Saturday, July 17, 2010

Meet Me in St. Louis

We are back home after a two-week road trip. (We called it a vacation, but it was only semi-relaxing!) Every two years, the Williams Syndrome Association holds a national convention, and this summer it was in St. Louis. We had not attended a convention yet (Clare was too sick in 2006, and 2008 was held in California, which was too far away for us), so when we heard that the 2010 convention was to be in St. Louis, we knew we had to go. My dad is from St. Louis, and his family still lives out there, plus my older sister is currently living in St. Louis (an older sister who my children love dearly and who they have not seen since Christmas). Plane tickets, rental cars, lugging gear around was too much to handle, so a road trip it was! We journeyed in three legs both ways - our home to my younger sister's in Philadelphia (where we spent the Fourth of July), then Philly to West Virginia (where my grandparents live), then on to St. Louis. On the way home, we did it in reverse! They were six long days of driving (about 50 hours total spent in the car), but the kids did fairly well! They are little troopers, that's for sure.

So the convention... many people told us that once you attend a convention, you will never miss one again. Frankly, I am not sure I agree with that! There were many wonderful things about the convention, but it was also so overwhelming. I am not sure what I expected exactly, but this little story is a good illustration about how it was way more than I could have imagined. Our third day of driving was the worst. Everyone was sick of being in the car. The last two hours of the drive, Violet was so upset about everything, that she was making herself sick. We ended up pulling over and switching the seating arrangement. Jamie and Clare sit in the same type of car seat and so do Simon and Violet, so we can do all kinds of seating arrangements without moving car seats. Violet would only calm down if I rubbed her head, so I squeezed in the rear row between Clare and Violet. When we finally pulled up at the Hilton in St. Louis, that's where I was - wedged in the back between my girls. Shawn pulled up to the valet, and we all waited while he went in to register (you quickly learn at hotels NOT to unload all the kids until you're sure you're staying put). As we waited, I saw this little face pressed against the glass from inside the hotel. It was a boy, probably a little older than Clare, who without a doubt had Williams syndrome. After a l-o-o-o-ng two hours, seeing that smiling, friendly, oh-so-familiar face doing something I have seen Clare do so many times instantly brought a smile to my face. I thought, that's so cool - there's another child with WS inside that hotel! When Shawn came back out, I eagerly told him about the boy. His words to me were simple: "Tree, you haven't seen anything yet." I asked him what he meant, and he said, just wait.

After unloading the children, the luggage, and the gear, we entered the hotel lobby. And Shawn was right. I hadn't seen anything yet. The lobby was full of faces, just like the one I saw pressed up against the glass. Babies, kids, teenagers, adults - all with Williams syndrome. They were everywhere. We have attended numerous WS get-togethers, but never with this size crowd. It was unbelievable. It was also quite overwhelming. It was in-your-face Williams syndrome. And I am not sure I was ready for that.

(to be continued)

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