Emily Orton | Running Down a Dream

Emily Orton is a former middle school teacher turned New York City SAHM and part-time writer.  Her most recent offerings can be found on Work. Life. Balance., The Apron Stage, and Segullah.  She is a huge fan of Dare to Dream and pleased as punch to contribute.  When she's not reading or writing, Emily enjoys walking all over Manhattan, coastal sailing, and editing her apartment.  She and her husband, Erik, home school their five children. 


By four months old, my daughter Mermaid was showing signs of developmental delay.  Despite reassurances from my midwife and my pediatrician, I wearied myself with inconclusive internet research about Down Syndrome.

My husband called me paranoid.  I craved certainty.  Even the highly praised geneticist of thirty years couldn’t give it to me.  Finally, with Mermaid at six months of age, blood tests revealed the microscopic extra chromosome that shook our paradigm.  There was some reeling and some relief.  At least now I didn’t have to worry if anything was wrong.  I could get to work.

Source:  istockphoto

Genuine acceptance and resilient humor, two of my husband’s hallmark qualities, buoyed us over the first few hours of transition.  He wanted matching T-shirts that said, “We put the O in Chromosome” or “I’m down with Downs.”  He said Mermaid’s four older siblings would be so jealous of all the cool trips Mermaid got to take with us in our wild retirement years.  Encouragement from friends and family enveloped us as a whirlwind of evaluations and a battery of medical tests, I thought reserved only for politicians and celebrities, ensued.

Through it all, I held my girl.  I nuzzled her soft warm head.  I considered her future.  So much was still uncertain, but I knew she would have to work hard for every achievement.  I wanted to do something hard, too.  The circumstances of my life aligned to make a marathon possible.  It had been scratched off my dream list for years, but the shape of my dreams was changing.  I wanted to run to honor Mermaid.

Source:  istockphoto

I began training by taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  I had worked up to ten miles with my steady friend, Heather, as my trainer/partner when Mermaid began having seizures.  Tracking down a pediatric neurologist on a holiday weekend (these things always happen on weekends or holidays, don’t they?) was a saga unto itself.  She interpreted the mass of EEG scribbles as electrical misfires in Mermaid’s brain and we had a shared suite in the NYU pediatric ward within three hours.

Fortunately, Mermaid obliged us by having a seizure shortly after she was hooked up to the EEG and video monitors. She was immediately diagnosed with Hypsarrhythmia.  Sounds like a dance craze, right?  I wish.  It was actually the beginning of an insurance tango, learning to give my infant injections, and more tests than I ever took in college.  By day two of hospital vigilance, I needed to run.  I knew I might have to give up the marathon, but my body needed to move.  My husband took over the bedside duties while I held my other children, slept in my own bed and ran with Heather.

Source:  istockphoto

That crisp morning air, the steady rhythm of our tandem footfall, the oxygen, the endorphins and the encouragement of my dear friend convinced me that, now more than ever, I needed to run this marathon.  Mermaid came home and I continued training. The neurologist assured me that the chaotic electrical impulses in her brain weren’t causing damage. Mermaid descended into a developmental pause.  I ran.  She got very fat.  I ran.  Her eyes were dull and unfocused.  I ran.  She never smiled.  I ran.  My husband and our four older children needed me, too.  I ran.

Almost every day I trained with Heather.  On weekends a larger party would form for the long runs.  Sometimes the conversation would transport me into the concerns and joys of the other women.  Miles of quiet along the river was the sanctuary for my searching prayers.  Often enough that Heather wasn’t surprised, my voice would tremble and the wind would send my tears sliding sideways across my cheeks as I uncovered my unbearable fears.  But we laughed a lot, too.  I always came home with flushed cheeks and the crazy notion that I could do hard things.  I could carry my load that day.

The whole family came to cheer for me at the marathon.  They were at
mile 1, mile 20 and mile 26.2.  The older children held signs, waved
bright orange pom-poms and shouted out to me.  Mermaid was slumped,
disinterested, in her stroller.  The medication wasn’t working.  I
hugged her and gave her a big kiss.  I ran for both of us.

Source:  istockphoto   

Running down my dream kept me two steps ahead of despair.  This unexpected
protracted trial gave focus and purpose to my marathon dream.  My training schedule gave routine, energy and sustaining friendship to my uncertainty.  Achieving what I set out to do reminded me that I can do hard things one step at a time.

Epilogue:  There are only two medications for treating Hypsarrhythmia.  The second one worked for Mermaid.  She is alert, engaging, determined and curious.  She’s beginning to walk and talk.  She smiles and laughs.  She will be two in December.


What's the hardest thing you've ever done?  How has running that down helped you face other challenges?  Achieve your dreams?

After you read Emily's post, re-read Elizabeth Stewart Dunford's post Solace in Creativity.  What similarities do you find?

I'd also re-read Emily Anthon's Suiting Up and Showing Up.  What similarities do you see here?  What can we learn?

And finally — Stephanie Soper's Portrait of an Artist.  

Emily Orton | Motherhood – What’s In It For Me?

(1 mom + 1 dad + 4 girls + 1 boy) x (4 homeschoolers + 1 toddler with Trisomy 21) ÷ (2 bedrooms + 1 bathroom) = Emily¹s life in New York City

When Emily Orton is not putting her teaching degree to good use, Emily can be found learning something new, hanging out with friends, contemplating exercise, de-cluttering, reliving the recent U2 concert in her head, or blogging about education, Down syndrome and other stuff.  She cherishes late night chats with her husband, Erik, who loves to talk almost as much as she does.  Night owl Emily temporarily kept morning hours to train for a marathon in 2008.  Her family cheered her on through the entire process just as they do in everything.


I've been reading about motherhood.  Women are deciding what it means to them; what value maternity holds for them, for their families, for society.  Women are changing to accommodate children entering their lives, their children's increasing independence or children departing on their own adventures.  We are defining the relationship with our kids.  Who am I in this relationship?  What is my role?  What if I change myself or my role changes?  The dynamics of important relationships always affect us.  In the best scenarios they draw us closer to ourselves.

Even before birth, every baby girl is endowed with the physical potential for motherhood in the form of millions of eggs.  This is a physical symmetry to the emotional connection I’ve always had with my children. As a little girl I made choices based on the possibility that I would one day be somebody's mother.  I would save a special dress, sweater or toy for my future sons and daughters.  I thought of them as I kept journals.

Photo of Emily; courtesy Mary Goodson Miller

Bearing in mind my future role as a mother often helped me make wiser decisions than I might have if I had only considered my teenage self.  The mere prospect of children was one of the empowering factors that strengthened me to break a bulimic addiction.  Reflecting on what kind of person I wanted my future children to have as a mother motivated me to move in that direction.  What if I didn't marry?  What if I didn't have children?  Regardless, the potential informed my choices.

Orton FamilyOrton Family courtesy Sarah Robason

I did marry and now have five children who coax me forward.  For example, I was never the type to ask to hold somebody's baby.  Having my own children has given me ample opportunity to practice snuggles, hugs, kisses, tender names and compassion.  One day I was dropping my daughter off in her second grade classroom and I noticed a little boy crying.  I approached him and asked him what was wrong.  In no time, he had wrapped his arms around me and was crying into my stomach.  I ran my hands over his little shaved head and whispered, “There, there.” I knew his parents had recently divorced.  My heart was breaking for this little boy.  At the same time I was amazed that I had grown from being physically aloof to comfortably nurturing a stranger's child.  The same could be said for becoming more organized, more ambitious, more politically active, healthier, more grateful, and any other legacy
I hope to leave my children.


Motherhood provides opportunities and incentive for me to become the woman that I hope to be one day.  There is precious little that could consistently inspire me to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, but my children do.  We give up so much to mother, but isn't there also much that we get?

In choosing to be professional mothers or Stay-At-Home Mothers, we often look at what women are saying ‘no' to, but in choosing this path, what are they saying ‘yes' to?

In other words, there is much that is given up, but, as Emily points out, there is a big ‘get'.  What is the ‘get' for you?

What is it about your individual children that inspires you?  What if you were to write out a tribute, as Emily has done, for a Christmas present?


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