But I didn't really realize how much she had changed me until last week.
On Friday Charlie had a day off, so I took him (and Ella) to the Library Story Time we've been going to for the past 3 years, but have been unable to for the past few months because of preschool. Since we hadn't been there in so long I didn't really know any of the other moms, but there was one little boy that was familiar. He was about 8 or 9 years old. And he had Down syndrome.
As I moved toward the bench to sit next to him I found myself staring into his almond shaped eyes and I felt something different inside me. It was subtle. It was unrecognizable to those around me. But I felt it. Where once I might have seen a disabled child, I suddenly saw a life full of hope and potential. Where before I would have felt pity for him and his family for their "hardship," I now felt joy for their blessing. Where once I used to wonder why his babysitter brought him to story time when it sometimes looked like a hassle to try to control his actions, I felt pride at seeing all the things he could do and the way he tried so hard to "fit in."
I wasn't intentionally trying to be more accepting or loving that day. I didn't force myself think any of those thoughts. Down syndrome was the furthest thing from my mind. (Wearing the kids out so they would take good naps was probably taking over at that point..) It was a heart-changing, life-altering moment when I sat down next to him and instead of smiling politely and diving back into my own self-absorbed life, I took a minute to really study that boy. I looked deep into his eyes and a beaming genuine smile came from the bottom of my heart. And you know what? He let out a slight sigh of relief and the little smile he gave back to me was the most beautiful I've ever seen.
It's a good thing I didn't really know any of the other moms there because as I sat there looking like a fool, listening to "Hallo-weiner" with tears rolling down my cheeks, I realized that for the first time I was looking at this person, this beautiful child who just happens to have an extra chromosome, in a whole new light. For the first time I saw the beautiful, unique person who was fighting through the shackles of the world's view of the world 'disability.' For the first time I saw him for who he really was as a person, not as a diagnosis.
I knew Ella had changed the way I think about her. I knew she had changed the way I love my own children. I knew she had changed my own little world. But I didn't realize the extent of how she has changed the way I see the entire bigger world around me.
I don't think I ever mindfully was aware of how I was reacting to this little boy in the past. It wasn't that I was consciously shooing my children away from him so they couldn't interact with him. It wasn't that I willfully didn't want to help him. It wasn't that I ever said outloud that me or my family was better than him. But it was more of a silent attitude I had in my mind and heart. One I wasn't even aware of. I just didn't know.. I hadn't been around a lot of people with Down syndrome. Hadn't purposefully put forth the effort to put myself in that situation. Hadn't educated myself about the truths of Down syndrome. And for that I am ashamed.
The month of October is National Down syndrome Awareness Month and my friend Deanna had been blogging about it every day. I didn't feel the need to post much about it here because.. well... Ella doesn't have Down Syndrome. And it's about all I can do sometimes to focus on CdLS. But today I want to take the time to bring a little awareness to people with Down Syndrome as well.
Did you know that following a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, over 90% of people decide to abort their baby? OVER NINETY PERCENT!!!! Oh how my heart hurts to think of that...
Going through a similar situation I KNOW how hard it is. I KNOW how scary it is. I KNOW how the uncertainty of the future scares the living daylights out of you. I KNOW you want to run and hide and you might think this is the worst thing that could possibly ever happen to you.
But do you know what I also know?
I know the joy these children bring into your life. I know the way they change you for the better. I know it's not the end of the world. It may feel like it, but I promise you it's not. It's merely the beginning of a whole new existence you never dreamed was there.
In honor of my friend Deanna's blog and her gorgeous daughter Addison.. In honor of everyone who has Down syndrome or knows someone who does.. Please PLEASE take a minute to educate yourself. To get to know someone affected. You won't regret it.
Deanna and Addison for helping make me aware and sharing your joy in my life.