After meeting B and S at the swim meet, B’s dad gave us a call and wanted to have both families over to their house for pizza. Although I know lots of families online who have children with Down syndrome, until the swim meet I only knew one in real life, so I was eager to go. He graciously invited my friend Leigh Ann and her kids, who were visiting from out of town, to come along, so we went. B, S and S’s younger brother are 16, 13, and 10, respectively, and I hoped that April (14) and Jared (11) would mix well with them. They are great kids and have always been good to Sarah Kate and Nathan, but we’ve also known them for many years.
We were the last to arrive, and as soon as we came in the house, B ran down the stairs and threw herself into my arms. I’m not a super-huggy-type person, but it was one of the greatest hugs EV-ER. We introduced our friends to the two families, and the kids immediately began to mesh and meld and have a great time.
When you have a child with special needs (and I think it’s more pronounced when you have a child with Down syndrome), you are instantly initiated into a secret society of other parents who navigate the special needs waters. I’m not an extrovert by nature, so walking into a room with strangers where I need to make small talk would normally freak me out a little, but within moments we were all sharing as if we’d known each other for years.
We compared notes on therapy, I learned how S’s parents met, and we talked about running and triathlons, Special Olympics, and many other subjects that often, but not always, were related to Down syndrome. Before we knew it, three hours had passed and it was well past Nathan’s bedtime. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch (and maybe run a half marathon together).
As we got into our cars to leave, I heard both of Leigh Ann’s kids express sadness about having to leave their new friends. I could relate, as I was feeling the same way. But more significantly, I was filled with joy that these two typical young people walked into a gathering of strangers, including two young people with Down syndrome, and immediately made friends and had a wonderful time. They didn’t just go through the motions – they truly enjoyed the company of these two special teens, just as I enjoyed the company of the other parents, but their attraction to each other had nothing to do with a diagnosis or shared parenting experience.
Instead, they perfectly illustrated a universal truth: we are all more alike than different.