My #Metoo Story

Like many women I know, I have a metoo story. It set a precedent for me. Take a walk with me back to 1993. Meet 12-year-old me. I’m beyond awkward. I have braces with different color rubber bands. Puberty hasn’t hit me yet, and I have a god awful 90s haircut. I haven’t quite figured out where I fit in. I’m in 7th grade.

I went to a small catholic grade school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I wasn’t interested in boys and they weren’t interested in me. I spent more time arguing with boys about football than flirting with them. There were less than 10 boys in my entire grade.

Back then, computer class involved breaking up into groups in a computer lab and playing games like, “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”. One random day, our teacher broke us up to play a game. She walked out of the room and said she would be right back. She wouldn’t return until right before the class ended. I don’t know what was going on in her personal life that day, but it was more important than teaching. She had partnered me with 2 boys that I did not like. Let’s call them Alex and Josh. Alex’s mom was the 8th grade teacher at my school. Alex pretty much did whatever he wanted. He never got in trouble. Josh was his sidekick and laughed at everything he said and did. They honestly reminded me of Beavis & Butthead.

I logged us onto the computer we were sharing and started to read the instructions. Alex interrupted and said, “I have a better game to play. It’s called Nervous. I’m gonna touch you and if you want me to stop, just say nervous and I’ll stop.” I had heard of this game from girlfriends in school. I had no desire to play this game. I said I didn’t want to, but he persisted. I remember his hand rubbing my thigh. I remember pushing it away and saying no. Josh laughed the entire time. I kept getting up and pretending to need something from my desk. More boys around the room got wind of what Alex was doing and they all peeked over, laughing while it was going on. At one point, Alex grabbed my hand and put it on himself over his pants. I yanked it away and asked him to stop. His next move was to quickly stick his hands on my breasts. Again, I pushed them away and asked him to stop. He just laughed and continued. It was agony. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it, but I was just a kid, and there was no teacher in sight. I remember crying on the bus ride home. I remember girls on the bus calling me a slut.

I came home from school and I told my mom everything that had happened. I didn’t want to go back to school the next day. My mom wanted to march down to school and kill Alex. I insisted that she let me handle it. I just wanted the whole thing to go away. She said that I was old enough to know what was right and what was wrong. Standing up to a bully takes courage and she knew I would do the right thing. I wasn’t so sure. I barely slept the night before school.

I went to school with every intention of moving on and acting like nothing had ever happened. I got to school early that day. There were a few kids in class and one of the boys started singing, “Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies.” Then, he called me a slut and a liar. That was all it took. I snapped. Our home room teacher walked in the room. He was the only male teacher in the school and he was my favorite teacher. I asked if I could speak with him in the hall. He asked me if everything was okay. “No” I said while shaking. “Mr. Bellino, when I was in computer class yesterday, Alex was touching me and when I asked him to stop, he wouldn’t.” His face looked enraged. He told me I was brave. He said, “Thank you for trusting me. In order for me to help you, we have to tell the principal. I will be by your side the whole time. Do you think you can do that?” We marched to the principal’s office (a nun) and he said, “Tell Sister what you just told me.” I repeated myself.

The rest of the day involved various kids being called out into the hall and questioned all day long. The computer teacher acted shocked. She asked me how it happened under her watch. Meanwhile, she wasn’t in the classroom during the entire period. I simply said, “You weren’t there.”

The boys around the room started yelling at me, asking why I had brought them into it. I hadn’t. I’d only mentioned Alex. He threw them all under the bus, insisting they had told him about this game and they’d played it with other girls. My mom was called down to school. A little before lunch, I was called out of the room and asked to go into the church. As I walked down the aisle, I saw Alex and his mother (the 8th grade teacher), let’s call her Mrs. Alvorado. My Mom was sitting there too. I slowly walked down the aisle. My Mom looked so proud of me, but I’d never been more scared in my life. Mrs. Alvorado ran that school. She’d been teaching 8th grade there forever. She had a reputation of being tough on girls. The next part, I barely remember. I just know we walked out of the church vestibule agreeing that Alex being suspended for 3 days was sufficient. He mumbled, “Sorry.” under his breath and refused to make eye contact with me.

After his suspension ended, teachers kept our desks separated. We still attended every class together. As time went by, Alex got more and more comfortable and went back to his troublemaking ways. He called me names under his breath, when no one was paying attention. Everything that came out of my mouth invoked an eye roll or some joke on my behalf. Worst of all, was the judgment that came from female teachers and kids in my grade.

My grade school went up to 8th grade, then it was off to high school. I just had to get through one more year. I had a best friend who remained loyal to me through it all. If it wasn’t for her, I’m not sure I would have made it. Over the summer, my mom was told that we had two options for 8th grade. I could either switch classes and have Mrs. Alvorado as my teacher or stay in the same home room class with Alex. If I switched classes, I wouldn’t be with any of my friends. These were all the same kids I’d been with for years. I was terrified of Mrs. Alvorado. I had been handling Alex’s harassment for months. If I had to, I could endure it, but I didn’t feel comfortable trusting Mrs. Alvorado to grade me with an unbiased viewpoint. My grades were extremely important to me. I told my mom that I’d rather stick with the same home room.

Eighth grade was one of the toughest years of my childhood. I could go on and on about it. I cried so many days. I never wanted to go to school. The female teachers treated me differently after that. They were friends with Mrs. Alvorado. I felt like they didn’t believe me, or they were judging me for tattling. I learned at an early age that telling the truth and exposing inappropriate behavior resulted in more hardship for the victim than the perpetrator. It shaped me. It was the culture of not tattling.

Not everyone in this story was a villain. Mr. Bellino checked in on me often. He wasn’t my home room teacher in 8th grade, but he wanted to make sure I was okay. He was more supportive than any other faculty member in the school. I’ll never forget him and all he did for me. Teachers have the ability to make a huge impact on our children.

I ended up at an all girls high school in the city after that. Not one girl from my grade school went to my high school and that’s the way I wanted it. We ended up moving into the city and I put it all behind me.

As I grew up and attended college, I had a summer internship. We had a team building day and alcohol was involved. I was under age, so I didn’t drink. At the end of the night, I ended up in a car with one of the male managers. He shouldn’t have been driving. He pulled into a gas station and tried to stick his hand up my skirt. I pushed him off and asked if we could please leave. Thankfully, he stopped and we drove home. I quit my job the very next day. I ran away from it, because I knew coming forward wasn’t an option. I couldn’t bare the idea of seeing him every day. I knew it wouldn’t solve anything and people might not believe me.

This is the culture I grew up in. I learned at an early age that telling the truth can make things harder for you. I think about all of the victims coming forward now. I pray that they’re being protected, that they are not being met with judgment. We have to do better. I want my girls to grow up in a culture that supports truth tellers.

I worry about them. Haley is affectionate. She will talk to anyone. She is caring and giving. I love all those things about her. I see so many great things headed her way in the future, but I worry. I worry that someone will take advantage of her. Then, there’s Sienna. I try not to think too far ahead, but I am terrified to send her to school. Did you know kids with intellectual disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to be victims of abuse? How will I protect her? What if she isn’t able to communicate yet? I know I can’t mentally go there, but it’s looming. It’s the future and I have to be ready for it.

This post was one of the hardest things I have ever had to write. I have gone back and forth about sharing it dozens of times. Miscarriages and infertility… problem. Sienna and how amazing she is…..get me a computer so I can write. This, well….this stuff is hard. Even 25 years later, it’s hard. Stuff like this leaves scars. It doesn’t go away. For me, the aftermath of what happened was harder than what actually happened. Let’s support all women coming forward, baring their souls. It takes courage to put yourself out there. I applaud all women coming forward in this movement. You are leading the way for my daughters. Thank you. I’d be a fraud if I didn’t share my story too. #metoo


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Create space where there was none.

It’s 2018. I’m ready to implement some changes into my life and our routine. Our overwhelming and demanding schedule has me feeling drained. Something has to change. I am running on empty. I know I am not the best version of myself. So, I started reflecting on what changes I could make to give myself more energy, make my body feel better physically, and accomplish everything on our daily task list. What New Year’s resolution could help with that? I knew that I didn’t want to give anything up on our schedule. Sienna is finally starting to make some significant changes in her physical capabilities and I attribute that to our additional PT sessions at the Children’s Institute. I started to think about how great I feel when I am making time for yoga. I need to make that a priority. I always walk into a yoga class with one goal in mind; to create space where there was none. I repeat this mantra to myself throughout every class. It’s easy to get in your head about petty nonsense, even during yoga. I catch myself clenching muscles, looking in the mirror, criticizing myself. How do I look doing this pose? My inner dialogue goes like this, “I look awful. I’ve let myself go this year. STOP!! Create space where there was none. That’s all you need to do.” Then, I refocus. My mind does wonder, but I always come back to this mantra. It always works for me. It grounds me and gives me a safe, reasonable goal and it forces me to take things as they come with one simple strategy. I started thinking about how I could take this same simple goal and implement it not only physically to my body, but figuratively in my life.

So, what are some areas in my life where I could apply this goal? Well, my blog, for instance…this is my own space to create what I want. I can share my perspective, my family’s experience with a kid with Down syndrome, my life as a stay at home Mom, my experiences and innermost thoughts. I’ve let it slide these past few months and I tried to dig deep and think about why that was. No excuses. Believe me, I’ve got the excuses. It’s easy to make them especially when your life is consumed. But pushing that to the side for a minute, why haven’t I been writing? I enjoy it and it’s been therapeutic. Why had I stopped writing, aside from the I’ve been busy BS? It’s the same reason I lose sight of that mantra during a yoga class. Insecurity. Self involvement. Fear. I’d be lying if I said everyone in my life was supportive about this blog I’ve created. Some people think I share too much and they let me know it. People have made comments about me being too into this Ds thing we live with. For the record, I’ll advocate and share to my heart’s content and if you don’t like it, don’t read it. Some people have just been completely silent about the blog, and that got in my head as well, because like I said I am self involved. That’s not to say I have not had positive feedback as well, but I focus on the negative because that’s what I do. So, the motivation to write dwindled as the inner dialogue got more and more judgmental. I had thought about sitting down and writing my own metoo experience for the blog, but I caught myself asking friends and family if it was going too far, sharing too much. So, I’m making a vow right here and now. No filter. No limits. I’m keeping it simple. I’m going to create space where there was none. I can’t promise I’ll do it every week, but I’m going to try. If I catch myself questioning if I’m sharing too much, too little, how I sound, I’m stopping those thoughts and telling myself to stick to the mantra. Create space where there was none. 

Where else can I apply this goal? Time. Have I mentioned we don’t have much of it? Our days pretty much go like this:

6-7 am The kids wake me up
7 am – 8:45 am Cook the girls their breakfasts. Dress them and get us out the door.
9 – 11 am Take Haley to school. Guzzle caffeine. Get Sienna to whatever therapy we have that day.
11 – 11:45 Get Sienna lunch and get her down for a nap. Go pick up Haley from school.
12-2 pm Make Haley lunch. Do a load of laundry. Shovel crumbs on the counter down my throat. Finally, take a shower.
2 – 4 pm Sienna is up. Feed her and Haley a snack. Start to clean up the crazy house. Figure out dinner and start to make it.

The rest of the day depends on whether or not Jason is traveling. Most of the time, we have errands to run too…food shopping, target runs, Haley’s gymnastics and art classes, doctor’s appointments. But I know I’m not the only one with a crazy schedule. I have to find a way to create space where there was none. I have to force myself to find it. Every day, I’m going to tell myself to create 30 minutes for myself. I have to manage our time more wisely. Do you know what would help with that?

Organization. 2018 is going to be the year I purge. No more holding onto junk. I’m taking the 2018 30 day #declutterlikeamother challenge. This week we have been focusing on bathrooms and closets. You should see all the space I’ve created by tossing old makeup and kids’ bath toys. It feels good. If I have this house more organized, I will get things done more quickly and it will ultimately help with that time dilemma I am dealing with.

What else? Motherhood. Lately, I’ve become so consumed with checklists and Sienna’s therapy goals. I need to take a page from Haley’s book. I’m dedicating more time to playing with the girls. I want to be silly with them. The dishes can wait. The laundry will be there when we’re done. I’m not just finding a craft to do with them to kill time. I’m pretending to be a giant that’s chasing them in the woods. I’m taking the cushions off the couch and pretending the carpet is hot lava that we can’t touch. I’m reading books to them every day, not just at bed time. I’m creating memories, space where there was none.

You get the idea. I don’t know if this mantra of mine will work, but I’m happy to start the year out this way. My big takeaway is that I cannot let fear, insecurity, and self involvement take over. I have to be okay with owning and enjoying this space I’m creating. Thanks for reading.

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Dear Doctor

Dear Doctor,

You are about to change my life. What you say and how you say it is going to have a huge impact on myself and my family. Everything will be different after today. I will now refer to things in terms of “before” and “after”.

Had you read my chart before you walked in this room, you would know that I have had recurrent miscarriages. You would know that I chose to forego genetic testing, because I wanted a stress free pregnancy. I was not interested in odds or statistics. I had 7 ultrasounds. None of them showed any abnormalities. We were completely unprepared for this. But here she is…our daughter. I just finished breastfeeding her. I am in love. I am elated. I am over the moon, because after losing so many babies, this one is here. I am in awe. She made it.

The dreams of my happy ending are about to be shattered. The nurse has just told us her suspicions. You walk in the room. You examine my daughter. Your face is somber. You say, “I’m afraid the nurse’s suspicions are correct. I’m sorry to tell you that your daughter has Down syndrome. We won’t know for sure until we get the blood work back, but I am almost certain.” I am in shock. “What does that mean, Doctor?” I ask knowing next to nothing about Down syndrome. “Well, I’m afraid it means she will be delayed developmentally. She will hit milestones at a very slow pace. She won’t walk, talk, or crawl for a long time. We have to do an echocardiogram, because she may have a congenital heart defect. She’s more at risk for thyroid problems and leukemia. She will have low muscle tone. I know you have goals of breastfeeding, but that may not be possible” You lost me. Tears fill my eyes and I zone out. This can’t be happening.

Fast forward to today, 15 months later. I’d like to tell you about my life now. My daughter is talking. In fact, she is saying numerous words….Hi, Bye Bye, Mama, Dada, Ball, Up, and No. We are still breastfeeding after a bumpy start, but don’t underestimate the love and tenacity of a mother on a mission. Sienna is not walking or crawling yet, but did you know how many great resources are available to us? We just started PT at the Children’s Institute twice a week and we have been getting weekly PT at home through Early Intervention since Sienna was a baby. Sienna will get there when she is ready. She also sees a Developmental Therapist and a Nutritionist. The Nutritionist is helping us monitor her weight gain, because she does have a heart defect. It doesn’t seem quite as scary as it did initially. She will probably require surgery, but for now she is thriving. She gets blood work regularly and so far we have not encountered any abnormal numbers that would indicate thyroid issues or leukemia. I don’t know if you know the power your words had over us when you delivered Sienna’s diagnosis. You didn’t need to be sorry. You also didn’t need to tell us everything that COULD go wrong. I wish you would have started with, “Congratulations.” When I look back on this moment when I asked you that fateful question, “What does that mean?” I want to tell myself, “It means nothing, Shannon. She is the same baby you were in love with 5 minutes ago. You will face challenges, but you will overcome them. You will become a fierce protector of this beautiful baby. You have so much to learn, but for now hold this precious baby and realize that it’s going to be okay. She is safe. She is healthy. Most importantly, she is yours. She is you and Jason. She is Haley’s sister. She is perfect.”

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The Evolution of Happiness

If you would have asked me one year ago if I thought I would be celebrating Down syndrome Awareness Month with the ferocity and appreciation I have today, the answer would have been, “Hell no.” It’s amazing what can happen in a year. So much has changed, especially myself. For any mothers out there still struggling with the diagnosis, hang in there. Be patient and kind to yourself during your journey. I don’t know what the future holds, but I have learned to celebrate each day. Kids grow up way too fast. During Sienna’s first year of life, I chose to live in each moment. We conquered one challenge at a time and that way of thinking has translated into a higher quality of life for all of us. It’s a transition for which I am grateful.

As most of you know, last week I spoke with a group of students studying to become genetic counselors. One of the questions I was asked during their class was, “How have your dreams for your child’s future changed since her diagnosis?” It’s an insightful question and it forced me to dig deep. What dreams do I have for both of my kids and their future?

I thought about how I was feeling while I was pregnant with Sienna. It’s different with your second child. You already are aware of the sense of magic that comes with motherhood. You’re more selfless. You know the sacrifices you are going to have to make, and you’re prepared for them. Before Haley was born, I had dreams about her future. After she arrived, those dreams changed. They’re evolving every day based on what she wants out of life. The truth is her dreams belong to her, not me. All I want for her is happiness in life. I want her to do whatever it is that will bring her that. Whether she wants to be an astronaut, a makeup artist, a mom, an ice cream shop owner, or all of the above like she does now, I am going to give her the tools she needs in order to achieve those dreams.

Is that different for Sienna? I thought and thought on it, and I kept coming back to the same place. It is no different. Her dreams for the future will grow and change with each passing year and I will let her know that she is capable of doing anything. I will give her the tools to accomplish her dreams and I will stand on the sideline cheering her on, advocating for her all along the way. I will fight for both of my girls every day.

If you would have asked me 10 years ago if this is the direction I saw my life going, I would have laughed in your face. Would I be living in Pittsburgh? Ha, fat chance. Philadelphia is the best city in the world. Why would I leave here? Would I have quit my successful career in order to stay home and raise children? Ummmm, have we met before? I love working and I would never give that up. Would I be raising two girls, one with special needs? I can’t do that. I give people so much credit who can, but that’s not me. Also, I am going to be a boy mom. I’m a sports addict. I hate princesses. Well, here I am living this life we got (pun intended) and traveling this unexpected journey and guess what? I am happy. I am blessed. Being a mom to both of these girls enriches my life beyond my wildest dreams. One of my dreams in high school was to become a writer, and here I am pursuing a passion I had long displaced. My girls led me to this place and I am grateful to them for that.

Thank you for reading all of my posts on Facebook and Instagram this past month as we celebrated Down syndrome Awareness month. As we transition into November, I will be getting back to weekly blogging, still sharing stories about this life we got.

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Different is cool

I was having a hard time coming up with something to write today. One reason being I have had no time to think, let alone write. We hit the ground running this morning with school, aquatic therapy at the Children’s Institute, the grocery store and gymnastics.

In the midst of our crazy day, inspiration struck. During our appointment at the Children’s Institute, we encountered children working very hard to accomplish tasks that come easy to you and I. It was eye opening. Some of their disabilities were visibly obvious. I thought about what Haley would have said or thought had she been with us. Would she have asked me a question? How would I have addressed it? Would she have said something rude? Later, during this same day, we encountered a little boy who made a comment about the way Sienna looks to his mother. It’s the second time this little boy has said something. He obviously has questions. His mother covers his mouth and hushes him out the door. She doesn’t know what to do and she is embarrassed.

Here is what I want you to know. I get it. Your kid notices something different about my kid and your kid doesn’t have a filter cause he’s a kid. I am not offended. Let me help you. Don’t dismiss your kid. Don’t ignore them. Questions are good. Even if your kid says something negative about the way my kid looks, it’s okay. Ignoring it is not okay.

Teach your kids about differences. I like to tell Haley that God makes people in all different shapes and sizes. We are all special and everyone is beautiful. I explained Down syndrome to her by reading one of our favorite books, “47 Strings: Tessa’s Special Code”. I am happy to lend it to anyone. It explains chromosomes on a kid level. Haley still doesn’t completely understand, but we talk about it. We don’t ignore it. If you ignore something your kid is saying, you are teaching them that we can’t talk about it. You are teaching them that it makes you uncomfortable. Different is okay. In fact, we think different is pretty cool.

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