We were at a year-end picnic for one of my daughter’s preschool classes. When my daughter headed for the monkey bars, I headed over to “spot” her. I’m excited that she can do the monkey bars on her own, but at this particular park, the bars seemed to be about 8 feet from the ground. I wanted to be nearby — call me overprotective.
As I approached, I saw another girl from her class standing near her, a classmate that has one more year at preschool. She was saying something to my daughter. It seemed she was inviting her to come to the slide. I stopped in my tracks. I didn’t want to break the moment… a kid not only accepting, but inviting my daughter to join her. It is what every mom of a kid with Down syndrome hopes for, probably even more than parents of a typical child. By then, I was close enough and I could hear this classmate, and what she said to my daughter next almost made me cry. She said, “I’m gonna miss you, Alisa. I’m really gonna miss you next year at preschool.” So simple. So beautiful. My heart warmed and my daughter seemed appropriately touched which was beautiful too. They smiled at each other then parted… one to the slide and one to the monkey bars.
A couple of days later, we were at the playground of what will be my daughter’s school in the fall when she heads to kindergarten. A number of kids participating in an after-school program were also there. Monkey bars being the new favorite thing, my daughter headed over to them, as did a few other girls. Again, the bars were too high off of the ground for my liking so I was nearby. A girl who was in kindergarten there was talking to me about many things including my daughter. At one point, she asked, “Does she get sick?” I must have shown my puzzlement as I said, “uhhhh” because she then tried to clarify, “Did she get sick when she was born?”
What to say? Much of the “advise” swam quickly through my head… “speak to the child’s age level”, “be direct”, “be honest”, “be open”, “don’t give more information than they are asking for”. I inquired, “Are you asking that because she has Down syndrome?” The girl responded that yes, that was why.
I’m not sure of my exact words at that point, but I tried to explain that she was not sick when she was born because having Down syndrome was not “being sick” (without going into common medical complications related to Down syndrome). I tried to explain that Down syndrome is a trait like having brown hair or blue eyes (without going into chromosomes and heredity and chance). I tried to explain that she is a kid, just like her, she just has Down syndrome so some things are a bit different for her (without mentioning that one of the things that can be different is just going to the park).
Whew. That’s not the most fun, but I’m much happier to talk about it than have kids make wild (likely erroneous) speculations. The girl then seemed interested in getting more info about what all my daughter could do and I was happy to focus more on her capabilities. I helped them talk to each other and smiled when the girl asked my daughter if she’d like to go before her on the monkey bars.
It’s hard to explain complexities to a child, but that is what has to be done sometimes. New kids don’t have a whole year (or more) to get to know my daughter like “just another kid” — a kid that they might really miss when they aren’t together. Decisions are sometimes made quickly. We all do it. I often wish I was nearby for all of my daughter’s social exchanges. I could be there for questions, to help it all go smoothly. I want kids (and sometimes grown ups) to see her for her strengths. It really does warm my heart when ultimately they do.