A few months back, I was fortunate to attend a panel presentation featuring four locals who are part of the transgender community. Three were transgender individuals and another was the mother of a grown child who had recently begun a transition. Their message was fascinating and here’s why: it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to convey to people about my daughter for more than four years.
They didn’t want special treatment (whether positive or negative) they just want to BE. They weren’t looking to be pitied. Sure they’d had struggles but who hasn’t? They were looking for some degree of understanding, acceptance, and just the ability to go about their lives. Isn’t that really just what everyone wants? Because they are people, just like everyone else.
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A friend shared this video with me today. And wow was it spot on. If you don’t have 20 minutes to watch or listen to it, here’s the gist: The speaker, a drama teacher, went out of her way to include a student with a disability in her play. She not only cast this student in her play, but went the extra mile to accommodate her. Surely this experience would make the student’s life amazing – and boy was the teacher proud of herself for her effort.
But get this. The student? She didn’t see herself as different. All she saw was her teacher singling her out.
“Without intending to, I had marginalized her. I had turned her from a 7th grader who likes singing and wants to be in a play with her friends into some kind of poster child for disability representation in the arts. I never forgot this experience, and how much I learned that day.”
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Last week, I met with a colleague who I’ve known for a little more than a year. She and I have same-aged kids and we love swapping parenting stories. As I recanted my latest kid drama – Abby’s recent sleep study – I mentioned that something like 98 percent of kids with Down syndrome have sleep apnea which is why we had her tested. You know what she said to me?
“I didn’t know Abby had Down syndrome.”
It really took me aback. She only “knows” Abby from my stories. And in my everyday stories, Abby isn’t any different than any other kid. She has brown hair and glasses, takes dance and soccer, goes to preschool, loves Mickey Mouse and reading books. She also has Down syndrome. In our day-to-day lives, that last note makes such little difference that I had never mentioned it. And hadn’t even noticed that I hadn’t mentioned it.
Sometimes I even surprise myself.
It’s taken me a few years to get here, but thanks to my girl and the help from those panelists, I think I’ve reached a new level in parenting. Or maybe in life. It’s a pretty nice place to be.