Quick recap. I have been posting a little nugget everyday in October about Down syndrome. It is Ds awareness month and so I’m stepping into my advocating boots and splashing knowledge around just like other fellow mamas of these littls. I’ve had to wake up quite early to face this feat and as I woke up one Friday I knew I wanted to speak of the way people with Down syndrome view themselves. What I didn’t know, was that there was a knot in my belly eating away at me. I was desperately embarrassed to share but good bad or ugly, I realized that I have to be all in on this journey. So, bleary eyed, sleepy and with a worry I was saying too much… I decided to reveal my deal. I told of a kindergartner in my class who called my baby Judah ugly. It was a gut punch and I was sad. I was stunned and I was unequivocally angry. I put that all out there on social media and the response was astonishing. The thoughtful words came down in a heavy pour and advice bolted brilliantly through. I decided to pick bits of pieces of all the wisdom sent my way and what follows is how I handled my torment….
Friday morning, I had every intention of being angry at my pint sized name caller. After all, she was careless with my feelings and embodied a fear I will be forced to face throughout my entire life. I had no intent of trying to get into it and instead, I prayed time would help the fury fade….but as I read countless comments on social media urging me to turn this into a lesson, I decided that even small children could benefit from the voice that I am on my blog. I wasn’t sure quite how I would approach the messiness of my feelings but I knew it had to be better than being bitter.
I’d like to start by saying that this little girl is a good kid. She is a smart cookie and downright adorable to be honest. She is helpful and loves to assist me. She also turned fragile when someone told me what she said about Judah. Frankly, I was stunned and I said nothing in reply. I brushed away lightly what was weighing so heavily on me inside.
Friday morning I called my kiddos to the carpet for morning meeting as I always do. We greeted each other with a handshake. I made sure we all used a right-handed, firm handshake. I ensured that everyone was greeted with eye contact, a smile and that we used each other’s names. This is always my expectation. I trust that the manner river runs deep in my room; sometimes deeper than academics. The little girl in question was called to leave. A teacher came to take her to give her some challenging one on one time because she literally is the smartest child in my class. I asked that she remain because I had a very important lesson to share. This is when I launched into my classroom rules; specifically number 6…a caring heart. We had a discussion about what it meant to have a caring heart and the most popular response was that it entailed being nice or kind. I then asked the class what they would want in a friend; what kind of things they would like their friend to be like. A little boy up front chose love! I wasn’t expecting that but my heart leapt the sound of it. Yes!!! I responded a bit to eagerly. You want your friend to love everything thing about you no matter what. I asked for another answer and saw my little darling raise her hand. Natural curiosity led me to choose her. Her reply was gold. Innocent as could be she said “Cute. I want my friend to be cute.” It’s like opportunity strapped on its cape and flew right into the center of my morning circle.Instead of responding I turned the question to the class “does a person have to be cute to be a good friend?” A pretty resounding “no” returned from the crowd. . Most of them knew that cute did not need to be acquainted with friendship. I quickly moved on as not to embarrass my little offender. But inwardly it hit me. Someone was telling this sweet girl with braided pigtails that being pretty ( being cute) is what mattered. Judgement didn’t fly , embarrassment did .I recognized how many times I focused on cute in my early days. I was drawn to the cute puppies, the pretty dress, the beautiful looking friends. Anger quickly dissolved in that circle and understanding washed over me.
Next I took advice of an friend on Instagram and played the YouTube video of the book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today”” I’d read the story before and knew it’s message was one of humanity, but I had forgotten the delicious premise. As the story unfolded itself in front of me again, I knew this was where I wanted to head. I didn’t want to hone in on what not to do but rather what is good and true in this big bad world of ours. The premise of the story is that when you say nice things to people you fill up their imaginary bucket making them feel good inside. However, if you say mean things then you are emptying their bucket making them feel bad. When you do this, you are also emptying your own bucket making you feel bad. I love the point that the author makes about how people think emptying others’ buckets will fill their own. Ahhh, what a way to bridge the adult concept that people are sometimes mean to make themselves feel better.. On the contrary, the author states, when you fill others buckets you actually fill your own. Brilliant!!! The story is an impressionable little anecdote for the wee ones and delivered the other part of my message across quite nicely.
Be kind, speak gently, live with tolerance and don’t judge others on how they look.
Now came the hard part.So far these were just character lessons that should be taught anyway. But now I had to bring up Judah and to put him in any other place than the pedestal I place him on, is a tough place for me to go.
I said, “now maybe some of you noticed that my baby Judah looks a little bit different and that is because he has Down syndrome. That is why he isn’t walking or talking quite yet; but he will. He is the same as all of you but it just takes him a little longer to do things. I don’t want you to miss out on Judah though because Judah is a great friend. He loves s no matter what and is always kind to people. Also, it makes him sad and me ,his mommy, sad when people take from his bucket; if they are uncaring with his heart. He feels it and so do I.”….. I was strong people. My voice didn’t quiver and my eyes didn’t brim. I was all so easy to say and I felt I was easy to talk to. The kids had questions and most inquired about when he would talk or walk, how old he was, what toys he liked….
I did my job. Did any little 5 year old walk away that day thinking “wow I should really be less judgmental and keep my thoughts to myself if they aren’t nice?” Probably not. But here’s what did go down. These kids got to know my son. Fear was replaced with curiosity, and a face they may have never seen before was replaced with familiarity. Now days, my students STILL ask about him all the time. When they see a picture of him they say “there’s Judah” like he is a buddy. That’s all I can ask for. All I can ask is that Judah is not seen as a statistic or percentage or disability, but as a someone. The kids got that!
On a side note: I later explained to another teacher in the room with me why I taught that whole little lesson. She did not hear what I heard the day before. She said to me, ” oh I didn’t hear that. I did hear a kid say twice how beautiful Judah’s eyes were.” At that point, I suddenly remembered it too. This boy did not say that Judah’s eyes were almond shaped, had brush-field spots or that one turned in a little bit. He said that they were beautiful blue eyes. In that moment I learned a lesson too. I learned how I need to give equal weight to all the things I will hear about Judah . I cannot walk around life focusing on the fear that someone may not be instantly in love with him. If I do that I’m doing myself a disservice. I’m missing out on all the rule number #6’s, the caring hearts, that swirl around Judah every single day.