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.

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

My Good Fortune

We have, thankfully and miraculously, survived Evelyn’s two week spring break.  It has been a long two weeks, plagued by cold, rainy weather, snotty noses, vomiting and teething.  After a few days away from the structure and stimulation of school, Evelyn started to seriously regress and fall back on a lot of old, negative behaviors.   I am proud to say I have not dropped my toddler off at a fire station, nor have I been committed to a psych ward.  However, I just might kiss the bus on Monday when it pulls up to the driveway.

At the end of this eternal spring “vacation”, I watch Adelle carefully hand Evelyn a pink plastic tea cup. Evelyn tosses it towards the ceiling, gleefully shouting, “Up high!”  When the cup clanks back down to the floor, booth girls laugh hysterically.  The baby delicately retrieves a yellow plastic banana with two fingers and gives it to Evelyn, who gives it the same treatment as the tea cup.  I love hearing them laugh; it makes my heart soar. As a parent, there is no better sound than that of your child laughing joyfully – with one exception…

I still remember the first time with Brady, back when it was just me and my boy trying to fill this house with not much furniture, but a lot of love – making a home. I had just worked my fifth 12 hour shift of the week and I was mentally and physically drained.  I made it home just in time to read him a story and tuck him into bed.  I was already thinking about the ice cold beer waiting in my fridge as I kissed him goodnight and told him, “I love you.”  As I stood to leave, he rolled over, snuggled down in the covers and simply said, “I love you, too, Mommy.”  I was surprised by the tidal wave of emotion that struck me.  When I became a parent and held Brady for the very first time, I felt love so powerful, so strong, that I thought it might break me.  I spent the first weeks of his life consumed by the overwhelming love I had for him.  When he verbalized his affection for me in the soft glow of his nightlight, the experience was equally moving.  I was so affected by it that, even years later, I can recall every minute detail of that moment.

It occurs to me that Evelyn has never said, “I love you.”  Evelyn probably can’t say, “I love you.”  She started speaking last summer and, while she can say a lot of different words, she is just beginning to string together two word phrases.  I am somewhat disheartened to think I may have to wait a long time to hear those words so dear to a parent’s heart.

I do know Evelyn loves me.  Every time she wraps her little arms tight around my neck and buries her face in my shoulder or climbs in my lap with a book, she is declaring her devotion.  Slobbery kisses and tiny hands patting me on the back are comforts given with true affection.  With each treasured Goldfish cracker shoved towards my mouth, scribbled drawing thrust under my nose, and funny face made for my eyes only, she is clearly stating, “I love you!”

Possibly, if she already said those three little words, I would neglect to notice all the ways she shows me she loves me every day. I know when she does say it, I will appreciate it because she worked hard to form those words with her little mouth, but I don’t really need her to speak it for me to know it. I will probably remember every detail of the moment Evelyn vocalizes, “I love you,”  but I will also remember these moments.  As I reflect on them, I feel the same swell of emotion I felt years ago, tucking a small, messy-haired boy into bed.

I am pulled away from this thought by Evelyn.  She has noticed she no longer holds my attention, and she thrusts one palm into the air.  “Five!” she demands.  I smack her raised hand with mine.  A small smile creeps across her face as she lowers her hand and her voice and says, “Down loooow!”  When I slap her palm again, she laughs loudly and reaches for a small purple plate in Adelle’s outstretched hand.  Confident I am watching, she tosses it in the air and screams, “Up high!”  Just like that, I stop feeling sorry for myself.  Instead, I feel fortunate.