Random Acts of Kindness

I believe that our small acts can create that fundamental change, a ripple effect as people go about their day, seeing the kindness around them and passing it along to others.

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Having a child with Down syndrome is challenging, for sure. But raising a child with special needs has brought many blessings into my life as well. I am especially thankful for the kindness we have received within the Down syndrome community and our community-at-large. I know this kindness existed prior to Evelyn. The world didn’t become kinder, I just became aware of the kindness that existed around me.

Prior to Evelyn’s birth, I kept to myself.  I had a few close friends, but I wasn’t interested in forming more relationships.  I didn’t see the point.   But when Evelyn was born, I longed to connect with people who would understand what I was going through and not judge me for the the feelings I was experiencing.  This need drove me out of my comfort zone and into the social arena.  I attended playgroups and Mom’s Night Out.  I joined online groups for parents of children with Ds and other disabilities.  I shared my true self with other parents, and they shared theirs.  Because I was open to meeting new people, I have been introduced to so many kind, thoughtful, supportive parents.  Yes, these people were out there all along, and Down syndrome gave me the push I needed to go out and find them.  This change carried over to all areas of my life, which is now full of kind people.

Small acts of kindness can be uplifting!
Small acts of kindness can be uplifting!

Having Evelyn changed my perception of people with disabilities.  Previously, I would have been apprehensive about approaching people with intellectual disabilities – worried that I would say or do the wrong thing, offend them and embarrass myself.  As a result, I didn’t interact with people with disabilities.  I now understand that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else.  Yes, some people might be offended when I put my foot in my mouth, disability or not, but most people will give me the benefit of the doubt.  I am lucky enough to interact with people with Down syndrome frequently through my work, and I am thankful for all of the kind words, gestures and hugs I’ve received, and everything they have been patient enough to teach me (like how to use instagram, and the art of comedic timing).

And the strangers!  So many people go out of their way to share kind words and smiles with Evelyn.  Complete strangers make the effort to let her know they welcome and accept her.

All of this was there, waiting to be discovered.  I just didn’t bother looking for it before Evelyn.  I’ve been given a fantastic gift – a change in perspective.  I’ve been able to slow down and appreciate all the kindness around me.  And when a person gets a chance to experience kindness, its natural to want to pass it on.  It’s a fundamental shift to want to share that gift with someone else.

Tomorrow is World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), a global awareness day that is officially recognized by the United Nations and is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting acceptance of people with Down syndrome.  This year, to celebrate WDSD, our family will be teaming up with our local Down Syndrome Association to commit Random Acts of Kindness throughout or community.  I believe that our small acts will create that fundamental change, a ripple effect as people go about their day, seeing the kindness around them and passing it along to others.  I think it’s the perfect way to honor someone who opened my eyes to the kindness around me.  Maybe tomorrow, we can all make an effort to notice that kindness, great and small, and pass it on to someone else.  I think you will find, at the end of the day, that your world feels a little bit brighter.

Photo credit: Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan

Liebster Award: All The Rest

liebster2The last of the questions posted posed by Bright Blue Line follow.  I couldn’t really make a post out of each, so here they are.

“What makes you unique?”

Well, it’s probable that I am not unique.  Most likely there has existed or does exist or will exist someone like me.

“Describe your most favorite night out?”

No kids, tasty beer, my favorite jeans fit – YEAH! Dan can come if he wants to.

“If you were a super hero, what would your powers be and how would you use them?”

My selfish answer is that I would love to be able to run forever like Dean Karnazes.  I would use this power to, well,  run forever.  The human body is amazing.  The way I feel when I am running is terrible and fantastic all at once. I crazy want this power.  If it would give me that power, I would drink his blood or something equally evil.  I would even sit through all The Twilight movies.

My selfless answer is that I want to shoot empathy laser beams from my eyes into people’s hearts.  I would use it to make people understand one another.  I really believe this would solve a lot of problems.

Now I am going to have a beer and build a trophy case for my Liebster Award.  Stay tuned for my Nominees!

Photo credit: tshirtsandtwine.com

Be An Ambassador For Social Evolution: All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Every parent has that fiercely protective instinct. Mine makes me wrathfully stink-eye a small child at the mall play area because they pushed my pride and joy off the slide. It made me seriously consider locking my offspring in the house to guarantee safety from serial killers, pedophiles and bullies.  Even before Evelyn was born, this instinct kicked into overdrive. I was angry! I was angry at the children who would exclude my little peanut on the playground! I was furious with the elderly people who would assume she should be institutionalized! I was peeved with the everyday people who would experience discomfort at her proximity, or openly stare like she was some sort of circus side show attraction!  I had all sorts of preconceived notions and I was violently vindictive towards these hypothetical attackers who would dare hurt my child. I spent countless hours building an arsenal of angry rhetoric and biting replies to barrage these attackers before they even entered our lives.

After her arrival into this world, though, I experienced much less of this than I expected. The attacks I predicted, for the most part,  never came.  It took a while, but I began to relax. When I did, I realized what a toll all of that anger was taking on me. Constantly caught in a state of agitated readiness, waiting for attack – It was exhausting. I let my guard down and I began to enjoy my life again.

This isn’t to say that those things haven’t or won’t happen. They do, on occasion, and I’ve really had to look within myself for guidance in these situations. I have to remember before I had the pleasure of knowing Evelyn.

I always considered myself to be open minded. In hindsight, I see that was not the case. I couldn’t fully understand and accept what I had never experienced. Evelyn is capable, perceptive and loving – she is like any other child, in most ways. I now get that people with disabilities are just people. I don’t need to put them up on a pedestal and I certainly don’t need to pity them.  It’s hard for me to admit when I am wrong, but I was wrong.  I am ashamed of my previous thinking, and grateful that I have been shown the truth.

Unfortunately, I only gained this understanding from knowing someone with a disability. Our society doesn’t emphasize this side of disability – that people with disabilities are only people – no more, no less, and not much different from people without disabilities. I now realize that my anger was futile, but what else can I do?  As a society, we fall short.  How can one person change a whole society?

Honestly, most people mean well. I’m not talking about the Ann Coulters or the Rush Limaughs of the world (Relax – I don’t mean conservatives, I mean people who refuse to admit it’s wrong to use the slur “retard”), or the abusive educators or Eugenicists. I don’t refer to those who unapologetically choose hate. I am referring to the ignorant.

You see, in our society, ignorance has incorrectly taken on a negative connotation. To be ignorant is to simply not know. There is nothing wrong with not knowing, unless one is given the opportunity to learn and refuses. I don’t believe deliberate ignorance is the norm. On the contrary, most people are unintentionally ignorant – like me. There is so much I, myself, still have to learn; I certainly don’t want that held against me. I prefer for people to share their knowledge with me. I have an unquenchable thirst for understanding and I desire to grow as a person. I believe most people feel the same.

Then, how do I intend to alleviate ignorance? Simply by being not only an advocate for my daughter – but an ambassador, as well. To be both requires patience, thoughtfulness, and practice. I must calm that primordial, protective response and think before I speak. I am not, by nature, a “people person.” I am an introvert, but every day Evelyn and our family get out there, we provide an opportunity for society to see what life with Down syndrome is REALLY like. Every friend we make, every coworker, every person we come across is an opportunity to enact change.  Each Cub Scout meeting, trip to the grocery store, and playdate is a chance for people to get to know us and our family – to put a human face on disability. I don’t approach the afore mentioned situations as conflicts; I address them as opportunities. This change in prospective provides the  possibility to change the perception of my daughter which, in turn, improves her life. In order to accomplish that primeval goal of protecting her, I must quiet the instinctual response it inspires in me. If I am angry, aggressive, or admonishing, it will only serve to further alienate my audience by enforcing the perception that we are unalike. If I attack, they will defend.  Instead of encouraging an adversary, I prefer to establish an ally. If I am patient, gracious, and friendly, common ground can be found.

Undoubtedly, there are some people who take comfort in their ignorance. It provides a false sense of superiority and security. These people won’t be swayed by a smile and a few carefully chosen words, but an angry barrage of how-dare-you’s is equally ineffective.  I believe these people are the minority and  most people will respond in kind if they are approached with an open heart and mind.

Therefore, I have decided to let go of my anger and treat people how I would like to be treated – with respect, kindness, and empathy. It’s harder than stomping around in jackboots, threatening wrathful vengeance (and maybe a little less fun), but it just might be more effective. Perhaps the way to encourage respect, kindness and inclusion for my child is to kindly and respectfully include others in my life. Instead of waging a war for social revolution, I’m engaging others in the conversation that is social evolution.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

You can check out John Franklin Stephens, an amazing ambassador for social evolution, here. His ability to take the high road and speak thoughtfully and respectfully to someone who didn’t earn it is inspiring.