Steven ran from the kitchen and gave a high five to his brother, Bryan, and then he ran to his grandmother. “Hi D,” he said with a big smile, and put his arms around her neck. Dolores Cali, a 60-year-old resident of Kearny, smiled and explained that Dolores is too difficult for 3-year-old Steven to pronounce, so he just says “D.”
As a mother of five, and grandmother of 11, Cali said she realizes that each child is different. But Steven presents a particular challenge: He was born with Down’s syndrome.
“It was love at first sight,” she said of Steven’s birth at the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md., where his parents, Patricia and Allen Milford, lived.
“It was all the usual babykins talk how cute he was, who he looked like, how chubby he was all the normal things grandparents say,” said Cali, who is affiliated with a Hudson County organization that helps rehabilitate the handicapped. She also works for U.S. Rep. Frank Guarini in Jersey City.
It wasn’t until three days after Steven’s birth that the family found out that he had Down’s syndrome. “It was love at first sight,” she said of Steven’s birth at the Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md., where his parents, Patricia and Allan Milford, lived.
Cali said the news was devastating for her daughter and son-in-law, who now live in Hopatcong. “I was heartbroken for them,” she said, mentioning that the Milford’s first son, Bryan, was born with a heart defect. “He had open-heart surgery when he was only 20 hours old, and again when he was 1.” Bryan is now 5.
Cali delights in each grandchild as an individual; she affectionately runs through the list. “There’s Patrick,” she said. “He’s the oldest and charms his way through everything. Then there’s his brother, Anthony, who comes over and hugs you if he has to. John is the scholar and sportsman, and his sister, Jeanine, is the dancer in the family. Their brother, Robert, is the little terror. Andy is into every kind of sport; Jennifer, his sister, is the animal lover. Cynthia is the sweetheart, and Gary is the Mickey Mouse fan. Bryan is the Giants fan, and then Steven is the little lover. “
“He openly gives hugs and kisses,” she said of Steven. “He is extremely affectionate, and he has no problem holding his own with the other children, either. He likes to share his playthings,” she said. He does not like roughhousing, however, although he will bounce back with a smile every time. “
Though she adores Steven, Cali said he doesn’t receive any special treatment, and is reprimanded when he misbehaves. “He is very aware when he has been bad,” she said. She sees Steven most weekends. Steven has attended the Hopatcong School in Hopatcong, where he receives physical and occupational therapy, since he was 6 months old. “We didn’t know if he would be able to do a lot,” said Cali. “Down’s syndrome children can have serious heart and thyroid problems, but they told us at the children’s hospital in Washington that his muscle tone is high for a Down’s syndrome baby.”
“God bless Mommy, Daddy, and Bryan, and thank you for sending the troops home,” he will say. “He is very independent now,” Cali said. “In the beginning he looked double-jointed, but now he is doing extremely well. He does everything his brother does. If Bryan does a somersault, then Steven will follow. “
Caring for those who are not fully independent has been a part of Cali’s life for 4 1/2 years. She sits on the board of trustees for the West Hudson Council for the Handicapped, which is based in Kearney. “We serve people who have gone as far as they can in school,” she said. “We give them somewhere to go, rather than just having to sit at home.” One of their most recent projects was making yellow ribbons, she said, and they also do things like sorting glasses for manufacturers into boxes. Each of them receives a little check at the end of the week, she says. Cali said it is getting very difficult to raise money, but the center continues to try, and is organizing some new fund-raisers.
“I think! a lot about Steven’s future,” said Cali. “I think he has talent, and will do fine,” she said. “He will hopefully be able to get special education in high school, and go into the work force.”
Whatever the future brings, Cali said that her love for Steven can only grow.
“All my grandchildren love in their own special way,” she said. “I take their love in whatever way they give it. Grandmothers are always there to listen, hug, and hold. Thanks to Steven, we all find it much easier to express our feelings. He has shown us all how easy it is to love. “