My Son Made Me A Believer

About a year before son with Down syndrome was born my best friend and I ran a half marathon together. It was a big deal because we live in different countries and don’t often get to see each other. I was determined to help her get her personal best time; she was more concerned about enjoying our time together. She stopped to take photos during the race and all I could think was, “we just lost 20 seconds on our pace, how are we going to make it up? “ I don’t remember the time on the board when we crossed the finish line, but thanks to my friend, we have photos to remember the fun we had along the way. It is those photos, not how long it took us to finish the race, that brings me happiness; they captured the most important moments of the race, our time together.

Before my son changed my perspective, I was a self-proclaimed “realist.” I always tried to see the positive first, but the loud realist inside of me always quieted the optimist. I tended to find the worst case scenario quickly and focus on it until it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I set personal goals and worked hard until I achieved them but few carried meaning beyond my own life. I didn’t tend to look at my place in the world for the greater impact I could have; but rather focused inward on what I could do to achieve my own personal best, for me.

My son’s life has given me more true happiness and fulfillment than any of my personal accomplishments ever brought me. I advocate for his quality of life and that brings purpose to mine. Additionally, I have been ignited with a passion to make a difference in not only my son’s life but also the lives of others in the Down syndrome community. Now, I find myself being a full-fledged believer in a world of possibilities. I would even say on certain matters, inclusion being one, I’m a rainbow, gumdrops and lollipops kind of girl. The kind of person my previous realist self would have rolled her eyes at.  I believe inclusion can change the world.

I have heard “nothing makes you happy,” more than once in my life. In those moments, I never considered myself unhappy. I was satisfied with my life, but always chasing something better. I never stopped to appreciate the journey; the finish line was all that mattered. Achieving my goals consumed all my energy and none was left for enjoying the journey.

But now, as crazy as it sounds, I actually believe that I can help to change the world. I am humbled by the opportunity to have my voice heard through my writing and hopefully be an agent for change. And that, that makes me happier than I have ever been in my life!

I catch myself dreaming of a future for my son that is fully-inclusive, where he will be celebrated and welcomed into his community with open arms. Where the school placement for all kids will be inclusive not segregated. Where all kids play on baseball teams together and celebrate each other. Where parents will celebrate the birth of a child with Down syndrome because they grew up knowing an amazing person that happened to have an extra chromosome.  I believe it can happen.

When it comes to my son and the impact of inclusion, I am an idealist; and I have never been happier. My son has given me a purpose outside of myself. I no longer chase happiness and view it as a destination. I let the happiness in little everyday moments capture my heart and fill it up.

My son has taught me patience and appreciation for the moments that make life worth living. I’ve learned that the finish line is something to celebrate, but without taking the time to savor the special moments along the way, I was missing out on everything that was most meaningful. These are the moments that will grab my heart and never let go. Moments that make my heart jump for joy are an unsolicited hug, listening to him sing “Happy birthday” at a party, and tickling him to hear the sweetest sound in the world, his joyous laugh. Without my son, I wouldn’t have appreciated little moments like these as much as I do. I would have missed out on so much happiness.

While I was writing this story, I ran across a quote by Alice Meynell. “Happiness is not a matter of events; it depends upon the tides of the mind.” I know it is my son that has shifted the tides of my mind. He has given me the happiness that I had been searching for. He changed me from a realist to a believer. He gives my life purpose.

Because of my son, I will continue to believe an inclusive world will happen. I will keep using my voice to spread rainbows and lollipops, and I will never stop advocating for the change I wish to see in the world because the future I desperately want for our all of our kids depends on it.

The Ripple Effects of Inclusion

As a kid, I did not know one person with Down syndrome, not one person. By the time I was an adult, I had had zero interactions with a person with Down syndrome. I had heard about Down syndrome, but I had no idea what it was or what it meant. My son was the first person I knew with Down syndrome.

During my son’s first week of kindergarten, I nervously went into his classroom to talk about Down syndrome and how he may do some things differently, but most importantly how he was more alike than different. Those kindergarteners showed me that day, and every day since that they see my son as a friend, plain and simple.

When kids grow up understanding difference is something to be celebrated, but that we are all more alike than different, they are less likely to fear people different from themselves. Less fear equals more acceptance and inclusion for all. Down syndrome isn’t something that prevents a meaningful life. In fact, I’d argue that Down syndrome makes life more meaningful. I know it has for my family.

Imagine this: In a hospital room, parents of a newborn baby with the most adorable smile and squishy arms and legs just received a diagnosis of Down syndrome. The father of the baby immediately recalls his friend from elementary school who also had Down syndrome. He remembers he was kind, worked hard, had the best sense of humor, and loved to make his friends laugh. The father’s heart immediately fills with joy and he tells his wife, “Our little boy is going to be great; he is something to celebrate! We are lucky to have him in our lives.” Those parents will believe in their son and raise him with high expectations and a lot of love. The boy will, in fact, be great!

This is the ripple effect of inclusion. I believe that if a peer in my son’s class has a child with Down syndrome or knows somebody that has a baby with Down syndrome, they will see that baby as capable and the gift that they are. My son is changing the future of the world just by working hard and teaching his peers that Down syndrome isn’t something to be feared. Differences are a beautiful part of life and all individuals have their own unique talents and gifts.

When we first started on our inclusion journey, we wanted inclusion for our son because we knew it was best for him. I also knew it would be a good thing for his peers, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of what my son is doing for his peers and the world. Many times this year, I have seen his classmates show kindness, empathy, and understanding. They natural slow their pace to accommodate his slower pace, they talk to him same as they do all their other friends, regardless of how he responds, and they help and include him.

Inclusion is truly a win-win. When my son started the school year, my son was unsure of his abilities. Recently, he read his sight words in front of his class, loud and clear. This accomplishment is the result of increased self-confidence, pride in his work and that he feels included in his class. The more confident individuals with Down syndrome are, the more likely they will be to engage with their community and share their full potential.

An inclusive world begins with inclusive experiences now. Inclusion creates a ripple effect that benefits not only the person being included but also shapes the perceptions of their peers now and in the future.