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Saturday, March 26, 2011

What's so special?




She's pretty in pink, at that sweet age where little girls begin to bloom.  He's all guy at that goofy stage, "too cute and too smart" sometimes for his own good.   





Okay, I’m a Jewish mother. As Jewish moms are wont to do, I like to brag about my kids.  Z and L aren’t my kids, but hey, they’re close enough. Z and L are my sister’s grandkids,  my nephew’s twins, which makes me Z’s and L’s aunt - uh, greataunt, to be genealogically technical.

Bragging about Z and L involves high praise for their parents. D and E are devoted parents and fierce advocates for their kids when need be. 

Last October Z & L were "called to the Torah,"  as we say, on their 13th birthday, to celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvah -- B’nai Mitzvot, as we say.   
Together, the studied well to prepare for that day. They learned the Hebrew prayers - the liturgy of the Saturday morning service in which they led the congregation.  They learned "trope"-- how to chant their portion of the Torah reading - (verses from the chapters called Vayiera in Genesis).  They prepared their commentary and wrote their thank you’s, all part of the ritual as it has grown over the generations from a Jewish rite of passage into a major social event.  Over the course of the weekend, we heard the word “special” spoken many times over.  And why not? A double Bar/Bat Mitzvah is special in its own right.  
The words “special” and “normal” have always confounded me when we talk about children in general, and specifically, when people ask me about L and Z.  You see, to me Z and L are both special  - and normal.  Both have needs, albeit different.  As every set of twins are “exceptional,” so too, are L & Z, having been born with the unique benefit of the other.  The fact that L was born with Down Syndrome, no doubt, pushes Z forward.  And the fact that Z is not “Down” pulls L up.  
I can still recall the music of Z & L’s first conversations in baby-babble in which they seemed content and in perfect sync with one another at a Thanksgiving dinner.  At thirteen, pulled in their separate ways, like normal sibs, they can push each other’s buttons. But the two of them together still share a dynamic which continues to be a wonder and miracle to me, and that, too,  has everything to do with their parents, the choices they’ve made as a family, and all the people they’ve let into their lives.  I don’t know a family more open, welcoming and inclusive than theirs.  
Now here comes the real bragging part.  
To visit my nephew’s family on any given day is to jump into a whirlwind of planned activities. There’s the usual extra curricular stuff -- piano, Hebrew, Sunday school, science fairs, summer camp.  And sports. Lots of sports. Z plays hockey. L is a figure skater. With three years under her slim belt, L has competed and won medals in the Illinois Special Olympics. Through that activity the whole family has been involved in supporting L’s additional role as a Special Olympics Global Messenger and speaker.  L has also played the lead roles in four productions of Chicago’s Special Gifts Theatre. 
"Annie"

Grease



I love that Z is a chess whiz, (read that chess, not cheese whiz) who can beat the pants off of me, while Lauren can kibbitz with the best of them, spotting the moves I miss. I love that Z is a voracious reader. And I love that L of late has begun to write lyrical “memoirs,” songs and poetry on scraps of paper and notebook pages that her parents have begun to collect and assemble.  I love that Z saves his allowance for a skateboard and video games, and that L spends her allowance on manicures. 
I also love that Z and L are a blending of their parents traditions. How many baby Christenings have you attended where dad recites a Hebrew prayer? Where is it written that potato latkes can’t be on the menu Christmas Day?  Theirs is a Jewish/Catholic household covering the bases, so to speak, and I believe Z and L are all the richer for the sharing and understanding - and gentle negotiation -- that is the fabric of their home life.  
No, I'm not their grandma.  But Z and L have given me 13 years of practice. The best ever.  A special gift indeed. 


In practice
   As always, thanks for dropping by today. 





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