical effort, and just enough to get his mind off the pain for a while.

I have kept one of the books his mother and uncle particularly liked. I consider it a little treasure. We read it every time Cathal comes to my home for a sleep-over (this is our thing, just the two of us, with no one else involved). It is the Cat and the Devil, originally a letter written by James Joyce himself to his grand-son Stephen in 1936 and put into book form, with wonderful illustrations, with Stephen Joyce’s blessing.

As I read it to Cathal, he listens with great attention, as if enraptured by the rhythm of the long and musical sentences, and by the sounds of the language, or languages, as French appears in the end, spoken by the Devil himself. I am not sure if he understands the story, or if he gets the wonderful humour present at every page – as any good story, humour is as much at the level of the 4 year old to whom the letter was addressed, as at the level of the adults who must have read it out loud to him. I mean the Lord Mayor of a little French town is called Alfred Byrne (true, just like a very famous Dublin Lord Mayor), and the Devil when very angry “can speak quite bad French very well… with a strong Dublin accent”. Wonderful.

And then, once I am finished reading, Cathal invariably takes the book and reads it back to me.

This has reminded me of the inspiring Karen Gaffney, a young woman who just happens to have DS. Last year, at the World Down Syndrome Congress in Dublin I heard her say that her favourite reads were Macbeth and Harry Potter. And I then thought, nothing is impossible for Cathal, all it takes is encouragement. So there it is:

Didn’t I tell you? Never too young to start reading James Joyce.

And have you noticed that at the end he says “more” as he wants another book? Just like me, can’t put them down.

22 August 2010

The Biggest News of the Year (so far)!

Or “In Line for a 2nd Stripe

Yes indeed. I must have done something right in my position of Grandmother, and proven that I can fulfil all duties and responsibilities as per the Job Spec. Otherwise, I am sure Cathal’s Mammy and the Dad would not be offering me a 2nd stripe to pin on my shoulder by early next year!

That’s right: Cathal will be a Big Bro in February. Wooohoooo is what I say to this. I thought I was excited when I first heard about Cathal, but this is different, and so much better. Because this time I am more prepared for what’s coming. I know what it’s all about. And I am really, truly, totally looking forward to it. It’s like having a sweet tooth and being offered a very nice desert: while you know it’s going to be a pleasurable experience, you don’t know how scrumptious it is until you taste it. Then it’s this big “Whoa” taste and you can’t get enough. And while you are taking your time savouring it, you are told that another different desert from the same chef is on the way to you…! How much better can this get? Heaven!

I do like these kinds of promotions. Keep them coming is what I say! Though other thoughts have crossed my mind as well.

The thought that it will be nice for Cathal’s Mammy and the Dad to have a more “typical” experience of parenthood, without all the trauma and drama of the diagnostic, of the hospitalization, of all the watching and extra care. I know having and raising any child is a full-time job. But I have realised that raising a Special Needs child is like a “double-time full-time” job. So it will be a change for them and I welcome it for them.

Also the thought that it will be brilliant for Cathal, getting him to take on Big Brother’s responsibilities will help him grow. And I am counting on the new little one to challenge him, and pull him and push him, just as any younger brother or sister would do, but even more so this case.

The only thing is that, at the back of my mind, I am thinking that even before he or she is born, there is this added responsibility looming in the distant future, responsibility for a special bigger brother that may need a little help with life every so often. I have already heard this sentiment about siblings expressed by a few parents, so I know my thinking is part of a normal process. In the end it’s nothing else than life and what it gives us. The natural order of things means that Cathal’s little brother or sister should be around, keeping an eye on him, long after their Mammy or their Dad are gone. But this is on the cards for him or her already!

Having said all this, I can’t wait for the Love Elastic to expand and stretch, and welcome this new arrival. More love to feel, and give, and receive. More opportunities for cuddles and hugs and kisses and fun. Bring it on!

30 July 2010

Imagine… Imagine… Imaginosity!

Our power of imagination is probably one of the best intellectual activities humans have developed over the last few millennia.

Our imagination helps us extract reality from day-to-day routine, conceptualise it, and then escape. It can be very rewarding letting rip it in fantasy-land. It can be a pressure-release mechanism. I remember some years back in another “life” feeling under dreadful pressure at work, as my boss (who happened to own the business) was a bully: as his demands and tantrums got steadily worse, and as I knew I could not afford to come home to my two teenage children and disintegrate once inside the door, I found a nice way to deal with the situation: I started “talking” to my boss as I drove home, on a regular basis. After some particularly rough incidents earlier in the day, I would tell him exactly what I thought of him, why his behaviour was unacceptable, how he needed to change to get back some respect from his employees, how I deserved respect from him... and so on, and so on... and with some choice words to boot, just for the right effect. By the time I got home, I always felt better. This went on for months... until I finally was able to handle my letter of resignation, and finally, finally, oh joy! see him do a major psychological u-turn, sing my praise, and beg me to stay. But no way Jose, I was out of there and I never looked back.

Though this story might sound as if I have serious psychic issues, but my imagination actually saved my sanity in this instance.

Our imagination also helps us to learn. The conceptualisation process it involves means we can transfer situations to a different environment, and toy with them while staying in control, testing various options. Children do it all the time. The “pretend” play is just that, learning to cope with, and behave in, various events and settings. And it starts very young. And the majority of us (could I say 99.9%?) continue to play, for the rest of our lives.

The beauty of Imagination and its younger brother Play is that they can make us forget what we think we can and cannot do, what our perceived limitations may be. Once we play, anything is possible.

I took Cathal to Imaginosity a couple of weeks back, just quality time for him and me alone. It was my first time there, and I found it a great place, with everything needed to let Imagination rip from small baby to 9 year olds. It has little farms, a puppet theatre, a stage, story times, a building site with a working crane, a tv studio, a bank, a post office, a restaurant, a shop, a library, train sets, a dolls house, a doctor’s surgery, an activity room, a garage, and much much more...

Cathal became very engrossed in some of the games. He totally got the “play restaurant” thing, and pretended to eat and drink for ages... though when I saw him repeatedly putting the plastic cutlery and cups in his mouth, after probably lots of other kids who did the same thing, I had to remind myself that this is good for him, helping him built his immune system...? Yikes!

But most of all, what I enjoyed the most, apart from the excitement of the two of us going from one game to another, was the fact that Cathal, who is now 2 years and 4 months, who does not walk, who doesn’t stand much, nor for any long period of time, who is an expert at spreading his legs at a right angle to land on his bum when we put him down and he thinks there is the slightest possibility we might try and get him to stand... this clever little boy totally forgot all this, not just on one, but on two occasions.

First when he was by the Builders Site. There is a wall to be built with foam blocks, just big enough and light enough for toddlers to handle easily. He saw a little girl placing the green and purple blocks, immediately understood what was required, and joined in the construction. It was fine when working on the base while sitting on the floor, but as the blocks got higher, Cathal had to stretch more and more. When he came to a stage where, despite all his stretching, he could not reach any more, I did not say anything, just put hands on his hips, gently pushed him up, and there he was standing, and bending to pick another block, and straightening to place it, and bending again. With no idea that he was standing and bearing his own weight, needing my hands only for balance... once built, the wall was knocked down, and the process repeated from sitting position to stretching to standing at least four times! I was amazed...!

Then we moved on to the dolls’ house. He became fascinated with opening the doors to see into each room, with the little wooden dolls and their cloths, arranging and re-arranging all their furniture into the rooms, placing the dolls around, making sure the one he put in bed had a pillow and a blanket. Yet again, the “ground floor” could be reached while sitting down, but he could access the first floor only by standing up. And again I helped prop him up. And again magic happened... he never knew the physical impact of his playing... he just, simply... played. His Imagination was indeed ripping!

I took very few photos that day, because:
a. I was too engrossed myself in the experience to bother with the camera,
and b. it’s not easy propping up a toddler and taking a photo of said action at the same time – I may be a great granny, but I am not a super-granny... yet!

However, here are a couple of examples of his concentration:

The only draw back of Imaginosity is that it is a Strickly No Buggie place. They spell it out very clearly on their website. I can understand why, as if it gets busy, here would be little room for the children to move around safely. Cathal had been there before with his mammy and his buggie was not let in.

My problem was: he is getting big and heavy, and I did not fancy carrying him around for the best of 2 hours or so. So I decided to braze it out, and for the first time (for me) play the Special Needs card. When you get there, you need to give the age of the child to be charged the appropriate rate. So the young lady at the reception knew he was two. I asked, very innocently if I could bring in the buggie. The answer was as predicted. So I said: “Then, I have a problem. He may be 2 and a few months, but he does not walk. He has Special Needs, he has Down Syndrome.” The effect was immediate. The poor girl became very apologetic, saying that she “did not see” (it’s true, he was in his buggy, and below the edge of the desk, so below her normal range of vision), and then confirming that of course I could take the buggie in. The only thing is that the lift between floors is only for disable access so must be unlocked by a member of staff at each level. But to be fair to them, every one of them was most helpful at all times. And the fact that it was early a Sunday morning must have help...

I just felt strange having to “play that card”. But then, it was the first time, it had to be done, and I have to get used to such situations...

And talking about Imagination and Play, Cathal has an Aquadraw mat, which is absolutely brilliant. See for yourselves – filmed last Saturday morning, early, just after breakfast...

That child has bettter powers of concentration in the morning than I have, what do his parents give him? My own brain was still asleep at that time.

21 July 2010

Run Forest, Run…

Not so sure about Forest, but this Little Granny has upped the ante. She is on fire, and already planning the next move…

Let’s put things into perspective:

Fact no. 1: This Little Granny can be very lazy if she puts her mind to it, and has no problem slouching on the sofa all evening, as well as most of a wet and windy weekend.

Fact no. 2: She likes exercising a bit, and actually really and truly enjoys the gym once she gets there, but need major motivation to just to… GET there!

Fact no. 3: Unless she is on a holiday in some weird and wonderful and exotic place where she will walk miles and kms and more miles to savour scenery, fauna, flora, and other such natural beauties, this Little Granny will find any excuse to use her car. In short, by choice, she does not walk much.

Now for the events:

Event no. 1: Last year, prompted to participate and raise some much needed funds for the Dublin Branch of Down Syndrome Ireland, she walked the 2009 Dublin Women’s Mini-Marathon with Cathal’s Mammy.

Statistical Results: 10 kilometres in 1h 50 m = average of 1 kilometre in 11 minutes
Emotional Results: Quite happy with herself, for a first time doing something like this!

Event no. 2: This year, boosted by last year’s performance (in her words at the time: “it’s doable”), she not only decided to take part again, but to pick up the pace somewhat, and she power-walked the 2010 Dublin Women’s Mini-Marathon on her own for Heart Children Ireland.

Statistical Results: 10 kilometres in 1h 35 m = average of 1 kilometre in 9 ½ minutes
Emotional Results: Very happy with herself! In fact, quite proud!

Boosted by the Statistical Results of Event no. 2, she went home, had a good think, made some enquiries, researched and bought adequate footwear (very, very important!), went back into training, and signed up for the next event - with only five weeks to get up to some kind of “speed” both on the treadmill in the gym and on country roads around her village. Which brings us to:

Event no. 3: Combining power-walking (going up hills and on some of the flat) and lifting off to a nice jog (going down hills and on as much of the flat as her energy would allow her) last Saturday she not only Started, but Passed the finish line of the Irish Runner Race Series – 5 Mile Race in the Phoenix Park. Her first chipped race ever!!! She even got the T-shirt and goody bag to prove it. But most importantly:

Statistical Results: 5 miles or 8 kilometres in 1h 3 m 40 s = average 1 kilometre in 8 minutes
Emotional Results: Amazed first at the time showing up on her phone stopwatch. Once time confirmed by the official results from the chip, Very Very Proud indeed!

And all this in freezing temperatures – well, almost, but only 14 degrees last Saturday morning, it’s July for goodness sake! – wind, and half way through a drizzle that turned into a absolute downpour for the last 800 metres.

And this Little Granny got even prouder when she realised that, though she finished 40 minutes behind the winner, though she finished 4745th, she was still 30 minutes faster that the 4875th and last participant to cross the line.

So now her eyes and her newly found jogging legs have their sight on an even faster 2011 Women’s Mini-Marathon. Because she has realised that she really, yes really enjoys this jogging business.

So Run, Little Granny, Run…

PS: Do not let the title of this post fool you. I did not particularly like the film, probably because of Hanks: somehow I can’t “click” with him!

15 July 2010

“Whaza?”... Progress, that’s what it is!

« Kèssè? » ... Du Progrès, voilà ce que c’est !

I was very impressed a couple of weeks ago to hear Cathal saying to me “bi-KKKK”. It took me a few seconds to realise that instead of signing “biscuit” he was saying the word. In fact, Cathal is making incredible progress in with his communication. Every time I see him I need to catch up with his latest acquisitions. It seems that as he masters one sign, he wants to move on to the verbal expression of it. Which is exactly the intention of using signs as a support and as a facilitating tool for verbal communication.

Il y a environ deux semaines, j’ai été très contente d’entendre Cathal me dire « bi-KKKK ». Il m’a fallut quelques secondes pour réaliser qu’au lieu de faire le signe pour « biscuit » il disait le mot. En effet, Cathal fait de grands progrès en terme de communication. Chaque fois que je le vois je dois me mettre à jour de ses dernières acquisitions. Il semble que dès qu’il a acquis un signe, il veut passer à l’expression verbal du mot. Ce qui est exactement la raison d’utiliser les signes comme moyen de support pour aider la communication verbale.

Among his latest words:
- “Whaza?” = “What is that?” Obviously he must be asked this question so often that he is now asking it back.
- “Where” followed by pointing at the object or the person with a triumphant “there!”
- some colours, though he can mix the signs for one or the other. But in the next 2 videos, we can clearly hear “oooo” for “blue”, “eeee” for green, “ed” for “red”
- “NO” if he disagrees (and he does, a lot... typical 2 year old!) or “Nooooo” with a smile when we are playing a game, like pointing at lots of different animals and saying “is that the cat?”

Parmi ses derniers mots:
- “Whaza?” = “What is that?” qui pourrait se traduire par « Kèssè? »Apparemment on lui pose cette question tellement souvent qu’il la pose à son tour.
- “Where” (c’est à dire: « où ») suivi d’un triomphant “there!” « là! »
- certaines couleurs, entre le bleu, le vert, le rouge, bien qu’il mélange un peu les signes pour ces couleurs, mais les sons correspondent. Dans les deux vidéos qui suivent, on entend bien ces sons en anglais.
- l’équivalent de « NON » quand il n’est pas du même avis que nous (et c’est souvent... typique d’un enfant de 2 ans !) ou « Nooooon » avec un sourire quand on joue, par exemple en montrant du doigt plusieurs animaux différent et demandant : « c’est le chat ? »

(I apologise for the sound of the 1st video, it was very windy that day. But what we can hear show how good he is! And shows how good his Mammy is at signing!)

(Je m’excuse pour la qualité du son de la 1ère vidéo, il y avait beaucoup de vent ce jour là. Mais on peut entendre comme il communique bien ! Et comme sa Maman sait bien utiliser le langage par signes !)

Little explanation for those who may be interested: Verbal communication is one of the human activities most difficult to learn. The whole purpose of signing is to enable the child with learning difficulties to express himself/herself in a way that is easier to master than verbal communication. It is used as reinforcement to verbal communication, and a stepping stone towards the spoken word. The Irish sign language taught to young children with learning difficulties (Lámh, which means “hands” in Irish) has about 400 words.

Petite explication pour ceux qui peuvent être intéressés: La communication verbale est une des activités humaine les plus difficiles à apprendre. Le rôle du langage par signes est de donner à l’enfant ayant des difficultés d’apprentissage un moyen de s’exprimer qui est plus facile à apprendre que la communication verbale. C’est utilisé comme soutien à la communication verbale, et comme point de départ vers le mot parlé. Le langage par signes enseigné aux jeunes enfants en Irlande (Lámh, ce qui veut dire « mains » en irlandais) a environ 400 mots.

There was a time, was Cathal was about 11 months old, when I got somewhat worried about the fact that he was not a bit interested in solid food, his mammy’s milk being so much nicer. Cathal demonstrated to me at the time that I should trust him. I can officially confirm that he was right, I needn’t have worried. And one of his favourite foods is... “patttt” = pasta! To a point that when asked in the morning if he wants his breakfast, he has been known to answer: “No! Pattttt”. And later on if he wants lunch, his answer is often: “No! Pattttt”. And finally when told in the evening that dinner is ready: “No! Pattttt”. And sometimes, all these answers for each meal of the same day! Why do so many children like pasta so much?

Il fut un temps, quand Cathal avait environ 11 mois, où j’étais un peu inquiète du fait qu’il n’était pas du tout intéressé par la nourriture solide, le lait de sa maman étant si bon. Cathal m’a démontré à ce moment là que je devais lui faire confiance. Je peux officiellement confirmer qu’il avait raison, que je n’avais aucune raison de m’inquiéter. Et un de ses aliments préféré est... « pattttt » = les pâtes ! Au point que quand on lui demande le matin s’il veut son petit déjeuner, il lui arrive de répondre : « No ! Patttt ». Et plus tard s’il veut déjeuner, sa réponse est souvent : « No ! Patttt ». Et finalement le soir quand on lui dit que le dîner est prêt : « No ! Patttt ». Et souvent toutes ces réponses pour chaque repas de la même journée ! Pourquoi tant d’enfants aiment-ils ainsi les pâtes ?

And when pasta is on the menu, he now eats all of it and on his own, with virtually no help.

Et quand les pâtes sont au menu, il mange maintenant tout et tout seul, avec presque pas d’aide.

The result is a belly full of homemade lasagna (his mammy’s cooking) and a very happy little boy!

Le résultat est un estomac plein de lasagne faite-maison (par sa maman) et un petit garçon très heureux !

04 July 2010

Marriage? Did you say Marriage?

Or Racism et al – Part 2

Some time ago I posted on “Ageism, Racism and Abilitism” in a general way, on what I had witnessed in others. And I did write that I would come back to the topic on a more personal basis. Then I got busy with this, that, the other, months passed… and Part 2 got pushed aside. But this week some event reminded me of my intention, so here goes. Put on your sun lotion, shield your eyes with dark glasses, and hold on to your sun hat, this may be a bit “hot”… (after all, it is summer!)

Once upon a time, once upon several centuries in fact, in places quite close to us, marriage outside of one’s class was not even thought of. One could not look at another human “beneath” one.

Once upon a time, in places quite close to us, marriage outside of one’s race could not be considered. Whites married whites, blacks married blacks. That was the only order of things.

Once upon a time, once upon countries, marriage outside of one’s cast or one’s religion was taboo. The Big No-No!

And then, in some countries, in some times, slowly things changed. People who fell in love were increasingly allowed to pledge themselves to each other, irrespective of class, race, cast, or religion. Some parts of our little planet were “growing up”, becoming more tolerant, less bigoted.

And once upon this week, Ireland grew up a little. A few days ago I heard it said that Ireland came of age, albeit in a small way. The Civil Partnership Bill was passed in Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) with such a majority that no vote needed to be taken. It was unanimous - makes a change after the previous bill earlier in the week, all about some stags, and dogs… and other such crucially important piece of legislation for the recovery of our economy! Some circus this was! Sorry for the digression, but sometimes I really wonder about our politicians!

So the Civil Partnership bill was passed. It does not allow same-sex marriage per se, it does not recognise the children of same-sex unions. BUT, to some extent, it does recognise that such long term relationships exist, such unions are facts, and it does recognise the rights of same-sex partners. It’s a start.

To put things into perspective, sexual acts between men stopped being a criminal offence only 18 years ago! (Interestingly, the possibility of sexual acts between two women had not even been thought of by the authors of this law! More bigotry). It took David Norris 5 years of legal battles in the Irish High Court, then in the Irish Supreme Court, and finally in the European Court of Human Rights, before Ireland was shamed and forced to repeal an antiquated law dating back to the old British rule, and pass its own legislation. That in itself took another 5 years, just for the government of the time to think of an appropriate wording that simply would state: if you are an adult and gay, and engage in consensual sexual acts with someone of the same sex as you, in the privacy of your own home, you are not a criminal.

The road travelled is slow, but it’s is travelled.

And to think that the same David Norris could be running for the Irish Presidency next year. That would be something!

Now, let’s shift time and space. And come to once upon last summer, in Dublin, with yours truly attending the World Down Syndrome Congress.

So I walked in the Helix building in DCU on the first morning. Being a little early before the start of the first plenary session, I took a wander around the various stands outside the auditorium: they were about books, various educational aids, research, celebration of athletes, various DS organisations, paintings and other art forms by people with DS, life testimonies, including the marriage of a young woman with DS and a man without DS… did I see right? Marriage? To my own surprise, I am ashamed to say I did a double take. Me, the liberal, the person who gets so wound up so quickly about what I perceive as basic human rights – a certain group of people who know me well have a saying: “here she goes again!” and they almost do it on purpose to push my button, so sure are they of my reaction! – indeed, I was taken aback.

I did not have much time to think about what was happening, as the bell rung for the first plenary session, so I went in to take my seat. And there, what did I hear, but the second speaker, David Hingsburger, addressing the congress on the topic of Self Concept, and telling the story of two people he had worked with, one of whom had DS, who had been shun by their community for being in love and for wanting to get married.

And all through the three days of the congress, the word “marriage” kept coming back. It took me a few days for me to understand my reaction that first morning. I had simply never thought of relationships outside of the family, and by this I mean romantic relationships, as a probability, even as a possibility, for someone with DS. For some reason, what I would consider as the normal way of life, did not apply in this case. What I would wish for anybody else did not cross my mind in the case of someone with DS. Shame on me!

I have since come back from this. I had read and heard testimonies, and seen marriage videos on the net and on some blogs that have quite moved me. But the liberal Nan P realised she was not “that” liberal up to last summer.

The thing is, she is not the only one! In fact, the law as it currently stands in Ireland is not a bit liberal for people with an intellectual disability. Over the last few months, it has come to my attention that people with an intellectual disability, under the law:
- can be refused opening a bank account, taking out a loan, owning property,
- do not need to be asked for their consent for medical treatments,
- can be refused the right to vote if the returning officer of their polling station decides they do not have the “capacity” to vote.
- can be denied access to justice because of their disability, especially in case of assaults, as the judge has the right to decide they do not have the “capacity” to testify.
- can be considered as criminals if they engage in a sexual relationship with another person with an intellectual disability. The extent of this is that the right of people with an intellectual disability to have consenting relationships is in doubt under law, and this implies the right to get married.

The last point refers to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, a recent enough piece of legislation.

But the essence the other points above refers to, wait for it, wait for it… the Lunacy Act of 1871.

Don’t you love the language of choice? Don’t you love the fact that yet another antiquated law, passed during “British Rule”, decides on what a person with DS, or a person with Autism, can or cannot do?

The law need to be changed. Interestingly, Ireland was among the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2007. The then Justice Minister Michael McDowell had said it would be ratified “as soon as possible”. However, before it can be ratified, modern legislation must be introduced to remove all the “anomalies” listed above.

Three years later we are still waiting… Nothing is moving, nothing is stirring…

Ireland may have come of age somewhat this week. But it certainly is not fully mature yet. Forms of racism and abilitism are not only still rampant in our society, they are enshrined in our laws.

As for this post, please accept it as my “mea culpa”, and proof of my own “growing up” ;-)

07 June 2010

I WON! . . . well, kinda!

In my mind, I am a winner!

Not only did I do the Women’s Mini Marathon today...

but I improved on last year’s performance...

by a very impressive (if I may say so myself) FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!!

Here is the proof:

Passing the start line at 1 minute 33 seconds:

Passing the finish line at 1 hour 36 minutes 41 seconds:

I may be a little granny (only 1m55, or 5ft1 in “old money”), I may not run or even jog, but my goodness did I Power Walk this race in 95 minutes!

And in the rain, during the long wait before the start and throughout the whole race! That alone deserves a big “Well Done, Very Well Done Indeed” to all 40,000 ladies who did the 10k in Dublin today.

Yes, I do feel like a winner. My own children seen quite proud of me too!

Though Cathal was not a bit impressed by the sight of his very wet and adrenaline-high Nan!

But the real winner of my efforts is Heart Children Ireland. So far I have raised € 649, more is due in... a big THANK YOU to anyone who sponsored me.

And if anyone had meant to sponsor me on-line but did not get to do it, my page on mycharity.ie is open for donations until the 7th July – Just click on the Heart Children Logo in the sidebar.


27 May 2010

Little French Hols

Petites Vacances françaises.

Cathal, his Mammy, and his Nan went to France on a little break recently, for a family event. It was not the first time Cathal was flying (in fact, the 3rd time in 11 months) but this time he really appreciated the experience.

Cathal, sa Maman et sa Nan étaient en France récemment pour quelques jours, pour une réunion de famille. Ce n’était pas la première fois que Cathal prenait l’avion (en fait la 3ème fois en 11 mois) mais cette fois-ci il a vraiment profité de cette expérience.

The flight out took off at 6.30 in the morning, so it was an early start. This did not stop him from having his priorities right. As soon as sat down on the plane he asked for:

L’avion partait à 6 heures 30 le matin, donc un lever très tôt. Cela ne l’a pas empêché d’avoir ses priorités bien en ordre . Dès qu’il fut installé dans l’avion il a demandé :


Hummm. Nice breakfast! Could have this every morning Mammy!
Yammmm. Délicieux p’tit déj. Je pourrais avoir ceci tous les matins Maman!

Between eating rice cakes (“more biscuits!”), reading his books – more exactly Nan and then Mammy reading the books and Cathal signing all the animals and body parts – and colouring, he never knew we took off, crossed the sea, and then landed. Good As Gold!

Entre manger ses petites galettes de riz (“encore des biscuits!”), lire ses livres – plus exactement Nan puis la Maman lisant les livres et Cathal faisant tous les gestes des animaux et des parties du corps – et colorier, il n’a jamais su que nous avions décollé, traversé la mer, puis atterri. Super sage !

And when we got on the plane again to come back, his little face lit up with pure delight as soon as he was in his seat, then he asked for biscuits, and then his books… This is what is called a seasoned traveller.

Et quand nous sommes montés dans l’avion au retour, son petit visage s’est éclairé avec une joie évidente dès qu’il fut installé, puis il a demandé des biscuits, et ensuite ses livres. . . C’est ce qu’on appelle un vétéran des voyages.

Once in France, he met up again with his Super-Grand-Parents (Nan’s parents), his Super-Aunt (Nan’s sister), his Super-Uncle and the Mammy’s 3 little cousins, aged between 10 and almost 3. And you know what? After barely two hours, it was as if he had been re-united with his long lost brothers. It was just lovely.

Une fois en France, il a retrouvé ses Super-Grands-Parents (les parents de Nan), sa Super-Tante (la sœur de Nan), son Super-Oncle et les 3 petits cousins de la Maman, âgés entre 10 et presque 3 ans. Et la surprise ? Après à peine 2 heures de temps, c’était comme s’il avait retrouvé ses frères qu’il avait perdu de vue depuis des mois. C’était tout simplement adorable.

What I found particularly touching is the way the other children who were present at the family event (all boys on this occasion) welcomed him and included him. Especially that they are not all blood-related to him. They all went over to him, talked to him, played with him. And when one of the Mammy’s little cousins starting explaining that Cathal signs, and attempted to demonstrated what he had learnt in the last 2 days, they all tried as well, signing “hello” (or I should say “bonjour”) and “Cathal”. One of the younger ones, 3 years old himself, totally took him under his wing: he did not stop hugging him, and kissing him, and bringing all kind of toys and games to him all afternoon. One of the older boy asked me at one stage: “How old is he?” – “Two.” – “Does he walk?” – “Not yet.” – “Oh. Ok.” And he then went over to a part of the garden where a neighbour’s cat had wondered in to check what all the noise was about and was surrounded by all the other children, picked up the animal and brought it over to Cathal to show him.

Ce que j’ai particulièrement apprécié est la façon dont les autres enfants présents pendant la réunion de famille (tous des garçons) l’ont accueillis et l’ont inclus dans leurs jeux. Surtout parce qu’ils n’ont pas tous de liens sanguins avec lui. Ils l’ont tous approché, lui ont parlé, ont joué avec lui. Et quand un des petits cousins de la Maman a commencés à expliquer que Cathal communique par gestes, and a essayé de démontrer ce qu’il avait appris en 2 jours depuis notre arrivée, ils ont tous essayés de faire de même, faisant les gestes pour « bonjour » et pour « Cathal ». Un des plus jeunes, ayant lui-même3 ans, l’a complètement adopté : il n’arrêtait pas de lui faire des câlins, de l’embrasser, de lui apporter toutes sortes de jouets et de jeux pendant tout l’après-midi. Un des plus âgés m’a demandé à un moment : « Il a quel âge ? » - « Deux ans » - « Il sait marcher ? » - « Pas encore.» - « Oh. D’accord. » Et il est allé vers un endroit dans le jardin où le chat des voisins était venu voir la raison de tout ce bruit et était entouré de tous les autres enfants, a pris l’animal dans ses bras et l’a apporté à Cathal pour lui montrer.

Children can make things so simple, can be so accepting and inclusive. It is we, as adults, who complicate things, and try to push, pull, impose, and justify. Nice to be reminded of this every so often

Les enfants peuvent rendre les choses si simples, faire preuve d’ouverture et d’inclusion. C’est nous, en temps qu’adultes, qui compliquons les choses, et qui essayons de pousser, de tirer, d’imposer, et de justifier. C’est important de se rappeler de ceci de temps en temps.

So what did Cathal think of France? I am not sure, but his Super-Aunt’s sofa was found to be quite comfortable, thank you very much!

Donc qu’est-ce que Cathal pense de la France ? Je ne suis pas sure, mais le sofa de sa Super-Tante s’est avéré très confortable, merci beaucoup !

And I can’t resist these 2 other photos, they are too cool, and show we had great fun!

ET puis je ne peux résister à ces 2 autres photos, elles sont trop bien et montrent que nous nous sommes bien amusés !

Photos © Super-Grand-Père & Dom (merci!)

11 May 2010

Can we? ... Of course we can!

Or to borrow a well worn slogan: “YES WE CAN!”

We can do anything we set out to do.

We can develop our abilities to their very limit if we put our minds and hearts to it.

We can change our view of the world to become more inclusive.

We can take little steps every day, and when we look back we will see that we have travelled thousands of miles.

The previous post on this blog was my 100th. A little milestone. One hundred posts on a journey of discovery. Because when this little old granny – sorry but I need to rephrase this to “this little young granny”. Ah, feels much better! – started this blog, she had already realised that all she thought she knew of life was actually very little, and very much one-sided. But her little blog pushed open a door barely ajar before this, and introduced her into a very different world. Not only the world of Down Syndrome, but other worlds, other challenges, other joys.

For example, one day this little young granny received an email from a fellow blogger who shall not remain nameless (Hello Hammie) asking her if she would like to join a working group for an organisation called Kanchi. After a few diary mishaps, she finally got herself free enough to agree and meet with them – going by a very simple principle: if she can do anything at all that may help Cathal directly or indirectly, short term or long term, it is worth doing. On this occasion, and on any othere one after this, she was welcomed with open arms – literally, so many genuine hugs from people she had never met before, she just loved it!

But she kept asking (and still does sometimes): “Are you sure you want me here? Are you sure I qualify?”

Because this working group is made up of people with all sorts of disabilities, or people closely associated with people with all sorts of disabilities. And let’s face it, even though she does not like this phrase, it’s true that her only qualification to this group is the fact that she is “only” the grandmother of a child with Down Syndrome...

Ever since joining this group, her eyes have opened up to aspects of life she had barely heard about before. She has been more enriched since last year than she would have been with several university degrees. For one thing, never before had she sat down for breakfast with three lovely gentlemen who all happened to be blind, and she was in absolute awe at how they navigated through their Full Irish – a big fry up of bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, mushrooms, tomatoes and beans - in other words: The Works! ;-)

And all this education for the price of only a few hours every so often at weekends, to discuss and tease out the various projects the organisation is involved in.

You can read more about Kanchi here, but let me just tell you that this organisation was founded 10 years ago by visually impaired social entrepreneur Caroline Casey. It works to change the social landscape for people with disabilities by, among other things, targeting the big bad world of business to change their attitudes toward disabilities, and showing them that integration is key to a successful business. Among other projects, Kanchi launched the O2 Ability Awards five years ago, a competition for companies and other organisations to bring themselves up to certain Ability Integration standards, and then have a chance to win an award for their efforts. This concept is catching on, as Kanchi announced recently that the Ability Awards are moving into Spain this year, sponsored by O2’s mothership, Telefonica.

RTE (Irish television) is also part of the initiative, and you can see here the first of two programmes transmitted last Thursday. The Awards Ceremony is on tomorrow evening 12th May and will be shown on RTE1 the following night (Thursday 13th May). It will be presented by our own-grown TV personality Ryan Tubridy and Kanchi founder Caroline Casey, and will have such special guests as none other than former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

But watch out carefully in the background, because this little young granny has also been asked to attend, just to cheer on the winners… Her little black dress is all ready, and she just can’t wait...

“The greatest disability is attitude. To change the way society behaves we have to change the way it thinks.”
(borrowed from the Kanchi website)

08 May 2010

I am walking, I am walking...

I got on so well last year with my first ever Mini Marathon that I decided to do it again this year: Bank Holiday Monday 7th June – Dublin – Women’s Mini Marathon – 10k – me and some 40,000 other women: the largest All Women’s event of this kind in the world! (And all happening in our little island of Ireland).

And for someone who drives everywhere, 10k is a long way! So I have been in full training for the last few weeks:
- I walk two to three times a week, steadily building up the distance (I am now up to 8km... nearly there!)
- I have increased the intensity of my efforts in my local Curves Gym during my thrice-weekly visits
- I have even started attending a weekly Zumba Fitness class – it’s a mixture of Latin dance and aerobics to cool Latino music. I’ll just say one thing for it: I though I was reasonably fit, but Oh - My - God! It is so energetic!

I must thank someone here who has been great at helping my training: Lorna, the manager of the Curves Gym in Ashbourne: apart from the encouragement, she gave me a loan of cardio music CD’s to download on my smart phone – it definitely upped my walking rhythm and it pulls me along as I lap around my little village – and she also entrusted me with a cardio recovery board (the ladies who have been in Curves will know what I am talking about) until D-Day, to help me warm up and cool down properly, as well as getting some exercise when rain discourages me from go out (I don’t like rain!). It’s great fun making a little fool of myself in my own living room!

If after all this exercise I don’t loose the couple of kilos those lovely white chocolate Easter eggs have left behind, I don’t know what will.

But I am not doing this just for fitness: this year I am walking (I don’t do running, and I don’t do jogging – dodgy knee since my teens!) for Heart Children Ireland.

Heart Children Ireland is a voluntary organisation set up about twenty years ago by parents of children born with Congenital Heart Defects (CHD), with the overall aim of providing a support mechanism in Ireland for all who are affected by CHD.

To put things into perspective, one baby in every hundred in born with CHD. As for babies with Down Syndrome, the “odds” rise to 45 to 50%. About half of all children born with CHD need heart surgery, and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital (in Crumlin, Dublin) is the National Centre for Paediatric Cardiology in Ireland, carries out between 400 to 500 Open Heart Surgeries every year, on children from one day old to teenagers.

Heart Children Ireland started by offering support. To this day, they provide information, a forum for parents, counselling, a self-help group for bereaved parents. Their website has a section for 8 to 12 year olds who require hospitalisation (Hearts Play), and they are linked to the Down’s Heart Children.

They also work very closely with the Cardiac Unit of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, and the funds they have raised in the last few years have been used in such ways as:
- purchase of a new Heart/Lung Bypass machine – no open heart surgery can take place without it
- purchase of Digital Imaging Equipment, Echo Doppler Equipment, and equipment for the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit
- Funding of a Cardiac Liaison Nurse for 3 years
- Funding of a Cardiac Play Specialist for 3 years
- Fitting out of a playroom in St Brigid’s Ward (cardiac ward for the 1 to 16 year olds) and educational toys for St Theresa’s Ward (cardiac ward to the 0 to 12 months olds)
- Funding for the Pre-Admission Cardiac Programme
- Funding of a dedicated Cardiac Speech and Language Therapist and of a dedicated Cardiac Clinical Psychologist

Cathal’s Mammy and the Dad is better placed than I am to testify how this organisation has helped Cathal. However, there is no doubt in my mind that it contributes greatly in saving lives, and played a big part in saving Cathal’s. So I would find it hard to stay on the sideline and do nothing. Things look good for Cathal now, but so many other children can be saved with their help and contribution.

So if you wish to support my training efforts and the Big Walk on the day, and help me help Heart Children Ireland, just click on the donation link on the side of this post or here and donate on-line.
Now, isn’t that computer smart? So much for the “Silver Surfer” to quote but a certain TV3 lady presenter during a recent interview (see previous post) ;-)
Many thanks in advance for your support.

30 April 2010

Did you say “I scream” or “Ice-Cream”?

Well, something was bound to happen, wasn’t it? What, but with me poking my nose into all kind of things, and talking about this, that, the other, until something happens.

And when one keeps pushing and shoving and being a general nuisance, one might get a phone call asking one to become “IT”. This happened to me a few weeks ago when I received a call from Down Syndrome Ireland, wondering if I would agree to give an interview, live, on TV3 to help launch the HB Ice Cream Fun Days campaign. This year the funds are set aside for organising a series of conferences around the country, one of them being aimed at... Grandparents... Hence yours truly.

My initial reaction was to allow the Iamonly Syndrome’s voice fill my head. It went something like this: “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod... Oh – My - God! National TV! Prime Time Morning Show! Live! Me? Surely someone else would be better! I mean, I am only a grandmother...” But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? So I told the inner voice to shut up and get back into its box, and simply said: “OK. Let’s do this”.

In the end, it happened today, and it was not only me on the set, but also Cathal and his Mammy. A nice little family unit, in keeping with the theme.

The whole thing was very easy, we were made very welcomed. In the waiting area, Cathal was having lots of fun looking around, and playing with his mammy, and with me. Different story went we went on the set: he got a big fright from all the lights, became quite upset, and just managed to hold it, kind of, during the interview. And once outside again, he got back to his cheerful self! You know what they say about working with children and animals...?

And how did we do? Well, you can see for yourself below, but I must say I am quite proud of Cathal’s Mammy!

This little prince of mine is challenging me no end. This is another first that would not have happened without his extra little chromosome 21.

And if it helped just one person, it was worth it.

25 April 2010

A Few Titbits

A few weeks ago I got tagged by Jazzy and asked to reveal a few things I like. And then I got tagged by Mel and asked to reveal interesting things about me.

I have been very lazy on the blogging side lately, but I am finally coming around and, while I am bending the rules somewhat, it may be more fun to merge both. So here are a few titbits about me that I have not blogged about before.

Number 1 – I am a Sudoku addict. I love the simplicity of the game’s implacable logic. I have become quite good at it, through almost daily sessions: the best time is in the evening with the TV on in the background... I am not sure why, but this seems to help focus my deduction process. I find it very hard to resist the call of the grid when I come across one, say in a newspaper, and I know I am on a few minutes break and really don’t have the time to get stuck in. Because, like any true addict, once I start I have to see it through...

(the bigger book is well worn as you can see, but almost completed)

Number 2 – I love long-haul flights. It may sound strange, but there is so much to do, I am worse than a child with the excitement of it all: the meals, the wide choice of films (as soon as a film is over, one has to check what else is on the menu, doesn’t one?), following the progress of the plane on the screen (Where are we now? How fast are we going?), all the while keeping an eye out the window and admiring the beauty of our little piece of rock and water from high above (I always aim to get a window seat). So much so that I arrive at my destination quite tired and even worn out, which does nothing for the jet-lag effect!

Number 3 – Some people (mainly men?) say the Women Can’t Read Maps. I am sorry to burst their little bubble, but this is a myth, and I am the proof of it. Forget receiving directions from well-meaning people, forget your gleaming car navigation system, that is as up-to-date as the information entered into it. Just give me a detailed map and the address of where I am going to, and I’ll see you there. I have driven myself through such far away places as densely populated San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the sparsely populated beautiful island of Tasmania (Oz), and... Dublin (where street names are often not indicated where you would expect them to be, and one-way streets and no-right-turn signs are scattered around with no apparent logic – but I do love this city!). I have never ever got lost, I have never ever have had to stop and ask for directions. All I need is a map, and with it I would drive anywhere.

Number 4 – At the start of this post, I talked about being lazy. It’s one of my traits: extremes. I am not much one for balance, it’s often all or nothing. So I can be all activity and non-stop enthusiasm, and then I flop down on the couch and do ab-so-lute-ly no-thing – just flicking from TV channel to TV channel for the sake of moving a bit. And I have become very good at this slouching business. To a point that it can be quite frightening when I start thinking of all the time I let go by, lost for ever, and nothing to show for it. Then I justify my temporary yet frequently occurring apathy by telling myself that resting and recuperating are essential for sustaining my bursts of activities. And when I am doing something, I really do it, to the full, with focus and determination. I suppose this is my way of balancing life!

Number 5 – I love vegetables, and any meal would have far more of them on the plate than meat/fish and carb’s, be they hot, or cold in a salad (I have a salad almost every day for lunch!) I just love them all, except for two of them: parsnips and aubergines. I don’t get parsnips, I think they taste like – well, simply nothing! So what is the point? As for aubergines, I will eat them if misxed with others, but the aftertaste they have just doesn’t do it for me.

Number 6 – The last of my titbits, but the one I am most proud of: for my 50th birthday I gave myself a huge present, the holiday of a lifetime. And to top it all, I dared going on my own, with my own company. I treated myself to 3 weeks away: one week on a holiday resort in the Maldives, then one week on a safari cruise ship hopping from one Maldivian island to another Maldivian island, and finally a cultural trip around Sri Lanka (I had booked a tour where I was assured there would be no more than 8 people on it, but it turned out to be just me and my chauffeur/guide... who fortunately was an expert of his country’s history. Fabulous!) But the best is what I achieved during that holiday. Who said 50 is old? I went on a sea-plane trip around some of the northern atolls. I went snorkelling for the 1st time ever. I learnt to scuba dive and did 11 dives in 14 days in some of the most beautiful dive-sites in the world. The most memorable moment was coming face to face with a Napoleon Fish (one of the largest yet gentlest fish in the world) at 15 metres below the surface and spending 20 minutes looking at him with respect and awe, as he looked at my two diving companions and myself, each in turn, coming as close as 20 to 30 cm from my mask to have a good look – male Napoleon Fish are famous for being very inquisitive, and this one was only a young, not fully grown, adolescent male. An almost spiritual experience! I absolutely loved scuba diving, and the only reason I have not kept my PADI certificate up to date is that Irish waters are far too cold for me (I Hate Cold!). After the experience of going down as much as 20 metres below in a monokini as the Indian Ocean is a constant 30 degree Celsius, donning a wetsuit to step into the cold Northern Atlantic waters is not appetizing! But I intend doing it again, in warm waters.

View from the seaplane

Napoleon Fish checking out my dive-master

Again I am not going to follow the rules and pass this on to 7 people and ask them to tell us their own titbits. I am going to tag only one person, because while she blogs regularly, while I know she likes flowers, gardens and cooking (the leg of lamb incident still makes me laugh- though I am sure it was not funny for her, but it is so well told!) we actually know little of the fingers behind the paws, the lady behind the fur, Fiona of Clive the Assistance Dog.

So Fiona can you please step up, and tell us about YOU? I am sure Clive won’t mind giving you some space on his blog, and that the Not So Little Man will be more than happy to read about his mum... And then you can display this little award ;-)

19 April 2010

It’s all good!

The most important news,

the BIG ONE,

the one we have been waiting for, hoping for,

is very, very good indeed.

Cathal’s Mammy has the scoop here.

Thinking of only this time last year, it’s a big sigh of relief all around.

Little skip and dance, please.

And then, there is the smaller news, of the “day-to-day” type. Actually, it’s not news as such, just nice progression, but it has me absolutely delighted. Over the last few weeks, Cathal seems to have decided that I am IT. Or, as I keep saying, I am “flavour of the month”. Up to then, when I would meet up with him, he would do the “shy little boy” bit for a while: head on the side, half of a smile on his lips, looking at me tentatively and then away. A little game of hard to get. Eventually he would come into my arms, and hug, and we could talk, and play, and sing. But he needed a little time to start with.

It all changed two weeks ago or so. On that occasion, I was welcomed by a big smile on a happy face, a cheerfully hello sign, and even a Nana sign addressed to the nearest parent present. This was immediately followed by arms up, and the biggest tightest hug ever. We have not looked back since. Every time, the broad smile, the hello sign, the arms up, the strong hug... I just love it.

But most importantly, once this new little ritual is gone through, Cathal decides that his parents barely exist. Who does he want to talk to, play with, or sing with...? Who is to push the swing, put on the Lámh DVD, read the book...? Who is to feed him, change his nappy, bathe him, put him to bed, dress him...?

I just love it, love it, love it.

It’s not all easy, as I often need an interpreter for the sounds or signs he uses - they are more and more of them than I can keep up with, so Mammy or the Dad need to be in the background to assist. And sometimes, even they are not sure. But it does not matter too much, we are together, and enjoying ourselves. It’s all good.

14 April 2010

THAT is what makes it all worth while

I have been feeling pretty good in the last 24 hours. I do not wish for what I am about to relate to be seen as something extraordinary; I do not wish to blow my own little trumpet; but yes, I do feel good. Because things have come full circle, in a nice, quiet and very unexpected way.

It all started in April two years. Only a few weeks after Cathal’s birth, still under the shock of the diagnosis of Down Syndrome, and the diagnosis of his very sick little heart. As I was coming home after seeing him in the hospital only a couple of days after his first heart surgery, I saw a poster advertising for a blood donation clinic. And I thought to myself: “if Cathal had needed blood during this surgery, if he needs blood for the big open heart surgery that is still to come, someone has to give it. So why don’t I give blood too?” I felt so helpless at the time, this was the only concrete, useful thing I could do.

So I did. It was so easy, that even ME, the very squeamish one, could do it – a previous post tells that story here.

And in the back of my mind I hoped that, against all odds, a child might beneficiate from my own donation.

Yesterday evening I attended a blood clinic, as I now do every 3 months or so. I was just finishing the pre-donation screening process when the nurse started saying “hummm... yes... hummm...” while checking her computer screen, my filled-in and by now signed and witnessed questionnaire, my records. Then she excused herself, went off, came back with a doctor who had a quick chat with me, checked the form, then nodded and said: “yes, I agree”. And then he went off... I was seriously starting to wonder if there was something wrong when the nurse said: “it’s all good, you can donate... And you might like to know, your blood is going to a baby.”

What was that?

I mean, I did not think we could know to whom it is being given. I thought it was going in storage to be used when needed

She then explained that they had just received an urgent request for four or five units of blood type O+ for a baby going for surgery, and my donation would be one of those units. She put a special mark on the form and on the ID labels, and that mark indeed followed me and then my little bag of blood once the donation was made.

I have since done a bit of research – it helps to work with a nurse who has experience of these things - and it turns out that, although blood has a shelf life of about 1 month, the longer it is stored, the more it deteriorates. So when a very young child needs a transfusion, priority is given to “fresh” blood (or as my colleague put it “hot” blood) donated only a few hours before, so the child has all chances stacked in his or her favour.

My little, back-of-the-mind, secret wish has come true. Full Circle.

I do feel good! And I hope this child, whoever he or she is, is doing well.

PS: I have some serious catching up to do, what with 2 awards received in the last 2 weeks or so, and me lazying around and not coming up to the challenge??? OK, another few days and I’ll get on it, I swear!

31 March 2010

Something very freaky here!

Last week, I noticed that the Christmas cactus on my bedroom windowsill was... budding. Surely this could not be right.

It usually starts showing little signs mid to late November, and is in full bloom (and by this I mean totally covered, like a perfect soft ball of pink) by early December, then it goes back to sleep for another year. I have another larger one, with differently shaped flowers, and that one is always about 2 weeks behind.

But no mistake, it is flowering alright. Not very many flowers, but they are there none the less. See for yourselves:

I have had it over 10 years, it has never ever flowered mor than once a year before.

If you think this is strange, there is more – if you live in Ireland, you know what is coming, but if you don’t... suspense, suspense!

Last week I definitely started smelling Spring in the air. And last weekend was quite nice. This, and the millions of daffodils showing their rays of sunshine, and the change to summer time gave me great hope. Summer was on its way (if you want proof, let Clive tell you all about it). Bye bye horrible winter, the worst, wettest, flooddiest, coldest we have had in years and years.

Then I woke up yesterday morning to a snow storm. Ok, it did not stick, but still...! And this morning my car was covered with a crust of snow. And I do mean crust: the wind-chill factor had hardened the thin blanket into a lovely crusty icing. Thankfully the roads were clear, but it makes me wonder: what the hell?

And did my cactus know what was coming? Freaky!

29 March 2010

T’is me, t’is me...

Last Friday evening, and Cathal and I are playing a fun game: “Where is…?”

So I ask and sign “Where… is… Mamma?”

And Cathal’s face brightens up, he looks left, right, left again, then points to the kitchen and signs Mamma.

And yes, Mamma is indeed in the kitchen.

So I ask and sign “Where… is… Dadda?”

And Cathal’s face brightens up again, he looks all around, then points up and signs Dadda.

And guest what? The Dad is upstairs…!

On we continue with our game, and I ask and sign “Where… is… Cathal?”

Now a big smile appears on the little face, an index points to his torso, and then the hand shapes itself into a horizontal curve… Hold on a sec, did you sign “Cathal”? I repeat the question, and he repeats his answer with the two clear signs.

Ok, the “C” curve for Cathal should be vertical, but hey, what is important here? He told me his name, and I understood. Similarly he signs Mamma and Dadda the same way at the moment, and it’s for us to work out the context. But as long as it’s all about his parents… it’s for his Dad to say how he feels about being signed as a mammy…

The thing is that this was the first time Cathal was signing his name, first time ever, ever! And he did it for me! Yea!

So we moved on the last part of the game, me asking and signing “Where… is… Nana?” and Cathal’s pointing at me, and then his hand rising to touch the back of his hair (his version of Nana).

We then excitedly went to tell Mammy that Cathal could sign his name. She did not quite believe us, but we demonstrated. When the Dad came downstairs we also told him, but our attention had shifted to more interesting things, so we did not demonstrate again. However I have it from reliable sources that Cathal has shown both his parents throughout the weekend that he not only knows his name, but can produce proof of his identity at any time.

But I was shown first. He trusted me enough to try out the sign with me. I feel very privileged. And kind of chuffed.

Another simple yet precious moment between my little prince and I.