Walking The Walk
Have you ever thought about the qualities you want your kids to exhibit as adults?
When I think about the adults I want my daughters to be, several characteristics come to mind: responsible, trustworthy, generous, caring, compassionate, understanding, motivated, thoughtful, considerate, open-minded, joyful, resourceful, and confident – to name just a few.
Although I can't guarantee that my kids will grow up to have all of these qualities, I can do my best to serve as their greatest role model.
Demonstrating the qualities I wish to see in my kids is one of the best ways to positively influence them.
On October 20, 2013, Marissa and I walked in the Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization Buddy Walk to show our support for my friend’s son, Ian, and all individuals with DS.
A little more than a month before the Walk, I received an e-mail from my friend inviting people to join her and her family for it. I wanted to show my support and thought it would be good for Marissa to take part in doing something kind for others while learning about people's differences.
Marissa and I had had conversations about people with Down syndrome before. Once, when we were playing at a park, there was a group of teenagers with DS there on a field trip. We were the only other people around. They were excited to be there – shouting to each other and running back and forth. Their bodies were too big for the playground equipment and I worried that they’d hurt themselves. They seemed unaware of us, and at times invaded our personal space.
I explained to Marissa that all people are born with different physical traits and abilities and that these kids’ brains and bodies developed differently than hers. We stayed for a little while, but eventually went to another area of the park that was less crowded.
When I got the e-mail about the Buddy Walk, I asked Marissa if she remembered those kids in the park. She did. I told her that her friend from camp has a brother with Down syndrome and that we had an opportunity to help their family by participating in the Walk and raising money. Being the caring and compassionate person she is, she readily agreed.
I let her know every time we got a new donation and how much money we had raised in total. Excitement was building as the Walk got closer.
Then, a few nights before the Walk, I sat down with Marissa at bedtime and told her that because this was an event to raise money and awareness for Down syndrome, many people with DS would be there. I wanted to prepare her and answer any questions she had.
We talked about how people get Down syndrome and I told her that before Dalia was born, doctors thought maybe she had an extra chromosome, too. Marissa started to cry at the thought of her sister with a disability. To me, the tears were a good sign. She may have been feeling afraid, but fear can sometimes help us to appreciate what we have and to feel grateful. It can also help develop empathy and compassion for others who are not as fortunate.
“I don’t ever want to be like that,” she told me.
At that moment I had a dual impulse: on the one hand, I wanted to reassure her that she couldn’t develop DS and shouldn’t worry about that. On the other hand, I thought I should encourage her to embrace people with all kinds of abilities. Instead I said nothing, and just let her sit with her honest thoughts and feelings.
The morning of the Walk, Marissa jumped out of bed and began talking a mile a minute. She was very excited – mostly to be doing something out of the ordinary and alone with Mommy. We got dressed, ate breakfast, and left the house before Gavin and Dalia were up.
When we arrived at the park I was amazed by how many people were there. We parked the car and walked to the entrance behind a woman with DS. She was singing a Disney song. Marissa found this amusing, so I pulled her aside and let her know that adults with DS are often very childlike.
The event seemed well-organized, with tons of food, music, bounce houses, ponies, and characters. We eventually met up with our team, and I introduced myself to Ian. I had never met him before. He seemed to take a liking to me because he sat down beside me and leaned his body against mine. We stayed sitting together like that for a long time.
When Marissa came over from playing on the playground, I asked her to introduce herself to Ian, too. Smiling from ear to ear, she said, “Hi, Ian!” He didn’t make eye contact with her or say anything in return.
“Mommy,” Marissa whispered to me, “Is Down syndrome contagious?”
“No, sweetheart, it isn’t.” I answered.
I could see the look of relief in her eyes as she watched Ian snuggling up against me.
During the Walk, Marissa spent the majority of her time petting the dogs that accompanied other walkers. She loves animals and didn’t interact much with other people.
Then the following day, I asked her what she had learned about Down syndrome. Her answer completely floored me. She said, “Just because someone is different doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with them.”
I was one proud Mama.
It’s never too early to introduce volunteerism and community service to kids. Even small children can visit the elderly, help pick up trash, or help decide what toys and clothes to donate to others. A fantastic resource is VolunteerMatch.org. You can search volunteer opportunities based on your location, interest, and age group. And, if educating your kids about DS is something you'd like to do, check out this coloring book for kids that explains it beautifully.
So, how do you model kindness and generosity to your kids? Is volunteering to help others something your family does on a regular basis? How could you incorporate more community service into your lives? Please leave a comment below and let us know! Your comments and ideas could help other families.
The 2015 Gold Coast Down Syndrome Organization Buddy Walk is this Sunday, October 18. If you wish to donate to Team Ian, you can do so by clicking the link here. Let's help them reach their goal of $2000!