October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As you may know, T.S. Poetry Press has published a memoir: Sun Shine Down—called a “jewel [that] rises to the top” of the category of Down syndrome memoirs. Yes, we have an interest in bringing beauty to light, regarding this life reality.
Throughout October, we will feature poetic and artistic looks into the experiences of those who live with Down syndrome in one way or another. Today’s feature is a challenge to uncover pure joy. It might mean becoming a child again…
It is October, Down syndrome awareness month. With that should come some obligatory posts about how
awesome ordinary my girls are. The idea is that if you could become truly aware of what it means to be a person with Down syndrome, you would not treat people who have it any differently than people who don’t.
I’ve never been quite sure how to make that happen, and last night—during the middle of the night while I was supposed to be in deep repose—it dawned on me: I can’t make that happen. That is because we both have a role in this process. It is my job to bring awareness to you and your job to accept people with Down syndrome as fully human, like you are. And I cannot force that.
Yesterday a woman from the Office of People with Disabilities called to share some program information with me. We talked for a bit and it came up that I actually have three daughters with Down syndrome and she said, “You are such a good person.” What can I tell her about Down syndrome that would make her understand that I am no more good than any other woman who has five children at home?
A while ago I was at a Pampered Chef party and as I chatted with a stranger, I mentioned my three daughters with Down syndrome. A very serious look came upon her and she said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” How do I explain Down syndrome in a way that lets her know there is nothing to be sorry about?
In early September I sat in a meeting with Masha’s Kindergarten team. Her new teacher was visibly nervous. The team asked a lot of questions about behaviors. What could I say to ease their minds?
Sometimes I feel like a walking Down syndrome commercial. Over and over I find myself saying, “They are just like my other kids except they learn more slowly.” (Except for Kimani of course, who really is not like anyone else I have ever met, and in her case I am continuously explaining that “this is not what Down syndrome is like. She suffered brain insults as an infant and has neurological damage.” But Down syndrome is what they can see on her, so despite my denials, it gets the blame.)
If you could see Masha and Jade together, you would believe me. While they are miles apart in their academic progress, they are evenly matched in their life skills. In fact, though she is six months younger than he, she is more helpful, gets ready for school more independently, and follows routines better. When it comes to fighting over an iPad, they are even-steven, and it is a toss up as to which one will come crying to me. She rides his bike, pulls him on the wagon, chases him down the slides. He reads stories to her, and gets insanely jealous when she gets one of his sight words right during our games of Word War (an M & M prize is at stake here, folks.)
Yes, if you could spend an afternoon with my children, you would know what acceptance looks like. When my boys look at their sisters, they don’t see Down syndrome at all… they see only Masha, or Autumn, or Kimani. They see people, not a syndrome, and when that happens for you, I will know that I have done my job well enough that you have been able to do yours.
Tell me, could you ever imagine yourself screaming with joy into the face of a person with Down syndrome?
Post and photos reprinted from The Unknown Contributor.
“Gillian Marchenko’s Sun Shine Down is a moving account of the birth of her third daughter, Polina. She describes her depression after Polly’s birth and her own difficulty in loving her child. Beautifully written, this memoir is hopeful without being glib.”
—Susan Olasky, World magazine