I felt this blog would not be complete without a page dedicated strictly to Anthony, the unbelievable little boy that has thrilled us from the moment he was born with his many talents. Anthony, the exact opposite pregnancy and birth as Brady, gave me no morning sickness, no bumps in the road, arrived 4 days early, allowed me to labor from home with ease, and was delivered after just 3 pushes and only 7 hours in the hospital.
Anthony Joseph Zgonina
Most parents would probably say that they were suddently kept on their toes once home, however, Anthony really was a very easy, relaxed baby and a very content and calm toddler. We never had to move any of our valuables for fear that he would break them. We child proofed the entire house, yet found that there really was no need. Anthony was and still is content to just learn and chill out. His ability to self soothe as a baby and his desire to just play and learn on his own as a toddler is something I know we take for granted. He wants to please and enjoys being praised, but is also very happy with himself and doesn't require that constant push or stroke. He is truly entertaining with the things he says to make us laugh, the things he manages to learn all on his own and the things he remembers once learned. He can build a train track to the exact specs as the image on the box it came in and he keeps these boxes and studies the different pictures and advertisements and asks us to read things to him, which he will remember after being told just one time. He is constantly thinking of his next move and will come up with a better path, a better track, a better play than I myself could ever think of . . . "Mommy, how about if we do it this way?" and wouldn't ya know, it's much better than what I was going to do. Every day is a new adventure with Anthony whether it's gleaming with pride over his first accomplishment of something or his clever way of showing his intelligence or making us laugh. But probably one of the best sides to Anthony is his sensitive side and this is best shown with how he interacts with his brother Brady. He is always very loving and gives us hugs and kisses, puts his arm around us when we're watching TV on the couch or shows his caution when one of us has an injury that needs to be avoided. But these are probably typical relations between parents and children his age. However, I have never seen anything like the bond that he and Brady have. I'm convinced this bond was there before they even met . . .
Anthony had to wait 13 long weeks before seeing, touching and finally kissing his baby brother who he learned to love from a distance. I remember this day as if it was yesterday. I thought about and analyzed how this visit would happen and worried about Anthony. This was Brady's home away from home and a very helpful home at that, but for a 2 1/2 year old, it could appear as a very scary environment. His brother had many wires and tubes attached to him and he was placed in the very back corner of the NICU making for what I feared to be a very long and scary journey through the sea of sick babies with even more frightening apparatus. Organs in bags outside their bellies, breathing tubes, crying. It was hard enough for us to walk through and we've become numb to it, let alone our young son who gets his eyes covered when a scary commercial comes on the TV. This was not going to be easy. But fortunately, Brady looked good and I was prepared to explain the oxygen, monitors and other wires required for his care. So Joe & I had a plan to have him walk holding our hands as opposed to carrying him. This way he would be below eye level of the cribs instead of having the ability to look down upon the sick children. When the moment arrived, all our worrying was for nothing. In typical Anthony fashion, he flirted with the nurse who was required to take his temperature, bragged about his shirt ("Don't look at me, that smell is my Daddy"), and just kept talking about meeting Brady with the biggest grin on his face . . . "My baby brother Brady is here and I get to see him!" His innocence and acceptance makes me smile just typing this. So we passed all my fears and got to Brady's crib and he immediately gave the nurse the picture he drew for Brady. We held him se he could peer down on his brother as I held my breath waiting for the questions to start. Questions about the oxygen up his nose and the monitor beeps and the other wires. Waiting for him to look around at Brady's neighbors and ask questions about their equipment. But the questions never came. He simply bent down and kissed his baby brother on the forehead . . .
Anthony sees Brady just for who he is, not for what he has. It's easy as adults to automatically label or consider Brady's delays and issues even while loving him unconditionally. Even Joe & I are guilty of that. We love Brady and Anthony equally and treat them both the same, but when we look at Brady we think about what he has and what he has endured and will continue to endure. It doesn't weigh us down or cause us to treat him differently, but it's still a thought that enters our brains from time to time. Anthony doesn't think that way at all. He has the benefit of not knowing all that we know, therefore he can't treat Brady any differently. A perfect example of this is the zerbert. Yes, I said zerbert. The first time Anthony did it I think you could hear me actually gasp and hold my breath as he yanked up Brady's shirt and just went for it. Full on lips on Brady's belly and zerberting his little heart out. Not a single pause from Anthony nor a single question or glance about Brady's g-tube and scars. He has MANY scars on his chest and torso. Too many to even count and the most prominent one is on his belly. Very obvious and bumpy. The exact spot that Anthony does the zerbert and yet he doesn't notice, move around it or care one bit. He loves his brother and loves to make him laugh. He doesn't care about the scars. They aren't what makes his brother.
Unconditional love. It's almost as if he knows how close we were to losing Brady. Like the time he gave Brady a hug and as they gazed into each other's eyes he says to me, "Mommy, I can't believe we have him. I just love him so much!"
Of course I shouldn't paint too rosy of a picture. He is afterall a toddler and along with that innocence comes the oblivion that us parents are so thankful to have at times like these. Like the time I read him the book, "We Can Paint the Octopus Red" and at the end of the story I asked him if he knew that Brady has Down syndrome. All he said was "Cool!" and just ran off to play. Thank goodness for his innocence! And let me just touch on the sibling rivalry a bit. It does exist afterall, He will yell at Brady to "stop messing with his cars" and sometimes he'll play too rough with him. But that is all so normal and if we can get even just a glimpse of normalcy out of this whole experience, then I'm one happy mother!
So on that topic of normal, I have to mention our daunting journeys back to the hospital over the past two years for the various issues Brady has suffered from and how well Anthony handled each ordeal. My biggest fear usually wasn't Brady's well being, but Anthony handling the entire situation . . . us being divided as a family yet again, Mommy being at the hospital day and night, baby Brady being at the hospital with who knows how many doctors and nurses doing stuff to him. I remember one time he said to me. "Mommy, don't you let them give him a shot!". Anthony is so strong and does his best to get through the times when we have to take Brady back to the hospital. It breaks my heart when I think about the fact that this is normal for him. This is so far from normal it scares me! But for him, it's just what has to take place. Does he resent Brady for it? Never. Does he get mad or frustrated? Not once. He asks questions about Mommy & Brady being gone, shows his concern for his baby brother and does his best with the help of his wonderful Dad, to distract himself until we are back to normal, our normal that is. He is very brave and I never for a minute thought about that when first experiencing all we did with Brady. I always thought about Brady's bravery and how much strength he has to get through what he gets through. But Anthony too has an amazing amount of bravery and strength. He may not know it right now, but what our family has endured is not normal and I'm so very proud of him for accepting his "normal" life.
I have often said that we have the best of both worlds. While Anthony grew so quickly; was walking by the time he was 10 months old and talking so much that people would have us repeat his age they were in such awe, Brady grows much slower and when his age is revealed to inquiring strangers, it causes unusual looks because he's so tiny. And while Anthony learns and moves forward so fast that I can't even keep up or remember what it was like to snuggle him as a baby, Brady moves forward so slowly that I don't mind when told it may be a long time before he sits up let alone walks. We have the ability that most do not . . . to enjoy the baby stage for as long as possible as well as continue to be amazed by the forward advancements that Anthony makes.
As for the term "special" when referring to Down syndrome, we never did like that term. Aren't all kids special? Anthony is special just like Brady and we try very hard to ensure he knows that. It would be very easy to get side tracked by all the extra attention that is required for Brady to thrive, but we try our best to ensure that Anthony receives the same amount of attention in some way. We also try very hard to let Anthony create his own views about his brother as opposed to bombarding him with details. Let his innocence continue for now and when he's ready and curious he will ask and we will share. But for now, just knowing Brady for what he is, his baby brother, is the most important thing in our opinion. Of course having said that, we don't keep things secret. If he asks, we tell him. If Brady is sick or in the hospital, we tell him the truth. When he's curious about the g-tube in his belly or the medicines and oxygen he's had, we explain it to him so he understands and isn't scared. But harping on the Down syndrome in our opinions just isn't necessary as Anthony will have the rest of his life to deal with grown up issues.
Right now, we enjoy his innocence so much and are so very thankful for it. Without it, I don't know if Joe & I would have the same outcome from our journey. Like the day Joe brought me home from the hospital for the first time after being discharged from the birth. Home without Anthony's little brother. We told Anthony that Brady was sick and the doctors were taking care of him. Anthony just gave us a big hug and his cluelessness to the situaton was a breath of fresh air. No questions, worried eyes, long hugs. Just a 2 1/2 year old wanting to tell us about his day. It was refreshing. This was the beginning of Anthony getting us through. People would ask "how did you & Joe get through it" and I gave them many reasons, but the main one was Anthony. If Brady had been our first, it would have been very easy to crawl into a hole and just bury ourselves with the gloom and doom of the situation. But we had no choice but to put on our game faces for our 1st son and make a happy life for him despite the hand we were dealt. And thank goodness for that. Thank goodness for him!