School Days

September 10, 2012

It’s been a while… we have been gearing up for quite a transition in our lives: the first day of Junior Kindergarten.  For 9 months we’ve been preparing with calls to the school, meetings with the principal and special education teacher, discussions as to whether Rachel should participate in the full program, and a couple of visits last week for her to get used to her class.

Part of the preparation has included talking to my eight-year-old son about it. Rachel is attending his school and will therefore get to know his friends, so we wondered if they would say anything or notice her differences. We asked him what he would say if anyone asked about Rachel, and his answer was simple. He shrugged and said, “I’ll say she has Down syndrome.” Easy.

Together we watched a little film called Deedah,which is a documentary about a little girl and her brother who has Down syndrome.  She talks about how kids are mean to her brother sometimes and how it makes her sad. I asked my son how the movie made him feel, and he just thought it was funny that Deedah’s little brother wakes her up in the morning just the way Rachel wakes him up. He didn’t seem too concerned.

So today was the first official day for Rachel, and arriving at the school, waiting for the bell to ring, was one of those moments I’ll never forget. I haven’t been sleeping well over the past few weeks, and I was feeling very apprehensive and anxious– a four-year-old child is vulnerable anyway, but a four-year-old with Down syndrome, who can’t even clearly articulate what went on in her day, is such a defenseless little person. The staff have been utterly amazing, but still, it’s difficult not to worry.

Little Rachel donned her backpack and walked into the large, noisy playground, taking everything in and nervously holding my hand.  And then her brother spotted her.  He had taken the bus, while Rachel and I drove together, but I saw him come around the corner of the school, searching for her. He ran over scooped her up around her waist and dragged her over to all his friends.  “Everyone, this is my sister! This is Rachel!”  He made the rounds, introducing her to each one, telling her each of their names. And one by one, they smiled and ran over to see what all of the excitement was about, and sweetly said hello to the tiniest girl in the school. His enthusiasm and happiness were infectious, and little Rachel began to relax as well.

And that is how, in one fell swoop, my eight-year-old son began to set the tone for how other children should treat a person with Down syndrome – or any other disability or difference. We should be proud; we should be excited to see them; we should make them feel welcome; and we should include them in our communities.

Behind my sunglasses, my eyes welled up with tears. How proud I was of both of them. How grateful I am that they have each other. School teaches our children many things, and somehow my children have become key players in the very important lesson of inclusion. I know there will be ups and downs, but we are fortunate in that we live in a community with some wonderful families and educators.  The little faces I saw on the playground today were friendly and smiling. And that made for an excellent start to this new phase of our lives.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

carole s September 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm

simple and wonderful, Heather!

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Amanda September 11, 2012 at 9:26 am

Love, love, love. You must be so proud.

p.s. Why don’t they make toddler sized backpacks?! Is it because secretly we love seeing our tiny ones hobble off to school dwarfed by their grown-up bags? Little C’s bag is just as big on him!

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Heather September 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

It was so great! Adam has been asking since he was in daycare when his sister could come to his school. It’s lovely to see it finally happen!

I know – the backpacks are ridiculous!

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Wendy September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I really like your site. My situation is so similar to yours. My daughter was born with ds this past April and we’re having a lot of problems with finding answers. Well I look forward to reading more of your blog.

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Heather September 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Hi Wendy – thank you for your comment. Congratulations on your baby girl! Please feel free to send me an email if you are stuck on anything. I’ll see what I can do to come up with a resource… Hope your little one is doing well and keeping healthy. Best, Heather

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