Monday, April 23, 2012

Perceptions

As I was thinking today about what to write for my blog post (and secretly hoping that Abby would do something extra spectacular so it would write itself), one word kept creeping up in my mind -  "perceptions" - particularly how Abby seems to pulverize them effortlessly. I began ruminating on this topic last Friday as I was talking with a friend about how Abby has changed her perception of people with Down syndrome, and those with disabilities in general. I fully agreed and shared with her a story that I've shared with few people - mainly because now, looking back, I'm ashamed of myself.

The moment, years ago, happened so quickly and was so fleeting that in a way I'm surprised I remember it at all, but it has permanently been etched in my mind. It happened was when I was pregnant with Abby. As many of you know, we had no idea if the baby was a girl or a boy, let alone that she was destined to have some added challenges. I remember stopping off after work one day at the grocery store, and as usual I was in a hurry to get my stuff and go. Now, if you know me at all you know that I tend to focus on what I'm doing, and not always notice what is going on around me, so walking from the car to the store I'm usually in the "zone" of trying to remember what I came there for in the first place. I don't do a lot of looking around, but for some reason on that day I did and I happened to catch a young woman and someone I could only assume was her mother walking into the store. They were several aisles over, and were heading to a completely different entrance than I was, but they were close enough for me to see their faces. The older woman looked care-warn and grumpy, as if she had been through the wringer and back. Then I noticed the younger woman walking slightly behind her, the younger woman who clearly had Down syndrome. I made a presumption right then and there, and came to a conclusion that to this day haunts me. My mind immediately made a connection between the young woman having Down syndrome and the older woman looking miserable - as if the first explained the latter. I remember thinking in that instant that I was so thankful that all the screening on the baby (which we'd had done only for informational purposes - we would NOT have done anything if tests had come back positive), had come back negative, because (and here's the clincher) I just don't know how I would handle having a child with Down syndrome.


I think of this moment often, and am so very very ashamed of what I thought. In fact my desire to never have anyone make that erroneous connection when they see Abby and I together drives many of my actions. See, I understand that when people see her they may look a little harder and a little longer, and I also understand that they are not only watching what she does, but how I respond and react to her. If they see exasperation on my face, I want them to see that it is tinged with love. I want them to see how much joy I get from her, and how fun and wonderful she is. I want perceptions to change, but I realize that the best one to accomplish that is Abby herself.

A couple of years ago Jason met a man through his work and as typically happens they got talking about their families and such. The man shared with Jason the sad news that he and his wife had recently  lost a baby through a miscarriage. He told Jason that the doctors told them later that they thought the baby may have had Down syndrome. At this point Jason had not shared a bit about Abby. The man and his wife were doubly sad because recently they had gotten a new perception of what having Down syndrome meant. See, this man had an older daughter who took ballet and in her class was a charming little girl with Down syndrome. He told Jason how the parents and children alike loved this little girl, and that he and his wife would watch her, and more importantly, how they came to understand that she was more like their daughter than not like their daughter. His perception changed because of this little girl who did nothing other than come to dance class in her pink leotard like millions of other five-year-olds. Wonderful, right? It gets better. Jason was intrigued, he knew the man was from around here and that there were few dance studios in the area. He also did the math and realized that Abby would have been about his daughter's age. He asked where and when she attended dance, and as the man gave him a funny look Jason explained. See, we'd had Abby in a ballet class at that time, but ended up pulling her, afraid that she was too much of a distraction for the others. Believe it or not, the connection was made and they both realized that the little dancer that had made such an impact on them was Abby - our Abby.

As you can imagine I was overwhelmed when I heard this story. It helped me realize that we will never know the number of lives that Abby touches, and the minds that she's already changed. She will naturally do this on her own, without us even knowing, because she is who she is - an extraordinary girl who quickly changed my perceptions, and hopefully is on her way to changing many, many more.

Abby loved those bars! We were all impressed with her
upper body strength as she showed off both her over and
underhand pull-ups.

Look at that focus - look at that concentration - look at
the fact that she's the only one sitting down!

Do I detect some air on this leap?

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