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

I Am Three Years Old


AAAAAAAAHHHHH!
AAAAAAAAHHHHH!

My name is Evelyn. I am three years old. I am stubborn, “spirited”, and funny. My idea of a perfect evening is curling up with a good board book, some goldfish crackers and a nice vintage juice. I enjoy the company of stuffed monkeys, the intelligent drama of “Signing Time,” and the musical styling of The Laurie Berkner Band. My hobbies include dancing, playing dress up, coloring on anything but paper, and throwing anything that is not a ball. Just for fun, I talk in a voice that sounds like Linda Blair in the The Exorcist. I excel at annoying my brother, tormenting my sister, and sticking both fingers up my nose at the same time in the car and saying “Mama – Look!” – because I know she is driving and there is nothing she can do about it.

Take a picture of THIS!
Take a picture of THIS!

I am adorably and alarmingly audacious. I stack books on boxes on small chairs on coffee tables and try to convince people it’s a good idea for me to climb up there. I jump into the bathtub like it’s an Olympic swimming pool. I dance in public – I don’t care who is watching! I once rode solo in a shopping cart across the Lowe’s parking lot and I love taking off on my own to explore large, crowded public spaces.

Like most three year olds, I think I am the center of the universe. So many people love me, and I’m pretty sure their role in life is to orbit around me and fulfill my every need and desire. They have been caught in my gravitational pull since the universe was created, and will stay that way as long as I exist. I make the rules in this universe – I think that if I cover my face, you can’t see me because I am a really good hider. And like most three year olds, I like to do things my way. On my first day of school, I refused to stand up and have my picture taken, I don’t like when my foods touch each other, and I am way too cool to hold my mom’s hand.

1st day of school
1st day of school

Also like other three year olds, I am not a “little angel” – I am a unique person with complex thoughts and emotions. Please, don’t take away my individuality by assigning me a personality based on my chromosomal make up. Saying that children with Down syndrome are sweet and loving all the time is equivalent to saying Asians are good at math, Jewish people are great with money, or African-Americans are good at sports. Just because the trait that is assigned is not negative doesn’t mean it is true and it doesn’t mean it is okay to define a person based on just one aspect of who they are. Yes, I am fearlessly friendly and I give the  best hugs – when I feel like it. But I will also unroll the toilet paper or shred an entire box of tissues, given the opportunity. Because that’s who I am – I am three years old!

In honor of World Down Syndrome Day, please watch this video from the International Down Syndrome Coalition to meet a lot of other people and allow them to tell you who they are. They are not three years old (mostly), and they are all different. I know you will watch it – because I make the rules in this universe.