I worry about the quality and validity of friendships for Samantha. A part of me still expects that she'll have the typical friendships with her typical peers that they have amongst themselves, but the reasonable, rational side of me knows that the older she gets, the less realistic that vision can be. All you folks out there who think otherwise and think I'm selling my kid with an intellectual disability short? Well, I'm just willing to bet that you have children who are considerably younger than Sammi, who have not yet hit that concrete dividing line between the conversations and activities shared by those typical peers and the conversations and activities that my daughter is involved in. There's a world of difference.
At this point, Samantha is mostly unaffected by it. Her self-awareness is growing, but she's still young and immature enough to not really notice it too much. Or, if she does, she does a good job of hiding it. Sometimes I can see a slight, subtle shift in her posture, a shadow that floats unsteadily behind her eyes, an extra intensity to the anxious, habitual finger crossing that replaced the hair-twirling some months back, all betraying her true feelings of insecurity when I ask her about her activities with her friends at school.
And so I worry.
It's my job.
And, just when I'm about to read so much more into something that may be nothing, I find affirmations in the writings of her classmates that tell me otherwise. Obligatory though they may be, a genuine sentiment hovers around them, moving between the words and sentences like a shimmery ribbon of peace and love. A whispering, glowing halo that blinds me and brings tears to my eyes with its beauty.
And before I get crushed beneath an even greater tangle of flowery metaphor than I've already woven, I should explain.
Samantha was recently the Star Student of the Week. Sure, it's pre-determined which student will have the honor each week throughout the school year, but it's a nice opportunity for the children to learn a bit more about each other, to see what kinds of things are important to each other, and to ask questions. And while Samantha refused to participate (she claims she was too shy), her teacher picked up the slack, fashioned her own hair into braids, and stood at the front of the class to present as Samantha's proxy, with a little help from Sammi's aide, who knows Samantha better than pretty much anyone there. And afterwards, each student wrote a letter to Samantha, bound into a sturdy booklet to be treasured forever, a book that Samantha reads every day.
The letters, while they followed a general format ("Dear Sammi, You are an awesome Star Student because..."), and while they mentioned something that they had learned about her during the presentation ("I like cats, too...I like to read Fancy Nancy, too...etc."), some of them really dug deeper, expressing real interest, real caring, real friendship.
"You are my best, best friend. Can we have a playdate soon?"
"You are so nice. I'm glad we are friends."
They didn't have to write those things.
They wrote them because they wanted to.
I credit the fact that the school allowed the showing of the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City's amazing video, Just Like You (which makes me cry every time I watch it, btw) to her class during lessons on diversity last fall with the way her classmates have embraced her. I think that clarity in understanding a little more about Down syndrome and how it shapes Samantha has, in turn, shaped them. I'm still pushing to have it shown to the whole school some time soon - I'll be recommending March 21st, World Down Syndrome Day. I would take great comfort in knowing that a larger population of students than just her current class would also discover that clarity and carry it with them into the world.
A world that, day by day, hugs my daughter tighter, and accepts her for who she is.