My daughter is learning about life, love, acceptance, and intolerance. She is in the third grade, but acting with a gentle wisdom and constant big-hearted love for all that makes my own heart grow.
My girl is super smart, reads several years above her grade level, and learns everything quite easily. She is not bored in school though, as her active imagination keeps her going. No bestest friend ever yet. She is very busy, in clubs, sports, and extracurriculars and talks easily with anyone and everyone. I love watching her flit about from a young group of boys, where she acts like a monkey to make them laugh, then off to a group of moms where she impresses them with some reminder of a forgotten task, and then over to a group of girls and “oohs” at their necklaces and new shoes. She is happy where ever she is. And she is herself where ever she is. And she spreads happiness where ever she is. I love all that.
When school started this year, she told me about a new friend she made in class, and was so happy that he sat next to her. She said she thought he was cute and funny and they laugh together every day. I was happy for her but thought nothing of it. She also told me that some of the other kids aren’t nice to him, and she didn’t understand why. I asked what they did that wasn’t nice, and she explained that they call him names, laugh at him, and avoid him, like make a big deal that they don’t accidentally touch him in the hall. I said wow, that sure isn’t nice, and I bet he’s happy to have you as a friend. I asked if the teachers know how he is being mistreated? She said the teachers see it, and try to get the kids to be nice, but they just aren’t nice, especially in the hall walking to lunch. Aww, poor guy. I asked who, and she said a group of girls mostly run and scream, and the boys laugh and won’t let him play. But he doesn’t care Mom, he’s always so happy and nice.
As school got going, my daughter told me more about her friend. She said he can’t read very well, and does work she did in kindergarten. And he’s happy about it Mom. She was astonished that he was proud of himself for mastering such “baby-ish” tasks. Then she looked at me and said, “I guess we should all be proud of what we can do, since we can all do different things. Just because this work is easy for me, doesn’t mean it is EASY.” And like the Grinch’s heart, I saw hers growing that day, as she learned her own life lesson in acceptance. Wow. (Not that she was overly grinchy before, but just young and self-centered as children tend to be)
Now this story gets even better. I took my girl shopping and we bumped in
to her new friend and his mom at the store. She ran up to him, and they exchanged high-fives and grins, and “See ya tomorrow’s”. Her new friend has Down Syndrome. “Isn’t he cute mom?” Yes. yes he was adorable, and I could tell he liked my girl too. Such a warm and genuine smile on both their faces.
Her friend’s mom had teary eyes from my daughter’s warm greeting and obvious acceptance.
So. I never exactly told my daughter to value and accept every person, no matter what. But somehow she got that message. And somehow those not so nice students did not get that message. Were they given another one? Did I give this message without knowing it? I don’t know.
And the best part, to me, is that my daughter never thought it was important to tell me her new friend had Down’s. I found out she did know, and actually had asked me about it, but out of context and I never connected the dots. Just a quick, “Mom, what is Down Syndro-something? What does it mean if someone has Down’s? Our teacher said someone at school has it.” I explained that they were born with a different chromosome, (a what?) their DNA, their body’s roadmap. Like you have a gene that gives you brown eyes, makes it easy for you to learn new things, and your lungs get asthma. Some people have a gene for Down Syndrome. “Does it make it hard to learn?” Yes. “Does it make you look different?” Yes. “Like your gene made your back and leg hurt?” Yes.
“Mom, will he be ok? Is he sick?” Ummm, I searched for an answer here. I have limited understanding of Down, and I didn’t want to worry her too much or get too complicated for her age. I didn’t even know she was asking about her new friend, just thought it was someone she heard about at school. So I said, “He’s OK for him, and he’s not sick, and can’t get anyone sick, his body just works a bit different. He can get sick with a cold, just like you can, but he isn’t sick with Down. You can’t really compare him to anyone else. He’s very special. And very lucky to have a friend like you. And I’m so happy you got to meet him.” She said “Yes, me too”.
I looked up Down’s info after talking with her.
Many children with Down syndrome have health complications beyond the usual childhood illnesses. Approximately 40% of the children have congenital heart defects. It is very important that an echocardiogram be performed on all newborns with Down syndrome in order to identify any serious cardiac problems that might be present. Some of the heart conditions require surgery while others only require careful monitoring. Children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of infection, respiratory, vision and hearing problems as well as thyroid and other medical conditions. However, with appropriate medical care most children and adults with Down syndrome can lead healthy lives. The average life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is 55 years, with many living into their sixties and seventies.