Travelling with Trudy

After a few posts about screening and inclusion, it is time to write about something a little more light-hearted!

We have just come back from a holiday on the Isle of Mull (West Coast of Scotland, if you’re not sure) – a stunning location with must-see views and food to die for. But for a 3-year-old with a death wish, this was an opportunity to fall off a boat and get lost in Tobermory.

We set off from Oban, a busy seaside town with large ferries to watch but no barriers in sight. A quick risk assessment of the area led me to believe that chances of survival for Trudy were slim. She is on her feet now and is drawn to whatever object or person takes her fancy. She has no concern for where she should go or more accurately, where we want her to go.

After saying ‘hello’ to everyone, she saw a big watery expanse and wanted to take a closer look, yelling ‘splash’ ‘splash’! Leaning precipitously over the edge put my heart in my mouth and my brain into overdrive, and I don’t think it slowed down much more than that over the whole week. She has uncanny way of finding trouble everywhere with the nonchalance of a 2-year-old but the sheer stroppiness of a 3-year-old. As I’ve said before, children with Down’s Syndrome have a spiky profile! I like to ignore phrases like, ‘she’s got a developmental age of a …’ as I don’t think these are an accurate representation.

We managed to keep her away from the water’s edge and got on board the ferry – an equally risky endeavour. Although, the ferry catered nicely for small bodies leaning over and through railings, which were like prison bars on the top of the boat. Thank you, Calmac ferries! It allowed for a little respite for mummy and daddy.

Docking at Craignure, we drove to Calgary Bay which was a delightful little small holding with a cafe and an Art Walk. Perfect for little legs with intriguing art in the shape of giant pea-pods carved out of wood and willow dens. The kids loved it! Friendly staff who didn’t seem to mind that our children had no volume control or enjoyed wearing their cake and hot chocolate.

A day out in Tobermory ended with mummy looking like this (stressed emoji). Another harbour with a drop to the sea and a busy high street with no pavement between the road and the harbour edge. We had cleverly remembered the backpack and the harness but Trudy was having none of it. She has just discovered walking and wants to do it all the time, every day, everywhere and on her terms. Coffee was dangerous, lunch was messy but the aquarium was ace. A modest-sized room kitted out with tank upon tank of catch of the day, to be released after a few weeks. The children were captivated by the staff who delivered the touch-pool sessions where they got to touch starfish, urchins and crabs. Patrick loved it, Trudy did laps of the aquarium, making friends with any child of her height and dropping in on the plankton man at least 10 times.

Needless to say, we have returned with both children in one piece and a little better for the fresh sea air and time together. It’s a great place to visit but it comes with a health warning: 3-year-olds will eat fish, touch fish and try to be fish. Watch out, Mull!

It’s not a race

After having a child who has learned everything so quickly, it was very strange to then have Trudy. I was used to having no worries about whether my child would meet his milestones. With Trudy, I am always worried about when she will get to the next one. I call them my Hare and my Tortoise, and I truly believe that slow and steady will win in the end.

Patrick learns things so fast and will work at something until he has mastered it, but then he moves onto the next thing. Trudy does not have that luxury – she needs time. I have never seen so much patience and perseverance in someone striving to get up a slide or master the stairs. She observes, she tries, then she tries again. Sometimes, her body can’t do it but she parks it until she is ready. The majority of us have the advantage of relying on our bodies to do what we want them to do. Trudy’s body always seems to be lagging behind. I wanted to get her a t-shirt that said, “doing the best with the body I have”. I think that would probably be true for a lot of us. So, it is remarkable when I hear stories of people with Down’s Syndrome swimming the English Channel (please look up Karen Gaffney) and competing in gymnastics in the Special Olympics (look up Scotland’s own Andrew MacIntyre), to name but a few.  Karen Gaffney said that “life prepared her for her swim”, that the defeats she had experienced in her life gave her the strength to complete the race. Trudy was not learning how to get up a slide, but to keep on trying. She was learning resilience, she was working out how to do things in a different way – she was learning to problem solve. It is high time we started to focus on and celebrate these so-called ‘soft skills’.

We do so much, so fast, like we want life to pass us by. We are always in a hurry to get to work, to get to school, to get to the next appointment, when we need to spend more time in the moment. Our daughter has taught us that, not to worry about the future and her future, but to enjoy having her and her brother now, fit and healthy and happy. And, after all, that’s what counts.

Expect the Unexpected

I have been deliberating over the content of these blog posts for a while as I knew I would have to start at the beginning. It is very hard not to comment on the difficult time that we had at the start of Trudy’s life. It wasn’t just about Down’s Syndrome when we had Trudy, it was about coping with the multiple medical issues that were associated with it. Life had become pretty rubbish at that point. People refer to this as “a grieving process” because you are mourning the child you expected to have. The crucial thing here is that nobody died. In fact, Trudy survived those first fragile weeks of her life. So, we just got a child with straight hair instead of curly hair like me, a shuffler instead of a crawler or quite simply a child we did not imagine we would have.

It is important for me to be able to take something from our experience which could teach people about a world we want our children to grow up in (because that’s the interesting bit). So, the beginning of our story becomes about expecting the unexpected, about coping with things when life throws us a curve-ball. In Dan Habib’s TED talk on ‘Disabling Segregation’, he talks about his child with Cerebral Palsy, about your grandma that might develop Alzheimer’s. Our instinct is to plan and to control but there are just some things that we can’t, and children are one of them. Children are always developing and learning, and there is nothing about Trudy which suggests that she will ever stop developing and learning. It will just take longer. I work with a diverse set of children all linked by some form of visual impairment, which, in itself, has such a range. They change from minute to minute, trying out behaviours to see if they fit. We can’t blame ourselves for this. It is how we react to this that counts, showing our children what it is to be understanding, letting them be who they need to be, letting them make their own mistakes and be their own little advocate.

This blog is about how Patrick has kept us grounded throughout the difficult times we have had with Trudy but how life has taken on a normality that might be hard to understand for some. Here are some of the remarkable photos that Jo has taken of our family to let you into a world where difference becomes the norm, to let you see what we see.