She’s a charmer, my girl. Adults everywhere within her sphere of influence fall obediently like dominoes into line behind her, excusing her foibles and focusing on her angelic qualities. She knows it, and she knows how to use it. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me literally hand to heart, sighing, “Oh, she is so sweet!” or “What a cutie!” or “Oh, we just love Julianna!”
I’ve gotten a bit smug about it, truth be told. Only her siblings, parents and grandparents are allowed to wag fingers and list her character flaws.
So her first kindergarten report was quite a shock. “She definitely needs the para,” her teacher said a little over a week into school. “When the para is working with other children, that’s when Julianna acts out, getting up and moving around the room, poking people or pulling hair.”
Irrational though it seems, my first instinct was to haul out the Mother Bear Claws. How dare you imply that my daughter doesn’t have a halo?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Her teachers like her just fine. But up ’til now, Julianna’s had a fan club comprised of a) friends of her parents and b) people in the disability field. Those who work with special needs are a special kind of person themselves, deep in empathy, with, I truly believe, a greater capacity for love than the rest of us.
It’s a wholly different matter to toss her into a regular classroom. I’ve loved every one of my kids’ teachers, but none of them have ever bonded to my children the way the special ed teachers and therapists bonded to Julianna in her first few years. How can they? The level of intimacy isn’t the same. In baby- and toddler-hood, it was one on one. In preschool, Julianna’s early childhood classroom had 9 students with at least 2 adults on hand at all times. It’s a far cry from a classroom with 18.
As I talked myself down off the Mama Bear pedestal, I began to realize this is a pretty valuable thing we’re receiving. Now, Julianna is being treated much more like every other kid her age. Her teachers and therapists have always pushed her to do her best, but now it’s an unemotional expectation instead of a cheerleading squad behind her. Just like every other kid. She was always guided toward appropriate behaviors, but there was always a loving tolerance that no longer exists; now, she’s expected to do the right thing, just like everyone else.
It’s a gift for her to be treated like a regular kid. Christian and I are people pleasers, hard-wired to want to make authority figures happy, constantly analyzing and on the hunt for ways to pursue excellence. So is Alex. So it’s an adjustment for us to see our free-spirited little girl tear through the world on her own terms. It stretches our minds, and it stretches our hearts. But the more of life I live, the more I value being able (read that: made) to stretch.
On a more fundamental level, it’s such a blessing for her. It’s good for her to have her sense of self as center of the universe kept in check by not being above the “law.” It’s an understanding she needs in order to integrate into the world. So I’m sheathing my claws and embracing having a kid who doesn’t get glowing progress reports every week. Go Julianna. The world is yours.
October is Down Syndrome Awareness month, and a lot of people participate in “31 for 21,” promising to post every day on T21 and related issues. I think I might even burn myself out if I tried that, to say nothing of you fine people, so I’m just going to devote Wednesdays to the topic of my darling girl.