An “All-Netter” – By Richard Reilly, “The Grandparent Connection”

I had a FaceTime call from my grandson Louis the other day. He was with his friend Emery at Morningside Park on the upper west side of Manhattan, overlooking gentrified Harlem. Basketball was the theme for the day. Actually, both boys are enthralled with the subject – not just the playing, but also the individual players, their height, their record – the teams, the history of the sport. Louis is fourteen, Emery is eighteen. They each have Down syndrome, but that’s not part of the equation for the day. They’re challenging each other and draining three pointers from downtown, just like the rest of the kids on the asphalt court.

Emery and Louis

They were on their lunch break, sitting on a park bench. Of all people, why would they call Poppy? I’m a home designer – at times, Louis is my assistant. My most rewarding projects are designing compatible environments for those with disabilities. Louis recently worked with me on a project for a boy his age who lives his life with hypotonia, often called low muscle tone. I had drawn various concepts that would improve “Josh’s” usage and safety, in other words, his quality of life, building his confidence and goal of greater independence. His mother had shared with me that a few weeks ago, for the first time, Josh took a shower unassisted. Fourteen years! What a milestone. I’m still celebrating his accomplishment.

Back to our conversation. Louis had told Emery that Poppy helps people. Louis knows this intimately as I’ve “helped” him throughout his lifetime. I wonder, does he realize what he’s given to me? Louis loves to talk; he told Emery about us working together. Now it was Emery’s turn – a light bulb event. Speaking slowly and deliberately he said, “Poppy, I have a friend Scott. He has three disabilities: walking, talking and cognizance. We want you to help Scott.” “Of course I will,” I answered. We continued talking about therapists and how so many people use their talents to help other people, that we are called advocates. Both Louis and Emery are self-advocates and work with the Imagine Society in NYC, Louis writing for their Newsletter, and Emery volunteering in their community programs. They grabbed the basketball and said goodbye to me.

Louis. Emery. Scott. Josh. They each have limitations, but that word is not a stop sign, it doesn’t “limit” their ability to do good in the world. For them it’s about possibilities. You might say that their concern for Scott was empathetic – well yes. But they are lobbying for the action they personally can’t assume, they are helping to make it happen. They are dreaming with their eyes wide open. Imagine the possibilities that we with even greater capabilities can achieve. If only – if only we open our eyes a bit wider, and grow our hearts a little larger. We have the opportunity everyday, it’s a matter of acting on it.

Richard Reilly – The Grandparent Connection – August 2023

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