I’m sure your eyes popped a little when you saw this title. “Really? Let me check on this. Can this happen?” I say yes, and let me tell you how I came to this conclusion.
Having two kids with Down syndrome is not really all that different from having “typical” kids. The only times I realize they have that extra stuff to deal with is at IEP meetings, when I hear and say “Down syndrome” a thousand times. The rest of the time, I’m fine. It’s not that I don’t think about Down syndrome; I spend a lot of time writing about raising kids with Down syndrome. But when I write about Down syndrome here, I’m talking about their eyes, their smiles. I don’t mean to put special emphasis on that extra chromosome. It’s just a part of our lives and will always be; but really, it doesn’t deserve much attention. Chromosome 21 is no big deal.
So my talking about Down syndrome is just a way to call the attention to other families that have found as well that their kid has that extra chromosome. It’s not about labeling or pointing out their differences, but about creating community and identifying our warriors around the world.
But let’s get back to a more topic, my gifted kids with Down syndrome.
When I first started writing about Down syndrome, my stories were filled with melancholy. I have always been happy and proud of my kids, but adapting to an unknown guest is sometimes tough. So if you look back on my writing you’ll see my evolution as a mother and as human being. In the pursuit of happiness while raising two kids with special needs, I jumped into a second stage of obsession—for finding answers and creating changes. That’s why the second phase of my writing is filled with information. Those were the years when I devoured books and became a family resource specialist. My eyes were wide open all the time, looking for similarities, opportunities and information to process.
But a couple of years ago, I went back to my real self. I’m not the perfect mother, nor am I the evolved human being that always manages to smile amid stress and difficult situations. Sometimes I yell, get mad and feel depressed. But most of the time when I’m feeling that life is far less than perfect, I take the time to pause and admire my kids. They are my real inspiration. It’s not Down syndrome that makes them unique, but their personal power to transform their limitations into gifts. You need to be gifted in order for people to see you first, and that extra chromosome second.
Last Sunday morning, I waited for Ayelen to wake up so we could go pick up some medication for Emir, who has been sick recently. First, she woke up and asked me to fix her hair. I did it. I was ready to dress her up for going out when she said she wanted to keep her pajamas on. Oh well, it was Sunday. So I said, “Okay, let’s do it your way.”
When we hit pharmacy, she ran to the door and did a pose at the entrance, holding her arms up. “What are you doing?” I asked her. “The doors open for me,” she replied. “Ayelen, the doors open for everyone, it’s an automatic door.” She didn’t believe me. You need to be gifted to find magic in such simple and common stuff. I’ve opened thousands of doors in nearly 35 years, and yet I’d never realized it. If that isn’t self-esteem, what else is?
Walking around the store in her pajamas was a constant opportunity to get attention and compliments from her audience. In her mind, those people were not at the drugstore because they needed medication or sundries; they were her fans, there to admire her Mini Mouse nightgown. Diva poses, a great attitude and lot of pride makes her special. Yup, she’s gifted, I thought.
We kept walking and as usual, Emir was greeting everyone he saw with his incomparable “Hi you,” and that big, sweet smile. He’s a star and a PR guy. What more joy could I ask for? Emir meets a lot of people is immersed in their own dramas until they hear his voice saying, “Hi you.” They’re surprised at first, but then always happy and thankful for his greeting and smile. He’s gifted too, I thought. Who else could be so sweet and innocent and share so much love with such a simple attitude?
On our way to the counter he stopped twice, once to pet a doggie and once to smile at a baby. He is always busy giving his best. Most people don’t find the time to appreciate the world around them, but Emir does. That’s why he’s gifted.
And yes, I’m gifted too! I’m gifted to have such a perfect balance of personality and sweetness in my children. There’s no genetic test to diagnose perfection, and really, who needs one?
“Everyone is gifted – but some people never open their package” Wolfgang Riebe