This time 18 years ago, Jonathan was about halfway through his radiation and chemo treatments for colorectal cancer. I was pregnant with Rachel who was due to be born at the end of June. We had a prenatal diagnosis so we were preparing for the new world of a new baby and Down syndrome. I can’t really think of one word that would summarize how either of us felt. Some days were awesome and others were a bit of a challenge. About this same time my beloved Beagle Festas had a hacking cough. This can be a sign of heart worms. He had a preventative but Jonathan looked at me and said, “Well, you should probably get Festas into the vet. The way our luck’s been going he probably has heart worms. I don’t want to be the next great country song: I have cancer, my wife’s pregnant and then my dog died.” We both laughed.
This time 18 years ago I was thinking about lots of things but I wasn’t thinking about college for Rachel. I know it sounds so very shallow but upon learning Rachel had Down syndrome, one of my first thoughts was that she would never go to my beloved University of Arkansas. Jonathan and I love the University of Arkansas. Of course we would want our child to be a Razorback. Rachel was born to be a Hog. She came out with her hands in the air. My friend Vanessa said she was already praising the Lord. Being who I am, I said that I never thought of that. I thought she was calling the Hogs.
The world has changed a lot in 18 years. There are now around 250 post-secondary programs for students around the country. We have had the opportunity to visit a few programs and learn about more. Rachel has been very enthusiastic about Vanderbilt Next Steps program, and we coined the #futureVandygirl hashtag. The University of Kansas has launched a program. I have had the honor of being involved in one of the work groups. I have been impressed with their inclusive focus. Rachel loves the Jayhawks, too. There are lots of people in her life who try to brainwash her! So we coined #RockChalkRachel.
Then, about a year ago we heard they are launching a new inclusive post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities at the University of Arkansas. We have had the opportunity to meet with their steering committee and are genuinely impressed with their thoughtful and bold progression and their commitment to building a stellar program. They have been very kind to us and Rachel. Upon learning of her love for theatre, one of our new friends helped arrange a tour of the performing arts centers and encouraged us to participate in an official visit like all other students do. We did that this past Monday and had such fun. Mom and dad beamed with pride and loved hearing her say “I’m going to be a Razorback.” We loved watching her take it all in and being just like all the other students who are trying to decide about college.
Now, I don’t know if she’ll be attending the University of Arkansas. I hope so, but going to KU or Vanderbilt are good options. There are other options, too. I do know that 18 years ago, I never dreamed college or the University of Arkansas would be an option. Choices and options are a good thing, and that feels good.
Rachel’s latest trending hashtag: #Hogsarestronginthisone