This past Saturday was World Down Syndrome Day (the date, 3:21 signifies the presence of a third 21st chromosome, which defines Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21). While I couldn’t get it together enough to post on the actual date (it was a Saturday, we were on vacation, I can’t write when locked in a small condo at the beach with my children – let’s all hear it for rainy days during spring break), I can’t let this occasion go by without comment. I won’t fire out a bunch of statistics for you today. You can find plenty of that on Google, or more qualified sites than this one. And that’s not what my point is anyway.
My point, very simply, revolves around the basic human elements of love and friendship.
One of my favorite people on the planet has Down Syndrome. His name is Aaron, and he is incredible. Our entire family loves him (as do so many people), but none more than his little BFF, our youngest child and princess, Emry.
They are buds, pure and simple. They generally get along well, mostly because Aaron lets her boss him around, and that’s an important trait in a friend to her (I’m sure she’ll outgrow this). When he gets tired of her orders, he walks away….sometimes shaking his head, sometimes stomping off in irritation. They always reunite, though, with lots of hugs and plenty of smiles. It’s beautiful.
Don’t ever try to tell her that he’s “different”. It irritates her, and she gets impatient with that conversation. I’ve only tried it once, due to an unfortunate cucumber-to-the-face incident (apparently, there are times when walking away just doesn’t get the point across strongly enough). I opened with something along the lines of, “You know, baby, how God makes everyone unique?” It earned me a glare, a raised finger in the universal sign for shush-it, and an indignant, “Don’t, Mommy. Just don’t. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and I do not want you to tell me he can’t help it.”
Okay, then. I’ll just go get you an ice pack…….
He’s her forever friend, and she loves him, pure and simple.
She doesn’t want his idiosyncracies explained away. She doesn’t want him labelled, or categorized, or put in a diagnosis box. She doesn’t want limits put on him to explain what he can or can’t do, what his behavior looks like, or what his goals should be (she’s still a bit bitter that he started Kindergarten before her).
Over the weekend, I was talking about Aaron to my husband, and I made the comment that he is beautiful (because he so totally is). Emry, ever listening from across the room, perked up and whipped her head around. This made me a little nervous about what might come out of her mouth, since she tends to have issues with compliments not aimed at her. We just recently got her to quit announcing, “I’m cuter than her/him” every time someone admires anyone who is not her. I’m pretty sure she still says it silently to herself, but at least we’ve started the appearance of humility. It’s a work in progress.
Back to the conversation. It went a little something like this….
Emry: Aaron’s beautiful?
Me: Yes, he is.
Emry: Um….no, he’s not.
Emry: Aaron is handsome, Mommy. Not beautiful, handsome.
And then my heart melted a little. Because she loves her friend, and sees him as handsome. Because she corrected me to use a word she knows is socially appropriate for boys – we call her brothers handsome. Same goes for her friend. Because she didn’t have to think twice about it, or qualify it, or add anything other than the simple statement of fact.
And a little because she actually gave another person a compliment without hesitation or competition.
She gets it. Most kids do. It’s the adults who screw things up.
I have hope for this generation. I think if we get out of the way, if we don’t try to categorize, or label, or define everything for them, they will surpass and surprise us at every turn. I think they get it right a lot of the time, and they deserve our forgiveness when they don’t. I think if we model grace and acceptance, they won’t need to attack that which they don’t understand or recognize, because it won’t be scary.
If we stand behind them, instead of barricading paths in front of them, and teach them to do the same, we’ll let the world move forward….and spend less time focused on differences from this angle. How great would that be?
Solidarity, sisters. Happy Belated World Down Syndrome Day.