Dominic’s First Camping Trip- Adventure And Down Syndrome

Dominic just had a birthday on June 10 where he received some new gear for camping and hiking.  I wrote about that at “Happy Birthday! Dominic Adam Turns Eleven!”  The temperature had cooled off and I was finally able to take him camping for two days.

Dom and I headed to Pokagon State Park to enjoy some time camping and hiking. Dom had never been on an overnight camping trip before. He was really excited about spending the night in our tent and getting to use his brand new sleeping bag.

I have been taking Dom hiking since before he could walk. I had a papoose style carrier that I was able to carry him around with. When he got a little bigger, we also had a all terrain Radio Flyer wagon,  with chunky tires,  that I could pull him around in. It wasn’t nearly as great as being able to carry him in a papoose, but as he got heavier it was harder for me to lug him around.

Dom started walking efficiently a little later than his peers. People with Down Syndrome can have some musculoskeletal issues that need to be managed. For about three years he also wore small braces in his shoes that were supposed to correct the way that his feet pronated when he walked and provide support for his ankles. The ligaments in his ankles are very loose, a common trait in people with Down Syndrome, and he pronates inward and practically walked on his ankles.   We eventually decided that they were never going to do what they were supposed to do and switched him to inserts for his shoes instead.

Eventually, Dom was off and running just like any other child. He was able to hike short distances just like any other child. He would go until he got tired and then I would have to carry him or allow him to ride in the wagon.

People with Down Syndrome also deal with other issues such as  hypotonia (low muscle tone). There are things that “normal people” do with ease that take twice the effort with someone with Down Syndrome.  While I don’t allow him to be a lazy child, I try not to push him too hard.

Dom can usually go about five miles before he starts to get tired. Or bored. Or both. I try to keep him interested in what we are doing by getting him involved and pointing out the various things that we see around us. Generally, he gets very engaged.

We have been known to get pretty lucky with wildlife. On our first hike, we came across a female Painted Turtle that was laying eggs. We observed her briefly and then moved along. We also saw a white tail deer, a juvenile rabbit and later in the evening, we dealt with a nuisance raccoon that we decided to name “Bandit”. Bandit stole some of our stuff, hence the name.

Dominic was expected to assist me in setting up the tent. Then he helped me unload all of our gear from the car and supervised me as I organized our camp. He was eager to help and learn what to do. He takes a lot of pride in the fact that he is capable of doing these things.

I truly believe that the fact I have not allowed myself or others to treat him as though he has a disability has actually worked in his favor. That’s probably an obvious assumption but he has come a long way and has done a lot of work to get to where he’s at. I believe that over-assisting him will be a disservice.

He’s a kid so we treat him like a kid.

After we set up our camp and got everything squared away, we decided to go and complete a quick hike before dinner. My favorite trail in the park is trail #7 aka “Bluebird Hills”. You have to walk about a half mile to the trail head.  It’s a beautiful 1.8 mile loop that leads you along a wooded path to an open and rolling meadow and past the  wetland restoration. It’s so pretty.  When I visited this trail this past May, it was like stepping into a painting with the Dogwoods in bloom.

We had a great time.

We made hot dogs and fried cinnamon apples for dinner. Of course we gorged on Doritos and Root beer too. Then we just sat around and enjoyed our time. Later in the evening, the same raccoon that I dealt with during my last camping trip, arrived to scope out our goodies.

I named that raccoon “Bandit”.  Bandit has no fear of humans. At all. As I was yelling at him/her to go away, he/she calmly continued to walk up to me like a dog. I believe in keeping the wildlife wild. I attempted to redirect Bandit back into the woods by being a loud, belligerent, throwing things etc.

Bandit looked at me like “Jesus lady, what’s your problem?”

Later, after I went to bed, Bandit returned. I put our food in the car so there was no danger of it being eaten or dragged off. I left my cookware out though.  Bandit decided to steal my coffee cup and the lid to the little kettle I use to boil the water for my coffee. I found them both about 15-20 feet in the woods at the base of a tree.

I thought that was hilarious. I think it blew Dominic’s mind. He didn’t know what to think when I told him that the raccoon had taken our dishes and left them in the woods. I explained to him that was why I put our food away so the animals couldn’t get to it.

In the morning we made bacon, eggs and toast over the camp fire. Dom asked if we could visit the playground for a little while before we went hiking, so we did. We played on the playground for a little while and then played catch for a little while.

Unfortunately, bad weather was moving into our area and it forced me to cut the trip short. The weather reports out of Chicago and the surrounding area were indicating that the storms that were passing through were serious and I didn’t want to risk anything.  We had to head home.

Even though our trip was cut short, we still had a really great time. I was concerned at first at how he would do but I was reassured through experience that he would be just fine. I’ve found through the years that sometimes I have to really be careful in how I judge Dominic’s abilities. I am guilty of not giving him enough credit and I think that can rob him of some opportunities.

I have to at least give him a chance to do things. A lesson I remind myself of over and over. Part of that is just me being the protective mama bear. With that said, I am very realistic about what I should or can expect.

I at least have to let him try.




Happy Birthday! Dominic Adam Turns 11

I now have an 11 year old.

I remember thinking last year, “Wow, I have a 10 year old,”  Somehow, this is equally as mind blowing. My little kiddo is not so little anymore. He’s growing up.

My son, Dominic Adam, turned 11 years old on June 10th. We celebrated the previous Sunday with a small gathering of family and friends at our house.  We had a really good time.

In addition to toys and clothes and other gifts, Dom received a brand new sleeping bag and his very own dome tent to use when we go camping. It’s currently still set up in the back yard.  He’s having a lot of fun with it.

The next day, Dom and I went on a day-hike at the Spicer Lake Nature Preserve. This is our favorite local hang out.   The highlight of the trip was the Painted Turtle that we met in the parking lot. Later, we came across a nesting site where several of the hatched eggs were still there.

We had a really good time wandering around the park.  It’s the perfect size for Dom as it only has approximately 4 miles of trails. We can hike the whole park and it doesn’t usually wear him out.

I am planning an over night camping trip for him on my next days off from work. He says he wants to go and is excited. Hopefully the weather isn’t too hot or stormy. I have a ton of ideas to keep him interested and from getting bored.

So excited.

Decorate Your Own Soul-Living Your Life

Lake Michigan J.Koczan photo 2016

Lake Michigan
J.Koczan photo 2016


I’ve been somewhat selfishly enjoying life a bit lately. It’s interesting how I can consider doing things for myself to be selfish, but I can be my own monster. I feel guilty for it sometimes.   The truth is, I’m at that point where I need to take care of myself or I can’t effectively take care of anyone else.

I realized that I’ve spent too much time waiting for other people and that came to a stop. Seriously, if I waited for someone else to go out and do things, I would never leave the house.  What a boring life that is. I’ve sat on the sidelines of life long enough.

Is it strange for a woman to go off on her own? It shouldn’t be. I’ve gotten some strange feedback from people who seem amazed that a woman can wander off and go camping, hiking, kayaking or just travel all on her own.

Since the beginning of May, I’ve gone hiking so many times I can’t even remember. I’ve gone on actual camping trips twice. I kayaked, camped and hiked on Memorial Day Weekend. I drove far enough away from home that I wouldn’t run into anyone who knew me.

I posted numerous photographs from the places I’ve been on my Facebook.  I even created separate album for the various parks and nature preserves I visited.  I wanted to give organized  examples of these places to my friends so that they can get an idea of what it is like in order to plan their own trips. I consider myself a test subject in a lot of ways.

The question that I keep hearing over and over is “You went by yourself?”

Yes.  The reaction I usually  get are disbelief and amazement. Almost like I did a really cool magic trick and they can’t believe it. I honestly don’t know if I should be insulted or not. I’m not exactly a wilting flower.  Or dainty.

When I disappeared over Memorial Day Weekend, I even left my dogs at home. I didn’t want to take care of them with the heat that was expected or while I was out on the river. I hiked and kayaked and didn’t worry about anyone but myself.  It was amazing.

I obtained my own firewood. I can build a fire like nobody’s business. I can also set up my own tent and make my own meals. I know how to read a map. I can pump my own gas and pay for it.  I’m so damned capable of these things.  I don’t need anyone else’s help for the things that I want to go and do.

I was shuttled to the spot on the river where I wanted to start  my trip. I set off on my own and even rescued a drunk who rolled their kayak. You shouldn’t fear drowning in two feet of water. Stand up. I glided along and enjoyed the fresh air and the sunshine. For a moment, I forgot all about the problems that waited for me at home.

One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned in life over the past few years is that you need to get out and do things even if it means that you travel alone. Otherwise, you will miss out on a lot of life.  Don’t wait for anyone or anything. Just go.

“Don’t wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.”   There’s much debate on who actually made that statement, but I repeat it to myself a lot.

I am capable and so are you.

There should be no stigma attached to a woman doing for herself, no matter what it is. You certainly shouldn’t limit yourself based on that attitude.  Sure it can feel weird, different or even scary at first, but I assure you that you will have no regrets.