Shoes for College Dreams

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For the past three years, our friends at Born Shoes have teamed up with us to support Ruby’s Rainbow during our 3-21 Pledge. They fluently speak the language of “what makes a mom feel good ” when it comes to shoes, but they know that what really makes a mom feel good is knowing that there is a world of opportunities and love waiting for her child. For kids with Down syndrome, opportunities past high school have been limited, but we’re working hard to change that.

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When Born Shoes heard about Ruby’s Rainbow, they immediately jumped to action: “How can we help? What can we do? We make beautiful shoes! We’ll give them away to help!”

Today, they join us in supporting this year’s pledge (read yesterday’s post if you need to catch up!). Donate $21 or more to the pledge to help fund scholarships for people with Down syndrome to pursue higher education dreams, and you could win an entire spring wardrobe of Born shoes.

How do you enter? It’s easy.

1. Donate $21 or more to Ruby’s Rainbow’s 3-21 Pledge.
2. Enter your e-mail below.

Kelle Hampton & Ruby’s Rainbow

TWO readers who donate will win an entire spring shoe collection (up to 5 pairs of Born shoes from bornshoes.com online product offering). Can you enter if you donated yesterday? YES! Just enter your e-mail in the giveaway if you’ve already donated $21 or more, and you’re in.

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Psssst…today’s International Women’s Day, and I know some beautiful women with Down syndrome who’ve already sent their applications in to Ruby’s Rainbow. Your donation is a celebration of them, their capabilities, and a step toward “Congratulations, you’ve been awarded a scholarship toward your dreams.”

Dreams Brought to Life Again: 3-21 Pledge

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It’s 10:15 on Saturday night, and Brett and I have just realized we are the only ones left in the restaurant where we came for a date but ended up being seated next to a couple we haven’t seen in years. I taught fifth grade to two of their six children who are now all grown up, and for the past three hours, we’ve talked about the all-consuming task of raising children, specifically the crucial teenage years leading up to the tipping point, when every effort you’ve made–from driving them to soccer games, to following through with those broken curfew consequences–finally pays off and they metamorphose into flight. “Mom? It’s me. I got the job!“I met somebody.” “I got an offer in California. Can you help me move?”

“All these years,” my friend says, “and, boy, do we have stories. But after six kids and only two left to graduate, we’re almost there. They’re out there…making it.”

It starts from the second we fold up that hospital receiving blanket and tuck it in the keepsake box, and it never ends–preparing our kids for this “bigness” that the world holds for them; tucking lessons of discipline and resilience in their belt, granting them experiences, exposing them to the world so that one day when they pack up all the Christmas ornaments I’ve been saving for them all these years and the bedding we bought for their first apartment, hug us goodbye and drive away, we can wave and cry and miss them and yet know that there is more for them out there in the world than there is at home. That all the prerequisite courses of being an adult we gave them prepared them for something bigger.

Rewind to last November. I’m in Washington D.C. with my friend Liz from Ruby’s Rainbow, visiting a group of students with Down syndrome attending George Mason University’s Mason LIFE program for students with intellectual disabilities.

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We have spent an entire day following the students in the program, attending classes with them, visiting their dorm rooms, accompanying them for their weekly independent grocery shopping trip and talking with their professors and student mentors.

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I am inspired and hopeful and yet a little bit emotionally raw, as I often am in these situations, simply because I love these people so much. I love my daughter, I love that she’s opened up my world to the heart of this community, and I feel the love I feel for Nella in every person I meet. And I know behind every student I’m following–watching her raise her hand in class to answer a professor’s question…

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…or compare juice prices at the grocery store…

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…or talk about what she wants to do when she graduates–“disability advocacy policy in the education field,” as my friend Madison tells me…

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…is a mom, like me, who once held her baby, stunned with a diagnosis, wondering if the world we all prepare our kids to be a part of is big enough for her child.

I get to spend time with several of these moms on our trip, stashing advice from the ones who’ve been on this road longer than me and huddling close to the ones who are right there with me. I sit next to one of them–Emily, a new mom of a 9-month old baby girl at home–during an award ceremony where our friend Liz, the founder of Ruby’s Rainbow, is being recognized for her work granting scholarships to people with Down syndrome. Also being recognized is Mark Hubler, a 52-year old man with Down syndrome who attended college on a Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship, graduated last year and is traveling the country as a motivational speaker now. We spent the evening with him the night before at dinner, scooting our chairs closer to him and howling with laughter from the stories he told; and now Emily and I sit side by side in the audience as he walks to the podium to speak. He unfolds his paper while the first slide of his presentation appears on the screen–a black and white photo of a baby with familiar almond eyes in a high chair–and begins.

“When I was born in 1964, doctors told my parents, ‘Put Mark in an institution.’ But my parents said, ‘Heck, no.’ My parents gave me the opportunity to be part of a family.”

I feel it again–all the worries I keep buried and this surge of love for Nella so overwhelming that it damn near breaks me–and tears begin to spill as the screen scrolls from baby photos to teenager photos and finally a picture of Mark, 51 years old, in cap and gown, holding his college diploma, smiling while John Lennon’s “Imagine” plays overhead and Mark bellows into the microphone, “We need real jobs! We can do it! We can do it!” I cannot stop the tears as the room fills with applause and Mark holds his hands in the air in victory, and all I can think is how his mother is somewhere in this crowd watching, and how her heart must be completely wrung out with pride–how in 52 years, you can go from a small world that had no place for your son to a wide and welcoming one because you fought hard and never stopped believing.

Eight years ago, right now, we were getting ready to celebrate our first World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. We celebrated it on the beach, in a dedication ceremony with our friends and family. We cried, lit sky lanterns, set them free into the sky and promised to be the village that Nella needed to thrive. She was tiny. She wore pearls and the gown my mother sewed, and as we held her close to us on the beach that night, we were still sad and scared and overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown.

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We know so much more now, and I cry less because I’m worried and more because I’m grateful–inspired by the possibilities for her life.

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For the last two years, I’ve asked you to help us in supporting an organization that is close to my heart but more importantly, one that is changing the future for people with Down syndrome from “Your road stops here” to “There is more.” And today, I ask you again to join me in support as Ruby’s Rainbow begins their two week 3-21 Pledge in preparation for World Down Syndrome Awareness Day on March 21. Last year, Ruby’s Rainbow was able to grant 35 new scholarships with your support for a total of 109 scholarships–and that’s after just 5 years of being off the ground.

What is Ruby’s Rainbow? Ruby’s Rainbow is an organization that grants scholarships to adults with Down syndrome who are seeking post-secondary education, enrichment or vocational classes, not only helping these individuals live a better life with more opportunities, but creating awareness of their capabilities. Are these programs working? YES. Oh my goodness, yes. Not only are employment rates dramatically improving for individuals with Down syndrome who graduate from these college programs, but their social skills, life skills, confidence and overall quality of life has drastically been made better. I’ve talked to numerous parents of kids in college programs and Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship recipients who say they’ve never seen their child happier–thriving, contributing, hanging out with friends, saying yes to new opportunities. I’ve followed these students in their classes and watched them interact with their peers, interviewed their professors and mentors, and have a resounding “Yes! This is changing the future.” The once very limited world of opportunities available to these individuals is expanding, and so is their happiness.

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And what Ruby’s Rainbow is doing for the hopes of new parents? It’s life changing. Take it from the parents of baby Walt who fought a very brave battle but passed away last August. His parents continue to support Ruby’s Rainbow and advocate for people with Down syndrome (a $5,000 Ruby’s Rainbow scholarship will be awarded this year in Walt’s honor):

While I sat in silence by Walt’s bedside, I came across Ruby’s Rainbow through an Instagram hashtag. I quickly realized as a parent of a child with a little extra and at that moment, a child who was in critical care, I wanted more than anything to give my Walt hope and a future. I wanted more than anything for him to be healthy and happy. I wanted more than anything for him to be able to go to college. I wanted more than anything for our Walt to be independent and have self-worth. That was the moment Ruby’s Rainbow became a piece of our Walt’s hope and his future.

Every child deserves the pursuit of something bigger–learning more, taking risks, making friends, chasing dreams…

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And you can help.

Take the 3-21 Pledge

1. Donate $21–more if you can, less if it’s a tight time–to Ruby’s Rainbow.
2. Pledge to be kind to people of all abilities.
3. Share the pledge with THREE friends, asking them to do the same.

Social media has given us so many opportunities to raise awareness and invite people to feel more than their own story, and sharing is a big component of Ruby’s Rainbow’s success with their mission. If you’re a parent of a child with Down syndrome, here’s how you can share the pledge:

“Friends and family, f you’re ever wondering how you can help parents of kids with special needs feel supported and loved, how you can help make the world a more accepting place for our kids, I have something you can do. It would mean a lot to us if you donated $21 to Ruby’s Rainbow. For our child and his peers, it grants them the opportunity to dreams we all want for our kids. For your child, it grants him a college experience that includes knowing someone with Down syndrome.”

For me? Well, if you’ve been reading, you know our story. But, in a nutshell, it looks like this:

Thanks to Ruby’s Rainbow and the work of others who continue to fight for more opportunities…

These dreams that I thought I had to put to rest the minute my child was bornI can put to life again.

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For the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing on my social media channels, along with Ruby’s Rainbow, more inspiring clips and stories of the work of Ruby’s Rainbow from our friends. Please help us make these next two weeks Ruby’s Rainbow’s best pledge year ever. They have so much more work to do–and applications already coming in from kids like mine who want to learn more so that one day, moms like me can pick up the phone and hear, “Mom? It’s me. I got the job.”

$21. For the price of a bouquet of roses, a new book, a dinner entree…you can make a difference in someone’s future. Donate Now.

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Special thanks to Heather Rodriguez Photography for providing the beautiful photos in this post.

You’ve Got Vail

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We were no sooner home from Vail Wednesday evening just long enough to peel off long-sleeved shirts and drop suitcases where they’ll no doubt sit unzipped for at least a week (cough*month*cough), and I was already in my office for a quick preservation of what I was feeling before it faded and folded back into cutting sandwiches for school lunches, gathering dropped underwear around the house for another round of laundry, and sifting through the Valupak envelope for coupons I’ll save but never use. From my suitcase, I pulled a Ziplock bag full of Colorado dirt and skinny pine cones I had collected from the creek we walked along last week, and poured it into an empty jar. VAIL, FEBRUARY 2017–I scribbled on a torn piece of paper, attached it to the outside of the jar and placed it on the memory hall of fame shelf in my kitchen where it joins jars of soft white shells from Dash’s first trip to the beach, red clay from the ground outside the sewing co-op in Rwanda, tiny pebbles from our writing retreat in Ojai, piles of coffee-colored snail shells from the Michigan lake where we’ve had so many summer adventures, and other Earth treasures from memories that stood out over the years, needing to be commemorated in driftwood, smooth stones and dirt dug from sacred ground.

And then I clicked around the Internet, collecting the songs we listened to on the trip, ones that will now always remind me of this tiny window in our lives and our family and how grateful I felt last week to be standing under the cold blue sky while the snow fell, surrounded by mountains, watching my kids with their red cheeks and chapped lips take up space in that immense scene–catching flakes on their tongue, forging trails on snowy paths, running back to me to get a glove adjusted, a boot tied, a nose wiped–and feeling so much love and peace and enjoyment for where we are right now. I collected songs just like I did dirt and pine cones and tucked them in a playlist where I can listen to them again when I want to revisit this feeling. I collected “If I Needed You”–the song that made me cry when I heard the musician start singing it as we walked into the old lodge Saturday night on the ranch where we made one of the best family memories ever.

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I tucked in an enchanting country version of “Twinkle Twinkle”–the song he sang for Nella that night–and “Hallelujah,” Johnny Cash’s “Walk the Line” and, of course, John Denver, because–duh–Rocky Mountain High.

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When friends and I heard Deepak Chopra speak a few weeks ago, he talked about learning to separate ourselves from our experiences by thinking of them as a dream that we had…we wake up to a new day, and yesterday and the things that happened to us were just a dream. I’m not very good at separating myself from anything, so if we’re going to go that route, let’s just say I’m the BFG and I’m trapping my glowing vacation dreams in jars so I can save them and relive them and blow them to my children when they sleep. Because those glumptious phizzwizzards fuel us and remind us of what we seek–togetherness, an acute understanding of our presence in the world, and an appreciation for mountain creeks and beach sunsets and also finding a cool pub with cold beer in a new town. Come on, Deepak, you know that’s important too. Memory hoarder for life, I am. For the record, routine home days and stirring cream into our coffee at the same counter where we begin every morning also reminds us of what we seek–togetherness, an acute understanding of our presence in the world, and an appreciation for a spoon that clinks against your mug like a morning wind chime, good-smelling dish soap, a little granola left in the bottom of the bag and a still-sleepy kid on your hip. Going away to inhale new air, coming home to breathe it out.

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A rambling intro to say…come with me. Come with me to a small ski town nestled at the base of a mountain in a national forest full of magic.

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You don’t need to ski–we didn’t. It is enough simply to stand in that little town and look up; to see what is often viewed as an inconvenience–cold and snow and ice–in its greatest element, in unspeakable beauty that belongs in the world.

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It makes you feel small in the greatest way.

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Brett’s parents know this feeling of small greatness well as they are committed to traveling and drinking up as much as the world has to offer in landscapes and people and experiences. They are good at adding to their own memory jars and have tucked away adventures from Iceland to Africa and invited us to come with them for this one in the mountains.

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They also value family and little moments, and my favorite memories of this trip by far were made in pajamas and fueled not by scenery but by love.

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My kids got to experience the childhood thrills I know growing up in the Midwest–running–breath held, half naked–to feel the snow…

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…and hopping through the steamy cloud above a hot tub to sink in and warm up.

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Sacrificing dry pants to make a snow angel…worth it.

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Testing fresh snow for packability. Too powdery but so pretty.

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Searching for sledding hills and letting the incline from a barely there ditch qualify.

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Kicking snow off boots…

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…and huddling closer to keep warm.

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Vail was the perfect place for following the prescription our family currently needed–adventuring little and resting a lot.

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(Vail Village)

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My three favorite memories from the trip:

1) An evening sleigh ride dinner at 4 Eagle Ranch

…nestled in the little town of Wolcott, just outside of Vail.

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Brett’s parents planned the evening and, let me tell you–for years, I have talked about a hypothetical experience at the top of my bucket list. I dreamed it up in my head and imagined there was a big cozy lodge tucked in the snow in the mountains somewhere, and there was a crackling fire and twinkle lights and music–definitely music–wine, hot cider and family–all of us together. I have described this scene in bucket list conversations, even though I didn’t know where it would happen or if it really existed like I imagined, but when we arrived to the ranch, out there in the middle of the cold nowhere, and walked into the lodge and heard the music and saw the fire crackling, I started to cry. “This is it,” I told Brett. “This is what I have dreamed of for so long.”

“She’s crying,” Brett laughed to his dad.

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It’s the kind of memory my kids will never forget but struggle to recall all the details thirty years from now, retelling the story when a  “Describe a memorable trip from your childhood” card gets pulled from the Table Topics box at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“Wasn’t there, like, a cat roaming around in the bathroom?” Lainey will ask. “And there was a swing set, right?”

“Oh my God! Yes! Good memory!” I’ll laugh.

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“Dash, do you remember the names of the horses?” I’ll ask. And we’ll all smile because of course he’ll still remember after all those years.

“Nip and Tuck,” he’ll answer.

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And I’ll tear up remembering how little he was–mesmerized by the snow, those horses, hopping around the dance floor under the star lights with his stick horse.

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I’ll remember it like it was yesterday but wonder, as Deepak says, if it was all but a dream.

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And the sleigh ride. Brett’s dad has told us the story of one of his most precious memories with his own beloved grandpa–it was a sleigh ride late at night in the dead of winter. My kids now have their own sleigh ride memory with their grandpa.

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We stayed and danced far past the kids’ bedtimes because every song the musician sang was our favorite song and we didn’t want it to end. And when we finally called it a night, I hugged Brett’s parents, thanked them over and over and then looked back at that little place of magic lit up against the night and whispered my gratitude for what we shared there as we drove away and kids slumped into our laps falling asleep.

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And the takeaway of 4 Eagle Ranch besides–oh, I don’t know, one of the most magical nights of our lives?

A genuine cowboy hat for Brett from their trading post.

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He wore it for the rest of the trip, and now I’m trying to make cowboys hats in the Florida ‘burbs a thing.

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Favorite Memory #2: Nella’s walk.

I now have a sacred memory of a walk with each child far away from home, just me and them, when I felt so connected and in love with the moment that surely the world could end at that very second, and all would be well (Lainey’s was in Chicago, Dash’s–New York City). I had left the house for a long walk alone, and when I returned, Nella was standing by the door all bundled up. “She’s been waiting this whole time,” Brett told me. “She wanted to go with you.”

“I’ll go again,” I said, lacing my boots back up, “Just me and her this time.”

We walked a long ways–way longer than she’ll usually walk without whining or asking to be held–and much of it was uphill, in the cold. She never complained. We held hands, made sled tracks where the trail allowed and threw sticks in the creek and watched them slowly float away.

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We found a deserted playground, rode swings against the wind, watched our breath paint the air and finally trudged back home where she said “I love you Mommy” not once but three times along the way, for no good reason other than we had shared something special.

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And Memory #3: That same walk, that same path, repeated as a family. A bit more complicated with all of us and accompanied by some tears over falling in the snow, cold fingers, who got to ride the sled and “I don’t want to walk anymore,” but so very us, perfect in its own way…and led by the almighty cowbay hat.

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Think you have to be a big skier to have fun in Vail?

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Not if huddling up with family is your thing.

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Our lips are chapped…

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…but our memory jars are full.

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…and a huge thank you to my beloved in-laws who see the beauty past spilled hot chocolate, fighting kids and prolonged fits in the backseat over ill-fitting mittens. xo

Happy Weekending.

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