I just got back from a whole week of visiting with my husband’s family. I wanted to share a little bit here about one of my favorite parts of the whole week. My niece.
You see, my niece, D, is six years old. Her favorite animal is the penguin, and she could spend all day at the aquarium looking at them. She loves swimming and kept wanting me to throw her into the pool. She’s an excellent eater – the night before we got there she had frog legs with her grandparents and we couldn’t find a thing that she wouldn’t eat happily (also – one of her favorite words is “Yummy”). She likes the pretty fireworks, but not the loud ones. She loves to read, but her favorite thing to do is have us show her flashcards so she can identify things. And I have yet to find a picture flashcard she has that she didn’t know. She loves to hear “Peanut, Peanut Butter, and Jelly!” over and over. She hates to have her long beautiful hair brushed. She doesn’t watch much TV at all, but she did throw a pretty good pitch in Wii baseball. She plays sports off the Wii too – this year she was part of a soccer team and a baseball team. She gives great big puckered up kisses but every once in a while she’ll lick your face instead. She adores canoeing and will happily splash other boats, sticking her arms and legs over the side and into the water without fear (and once, her head!). She loves to “fly” on knees, be flipped upside down, do summersaults, blow raspberries on bellies (and have them blown on her own!), and jump from her bed to the air mattress her grandma was sleeping on for part of this week. She has the most gorgeous smile you’ve ever seen on a kid.
Oh yeah, and she has Downs Syndrome.
D is an amazing, amazing kid. Downs or not, she’s a better eater than any ten kids I’ve known, combined, and is more fearless than many little girls quite a bit older than she is. Like other little girls with Downs, D has her share of problems – she didn’t walk until she was 3 (although you’d never know it now, the way she tears about!). She’s still in pull-ups. She has trouble forming words “correctly”, although she communicates extremely well (just not all verbally – she uses a lot of American Sign Language and has taught a lot to her parents and grandparents; I took ASL for a year and a half in college, but she was making sure my hubby knew all her often-used signs before we left!). In addition, she was born with a heart condition and had several surgeries before she was five years old. And she’s got ADHD. This kid has so much against her.
But D is a happy, sweet, loving little girl. Probably more so than most her age. She’s got impulse issues (she grabs a lot of things, like hair and computer keys and other people’s drinks), and doesn’t much like waiting. But she’s learning – she knows not to touch things that are hot, and was very gentle with my sunglasses when she’d pluck them off my head (I’m told she used to be quite the glasses-breaker).
And even though she doesn’t form words very well (I’m “A Li Li”, not quite “Aunt Elisa” yet), she picks things up. She loves little songs. On Monday my husband taught her “Peanut, Peanut Butter, and Jelly” (which she loves because it has a lot of hand motions too), and by the end of the week, if I paused at the proper places, she’d tell me that we were making Peanut Butter and “Lelly”, and that you needed to “Yew” and “Lallow” it. She asked for that song so many times that we got sick of it, and ran the gamut of other cute/fun/interactive songs to sing with her. She picked them each up, and before we left would ask for “Humpty Dumpty” by putting her fist on her head (to indicate the egg sitting on the wall, something my husband does when he sings the song), “The Little Green Frogs” by making the motion for their eyes (which, unfortunately, is the sign for owl, something I didn’t remember until after I taught it to her, although she does know that the song is about frogs, because she’ll do the sign for frogs to ask for it too), “The Skunk Song” by signing skunk (a very cute sign that indicates a skunk’s swishing tail and includes a held nose), and “Thumbkin” by making fists with each hand and moving her thumbs. She also would ask her dad for the “Finger Family Up” song (even though hubby and I didn’t know it). Of course “Peanut, Peanut Butter, and Jelly” was still the number one request!
If you read a book to her once, you can hand it to her and she’ll “read” it to you. She’ll say or sign words she knows at the right pages – she was paying enough attention to know where they go. And she’s quick to learn new words too – it wasn’t two days before she was trying to say “Aunt Elisa”, and before we left I taught her the sign for “smart” (which her dad said he’d never seen her do before – the first few times I just showed her, and then had her do it with me, but our last day I said that she was so smart, and she did the sign unprompted). I blew raspberries once on her tummy and she wanted to do the same to me.
We had such a fantastic time with her – first in the Smoky Mountains where she did her ABCs and learned the PBJ song (she wasn’t all that into deer and trees), and then in Pigeon Forge where she rode the go-karts (once with her daddy and once with my hubby, who said she just wanted to go faster!), and at her baseball game (she plays in the Miracle League, where all sorts of special needs kids come together to play with one another – her favorite part is batting, and she’s good at it!), in her pool (where she loved splashing, throwing balls, and being tossed in the water). I made pizza with her (she got to squish her hands in the dough of her own pie, and then apply sauce and toppings – at a rate of 6 or 7 in her mouth to every one on the pizza!). We went canoeing, which she loved (she’d tap her grandma to get her attention, and then splash her as soon as she turned around!).
We had a great time with the rest of hubby’s family too – my Sister-in-Law and I helped my Mother-in-Law look through a ton of photos, and we had nightly Wii tournaments and great food. But D is the reason I left a little of my heart back in Alabama. When my Brother-in-Law took us to the airport (after hubby’s other brother and mom had taken D to stay with her other grandma for a few days), the back seat (where I’d sat with her on a ton of car trips) looked so bare I wanted to cry. I had actually cried as they pulled away. Hubby joked yesterday that it was too quiet and he felt like he needed to sing “Peanut, Peanut Butter, and Jelly” to someone. The sad thing is that the next time we see her she’ll be so much different, even if we do manage a visit next year (the last time we saw her before this was at our wedding over a year and a half ago, and before that I’d seen her only twice – the first of which was when her parents came out here for a visit when hubby and I were first dating). Honestly, I don’t want to move to the South, but seeing D all the time would be the only thing that would make me consider it.
For now I’ve got 2500 photos and a dozen or so short videos, and hubby and I are planning a little something special for her (that her parents will probably hate, but who cares?). And I miss my beautiful, incredible, smart, loving, awesome niece so much it hurts.
Yes I know I’d normally include photos in a post like this, especially since I took so many, but truthfully if I were her parents it would creep me out to have my kid’s face splashed all over the internet, so I didn’t even ask… If you know me personally you’ll probably not escape seeing a ton of them, never fear!