There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?
― Erin Hanson
Over the course of the fall, I’ve had one thing on my mind and it’s “independence.”
When Mia was 7 months old – I actually looked it up – I saw a TED talk with Aimee Mullins, an actress model and amputee, and I recently re-watched it. And it occurred to me as I was watching it again how much that video affected my parenting of Mia. I’ll link to the video below because I think every teacher, parent, and leader needs to watch that video.
What stuck with me for years was the idea that there is really no way to truly predict human potential. She quoted a doctor and this is what he said, “Unless repeatedly told otherwise, and with a modicum of support, if left to their own devices, a child will achieve…There’s a difference between the medical condition and what someone might do with it.”
What occurred to me after watching it and what continues to stick with me to this day is that Mia’s true disability is the people who are surrounding her, myself included. That’s not to say that all the people in her life aren’t amazing, awesome people. But we were all raised with the idea that people with Down syndrome are incapable, broken, a burden. In the 34 years before having Mia, no one said to me that people with Down syndrome are powerful, smart, exceptional.
My goals for Mia are big and audacious, and even Fynn knows what they are. A couple years ago, he did an “About My Mom” for Mother’s Day, and he wrote that Mom’s dream is “That Fynn and Mia go to college.” And it’s true. That is 100% my goal.
Will it happen? Am I setting myself up for disappointment? My answer to that is, “What does it matter?” Because I’m not going to tell Mia what is impossible.
Something else Aimee said in the video was about being careful not to place the first brick in the wall of disability. When Mia says she can’t do something, my answer to her is, “Mia, I know you can do this because you’re smart and strong and capable.” Because she is.
Mia is one of the most determined people I know. And, when she wants to be, fiercely independent. When she decides she’s doing it “by myself” now, there is no stopping her. Recently she decided she was going to the bathroom and getting dressed on her own. She is so determined to do it alone that she makes me stand in the hallway. Literally, she points to the hallway and says, “Over there.” And I stand in the hallway. But I can’t force her to do that. It’s all about reminding her how capable she is until she believes it. And once she believes it, get out of the way.
It’s not easy to do this. Years of prejudiced thoughts are always on my mind. “But she has Down syndrome.” It’s pervasive. I have to consciously push those thoughts out of my mind. She has an extra chromosome, and that is just a diagnosis. It can’t tell me anything about who Mia will become. Nothing. No more than having the right number of chromosomes will tell me who Fynn will become. Because my only job, is to stay out of her way. To not place that brick. To encourage her and not tell her all the things she can’t do.
Because “ with even a modicum of support, if left to her own devices, she will achieve.”
Here’s the link to that video: Aimee Mullins, The Opportunity of Adversity.