May 11, 2012
By Ekta R. Garg
Enjoy these Spurts from the last two weeks, readers!
Last weekend Five got an unusual opportunity to experience a first for her. She met a child with Down syndrome.
We took the kids to the park on Sunday afternoon to enjoy some of the beautiful weather we’re having these days in Salt Lake City. For a while the girls and I watched as my husband joined a pickup soccer game. When the kids got restless I walked with them to the play structures and let them explore to their heart’s content.
Soon after making our way to the swings, slides, and other climbing apparatus, my husband joined us. He had thoroughly enjoyed himself, he said with a boyish grin, but it had been a long time since he’d played such a vigorous game and he didn’t want to overdo it. He had to be able to walk the next day, after all.
We made our way around to the tire swing, and as Five waited patiently in line for her turn my husband spotted a colleague from work. He greeted the woman and introduced the girls and me to her. Suddenly the children on the tire swing abandoned it, giving Five a chance to jump on.
My husband’s colleague’s son suddenly appeared, and the mother helped her son onto the swing. The son, eight years old, had Down syndrome, and Five instantly looked troubled. The boy laughed and said something, but his marked speech had Five on high alert.
Later, as we drove home, I turned to my husband and commented on how hard it must be for his colleague to be a mother. Parenting with healthy children who are following a standard pace of development requires talents and patience one doesn’t even know one possesses until the situation arises. When said parenting involves children with special needs, it requires an amazing depth of character and a calling that I certainly don’t possess.
My husband pointed out Five’s reaction, and we asked her about it.
“I didn’t understand what that boy said. His words sounded funny,” she said, obviously troubled by what she didn’t comprehend.
“That boy has something called Down syndrome,” I explained, keeping my tone of voice neutral. “It means that his voice sounds different, and his face looks different.”
“But kids who have Down syndrome are very loving,” my husband jumped in, wanting to balance the visible deficiencies with the positive qualities.
“They’re very sweet,” I added, “and there’s nothing to be worried about.”
She didn’t respond. I’m glad, though, that she met someone who has physical challenges. Eventually she’ll have to learn about these realities, these truths of life, and I’m happy she had her first encounter in a relaxed atmosphere like the park.
With summer birthdays the girls have plenty of time during the school year to talk about and discuss this annual milestone. Three declared in September that when she turned four she wanted to go to the zoo. She hadn’t even been three for more than two months. This child definitely is a planner.
As the kids get older, though, I’ve done my best to make them understand that birthdays mean more than gifts and cake. Birthdays have to do with family, with sharing special moments and making memories. Gifts, I tell them every year, are just things. Birthdays are about acknowledging that we have another year to learn and play and work hard and love one another.
Last week as I drove the kids to school, Five shared with me her latest birthday plan.
“Mama, I know what you all should do for my birthday,” she said.
“You and everyone—the whole family—should wake me up and give me my presents right away, so just make sure you give them to me when I wake up.”
I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head to say, but before I could even open my mouth she jumped in again.
“I know birthdays aren’t about gifts,” she added hurriedly. “They’re about family. But what about one gift? It could be one family gift, and you could surprise me when I wake up.”
I couldn’t help but agree to consider it. After all, if she can state what she wants with such a sense of balance and maturity, how can I refuse?
Five has her dance class on Wednesdays after school, so we drive straight from school to the dance studio. We get there early enough for her to change out of her school clothes into her dance clothes, and then she goes into her dance class. We don’t get a chance for our after-school discussions until after dance class on Wednesday, which ends up being long day for both of us. Long enough, in fact, that I usually don’t get the scoop on school until we’re driving home from the dance studio.
This week was no differeny and as we pulled into a parking space in our complex Five stated, “I’m famous.”
She said this with a certain amount of confidence and just a touch of glee. More than anything, though, she said it with a great sense of entitlement.
“You’re famous?” I asked, just managing to keep the incredulity out of my voice. “What do you mean you’re famous?”
“S. said so,” she said, naming one of her school friends. “And everyone says I’m nice. So I’m famous.”
I was torn between explaining to her exactly what constitutes actual fame and letting her enjoy her moment. By that time of the evening, though, I didn’t have enough energy to go into the specifics of celebrity-dom. Besides, if being famous at five years old means everyone says you’re nice, I can handle that level—and definition—of notoriety.