“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
A friend of mine and I have been discussing something interesting lately. Both of our kids with Down syndrome have been acting like typical toddlers – throwing things, temper tantrums, total destruction, asserting independence, and stubborn attitudes. For some reason, both of us had this idea that we’d skip this phase – the toddler phase. I didn’t really quite understand why I thought this until Mia’s speech therapist said sarcastically, “You only thought that because everyone told you she would be happy and easy going. Didn’t you know all kids with Down syndrome are happy all the time?” I laughed because, of course, I’ve learned that is not true at all. Kids with Down syndrome are like every other kid. They have bad moods, cranky times of the day, sad moments, and happy times. Just like everyone else, they are complex individuals, not just grinning automatons.
So now I have a toddler who needed to be removed from Best Buy the other night because she was having a tantrum because I wouldn’t let her explore the appliance section. I’ve been thinking about how all of these stereotypes formed over the years. Why would people assume that every kid with Down syndrome is happy? Was it part of some sort of reassurance for the parents? Well, don’t worry they will be happy. They won’t have a care in the world.
The reality is that people with Down syndrome do have cares, a lot of them. They have just as many as everyone else. I think that often in order to help the family, we talk about children with Down syndrome as being happy, angels, blessings, but don’t acknowledge that they are unique individuals with hopes, dreams, goals, sadness, and struggles. They happen to have an extra chromosome, but that doesn’t take away their humanity.
As we raise Mia, I think one of the biggest hurdles we’ll face is allowing Mia to be an individual in spite of these cultural stereotypes. How do we let her uniqueness shine through, even though society wants to confine her. At least Fynn is good at letting her be who you don’t expect. He introduces her this way, “This is Mia. She’s my sister. She is a trouble-maker. She makes so much trouble.”
I can’t wait to see who Mia will become. I’m sure there will be so much trouble. I’m counting on it.