It is not hard to say why I met Beth. Living in New Orleans at the time, I believe – Beth had a son with Down syndrome. Her in-laws moved to Memphis shortly after his birth. They are volunteers extraordinaire. Then came Hurricane Katrina. This little grandson with Down syndrome spent some time in Memphis but really most of my relationship with Beth and her family has been via Facebook. It was most certainly because of her mother-in-law who I call Mrs. Z. If you want something done, she’s the lady to call.
Like me Beth writes a blog. I think has been awhile since she blogged and she writes some funny stuff about motherhood and life. Beth has three kiddos and her son with Down syndrome is 10. She has experienced some of the challenges and victories that come along with parenthood and specifically Down syndrome. She posted a blog yesterday that I thought was quite good. It really needs to be read by those who have kids who do not have Down syndrome. Just a little description of how our world feels sometimes and what you might do to make your world and our world a little brighter. Thanks for sharing Beth. I’m posting the content and the link, Are You on His Team?
This morning, my husband came into the dining room and set his phone down on top of the newspaper I was reading. I glanced at the screen and could make out the figures of uniformed basketball players. I touched the “play” icon and the game was set in motion. I was watching a high school basketball game in Pennsylvania – a senior night basketball game where one player, in particular, was having a very good night. The player was Kevin Grow, and you could see that Kevin had Down syndrome. Play after play, the ball was fed to Kevin, and time after time, Kevin sank the shot. With each successful attempt, the crowd grew louder, Kevin’s fellow players rose to their feet at the bench; they yelled, they pumped their fists, they jumped up and down. They could hardly restrain themselves from bursting onto the court. I can only imagine Kevin’s parents sitting in the bleachers. What a gift. What a once-in-a-lifetime moment: to witness your child uplifted by an entire team in concert, and not just his own team, but the opposing team as well.
We love to see these games, don’t we? It reminds us that this country’s children really are good people. It demonstrates that they are capable of compassion and selflessness, and that they want to see their friends succeed. As parents, we imagine what our own children would do if they were Kevin’s teammates. We like to believe that they would act in the same way. We’d be so proud.
But as the parent of a child with Down syndrome, I watch these games with a sense of melancholy. Where was Gus’s team when we wanted him to attend his neighborhood school? Where are they when the birthday party invitations are issued? Where will they be when he has grown and left the nest, and needs community and friendship just as much as the rest of us? Will they be there with him then?
I don’t want to take away from the significance of these kinds of moments for children with developmental disabilities. To be certain, Kevin will never forget that game. There’s a solid chance, in fact, that he’ll recount the story of that game to anyone who’s interested. So good on the boys from those schools who gave Kevin a memory that will last him the rest of his life. They did a good thing.
But I want to issue a challenge to all of those players and their coaches; to everyone who watches these videos and gets teary-eyed; to anyone who meets a person with a developmental disability…
Be on his team NOW. Be on his team every day. Invite him to the party. Pull up a chair at your table when he walks into Starbucks. Care about his life. Ask him how things are going at work the same way you would ask any other acquaintance how things are going at work. And when he is uplifted by his community, be just as proud and moved as you would be if he were sinking that shot on senior night. The time that you spend including a person with a Down syndrome, or Autism or any other disability for that matter, is no less consequential for the fact that it will not be televised. In reality, it is more precious, more crucial and all the more sacred because you have given that time without condition; because it is simply a part of any normal day.
I’m not asking anyone to radically change their lives. I’m just asking you to change your point of view. Please, don’t assume my son is someone with whom you’ll never have a meaningful friendship. Assume that you might have something to offer each other. Assume that your lives will be richer for having developed a connection. Know that, just like the players on the court at Bensalem High School, we can all derive pride and satisfaction from the ways in which we lift each other up. All I want, in the end, is for you to be on his team.