We actually met through a mutual friend (Addison's NICU's boyfriend's mama...not confusing at all- right?). And if you can remember back this far, I wrote a post when Addison was sixteen months old about seeing a little girl at a party- her exact same age, but with skills that Addison didn't have because of her diagnosis. That is my friend's little girl- we still weren't friends at that time.
But since writing that post (about a year and a half ago) we have drawn rather close, and in honor of Down syndrome awareness month, I would remiss to not say something about Leigh.
I hear so often from friends and family- "You're so sensitive, I don't know what to say around you. I don't want to say the wrong thing." or "I'm so afraid of flaunting my perfect children in your face. I don't want to hurt your feelings."
But Leigh? She has never expressed such things to me. She jumped headfirst into the wild animal cage called "Deanna's friendships", and her daughter(s) quickly became Addison's friend(s) without any sort of apparent fear of making me upset.
Leigh has three girls. They are all beautiful, talented, smart, polite, quick to learn, cute as a button- the kind of girls that you just know will accomplish great things.
Over the last year, I have watched her daughter that is Addison's age (the one that I wrote about in that post) grow into an even more amazing, talented, beautiful little girl than she was when I wrote about her a year and a half ago. Meanwhile, Addison continues to progress at her usual pace. My friend has had ample opportunity to brag or to passive aggressively complain about "how hard it is to keep up with her" or talk on and on and on about her daughter's many talents.
But she doesn't.
In addition, she has taught her daughters to treat Addison with respect- to help her- to guide her- to understand that Addison doesn't do things as quickly as they do. Her daughters have been Addison's greatest teachers- patient and kind.
The little girl Addison's age (Maizie) is in Addison's gymnastics class (note: they weren't there the day I wrote the "Most Hated Gymnastics Parent" post) Maizie flips on the bars, does the "pike" with her feet, puts the butterfly on her head, rolls every which direction. Probably if the instructions were to start flying, Maizie would do that too because she's just that good. Whatever the teacher asks for- this little girl can do pretty much flawlessly while repeating the direction back to the teacher. I am in awe of Maizie's gymnastic skills. I swear she should enter the Toddler Olympics (is there such a thing?). Well, she would win.
And yet whenever she gets the opportunity during class, sweet Maizie patiently goes in front of Addison, pausing frequently so that Addison will see her do the next thing and repeat the action- calling out to Addison to watch her model what Addison is supposed to do next. These are the moments that Addison does the best in gymnastics class because of her peer teacher.
Also, my friend Leigh doesn't gloat or brag to me about her daughter's insane gymnastics skills (and let me tell you- they are impressive). She comments instead on how well Addison is listening in that moment, or the small instruction that Addison chose to follow. She cheers on Addison to me instead of pointing out the obviously large gap of gymnastics skill between our girls that would happen if she were to highlight her daughter's accomplishments.
And don't get me wrong- I'm not saying that parents with accomplished children don't have the right to brag about their children. I'm not saying that at all. I AM saying that it means so much to me that Leigh is sensitive about when she chooses to talk about it, and I don't know how she does it, but she has never made me feel bad about her daughter's success. (Does that makes sense?) I'm sure she does talk Maizie up in different circles (and I hope she does because she is an amazing little girl), but Leigh has never done it in front of me- especially during that moment of Addison's gymnastics-class-struggle.
If she had waxed eloquent about Maizie's twirling as I was holding a screaming Addison captive on my lap and telling Addison for the hundredth time that we needed to "wait patiently" for our turn- I'm not going to lie, it would bring back some of the negative emotions from Addison's diagnosis. And yet my friend has been the very definition of thoughtful and tactful- not making me feel any worse to be the parent of the "screamer" in class.
To Leigh- I can't even tell you how much I appreciate you. How much I notice the little courtesies that you extend to me and Addison (and teach your daughters to do), taking great care with how it might make us feel. Thank you- I think you are amazing.
To everyone else- if you have a friend with a child with a disability-- sometimes it is hard to hear about your many child's accomplishments especially during certain moments.
When my big brag about the day is that my daughter sat through a 15 minute warmup without crying (not doing any of the warmups, just sitting quietly), it is hard to hear someone else brag about their two year old reading, one year old yodeling, or three year old's advanced skills in preschool launching them straight into kindergarten two years early.
Is it oversensitive? Yes. Is it ridiculous? maybe. But it just is.
I'm not saying that Leigh and I never discuss problems that she has with her girls, or celebrate her daughters- because we do. But timing and intensity of a "brag" is everything- and Leigh should teach classes on this.
I know we all want to brag on our kids, and as their parents- we should be their greatest cheerleaders. But if you're feeling that you have to tip toe around a friend with a child with a disability, I ask you to consider for just a minute: are you talking up your child's talents to someone to that just experienced a big fail with her child? Are you discussing in detail your child's big triumph a few minutes after your friend was just reminded that the child that she loves has to work insanely hard to just achieve basic life skills? Courtesy about timing in this area will go a long way. (and if I am that friend to you- I thank you in advance) I DO want to help you celebrate your children's amazing accomplishments. It's just that sometimes this is easier for me to do than others...Leigh seems to understand that without me ever having to tell her, and that has meant the world to me.
As much as I take care to complain about people overlooking Addison (you know I do), I also want to point out when people treat her with respect, and even more importantly, teach their children to treat her with respect (and in addition to all of that-a total bonus-someone who is being considerate of my oversensitivity in the area of comparison.)
My friend Leigh has set the bar very high (pun intended), and I hope our little girls can remain friends for a very long time. Addison is lucky to have friends like the beautiful girls that Leigh has trained to respect and help those with differences.
Leigh- thank you. You will never know how much this means to me. The world is a better place because of your contribution to the future generation.
(When Addison was supposed to be wearing her glasses, Maizie wore fake glasses to encourage Addison to keep hers on. lol. This picture was taken right around their second birthday:)