Tamara Taggart is a Vancouver-based wife, mom and anchor on CTV News at 6. Her son, Beckett, has Down syndrome and loves to play guitar. We asked Tamara if she could kick off our “special day Q&A”, a new series of blog posts that will appear throughout the year to increase awareness about different special needs. Today is World Down Syndrome Day.
AK: Tell me about your family.
TT: I’m married to Dave Genn (musician and producer — guitarist with the band 54-40). We have three amazing kids, Beckett is 5, Zoë is 4 and Poppy is 2.
AK: Can you tell us about Beckett’s diagnosis?
TT: When our doctor called us to confirm that Beckett had Down syndrome we had a house full of people. We had a five-day-old beautiful baby boy in the house and everyone wanted to come by and hold him. My husband and I cried in our bedroom privately, we were filled with fear and totally shocked.
We realized within moments that our reaction to the news would set the tone for everyone around us. We chose to be positive, not sad — we sure didn’t want to hear anyone say “sorry” about the news that Beckett has Down syndrome. We weren’t sorry, we were happy — and still are. Everyone in Beckett’s life adores him and wants the best for him, it’s everything we hoped for the day we received the news.
AK: How does Beckett’s diagnosis impact his life?
TT: Beckett has some challenges when it comes to things like eating, toilet training and speaking — and these are all things that he will eventually do — he’s just a little delayed in his development.
Right now our biggest challenge is eating. Beckett prefers to only eat pureed food. We have been working with a food therapist and it has been nothing short of miraculous, we watched Beckett take a bite of a sandwich the other day. This is a huge milestone for us.
One of Beckett’s best qualities is his perseverance. He will try something over and over again. It’s wonderful to watch him grow and learn. His victories, which may seem small to some, are big to us.
AK: How has Beckett’s diagnosis impacted you?
TT: Down syndrome has brought a new awareness to my life. I’m more thoughtful and understanding. At first it was tough because I became hyper-sensitive about how people spoke around me and how they acted with Beckett. I have a little list of pet peeves, things that never bothered be before but sure do now:
- Use of the word “retarded,” especially when used to insensitively describe something stupid.
- The term “Downs kids” they are not “Downs kids” they are children who happen to have Down syndrome.
- People who say, “They’re such happy people.” I’d like to think that my child’s happiness is because we love him not because he has an extra chromosome.
- People who assume and don’t ask questions. If you are uncomfortable around someone with special needs just ask questions to become better educated — trust me, parents are more than happy to have a thoughtful discussion about their child.
AK: Does Beckett’s diagnosis impact his sisters?
TT: The fact that Beckett has Down syndrome goes completely unnoticed by his sisters, to them he’s just Beckett. Zoë and Poppy never question why Beckett still wears a pull-up or doesn’t talk as much as they do. He is who he is. There’s something to learn from my daughters who are only four and two: Accept people for who they are.
AK: What is your favourite thing about each of your family members?
TT: Dave is an incredible husband and father. He’s my true love. I’m so happy I get to share this journey with him. We love our kids so much. Beckett is so sweet, the definition of loveable. He is sensitive, thoughtful and very funny. Like his sisters, he loves music and dancing. He also loves dinosaurs and cars! Zoë may be the middle child but she acts more like the oldest. She’s a caretaker, always watching out for all of us. I love that she has my memory — she doesn’t forget a thing! Zoë is hilarious and eager to learn. Poppy is our blue-eyed baby, in a family of brown eyes. She loves her baby dolls and she has just discovered Cinderella. For the past month she has worn her princess dress and crown every day and everywhere! I love when she says “I lub yoo mummy”.
AK: Have you experienced any benefits/positive experiences because of Beckett’s diagnosis?
TT: I think we’re a stronger family unit because of Beckett. We are all more patient and present because of Beckett. We have also met an incredible group of new friends, people we would have most likely never crossed paths with. I love my new mom friends who also have a child with Down syndrome, we share our joy and tears. We’re a tight group.
AK: How do you cope with tough days?
TT: Our tough days come when we have doctor’s appointments. I’m always nervous when it is time for Beckett’s annual blood work and check-up. We have been to the emergency room a few times in the last six months because of Croup. I despise Croup. Beckett also has cataracts, they were discovered when he was a year old. We check them every six months to see if they have grown — that too is a stressful time.
I try to just take it all one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. I don’t worry about things I can’t control — which is much easier said than done!
AK: What worries you about the future?
TT: I was born a worrier and it only got worse once I had children. I think most parents can relate to that. I worry about a lot of things, but because Beckett is only five, I realize that worrying about high school or where he will live and what he will do when he is 20 is wasted energy. I only concentrate on the here and now.
AK: Did your dreams for Beckett change? If so, how?
TT: When I was pregnant I imagined my child walking and talking and going to school. Getting married, driving, having a successful career… things that most parents imagine. At first I thought Beckett wouldn’t do any of these things but now I realize that he will probably do most of them. He has already fulfilled all my dreams, now it’s my responsibility to help him reach his dreams.
AK: What do you do to recharge yourself? What are your favourite “me-time” activities?
TT: With three kids under six and a full-time job I don’t have a lot of me time. I have committed to working out at the gym four times a week before work. It’s tough but it makes me feel strong and I like that. If I ever get any time alone I’ll find a quiet space and grab a magazine, I love my magazines.
AK: What advice would you give to other people who have a loved one that has received a diagnosis similar to yours?
TT: I just talked to a woman the other day, she’s pregnant and due in early summer. She just found out that her baby has Down syndrome. I spoke with her on the phone, she cried and I listened. I’m putting together a dinner party for her with some other women I know, who all have a child with Down syndrome. We will wrap her up in love and support her through these tough days. Once you realize that you are not alone, things get easier.
AK: What would you like people to know about Beckett?
TT: Beckett is just like any other regular child, he has feelings and dreams. Please don’t judge him or label him just because he has an extra chromosome. Next time you see someone with Down syndrome try talking to them. For some people with special needs life can be lonely because no one wants to be friends with them, that’s usually based on fear. There’s nothing to be scared of, I promise you.