One of my first jobs in high school was working with a young girl named Lisa. She had Down Syndrome and she was saddled with all the things that people thought she couldn’t do. She was smart enough to realize that people didn’t expect much of her, so she contented herself with doing more fun things while her classmates struggled with other things. I was wise to her, though, and I stopped letting her get away with things. I was told she couldn’t read, but truth be told, she couldn’t read well because no one challenged her. Under my twice-weekly sessions, her fine-motor and gross-motor skills improved. She stopped saying “I can’t” when she meant “I won’t”, and her literacy and numeracy improved. Her speech improved. I’m not saying this to show what *I* did, I’m saying this to show what she did. When I had to leave that job to go away to university, she bought me a popcorn maker. She thought that was an important thing to have to gear up for the next stage of my life. Amen, babygirl…
Anyway. Eventually, she graduated from Mohawk college and my mom cut out an article that the Spectator wrote about her. When someone showed her that she could, she spent the next decade showing everyone else she could, too. I hope she had enough popcorn, too.
When Child was at the teenytiny rural school in the GreatWhiteEast, he had a friend named Emily who had Down Syndrome. She was a year older than him, so he shared a classroom with her every other year until he switched schools. She was sassy and funny and other than the times when Child said he sometimes had a hard time understanding what she was saying, I don’t know that it even registered to him that she was different in any other way. She was just his friend. He hasn’t had contact with her in a decade, but when she saw that he joined the military, her mom told me Emily was proud of him. He felt proud when I told him what Miss Emily said.
A childhood friend of mine has a son named Liam with Down Syndrome. She has a list of “He might never be able to…” given to her from doctors trying to manage her and her husband’s expectations. Liam doesn’t care what that list says. he’s living his best life anyway. When my friend posts pictures of that boy’s smile, or videos of him singing, it’s a highlight of my day. What I know is that my friend posts the most supremely joyous pictures of Liam, and I’m grateful that she shares that with the rest of us.
So, today is Down Syndrome awareness day. There are different campaigns (Rock your socks, Blue Nails Campaign) to show people that you are safe space, and you support those with Down Syndrome. I’m not going to pretend to understand the challenges. The closest that I got was working with Lisa a lifetime ago. But I can see the rewards. And they look amazing.
This Lent, and especially in honour of Lisa, Emily, Liam (and Audrey, who inspired the first time we celebrated blue nails several years ago), may I look beyond the limitations of labels. May we all celebrate the diversity of friends. May we all recognize the gifts that lay beyond our fears.