I love this picture. A car full of happy, excited faces celebrating Noah’s 7th birthday party last week. When I look at Noah, I see a happy little boy significantly more like his friends then he is different. I see four other amazing kids all with the same happy smiles and all just as excited as Noah is to be celebrating together.
This picture is a big deal for me. I don’t spend much time worrying about Noah’s academia but I do worry about friendships and acceptance. I so want him to fit in. When he was born, I was consumed by that fear that people might not accept and love Noah for who he is, that he may find it hard to be part of a community, that despite all his hard work he may not be seen, he may be excluded.
So you can imagine my delight to be organising a cool birthday party, not only for my excited 7 year old but also for his best buddies who were thrilled to be invited! Noah doesn’t like large groups so we kept it small and they were all so looking forward to going bowling (which was Noah’s idea!). All of them had put thought into their presents, the cards were filled with the characters he loves and all of his friends watched excitedly waiting for his reaction as he opened what they had given him.
Of course there were moments during the day where harmony left the circle for a while. Often because Noah wanted to do something the other kids found a bit lame or uncool. There was one moment where he decided he wanted to lie down and listen to nursery rhymes and the others would roll their eyes at how uncool nursery rhymes are, an eye roll that would say “here we go again” or “Noah, you’re so funny”. Noah likes stuff like Peppa Pig and Pocoyo while the other boys like superheroes and star wars. They want to wrestle and run around while Noah would prefer to listen to Christmas music or play doctors. These moments used to upset me because I was afraid his friends might not want to play with him anymore. I often intervened and tried to help them find something they all want to play together, most of the time my intervention only highlighted an issue that they hadn’t really noticed.
This is the thing that gets you with Down Syndrome. Worries are based on our pre-conceptions either of what the norm should look like or of what Down Syndrome means. We forget to put the individual, their personality and sense of self at the centre of the discussion. Noah doesn’t feel pressure to conform. He is completely non-apologetic for what he likes and dislikes, he does not suffer from embarrassment and he has a sense of self confidence that other kids can only respect if not envy a little bit! He knows he is not as good as the others at some activities but he also knows he has strengths. He loves basketball, swimming and jumping on the trampoline. He has a huge heart, is very independent and very funny. His friends recognise these strengths in him and because he is so confident in what he likes and dislikes, he doesn’t seem as vulnerable in the group as I had expected.
I remember a mum saying to me once that this is Noah’s journey and I am just lucky to be along for the ride. She has a daughter with Down Syndrome who is older then Noah and while I laughed at the comment at the time, I didn’t really get what she meant until now. I can have my fears and frustrations for the future but ultimately Noah is making his own rules. He is not bothered about the fact that he has Down Syndrome, that he needs help in the classroom or that others might not always like the same games he does. His friends don’t seem too bothered by it either. I am learning to allow him just to be himself. He is only 7 so life will change, challenges will appear, friends will come and go and potentially come back again and that’s OK. I am confident he will have his crew, it will be on his terms and it will be a circle of friends who want to be around him because he is cool, interesting, loyal and a great friend.
As I look at this gorgeous beaming snap of 5 awesome kids arriving at his party I am confident he knows how to choose his friends and they know how to choose him. They are a gorgeous crew and he seems to have it all under control!