To the kids in my girl’s regular third grade classroom:
Hi girls, it’s me – Abby’s mom. You see me every now and then at school events, dance class, the hockey rink and the like. You don’t know what I’m there for but you also see me at school, meeting with the special ed teacher, preparing for an IEP meeting, or to chat with your teacher, as well. Where you aren’t likely to see me is with Abby at swim therapy, at a Down syndrome meet-up, or for her regular trips to Boston Childrens. And you definitely don’t see me at home, emailing the bus company to ensure she’s being looked after or consulting with our many advocates who are able to intepret and speak education jargon on my behalf.
Even if you did, I’m not sure you’d understand. In fact, you were just babies yourselves when I held Abby down for more than an hour as a 6-day old baby on a cold hospital table so they could search for holes in her heart. When I would spend hours home on maternity leave trying to get her to hold her head up because my newborn was somehow already eons behind you developmentally and I was determined to keep that gap as small as possible. Or when I got so frustrated with early intervention that we just moved to a different state when it came time to buy a house.
Today, you’re only 9… which is why I wouldn’t expect you to have any idea about all the conversations I’ve had over the years with professionals at your schools – arguing, then pleading – with them to keep my girl in the regular class with all of you. I can’t imagine you’d ever even consider that I cry every time the IEP team has to read aloud the bullying statement because Abby is far more susceptible to be taken advantage of by, well… you. Or how I sign her regular report cards without really looking at them because in my eyes, however unfair, I have sacrificed a piece of her education to keep her alongside you and I don’t need to see how far behind she is. So she can be in your class and be just one of the kids. So YOU can grow up understanding she IS just one of the kids.
And if I do say so myself, she does just fine with all of you.
All because of you.
Because you sit with her at school.
Because you include her in your third grade chats and games.
Because you line up to give her hugs.
Because you invite her to birthday parties.
Because you let your pizza get cold to cut Abby’s up for her. (Not because she’s asked or even really needs it, but because you’ve offered.)
Because you all crowd around to help her toss a bowling ball down the alley.
Because you all cheer her name over and over in excitement when she somehow manages to knock all the pins over.
Because you come over and play Nintendo, watch Double Dare, and invite us to join you on vacation – just like any other kid in your class.
Because she is just like any other kid in your class.
And you have no reason to think any differently.
Girls (and boys,) the me of nearly 9 years ago didn’t know you when you were babies. But that me worried so much what the you of today – the 9 year olds in her class – would be like. Never did I imagine you’d be SO caring, so loving, and so accepting.
Keep on keeping on, kids. I can’t wait to see what the world looks like in 20 or 30 years, when you’re a part of the leadership team at my company, hiring people like your friend Abby. When you’re the teachers and administration at my grandkids’ schools, fully including kids like your friend Abby. When you’re the parents of kids just like Abby and have nothing to worry about because YOU have changed the world.