The Days are loath to take too much credit for their son's development. They suspect the doctors presented them with a worst-case scenario for Paul's future. And they say the county school system, which worked with their son from age 3 until he graduated from Central Special Education Center in Edgewater last month, deserves plenty of credit, too.
But clearly, Louisa and Larry Day have helped make Paul what he is today -- an outgoing young man who's held a job at Kmart two years, first busing tables, then working in the stock room. He rarely complains -- at least in public -- and has a close circle of friends, both handicapped and non-handicapped.
He likes to blow part of his paycheck on cassette tapes and has a notoriously eclectic taste in music, everything from John Philip Sousa to "The Lion King" soundtrack.
He'll never be able to live entirely on his own, but he functions a lot better than many handicapped people. And he works hard to achieve what many of us take for granted.
Mr. and Mrs. Day insist there was no great trick involved in raising Paul. They've simply refused to use his handicap as a crutch. There may be some things he can't do, but he won't know until he tries, they say.
"Don't assume that any handicapped kid can't do something simply because he is handicapped," Larry Day says. "Expose him to it, and if he can't do it, fine, but don't suppose he can't do it just because he's handicapped."
Paul's older sister, Rosa, says her parents were demanding with Paul -- sometimes too much so, she recalls thinking at the time. But now, she realizes the discipline and demands helped her brother.
"I can remember times where my parents would punish him, and I couldn't understand why," says Rosa, 24, who just spent a year as a teacher's aide for special education students at Severna Park Senior High School. "I guess because he was handicapped, I felt like he shouldn't be punished. Now that I look back on it, obviously if he did something wrong, he should be punished for it. My parents knew what they were doing. Today, Paul is very independent in what he can do."
Having a handicapped brother, she says, never seemed like that big a deal. It was, simply, "what I grew up with."
Her parents had much the same attitude.
"You have to accept it, so the question becomes, how are we going to make the best of it?" Mr. Day says. "You can't keep fighting it, because worrying about it and struggling with it is not going to change the fact that our son is handicapped. You do what is within your ability to do."
That includes finding something he's good at, something he enjoys, and encouraging him to stick with it. In Paul's case, it was swimming.
To the pool Keep your fingers together. Keep those fingertips pointing down. Don't stop when you make your turns.
For weeks, that's all Paul Day has heard from his coach. Don't look at me, keep swimming. What did I tell you to do with those hands? Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!
Paul swims at least five days a week, an hour or two each day, at the Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis. His training schedule would tire out almost anyone, but Paul's coach swears she's never heard him complain.
"Paul? Yeah, Steady Eddie," says Becky Perry, a tiny blond spark plug who has taught swimming at the Central Special Education Center for two years. "He just seems to be really even-keeled and just pleased with himself and happy almost all the time. I've never seen him disagreeable or have a moment of frustration, or even appear to not enjoy what he is doing."
Paul is her star pupil. By far, the fastest swimmer, and the most attentive, hanging on every word his coach says. His eyes rarely wander away from her, and when she encourages him to go faster, he tries to push it up another notch.
"He's very coachable," says Ms. Perry, 28. "He listens to what you say, you can tell that he's listening, and he really does try. He always catches on at some point."
Watching from the stands, purposely staying in the background to avoid distracting Paul, Louisa Day appreciates what this young woman has meant to her son. She knows Paul has become a better swimmer under Ms. Perry's watchful eye.
"Paul first went in a pool when he was 3 years old," his mother recalls. "It took like four years for the arms and legs to go together, but it was some exercise for him, it was a way to get with other people and he was learning something."
He turned out to be a good swimmer -- good enough to work out regularly with the Annapolis Swim Club. His technique is not picture perfect -- he splashes a bit more than he should, and he tends to pause at the end of every lap to scan the crowd.