The Ambiguous Andersons: The sign of Life in 2015
As I read the four descriptors of “Ambiguous” quoted from Dictionary.com, I am reminded that no matter how much we may want to plan life or know THE answers; often the richness of life happens in the varying interpretations or reactions to the Signs along the way.
Ambiguity descriptor #1: Exhibiting constructional homonymity; having two or more structural descriptions
Take the street sign “Thickly Settled.”
To a true Southerner – one who has never ventured out of their sacred heritage – he may interpret this sign as meaning entering an area “of or exhibiting a thick vegetative brush.” But no – this sign apparently indigenous to quaint New England - actually means “You are entering a 30mph zone where the population is dense, so “slow down!”
My Father, if he were alive, would argue that “Thickly Settled” is just the North’s way of not wanting to copy the South’s caution of “Slow Children” for doing so may admit that “some degree of contagion of developmental delay exudes the area one is about to enter.” As my Dad often proclaimed, “Don’t over-think things.”
Don't over-think things
But The Andersons – well - we took the New England sign and implanted it in front of our southern thick growth of dogwood trees and azalea bush. Passers by are pleased no matter which side of the civil war from whence they descended; for they know to slow down – either to avoid the children in the neighbourhood or to look at the yet-another-added Sign of Life at 1328 Wenlock Road.
Ambiguity descriptor #2: of doubtful or uncertain nature
Twenty-three years ago, I recall hearing the doctor’s commentary, “It appears he has Down syndrome” and then I recall feeling the gravity of fear and the paralyzing hush that seemed to swallow the hospital room.
I recall the gravity of fear and the paralyzing hush
“Down what?” But the Signs along the way all pointed to Normal – three ultrasounds absent of abnormalities and depicting a seemingly perfect heart. Now I’m hearing my son is absent normal as they whisk him away to further exam his heart (which revealed a major defect including a total of four holes.)
So much for the Signs of Life. I guess sometimes Signs just pop up like potholes and there is no avoiding them. Kurt & I learned then that it was not the Signs, but what happened after we passed the Signs that held the power to Point us in the right direction.
Upon first passage, I remember the Down syndrome Sign being a total mass of utter confusion and honestly – of aching sorrow. I remember worrying about his future –would he be able to support himself? I recall feeling so alone, so ill-equipped to handle the brokenness at hand. I remember calling the local ARC and hanging up after hearing the words, “Retarded Citizens.”
The Down syndrome sign was a total mass of utter confusion and aching sorrow.
And then I remember making a decision to look for Signs of hope. I remember slowly finding connections with other parents who had plowed through the potholes, patched them up, survived, and never looked back. What Kurt & I learned at the critical cross-roads, was simply to choose LOVE… just as any parent of a Normal child would choose.
When you look at Preston – abnormalities and all – what you clearly see are Signs that you would want for any child…
Signs you want for any child....of happiness and good times with friends.
Signs full of tender moments and brotherly love
Preston’s life shows Signs free from Worry. (wouldn’t that be nice!)
Signs free from worry
And yes – while his future may still seem a bit uncertain, we find Signs along the way that prove his future could be bright.
Take the inclusive workplace of Prospector Theatre in Ridgefiled, Connecticut (www.prospectortheatre.org). Despite the Statistical Signs that point to 80% of adults of with disabilities being unemployed, Prospector Theatre founder Valerie Jensen (whose sister has Down syndrome) pushed past the depressing statistics and choose to turn the Sign to create a workplace whose mission is, “to provide educational and employment opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities through the operation of a four screen cinema.”
Valerie and her team have created a place of training and employment that I dare say any Normal working adult desires, “to live a higher quality of life through meaningful employment.” Check out their feature on NBC Nightly News.
OK. Admittedly that was a really, really long detour, but now we come to Preston’s crossroad in 2015-16. Fully transitioned out of secondary education, Preston continues with the Cerebral Palsy Center benefitting from their community and employment services for about six hours a day. After work, he hangs with his “girls” Mallory & Bailie working on recreational, community and safety goals.
All signs point to progress
All signs point to progress as Preston shows signs of increased independence, a greater adherence to schedule and routine, and he’s lost 22 pounds! The weight loss was not planned, but when you take away the grazing opportunities, add a YMCA membership, and keep up with the 3+ mile walks with family, you tend to drop a few over two years of time. Here’s Preston and Kurt at the finish line of the Santa 5K. Preston – the only walker with DS – had left-over energy at the end!
Ambiguity descriptor #3: Lacking clearness or definiteness
Nathan continues to grow; examining his strengths, tackling his weaknesses. Check out his article “My Mom Called Me a Bad Writer and I Loved It” Nathan holds fast to his life mantra of “Always Learning More.”
Over the year, Nathan worked for a Hockey company and branched out on his own with a number of media projects. Whether building sites in WordPress, launching a series of HTML emails, designing print & banner ads, creating data visualizations or info-graphics, Nathan works with a fierce determination to complete a professional product. He calls himself a “Media Trainer” but all Signs point to his growing interest in design.
Whether the design is in the layout of a website, the capture of light in a photograph, or the combination of data, fonts and pictures into a story, the deSign is what propels Nathan’s career interest at this time.
He’s “too narrow in his genius”
Nathan examines his life continuously and out loud via several online platforms such as Medium. He is not afraid to try new things, he’s not afraid to admit when he’s wrong and he doesn’t like to settle. He’s even been accused of being “too narrow in his genius” but in my view, Nathan is one of the more balanced adults I’ve had the pleasure of watching grow.
Nathan lost one of his best friends in November – his Grandpa Les. Over the years to Nathan Les was adventure, Les was great photographs, Les was Big Hershey, Les was the cabin, Les was Colorado road trips. To honor Les, Nathan created a temporary memorial site packed full of all the photos Les captured over the years. Out of loss, Nathan breathed life.
It was such a beautiful piece of work that several have asked Nathan to create a future memorial site for their loved one not-yet-gone. At no time during the creation of Les’ memorial did Nathan think of personal gain. Nathan just wanted to honor his grandfather.
Where will Nathan go from here? Not sure, but Kurt & I know it will be of his own making and we are OK with not having a clear Sign of where his journey will take him.
Is he or Ins't he one of the Wiggles?
Ambiguity description #4: Open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations.
While some may mistake him for one of the Wiggles, those on the road know this is just Kurt’s latest cycling fashion. When everyone was either posting their typical resolutions of weight loss or money management, Kurt has vowed to ride 3,000 miles in 2016. There’s no doubt he will reach his goal as he pedalled 2,700 in 2015.
In addition to cycling, Kurt continues to have permission to play on Nathan’s recreational Hockey team. I call it “Nathan’s team” because KAHA knows they can’t add Nathan to a roster without Kurt (per Nathan’s demand).
Kurt can now add “PSP” beside his “CPA” Signs of credentials. Ever the Optimist, Kurt beat the over 80% failure rate and passed the Physical Security Professional exam on his first attempt. Earning the PSP letters was not by sheer positivity, but came after diligent and daily study for over a year as only someone with Kurt’s determination could both endure and produce results.
And while Kurt is still an avid VOL fan, he has decided to not pursue a career in sports broadcasting (despite the tempting trail at a recent Security Conference.)
I can summarize my year with my passing three significant Signs:
A Trip to the White House
A Trip to the White House. OK....this was pretty amazing!
A car wreck...a.k.a. don't fear the Goo-Goo
A Car Wreck – I was hit head on by a drunk driver. A story about what that wreck taught me about facing fears is here.
A New Job. After the wreck, I took a long look at my career and realized that at 53, I didn’t have much longer to make a difference. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and I now work as a Facilitator for Secondary School Counselors in Knox County Schools. Now the counselors are my “students” and I work with them to develop training, professional development, and program management.
A couple of noteworthy Signs in the domestic & doggie departments: we achieved 100% debt-free status and are now ready to hand off these Salt & Pepper shakers from Nina’s collection!
The Signs of not aging. Hershey continues to defy aging. At 75, he continues to get “Oh, what a cute puppy!” remarks on our walks. Recently, he had tons of fun in the snow.
Sometimes Ambiguity causes you to look past your initial reaction and consider other meanings….
So there you have it. The Signs of Life in the Anderson household during 2015. Just remember, Ambiguity is not always a bad thing….sometimes it just means taking the time to look past your initial reaction of the sign and consider other meanings….