Friday, January 20, 2012


“For everything I do that will tear at you, let me say I’m sorry now.”—Shawn Colvin
Dear Max,
I’ve written you letters before, most often when I had something on my mind that bothered me, or when I was angry. I have not always shared them with you, however. Sometimes it’s best to get it down on paper and then keep it to yourself. Whether you give away your words or not, writing a letter has the potential to make thoughts and troubles so much more clear. This letter, you are going to think, is ridiculous. I can hear you saying, “Mom, it’s okay. I’m over it!”
Look, I’m the type to beat myself up; there’s no changing that.
The other day, I submitted an ad to your sister’s yearbook, one of those pages in the back where parents place pictures of the graduate as an adorable toddler next to the full-grown picture. I also wrote a poem. A poem! I haven’t written a poem since college. $135 later, after I clicked the “send” button, I felt the familiar sting I experience each time I recall that I never put an ad in your yearbook. Back then, I forgot to check on the due date for senior ads and, by the time I inquired, it was too late.
I still feel guilty about that. In the 2009 Franklin High School yearbook, there is no half- page dedication to you. No photograph appears of you at age three, wearing nothing but a diaper and mom’s cowboy boots, or of the one- year- old you wearing that crazy powder blue “mushroom” hat with your thumb stuck in your mouth. I never wrote the words that would always remind you of how proud I was, of how far you’d come.
Listen, I need to say these things now because someday you and Cliff and Olivia will be sitting around looking at your yearbooks when I’m dead and gone. The other two will be smiling at their $135 ads, and you will peer over at them and say, “Hey, how come I never got an ad?” You’ll be under the mistaken impression that I loved you less and that just isn’t true, not by any stretch of the imagination.
In my defense, you never told me the due date for the ads. You’re the one who sat in second period class listening to the announcements. Not me.
At any rate, given that righting this wrong is not possible, I decided to write something here in this very letter, that I might have written in your ad.   Let’s see, it would have had to be something that would not embarrass you, words your friends wouldn’t throw in your face, laughing as you sat around the campfire at night drinking beer and smoking Marlboro 100’s. It would have to look cool so I would have had that picture of you with your skateboard. You know the one. I love that picture. Somehow I would have had to express in fewer than a couple hundred characters, how we felt about the son for whom we waited so long, the child we thought may never come because God decided to make it as difficult as possible. Or what it was like to hold you in my arms, wrapped up so beautifully like the present you were. How could I tell the story of you in just a few words? About every struggle and the triumphs that arrived after? About your handsome face, your gorgeous smile and hilarious, somewhere- out- of- left-field observations?
But try I must.

                                                          Maxwell James Taylor  Class of 2009
We are so proud of you!  Congratulations to our son and brother!
 Love, Mom, Dad, Cliff and Olivia

Yeah, that would have been the whole thing, Max. I mean, let's be real--anything more than that would have had you tearing that page out of the book. Your friends' books too. I guess you’ll just have to read between the lines and appreciate the subtext.
Love you,
Mom <3
PS. Please bring the garbage cans back in and don't forget to feed the dog.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I Believe

There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child. - Erma Bombeck

In the dark of a December night, the silhouette of three figures backlit by the porchlight is part of the unvarying landscape of Christmas Eve. If someone were to amble by, from their vantage point in the road they would just be able to make out the two taller figures helping the other to toss a mixture of oats and glitter out onto sleeping winter grass. There are reindeer to first, be guided here by the concentrated glimmer in the yard, and then fed once they land. The three stand huddled together, shivering but unfalteringly bent on completing their mission. Flakes the size of half dollars drifting down or an already hard, snowy ground, bitter chill or unseasonable warmth, the occasional moonless night or a waxing gibbous moon, are the only variations. While the weather may differ the ceremony is the same year to year. The taller ones laugh as their brother takes a handful of oats from a small plastic bag and throws it overhand, where it lands just short of the grass. They move as a unit further into the yard and toss small piles until the bag is empty. They're having fun, and the one is reluctant to come in, reveling in the attention of his siblings, and saddened at the too-short duration of the tradition of so many years.

Although Max and Olivia have long outgrown their belief in Santa Claus,  Cliff persists, mostly because we haven't told him any different. It just never seemed necessary. There are two schools of thought on this subject. The first is the one we've maintained since he could understand the concept of gifts appearing out of nowhere, from a big-bellied grandfatherly guy with a beautiful, snow white beard. Before he goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, we still read books with red-hatted animals gathered in friendship around a tree, or children gazing into toy store windows on the cover. We still sing most of the 12 Days of Christmas, and he still looks about to burst when I tell him Santa is coming to leave him presents.

Then there are those who believe it's disingenuous for a grown man not to know the truth. They think it's somehow offensive, and makes him look, well, developmentally disabled! At the core of it is that it might somehow reflect badly on what the world thinks of their sons and daughters with Down syndrome. That perhaps they will forever be looked at as children, no matter what their age. (Of course they are not children forever and should never be treated as such) But, and here's a fact you may not know, each person with Down syndrome is an individual. Each has his or her own personality, quirks, likes and dislikes, beliefs and preferences, abilities or lack thereof. I don't believe I'm treating my son like a child because we allow his fantasy of Santa Claus. He's a young man with childlike qualities. That's one of his quirks. We should all be so lucky.

The sameness of Christmas Eve extends to Christmas day, during which Cliff opens presents perched cross-legged on the couch as we hand them to him. He can't read his name on the gifts, requiring each of us to search and deliver a couple at a time. It's really terrible how spoiled he is. The gifts are the things he gets every year, just updated versions of them. A new Koosh ball, DVDs, shirts and sneakers, books, a photograph album, the newest communication device intended for folks who are mostly non-verbal.

The gifts opened, breakfast ensues with his usual eggs, fruit and one mini-coffeecake. He dresses and waits for the rest of us to begin the trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house three hours away.
On the way out the door, he throws his arm around my shoulders and pretends to scare me. "Boo!"
"Ahhh! You scared me!" I exclaim, feigning fright. He laughs and then it's my turn.

To the few who disapprove, I say you have to meet people where they are. It's necessary to accept what is, instead of forcing someone to be a version of himself that isn't true.

The familiarity of these hours together, the sweetness of an innocent fantasy we hope will never end--it is most precious. He still believes so that the rest of us can believe too.

God bless and Happy New Year.