A Beloved Christmas Classic?

The infamous train ride

Christmas Eve with all its talent show shenanigans was always at Mom’s house. I had the privilege of hosting Jesus’s birthday breakfast at my home. We would begin the morning with cinnamon rolls shaped like a Christmas tree and sing Happy Birthday to our Savior. After that the presents and mayhem would begin.

Stockings, even to this day have always been my kids favorite. It was a good transition for us to sort gifts, grab our coffees and get settled. We tried to do round robin, where we took turns ooohing and ahhhing as each person opened their presents, but it never worked. Noah tore into each gift like a bulldozer. Chris, my step-father’s OCD kicked in and he would try to match Noah’s unwrapping with equal parts clean up.

This particular year Noah was not enjoying the season as he usually had. Every time I brought out decorations, he would hide and shake. We would ask what was wrong, but he didn’t have the ability to communicate what was troubling him. We had mechanical deer we would put out by our side yard each winter. We would string lights along the fence and around the arbor and the deer would light up and move their heads up and down. In Christmas’ past Noah had tried to put the leash on them and take them for a walk. Sometimes he would try to feed them dog food. However this year, he had an absolute meltdown! He screamed and cried until we finally put them away. What in the world was wrong? No one in the family could get to the bottom of Noah’s aversion to the deer and the decorations.

The week before Christmas we joined the Down Syndrome Community-and took a holiday train ride through Hockessin. All the homes were lit up, carols were being sung. It was a picturesque night! Noah was subdued but wearily watching everyone at a safe distance. As we rounded the corner everyone started clapping and whistling, there on the side of the track, was a house with a zillion lights. It was an absolute feast for the eyes. It had inflatables, Santa and all his reindeer…I inhaled ready for a meltdown…..it never came. Hmmmm, maybe we had moved past the hysteric festival phase?

The thing about the Western Railroad is, on the ride out you get to view one side of the tracks. When they come to Mt. Cuba, the caboose becomes the engine and you switch seats to see the other side. Santa came through the cars handing out candy canes, Noah waved cautiously to him. Joe and I locked eyes, congratulating each other. Noah and Malia were looking out the window as we were almost to the end, when Noah out of the blue, started his Christmas Meltdown, but this time it was a level 1,000! Thankfully the Down Syndrome community was very understanding and parents gave us encouraging glances instead of condemning glares.

We hurried off the train, as soon as it stopped. What in the world happened? Malia, our special needs expert, started to recall the events that led up to his hysterics. She told us the house had cartoon cutouts of the figures from Rudolph. Weird, Noah had never seen that movie. Why would he be afraid of a cartoon cutouts?

The next day, Stacey and her kids came to exchange presents with my kids. I started telling her about the train ride and Noah’s outburst. All of a sudden her son Alex, chimed in….”Noah doesn’t like Rudolph!”

After asking Alex for an explanation, he told us that he was Noah’s buddy at Embrace Ministry. For the December respite, they played the reindeer classic. When it got to the part of the abominable snowman Noah freaked out!

Light bulb! So that explains the sudden fear of the deer. The cartoon cutouts had the yeti right by the tracks! Thanks to Alex the mystery was finally solved. To this day if Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer plays on the radio or in a store, Noah covers his ears and cringes.

As we opened our presents that minimally decorated Christmas, ( thanks, Bumble) Noah’s one request was to get a tool belt, just like Daddy’s. We found a cute little leather one with mini tools, a hard hat and rainbow suspenders. Noah wanted to put on an encore from the previous nights show. He went into our bedroom to put on his fixer gear. We all were eating and drinking waiting for Noah to appear. All of a sudden, Noah strides into the room completely naked sans suspenders and tool belt!

Now that would have been a winner at our family talent show for sure! 😳

Breakdown

After Noah’s first smile, there were many more firsts. At Christmas Noah was ready for rice cereal. All three of my older kids, were exclusively breastfed their first year. We decided to let Mom feed Noah rice cereal, since she never got the chance to feed the other babies. We wrapped up a beautiful bowl, baby spoon and a box of rice cereal and gave it to her as the first gift of the day. Noah happily gobbled up the mixture and we all patted ourselves on the back for how ‘normal’ everything was.

As homeschoolers we had started our seventh year of learning when Noah was born. We would meet in the mornings, review lessons and assignments and then I would work one on one with whoever was struggling with the days task. When Noah started being somewhat mobile we changed schooling to our upstairs family room. There was a small table and chairs, a sofa and on either side Zoe and Marley’s bedrooms. It seemed the perfect solution!

As we started this particular day, emotions were running high. Farm chores were late getting done, the goats needed to be milked. No one got the chicken’s eggs and bickering was at an all time high. My level of overwhelm was climbing and climbing. As I worked with Malia on her reading lesson , Noah started banging his head against the wall. Thinking it was an accident, I moved him to the center of the room, and proceeded with the lessons. More arguing, pencils couldn’t be found, the eggs still needed to be gathered….then Noah rolled/scooted, shimmied back to the wall and started head banging again. That was it! Something broke inside of me. I quickly asked Zoe, almost 13, to watch over things. I got in the van and drove.

I needed air, perspective, a donut! Living in rural Delaware, I had few options, so I went to the only place I knew would be safe to have an emotional breakdown, the parking lot of Food Lion. I stopped the car in the far corner and cried. I had no idea what I was doing. Not only with Noah, but with homeschooling and ‘farming’ with marriage and teen years breathing down my neck. I was a hot mess. Knowing the only way through is through, I put the car back in drive and headed home.

Noah obviously didn’t want to be confined, so we returned to schooling downstairs. We sold the goats, got rid of the chickens and anything else that took up emotional energy and got back to basics.

This lasted for approximately one month. I was taking the trash out in our side yard when I notice a black lab was squeezing herself in between the fence posts carrying something in her mouth. Over and over she did this. I walked over and discovered she was bringing seven Labrador-mix puppies into our playhouse. She then left! The puppies were covered in fleas! Immediately, the girls got to work. Zoe, Renee, and Malia set up the baby pool and began washing the pups, while Marley and I got them food and water. What were we going to do with seven puppies? I had just gotten rid of seven goats and a dozen chickens, there was no way I could handle anything else that required care and feeding.

We set about finding homes for the brood. Six were black and one was chocolate. We called church friends, they took some, Renee asked her teachers at school, they took another, the archery store took one, until we were only, conveniently left with the brown one. Please, my kids begged. We will take care of him they wheedled. I finally relented and Choxie was ours.

Apparently those closest to me started making bets over how long I would be able to handle a six week old puppy, a six month old nursing baby, three kids homeschooling not to mention helping mom with Gram. Choxie and Noah must have conspired together , because if I wasn’t up breastfeeding Noah, the puppy was biting my toes, whining, or having an accident on the floor.

Noah was in and out of the doctors offices and hospitals every year from September through February with allergies which turned into croup which turned into pneumonia. Unfortunately for Choxie he came during one of Noah’s health spirals. After five days of no sleep, our little brown bundle was gifted to Renee’s favorite teacher and another rendezvous to Food Lion was averted!

The Call

After a few days in the NICU, we finally were able to come home. The doctors said it could take up to two weeks for the genetic tests to be verified. Friends and family surrounded us during this time. Noah seemed so typical just like his older three siblings. He nursed, he cried, he cooed. Inside each of us were going through worst case scenarios in our heads. Mom, Gram and I would sit on the front porch at the farm and watch the kids play as we took turns holding our baby. That’s what he was our baby. If I wasn’t breastfeeding him there were seven others waiting to hold him.

Things I remember during the wait; searching the car for change to buy a bottle of Boones’s Farm to drink at sunset with Mom and Kate. Getting cable tv after years without, why? I don’t know it just seemed necessary. Our church bringing meals, as a celebration or condolence? If that period had a color it would be gray with swathes of pink hues.

Finally, the call came from our pediatrician that Noah did have Trisomy 21. I was in my bedroom when I took the call. Since I was the one to hear it first, I was also the one who would have to tell everyone. Joe was out by the fence overlooking the pasture, I came up beside him and put my arm around him. He looked at me and said, “Well, we will win a lot of Special Olympic fishing tournaments I suppose.” That was it, no tears, no hesitation, just a humble acceptance.

I took my Grandma Kate out on the porch swing and told her. Gram had a massive stroke in her fifties. Her right side was paralyzed and she was mostly nonverbal. As I told her about her great grandson’s determination, she hugged me with her one arm and repeated one word over and over, good, good, good.

My mom and I were in somewhat of a denial phase. We read all we could about Down Syndrome and determined that IF Noah had Down Syndrome (this was after the testing) he had Mosaicism where only some of his chromosomes were affected. We of course, had good genes and this couldn’t possibly be our fate. Mom even went so far as to tell the Geneticist the testing was erroneous and we would like another one!

Zoe, the oldest, the caretaker was determined that she would step in and mother Noah. Marley fretted and worried about his little brother and became super protective of him. Sixteen years later they are still the best of friends. Little Malia, the twinsie, just loved her sibling. My niece Renee who lived on the farm, would get off the bus each day and proclaim him the most perfect cousin.

Life limped along but I was angry at God my fist was clenched to him. I had a failed first marriage, a son with juvenile diabetes and now another son with a disability? Everyday I woke up with a hard stone of anger in my stomach. All that I knew of God was being tested. Believers who were trying to comfort often said the most hurtful things. Joe and the kids seemed impervious to all of this. They joyfully, and lovingly adored our baby.

My older children say that I was different before the birth of Noah that after the diagnosis, I lost a lot of my carefree, happy ways. I of course beat myself up. Maybe I was too old to have another baby? Maybe I got exposed to something I shouldn’t have? Why me God? I have had enough hardship. Then one day in November of ‘06 it was gone. The hardness, the accusing of God’s goodness. I was flooded by the beauty of a different way of life. I’ve always zigged while others zagged, often out of step with those around me. Who better than our family to love, raise, nurture and adore this gift?

My family and close friends will tell you throughout my pregnancy I talked about Down Syndrome often. When we found out I was going to have a baby, my mom said I prefaced the announcement with a reference to loving and accepting the Lord’s will, regardless. I got up from the table at 28 weeks when they wanted to do the amnio….I was being prepared, it just took me a few months to catch up to what my body and mind had been trying so hard to tell me.

The Wedding

Well, of course I said yes! The wedding planning began in earnest. We decided we would get married in February. In true tongue and cheek manner, I decided I wanted to get married on Honest Abe’s birthday. February 12th. When mom had me back in the good ole days, I was the first grandchild on either side. You can only imagine the love and anticipation that accompanied the birth. Mom, being a young 19 year old had a very hard time with the birth and they proceeded to use the medieval device know as forceps to ‘help’ in the delivery. Kate walked in and declared that I was the sixteenth presidents doppelgänger! Also, our pastor was on a missionary trip that weekend and we had to move the date by one week.

It was decided that the kids would walk me down the isle. It’s weird planning a wedding with four generations. Everyone had a say in how they wanted the wedding to look and feel. Our budget was small and Joe’s one request was that I wear white. This being my second marriage, I struggled with the whole purity thing. While Joe and I as believers had decided to wait until we were married, we both were obviously not virgins. To compromise (not really) I found a sea foam green dress at Goodwill that I fell in love with.

The date was drawing near and we decided to have the ceremony at our church and the reception at a nearby restaurant. A fun fact, the restaurant we chose had a gazebo on the water where my first wedding had taken place. As a chronic nail biter, I got my nails done. On the day of the wedding, poor Marley was recruited to help me pull up my stockings so I didn’t tear them with my talons, an action he tells me scarred him. The girls wore matching green dresses, while the men wore suits with daffodils in their lapels. It was simple and meaningful. Towards the end of the service we performed a ceremonial hand washing acknowledging that the person you have chosen is not perfect, yet fits with you in a way no other person can.

After the pictures we headed to the restaurant, Joe told me we had exactly two hours to enjoy the celebration and then we were heading to our honeymoon! The DJ played ‘our song’ Mr. Mom by Kyle Casey. Noah thinks our wedding song is Lilo and Stitches theme song, no matter how hard we try to tell him otherwise. It came time to cut the cake and as I was beginning to feed my husband, I let go and his slice splattered to the ground. A fact that he reminds me of every time I use our cake server. Joe then scooped me up and we headed to the beach house. When we were finally together, we both cried. Christ really can make all things new.

The next day we returned home. My life friends, Carol and Wanda, not only watched the kids but had gotten us all new, beautiful linens for my room…our room. We really were beginning again. Little did we realize less than a year and a half later our lives would literally be turned upside down.

The proposal

We slowly started emerging as a family of five. Trying on the guise of an intact family. Joe now 23, Zoe 7, Marley 5, Malia 3 and I’m 35. Joe has the intuition of a much older man and he steps into the role of father figure. This role has been void since my first marriage. Joe begins watching the kids while I work, alternating shifts so that we can accommodate breadwinning with the needs of homeschooling. When I reflect back over this time I remember tons of camping, field trips and nature exploration. We were learning to become a family as we tamed the great outdoors.

Joe came to me shortly after we we had started dating and told me he felt like he had won the million dollar lottery ticket. After being in a loveless marriage for ten years, I was overjoyed to be with someone who not only was falling in love with me but also with my children . One day Mom, Kate, the kids and I decided to go to Wild Quail with Joe. Mom and I wheeled Kate to the baby pool so she could soak her gnarled feet in cool water. Joe had taken all the kids to the deep end to play Marco Polo, Gram, Mom and I craned our necks to see Joe without his shirt as he jumped in to play with the kids. We were overcome with giggles as he held his nose before he took the plunge!

Later that summer we decided we were going to all meet at our beach house in Bethany. This was our safe haven for years, growing up, LSD ( lower slower Delaware ) was our refuge, our breathing space. Mom and her crew had headed down the day before. Joe and I loaded up the kids for the weekend. It should have been an hour and a half trip! Bathroom stops, air for the tire. bearcubbing, and cries of hunger required a stop in Milford, about forty minutes from our house. When we got out, we realized Marley’s blood sugar was plummeting and I proceeded to run into McDonald’s to get a sugar soda to alleviate the hypoglycemia that was coming. We finally reached the beach house and I climbed out of the car and drug myself up to my second story bedroom. Joe got the kids comfortable and kneeled at the foot of the bed. I raised my head up suspiciously, unsure of his intentions. Was he going to try to rabble rouse me? Urge me to get up and join the fray? No, he got down on one knee, and asked, “will you marry me?”

Are you kidding me? Most men would run, no this man…this boy/man who just happened to live next door to me…saw the craziness, the brokenness, the fragility of a single mom trying to raise three kids while also helping her mother and grandmother….this man was saying…I do! I do to the mess, the brokenness. I choose you!

Cake and frosting

The third trimester flew by and we were all counting down the days until October. As we were watching the seasons turn, Joe’s birthday was celebrated. Malia’s was next. She was turning six and had big plans! As always, each child got to pick what dinner and dessert they wanted for their special day. This was Mia’s last celebration as the youngest, so she was adamant about having a white cake with chocolate frosting. The night of September 12th, I laid out all the ingredients for the cake, so I could start as soon as I woke up. We always decorate the house for the birthday star so when they wake up they are greeted with fanfare.

At 5 a.m. I woke up to go to the bathroom, and felt a pop. This being my fourth baby, I instinctively knew Noah wasn’t waiting until October! He was making an early entrance into the family. I roused Joe and told him, today was the day and immediately started making Malia her birthday cake. The kids alerted Mom and Kate to the news that the baby was coming! Joe kept reminding me that we still had an hour drive to Wimington and that we were going to hit rush hour traffic! I was determined that Mia was going to have a cake! As the contractions worsened, I grabbed the hot cake from the oven, a jar of frosting and hobbled to the van.

Joe was right, of course, we hit massive traffic. The contractions started to really kick in and I began to claw at the window,. Thankfully Mom, Kate, Marley and Mia were following behind and didn’t have to witness my craziness. We got to the midwife’s townhome and she knew we only had minutes to spare. Somehow Mom had gotten separated and was still a couple miles away. Finally, everyone was together, I gave Mia the cake and the jar of frosting, which she immediately dug into. Then Noah Jonathan McGinnis made his arrival on a wave in front of four adoring generations. Zoe, being the oldest sibling caught him and Joe cut the cord. Malia, covered in chocolate at this point, remarked that she did not like sharing her birthday!

Kate had never seen a baby being born. Witnessing her great grandson’s birth only deepened her unbridled love for him. Mom, who had been at all the kids births, immediately went into nurse mode and swaddled him. Even a month early, Noah weighed 7 pounds and was 20 1/2 inches long. The exact same weight and length of Mia, they really were twinsies! Our midwife gave the baby to Joe and I, as mom gathered everyone else up. As soon as we got ourselves together we would meet at the farm and celebrate our new addition.

But there was no escaping the plan God had for us….