Have you seen the beautiful video celebrating children with Down Syndrome? If you haven’t please watch it. It’s an internet sensation and I applaud the creators of the videos. You can view the video at the end of the post.
When I first saw it, Michael and I were awake at three thirty on Monday morning with Savannah (our adult daughter with complex special needs) who couldn’t sleep. We found her in her wheelchair with her curtain completely drawn back, exposing her bedroom to the moonlight. She was looking outside and just crying. We helped her back into bed and comforted her as best as we could. While I waited for her to fall off to sleep, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. That was when I first saw the video. The caption stung me because it contained the words “love, courage, commitment” attributed to the moms.
A couple of things were highlighted here especially as I lay awake with my twenty-one year old child. Firstly, all of the children featured were young children with Down Syndrome. Where were the adults with Down Syndrome and their aging parents? Adults with disabilities who are still playful or are still hugging a Barney stuffed toy may get the “cute” vote but people are generally uncomfortable when it comes to childlike adults. Yes, there are many,many people with disabilities who are independent and are adults in their own right. But there are also a large group of people with disabilities who will love Teletubbies forever, who will be thirty years old and still sit on their parents laps, who will obsess over a toy from a kiddies takeout meal that they received twenty years ago and who will happily bob around to long forgotten Disney movie songs. Theses families would have been doing this right along with their children for all those years. Even as they are both aging. LOVE,COURAGE and COMMITMENT looks like this too.
Secondly, it saddened me that the reality of the world we live in is that it is easier to share a video than work alongside families like us to keep us strong and committed for the long run. I recently met a mother who is seventy years old. Her fifty year old son is a person with a disability. He cannot live with her anymore so he is in a care home. She is still fighting. She is trying to get him a better wheelchair but his chair costs more than her medical aid company will pay. He sometimes goes to hospital and it’s a fight to get a suitable vehicle to transport him. At seventy she is still fighting. She talks to people, she yells at people, she writes letters, she tries to raise funds, she visits her son, she makes sure he is properly cared for and she hasn’t stopped for fifty years. That is what COMMITMENT looks like.
My best friend is a mother to an adult daughter with Down Syndrome. My friend has always been a single parent. Her daughter’s birth father decided he had a choice and chose to leave. Twenty six years later, my friend works two jobs so she can provide for her daughter. She has assisted care organisations when her daughter lived there and still volunteers her time to help organizations who aid children and women in need of support; believing that one day it will come back to her daughter. That is what COURAGE looks like.
I am never impressed by people who carelessly say “I love people with disabilities”. In strong families where being a person with a disability is valued and respected, LOVE is never in short supply. But physical and emotional energy is difficult to have for as long as you both live. If I had a ten rand for all the people who have said they love Savannah and how much she means to them; I would be super rich today. But their love wasn’t the kind that was about her and what was best for her.
When families love their children with disabilities we love no matter what happens or how we feel. We understand that the expression of our love may be one-sided. We love even when we are tired of doing the same thing over and over. We love when we are sad that we don’t have choices because we are bound to our child’s fate. We love when people who know nothing about our lives judge us. We love because we actually understand the meaning of LOVE. It is not a weakness to love but the greatest strength you can possess.
So next time when you share a video about families with disabilities that gives you goosebumps and moves you to tears; ask yourself this: If the people in the video were your neighbours or in your place of worship or were a relative would you help them and love them? Without the goosebumps and tears, could you give them your love, time and support? Even if it made you uncomfortable?
Do you see the people with disabilities in videos as people with feelings, dreams, emotions, fears and the capacity to love? When you write beautiful captions about their families or carers without acknowledging the people who the videos are about, you nullify their humanity. If you write anything about our community, commend both the people with disabilities and their families. You can’t decide which of us meets the criteria for accolades but you can influence the support and understanding the entire family receives. That is true awareness.
And to Love especially in our families who are living the special needs life, Love is simply this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
Thank you to the moms of Designer Genes Facebook group for definitely the Best Carpool Karaoke.