Game Changer

We went to the ocean a few weeks ago. On our way out of town I realized that I had forgotten Kelly’s swim shirt–a must to protect his shoulders and back from the sun. I was trying to beat the Cape traffic, so I rushed into a store on our way out of town and quickly grabbed the first one I found in his size without really paying attention to the decal on the front. It wasn’t until the next day on the beach that I truly saw what I had picked for him. I laughed out loud when I finally took in how perfect that shirt was for my boy.

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First, there’s the obvious irony of the statement; Kelly is truly very coordinated and athletic. He can hit the hoop and bring the bat to the ball, but he doesn’t really care about the rules of the game. He might just run from first to third base, skipping second all together. He may change the game, but maybe not how the his team members were hoping, so having him wear this shirt made me smile.

And then there’s the other meaning of this label. Kelly was our family game changer in so many ways. He turned our “normal” family into one that was not. He opened our hearts. He gives our lives more depth and continues to teach us to see. He reminds us to lighten the hell up. Kelly completely changed this game of life for our family and we are so very glad he did.



My husband’s away and I am doing bedtime solo. It’s 9 o’clock. The twins are in bed and Grethe’s door is closed. In the chaos of getting two seven-year-olds quiet, I have lost my fifteen-year-old. This is my boy with Down syndrome and he likes to run on his own schedule. That is not how things work in our house, however, and tonight I am in no mood to play games.

He is not upstairs. I call downstairs and get no answer. I feel the tingle of anger in my chest. Dammit, I am tired! I am ready to be done for the day. I step out onto the front porch and stare into the darkness of the adjacent school playground, Kelly’s default location. I call his name into the night and listen…

“Alone!” is his exasperated reply.

Well, you know what, Buddy? I’m pissed, too. We live in a neighborhood so I try not to shriek back. I calmly and sternly inform him to “GET. BACK. IN. THE. HOUSE!”

The order is met with silence–a deeply frustrating silence.

I take a breath. My anger is now in my throat and is starting to feel like rage. I envision running onto that playground and dragging him home. He’s a solid buck-25 now though, and force does not work so well these days.

This is starting to become one of those times when I am worried about my temper. Every parent has their limit and I feel like I am close to mine. It has been a long day.

I decide to get myself ready for bed to calm down. I call out very reasonably into the abyss, “Come home now please!” and I head upstairs. I brush my teeth and start to massage my face and neck with my nighttime essential oils. I relax a bit, but then through the bathroom window that faces the school I hear the unmistakable sound of tires on gravel. There is a car in the parking lot. As I rinse my face, my tired mind starts to wander…is Kelly still over there? Who’s driving through the school lot on a dark Friday night? We live in a safe neighborhood but still…

Now I feel a different emotion rising: fear.

I finish as quickly as I can and rush back onto the porch,”Kelly!” I scream. Nothing.

I don’t really think anything bad has happened, but I don’t know that it hasn’t either. I don’t want fear to take the lead, so l let the anger rise again. And rise it does–I am furious. I race onto the
playground, “”KEL-LY!”

Two syllables now. That’s bad.

More silence again. I am getting really worked up now. Fatigue, mixed with anger, and a dash of fear is a dangerous concoction. A small, irrational place inside of me thinks about physically hurting him–maybe just a hard pinch or a yank of his hair–something to pay him back for putting me through this, but I know that’s my emotions leading me. I have been parenting too long to turn my problems into his.

Just then I hear a far off noise. A voice talking. It’s coming from over the cedar panel fence, in my own backyard.

“Aargh!” I bellow as I head that way, every step heightening my fury.

What the fogging hell am I doing running all over the neighborhood at 10 pm on a Friday night? I storm in the direction of his voice, spewing incomprehensible disciplinary mom obscenities into the night. As his silhouette comes into view, I see that he is frantically waving me toward him. One last, “Kelly get inside RIGHT NOW!” spills forth, but he just grabs my hand and demands I “Shhh!”

He throws his arms out and gestures grandly to the darkness all around, “Fireflies,” he announces with a whisper. “Fireflies!” he insists again, in a voice that implies, “Don’t you see??”

My blind rage lifts long enough for me to look around. Sure enough, the trees and bushes are putting on a show. Lightning bugs blink and float all about in the soft summer air. The beauty of it in contrast to my anger is like a sudden slap and my eyes sting with tears.

Kelly sits cross-legged on the damp grass and stares in wonder at the show before us. I drop to my knees next to him and lean into his sturdy frame. My tears flow openly now, my demons have left me spent. While I was wasting time with rage, Kelly was sitting in awe.

As we watch this gift of nature together, I drink the sweet, night air deep into my lungs and find my way to calm. We sit in silence until we have had our fill.

Finally, Kelly gets up and reaches his hand down to help me to my feet. “Time for bed,” he says as he pulls me toward the house.

I follow his lead once more.

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore ~R.W. Emerson (and Kelly Thurmond)