Like many new parents of a child with Down syndrome, all I saw was Down syndrome when my daughter Jade was born. At first, I didn’t see a beautiful baby, I didn’t see the countless ways she would inspire me, and I definitely did not see the profound impact she would have on so many peers, neighbors, friends and family members around her.
Back in those dark days, it was ultimately my husband who snapped me out if it. He said to me,
“You have to stop looking at Jade’s Down syndrome and start looking at Jade. She’s Jade first, period. If we treat her like Jade and the way we’re raising Lily and Zoe, she’ll be just fine, and so will we.”
It was so ironic to me that these words would come from him. All along I thought he was in denial because he did not acknowledge that she had Down syndrome. On the contrary, he was the first one to see beyond it! That very moment transformed me, and I suddenly realized that our attitude toward Jade would start to define who she could become.
From that time forward, I vowed to treat Jade like I treated our other two daughters, and exposed her to the life that we led. We read to her, took her to the park, swam with her, went shopping with her, and all the other things parents typically do to expose their children to the world. Of course, this all happened in between what sometimes felt like countless appointments and therapy sessions, but by and large, Jade was doing family things with her family.
Fast forward a couple years, when Jade was 3 years old. We took a New Year’s vacation with some friends near a small ski resort in Galena, Illinois. Our older girls, ages 6 and 9 at the time, wanted to learn how to ski, so we enrolled them in ski lessons. Meanwhile, Jade was with my husband and I inside the lodge staying warm. It wasn’t long before Jade wanted to get on the slopes too. If her sisters were out there, she wanted to do it too!
Why not? If she could stand, she could ski, right? We didn’t even bring her snow pants that day, but that didn’t stop any of us. We found a ski instructor willing to spend an hour with us, and Jade fell in love with the feeling of being on skis! Luckily, we thought to take some video and pictures of the day.
A couple days later, we remembered the snow pants, and she loved it even more as she progressed to the magic carpet and greater speeds.
Thus began Jade’s love for a sport that the whole family enjoys with a passion. While the older girls may now be hiking to mountain peaks to get their thrills, Jade, at age 8 can certainly hold her own on the mountains in Colorado!
This story is not just about skiing, though. It’s about belief and abandoning assumptions. Putting Jade on skis at age 3 told her that we believed in her. In turn, she proved to us that we should not make assumptions about what she can and cannot do. Further, Jade’s skiing achievements have given Jade confidence in so many other areas of her life, as she is not afraid to try new things. She pushes for her “best of all” because she knows she needs to work hard to get better and to keep up.
Last, knowing that Jade can ski tells the world that she is capable of so much, particularly if we abandon our assumptions about what someone with Down syndrome can do. Jade really struggles in math and many other things, but somehow her teacher knows she’s capable of learning because she’s capable of skiing. It may not make perfect sense, but I’ll take it. We’re all human and we live in the midst of our own biases, for better or worse. I’d rather they assume she has the potential!
It doesn’t have to be skiing. What is that special skill or ability that can break down the barriers for your child, to build confidence and tell the world that he has the potential for more? Is he a great reader? Does she have the speech skills to order for herself at a restaurant? Does he know all his classmates’ parent’s names? Can she intuitively know when someone needs a hug? Does he play an instrument? Is she a beautiful dancer? I believe it is our duty as parents to work on building a world of acceptance for our children by helping people to see that they have the potential, and to believe in them. This is a heavy and massive task, but we can do it together, one child at a time.
Thank you Kim for sharing such a great part of your families story!
Kim has been a part of the GiGi’s Playhouse family since her daughter Jade was born more than 8 years ago. From playhouse family to Board President of the Chicago Playhouse for the first 4 years, Kim then joined the GiGi’s Playhouse national team in early 2013. When she started, her focus was on coaching startups and building a replicable playhouse model to position the organization for period of fast growth. Kim now has a broader focus supporting the GiGi’s network as a whole, while working remotely from Crested Butte, Colorado. Before GiGi’s, Kim’s career was focused on growth execution across a broad variety of fast-growing industries including financial services, eCommerce, manufacturing and packaging. When not working or skiing, Kim enjoys hiking, mountain biking, cooking and camping with her husband and 3 daughters.