On March 21, celebrate ‘Lots of Socks!’

It was Jan. 5, Alpena, Mich., nine years, two months ago.

We all have them, right? Dates forever notched onto our lifeline that are unforgettable. Why do we remember them so vividly? Maybe because they were so joyous or maybe they mark a tragedy, but, in most cases, they are moments in time that changed our lives forever.

One of mine was on that cold January day and I wasn’t even there — not in person, anyway. But, through the miracle of technology, I was present, watching the birth of granddaughter Maddox on a 10-inch screen. The delivery came off as planned, but the hours following were excruciating. Tiny Maddox had some heart issues, two small holes that threatened her moments-old life. Throughout the night she fought hard, something nine years later I can see now was a characteristic inherited from her mother that will serve her well forever.

Baby Maddie, as I still call her, was also born with Down syndrome.

Like many of you, I was aware of the disability. I was not foreign to kids with disabilities, as Maddie’s mother, Jamie, was born with severe hearing loss and struggled mightily growing up. I remember the day like it was yesterday when, at the age of 3, Jamie emerged from the audiology department at Michigan State University, with her first pair of hearing aids. That morning, she heard the rain for the first time, heard her first bird chirp, heard her parents’ voices. Although her language was limited to the muffled sounds she heard her first three years, her quest for knowledge began that very day as she soaked up every session of speech therapy, lip-reading and sign language, which ultimately led to her walking across the stage at Creighton University to accept her doctorate in occupational therapy and a career working with disabled children.

But, on that cold January night, Jamie now faced the largest challenge of her life: to pass that strength on to her daughter, “Baby Maddie.” Nine years have passed and I can tell you that, without question, Maddie is the most remarkable person I have ever known. Yes, I am a biased grandfather, but that little girl, in just nine short years, has taught me more than I could ever teach her.

Maddie sees the good and the beauty in everything and everyone. The only thing that makes her cry is when she sees your pain. She doesn’t judge people on their political views, the color of their skin, their gender, their religion or heritage. She sees and judges you and me on our words and actions. We all could learn a lot from this 9-year old miracle of wisdom.

It’s March 2019 now. For most of us, that means we are looking forward to spring, warmth at last, and the blooming of another year.

For me, March is special, too. It is the month we recognize World Down Syndrome Day. It occurs on March 21 each year. That’s next Thursday.

On that day, I will wake up and find the most outrageously colored and mismatched socks I can find. I will hike my pants up a bit so everyone can see them.

And I invite you to do the same. Wearing crazy socks, which are similar in appearance to the extra chromosome 21 that Maddie has, shows the world you know of someone with Down syndrome, that you know, too, the special persons they are and how much love they leave with everyone they meet.

If wearing crazy socks for just one day allows me the chance to celebrate and spread the word, then sign me up! Maddie is actually no different than you and me. We are all imperfect in some way, and we should all be so lucky if we had her ability to spread joy and love the way she does.

I often am too quick to judge, too caught up in the cesspool of politics, too obsessed with the hatred spreading across our nation. Comparing me to Maddie, well, it’s clear who has the real disability, and it ain’t her!

If you know Maddie, or other children that face monumental challenges, then you know how inspirational they are, how infectious they can be. Spending just a couple minutes with her will lift your spirits and make you want to see the world through her eyes. Help us show the world how much we care for the Maddies of the world.

Join me, won’t you, on Thursday March 21. Reach into that sock drawer and go crazy. This year’s World Down Syndrome day’s slogan is “Lot’s of Socks.” Get everyone at work to do it, too, and share your pictures on social media and recognize the children in your life who need a bit more attention than others. I definitely will be doing this, not only for Maddie, but all children who need a bit more attention and to share the fact that beauty has many faces. Snap a photo of your socks. Share them on the Alpena News Facebook page, facebook.com/TheAlpenaNews, or my page, @Greg Awtry, or email me at gregawtry@awtry.com so I can share them.

Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at gregawtry@awtry.com