I used to be terrified of the concept of a Buddy Walk.
When it came to older individuals with Down syndrome (in Addison's first year of life), all I could see was huge differences and similar features. In agreeing to a Buddy Walk I thought it meant that not only would I be surrounded by people slurring their words and walking awkwardly, but that I would have to pretend that I was perfectly OK with it all because my daughter was one of them.
So Addison's first year- we didn't go. I made excuses as to why it didn't fit in our schedule. But the truth was? It was just too hard to go. It was too much to be suddenly part of a future that I never wanted to begin with.
I held my infant daughter close and reasoned with myself that she wasn't that different from the other cute babies around us.
But as she has grown- her differences have heightened. As she learned to walk, it was with a someway awkward gait. And when she says her few words, they are often difficult to understand if you don't know what you're listening for.
Because where others might see a little girl struggling to walk and talk like other little girls, I see a little girl who has fought hard for the ability to be on-the-move and communicate her own opinion and thoughts.
Where an outsider might see a little girl with no future, I see a person deserving of respect and opportunity with limitless possibilities for how she will spent the gift of life.
And today on our Buddy Walk (oh so different than Addison's first year). I didn't see difference or awkwardness. I saw individuals supported by their families. I saw people loving and being loved.
I saw accomplishment and pride. I saw seven year olds communicating effortlessly with their parents. I saw teenagers throwing a football back and forth. I saw little girls pushing around strollers. I saw children running around and playing- laughing and talking. I saw a little girl feeding herself chocolate ice cream while taking a walking tour of the park (any guesses as to who this was???) I talked with parents about their children's success in school. I saw the compassion of a brother when he scooped up his sister and carried her when the walk became too long.
I saw people with very real feelings, happiness, hope, expectations, frustrations, dreams, pride, love.
I saw people. Individuals. Boys, girls, teens, adults, babies- all of them different from each other- all of them unique in their own way. But all drawn to this park today because of one extra chromosome.
Today I celebrated my own daughter's uniqueness. And I talked to her about why we were there (besides the obvious chocolate ice cream)
She's not one of them in a bad, stereotypical way. She's Addison- with a bunch of built-in friends who have worked through similar obstacles but are enjoying their own lives full of variety and happiness.
Yesterday's Buddy Walk was amazing. Chilly, damp, and windy...but amazing.
Because I could really see the potential in the park today. What before I shrugged away from because of my own prejudice, I now celebrated. Because life is a miracle.
And everyone I saw today (and walked alongside of) was celebrating it accordingly.