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“Everyone has something.”

posted Wednesday September 22nd, 2010

I keep thinking about that New York Times blog post. You know, the one with the question. I have not, per Maya’s advice, gone back and read the comments on it. But I’m humbled, as usual, by the warmth and intelligence of the comments about it left here.

I keep thinking about that New York Times blog post, and also about the New York magazine article from a little while ago, the one about how unhappy so many parents are.

Really? I asked at the time. What did you expect? That being a parent would be easy? That you’d have tons of free time to hang out in bookstores – that is, in the sections with books you might actually want to read to yourself — like you did before you had them? Being a parent is hard.

Being anyone’s parent is really really hard, if you are doing it right. (Like writing.)

That includes parenting a child with Down syndrome. In many ways, it’s all the same. But in some ways, it’s different, and to deny the differences is, I think, to shortchange ourselves and out kids. I think about Annabelle’s experience in public school versus Sophie’s experience. There is no comparison. And that is just one arena of the dozens we all traverse.

That said, I often feel guilty for even writing a blog about my kid with Down syndrome. I mean, big whoop, right? So many times I whine about something and have to stop and remind myself how good I have it.

For one thing, I was able to have kids. (At one point I was very doubtful.)

Sophie is —  by and large, relatively speaking, and knock on a lot of wood — a physically healthy kid. (At least, she’s only had to have open heart surgery twice and so far, there’s no word of a third time.)

She is, as they like to say, “relatively high functioning.”

And, as a dear friend once said to me, “Everyone has something.”

I know I’ve told this story before on this blog — perhaps even more than once — but it bears repeating. For me, it goes back to the essence of parenthood, and even back farther to the essence of who we are, period.

When Sophie was about three weeks old, a friend I didn’t know very well at the time  (we were in the same book club) dragged me out of the house. She’s a teacher, and she told me some of her students had given her gift certificates to the spa at Royal Palms, a hotel in Phoenix and one of my favorite spots in the world. (Ray and I were married there.) Whether she really had gift certificates or not, this woman is incredibly generous (she is, as I type, making matzoh ball soup and a “Jello construction” for a mutual friend who just had surgery) and I didn’t know just how generous, that day I agreed to go to Royal Palms.

I dragged my tired, bedragged, scarred body onto a table and got a great massage, and afterward my friend and I wrapped ourselves in big, thick robes and sipped delicious tea, reclining in a lovely sitting area.

“You know,” my friend said, “I wanted to tell you something.”

I knew she had two kids — they were out of college, grown and moved away to fun cities, with cool-sounding jobs and cute pictures I admired on my friend’s mantleplace during book club meetings — but that’s all I knew. I figured these kids, like my friend (in my eyes, anyway) were perfect.

The “something” was some pretty heavy duty stuff. Both kids have serious medical conditions they developed as adolescents. There’s no cure. It’s life-threatening. Both have wonderful, happy, productive lives — with a great big scary face hanging overhead at all times.

“I told you that,” my friend said when she was done, “because you need to know that everyone has something. It’s just that with Sophie, your `something’ came earlier than my ‘something’ did.”

Think about it. My friend is so right. Everyone has something. We all do. Most of the time, you don’t even know what the other person’s something is. It’s not “worse” than your something, or “better.” It just is.

I am forever in debt to my friend for that advice.

Look, I know why people pose the “hard” question about Down syndrome. It’s because there aren’t many “somethings” you can eliminate in the 11th week of your pregnancy. And I think that while it’s cut and dried and perfectly acceptable to agree that having a kid with medical problems is bad, you’re not supposed to talk about how it’s harder to have a mentally challenged kid than a typical one. Particularly if the mental challenge inolves the propensity to make one a very happy camper.

Is it harder to have a child with Down syndrome? As Noan put it so well in a comment earlier today, “Personally, I don’t think it is a very interesting question.”

She made up a few of her own, then ended with an amazing quote from Stanley Kunitz that I’ll end with, too.

“One fears that the dynamics of modern society point towards the practical rather than the spiritual.  But I think there will always be individuals who will carry on  the great tradition of the prophets and poets.  I have such a fierce conviction about the value of existence, the importance of life, that I know there must be many, many others who feel the same way, and will always be here on earth.   And that gives me hope.”

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Tags: Filed under: culture, Down syndrome by Amysilverman

4 Responses to ““Everyone has something.””

  1. Realizing that “everyone has something” was one of the great epiphanies of my life. I believe it has made me a kinder person and has also humbled me –because I have “something” too.

  2. I love that! But of course you know that after knowing me for awhile :) Xo

  3. Beautiful Amy, just beautiful. Very wise words.
    And Noan’s quote? I think I’m going to remember that one for a very long time.
    Thank you.

  4. Lovely sentiment and so similar to one a friend shared with me when I learned that Cooper would have Down syndrome, around my 14th week of pregnancy. And re: the NYT blog – read the one just posted today, about parents conflicted about whether to terminate and the ultimate decision. I wouldn’t wish that situation on my worst enemy … and I also can’t help imagining what that father missed out on.

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