Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Colour of Flowers

At the age of 3, my daughter announced that she is the colour of flowers.  We live in a multicultural community and I love the way she explained her understanding of why people have different physical features. Now that the kids are older, they are starting to realize that their skin and hair colour is different from the other children in their class.  I remind them that it's not the cover of the book that tells the story.  Underneath everyone's outer shell, the substance that the fills our veins and arteries with life is the same colour red, regardless of the colour of our skin.

When I was in the 4th grade, I was socially outcast for not berating a fellow classmate.  After being called upon to answer a question aloud, his incorrect response prompted another student to remind the class that "Greg is slow".  The teacher announced to the class that "Greg is not slow... he's retarded!"  The class laughed hysterically.  I could tell by Greg's face how deeply the comment and the laughter had wounded him.  When our classmates noticed that I wasn't laughing along with them, I earned their contempt.  Greg left shortly after that incident for a school that welcomed children with disabilities and consistently earned top grades.   I, however, was forced to endure another three and a half years with an unflattering nickname.

School taught me that people can be shallow and heartless.  I also learned that disability is not necessarily a state of helplessness and isolation.  Most importantly, I learned that there is something much, much worse than any congenital syndrome or disorder.  This devastating condition afflicts those that society considers "normal".


Education is the cure for ignorance, and the highest result of education is tolerance.  As a Mom, it is especially important that my children learn this lesson, and that they learn it well.

One of their very best friends welcomed the arrival of his baby brother and sister recently, plus one extra chromosome.  From my kids' perspective, the babies are currently just that.  Babies.  Eventually, as our friends' infant twins grow into toddlers and preschoolers, and physical and cognitive delays begin to appear, I expect at least one of my kids will pose the inevitable question.

"What's wrong with Wyatt?"

I could give the obvious answer.  Wyatt has Down Syndrome.  That response will likely go over a child's head like a jet at Mach V.  "Is that why he does or doesn't..." (do whatever he does or doesn't do at the time)?   In their innocence, I suspect someone will suggest we pool our resources to give him Up Syndrome.

The exact clinical definition of Down Syndrome is not the answer they are searching for.  It's human nature to fear something strange.  Once the beauty in that strange thing is exposed, the fear disappears.  It is my responsibility to teach my children how to see beyond the outer shell of people; to look past the cover and read the story inside.  They are looking to me to help them understand something they know little, if anything about.

I imagine, when that time comes, the conversation I have with my children will sound something like this:

Wyatt isn't all that different from you.  He is a person.  He has feelings and just like you, he wants to fit in and be loved. As his friend, we lovingly accept him for the individual that he is.
It will take him a little longer to learn certain skills, but with patience and encouragement, he will master these skills in his own time, just like you did.  As he gets older and develops his own interests, he might even be able to do some things that you can't.

He will develop his own unique interests. He might enjoy acting, or art.  He may train to be an outstanding athlete or a musician.  Much like you might choose to pursue paleontology because you love dinosaurs.  Much like you wouldn't choose a career in medicine because the sight of blood terrifies you.  Wyatt will be who and what he will be.  Whatever that is, he will have our unwavering support.

He will see his reflection in the mirror and learn that he is quite handsome.  I suspect he will be as enamoured with his own gorgeous blue eyes as anyone else would be.  He probably will not see himself as disabled any more than you do.

He will view people who do and say unkind things to him and others the same way we all do.  As uneducated and cruel.  We must have the courage to teach, and the stamina to continue until our voices drown out prejudice and misconceptions. 

So, you see, there's really nothing "wrong" with Wyatt at all. The most fascinating flower in a garden is the one with the most distinctive features. Just like his twin sister and their older brother, Wyatt is the colour of flowers.  As are we all. 

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