Finding Hope at the Park – Benita Leon
If you have ever dreamed of becoming a new parent, just as me and my husband did, then you probably also envisioned a joyful future together, parent and child. You could just imagine the joy when seeing your child beginning to crawl or taking their initial steps, hearing the longed awaited words “Mama” or “Dada”, standing wide-eyed and opened mouth as you watch them make a mess with food when learning how to self-feed, or hearing their resounding laughter while swinging at the playground or swimming in the pool on a hot Texas day. Such joy!
What I envisioned before the birth of our son, Zachary, was a bit dampened by his diagnosis of Down syndrome, emergency intestinal surgery on his 2nd day of life followed by his 27 days being a patient in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Texas Children’s Hospital. With the love, joy, and excitement of having our first son, also came an onslaught of intense emotions. I found it difficult to stop crying and wrap my head around what was happening in our lives. I had not prepared myself mentally or emotionally for the 27 days wait before brining my new baby home from NICU or helping him through developmental delays in the months to come. I later realized that emotions of hurt and helplessness often occur with many parents after the reality of “the diagnosis” sets in.
While I was in the hospital we received a plastic, zipped package from an organization that had enclosed a magnetic business card, brochure, and a pen/pad set with the writing “GiGi’s Playhouse. Down Syndrome Achievement Center. educate. inspire. believe”. Months later, I contacted the Sugar Land GiGi’s playhouse and was greeted on the phone by a bubbly, enthusiastic employee named Sandra. She invited me and my family to their “Picnic in the Park” event. I did not know that this one event would change everything.
“Hi-yee” was the first greeting we received by a sweet, smiling, little boy in a red shirt walking towards us from the playground in the direction of his mother who was nearby. This little boy, who I noticed was just like my son, was my first surge of hope. I immediately knew that it would be just a matter of time before Zachary would be playing on the playground, just like Luke. Soon, GiGi’s Playhouse staff, volunteers, parents and participants surrounded us, welcomed us, and loved on us. Zachary woke up from napping in his stroller with all of these folks doting over him. What I experienced in that moment is exactly what I needed… a community to serve as a catalyst to my hope resurfacing.
I am so grateful to God for that day and the days that came after. GiGi’s Sugar Land has been a playhouse of blessings to me and my family, providing a place for Zachary to play, learn, and develop. And, a place where I find support and a caring family who understands. I encourage parents to connect with local community resources, such as GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land, to receive support for their families of children with Down syndrome. Hope awaits!