First grade.

When Mia was a tiny baby, I’d hold her, look into her sleeping face, and wonder who she would become. I had almost no experience with Down syndrome, so those thoughts were very much wrapped up in fear.

I once asked a writer of a book about Down syndrome why most memoirs are written about the early years. The books seem to dry up around age six. And her hypothesis was that the problems become more complex and not so pretty.

But after six years living with Down syndrome, I have a different hypothesis. Once the fear dissipates and you realize you’re just raising a little kid and not a unicorn, the problems become sort of boring. Sure, I have frustrations on the daily about communication and listening, but I’m still just dealing with morning routines and breaking up fights with her brother and getting ready for the start of school.

Just like everyone else.

(Don’t tell Mia I said she isn’t a unicorn. Her highness would be offended.)

For years I used the phrase “More alike than different” but didn’t exactly know what it meant. In the thick of therapies, IEPs, and health questions, I felt that our family was very, very different. But now that we’re in an inclusive school and we’ve determined that her health issues are not serious, I’m starting to understand what it actually means.

My child is unique. Just like yours. It’s our family life that is more alike than different. Of course Mia has little idiosyncrasies that make her Mia. Just like Fynn has idiosyncrasies that make him Fynn.

But our family is very similar to a family with two typically developing children. School shopping, movie nights, dinner battles over foods they both like, vacations, and reminding them both to brush their teeth.

I don’t even know what I’d write a memoir about now. “Yesterday, Mia got super mad at me because I took away something she wanted, and she ran into her bedroom and slammed the door” – said every parent who ever existed. “We picked out school clothes at Target. Mia couldn’t decide between the pink or purple shirts” – riveting stuff.

First grade. It’s hard to believe that it’s starting tomorrow. Mia has grown so much this summer that I can’t wait to see how she progresses this year.

Also, here is my yearly encouragement to talk to your children about differences, but also to notice the similarities. Encourage them to ask questions and seek understanding. Encourage them to be friends with someone who is different than them. Encourage them to stand up for children who might not be able to stand up for themselves. We’re all in this together. Not just school, but life.

Happy new school year, everyone!

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