Penny’s last day of school was last Thursday. In typical over-the-top fashion, her teachers put together a family picnic complete with food and drink in a shady spot and a variety of games. Penny’s
favorite event was the sack race (especially, per the photo, the part where her
dad picked her up and took her over the finish line). She loved chasing her
parents as we pretended to be bunnies. She was not that big a fan of the piñata.
And she didn’t understand why we–her parents, yes, both of us, and all her
teachers–were crying at the end of it all.
She’s got a great attitude. “New school! New friends!”
(Note: she never says, “New teachers,” so perhaps she has decided that they are
coming with her.) I am having a harder time with the transition.
On one level, I know that I would be sad about leaving Penny’s
school under any circumstances. But the fact that she has Down syndrome
contributes to my sense of loss. I realized, as I thought about why I was so
upset, that I’m not just sad to leave the school. I’m also afraid of what’s
Of course I hope that Penny’s new school–the teachers, the
administrators, the therapists, the students, the other parents–will be just as
inclusive as those at her old school. But it isn’t a guarantee. No one at Penny’s old school ever talked about her
in general terms. No one ever said, “Well, kids with Downs…” They always
referenced her as an individual. An individual with disabilities, yes, and they
referenced their training with kids with disabilities. But they didn’t see her
as a part of a category first and as her own little person second. Rather, it
was the other way around. And when people see Penny as Penny, and only then as
a child with Down syndrome, it allows her to be who she is rather than fit into
a set of expectations for kids “like her.”
So I’m thankful for the team of people who believed in our
daughter and who have allowed her to be who she is–a little girl who tells
knock knock jokes without a punchline, who couldn’t care less about winning a
competition, who loves to pretend to be the teacher during speech therapy.
In the end, I trust that Penny will speak for herself, and
will be known for who she is in this new school. I’m trying to follow her lead.
“New school! New friends!”