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.