Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Being Different

We are all different.

We are all different in the way we dress, the way we talk, the things we like, the reasons we get up in the morning, the things that make us happy.

I have struggled for a long time with my own difference. It is easy to pick out someone you admire, respect, and learn from and then push it to the next level of trying to be them. It's easy to see people who are doing things seemingly better than you are doing them and push yourself to make your story just like theirs.

It's easy to try to fit the mold of what society tells you you should be doing. It's easy to work to fulfill the expectations of perfection. It's easy to take sandpaper to your square peg so that it will roughly fit into the round hole of where your mind tells you you should be.

The hard thing with being different is simply accepting yourself for exactly as you were meant to be. Accepting your difference and knowing that it is your perfect. Accepting that your story is not and never will be the same as someone else's story- for good or bad.

I have learned a lot about difference in the past three years. Because as much as my personality, likes/dislikes, habits, and styles might be different than I sometimes think they should be, I have learned that sometimes individuals have much deeper differences that make all the external things that used to worry me seem petty and silly.

I spent twenty-five years trying to find my place in this big world of possibility, and then I was introduced to the world of Down syndrome.

A world defined by difference- starting with the number of chromosomes- a basic genetic occurrence that I had always taken for granted up to that point.

At first I felt like I was kidnapped, chloroformed, and shipped off to this foreign world. I certainly did not willingly buy a ticket. I did not choose to visit- and for sure not to stay as a permanent resident.

But after being introduced to this world of Down syndrome, I started to learn a lot about difference, what truly matters, and strangely enough- myself.

First thing I learned? It is not bad to be different. It is not bad to look different. It is not bad to enjoy different things.

In fact, there is a sort of strange peace that comes from acknowledging that different is the way things were meant to be. Looking at the story version of your life and seeing that even though your ideals didn't write this book, someone who knew what you needed far more than you even knew- wrote this story perfectly for your greater good.

The daughter I was sent was not the one I dreamed up in my head while dreaming of my "someday" motherhood. The daughter I gave birth too was not the one that I would have picked out of a line-up of tutus and hair bows. The daughter that entered our lives three years ago at the time seemed like a sort of punishment to our family.

Because she was different. She looked different. She needed different medical care. I was told that she would learn differently. She would talk differently. Her entire future screamed "DIFFERENT."

And to me? That was a bad thing. Because I wanted "same." I wanted a daughter that was the same as all the other little babies. I wanted a daughter who would talk the same, walk the same, dream the same, and live the same as my mind demanded a little girl should.

But just as my story took an unexpected turn into this world of Down syndrome, my attitude and realization about the difference in all people changed dramatically.

If we were all the same, life would be boring. If we all thought the same, looked the same, loved the same, lived the same- the diverse nature of the world would instead become a Stepford wives freak show.

As Addison smiled her different smile my way, my heart lightened like it never has before. As her different medical needs pushed me to my breaking point, a stronger Deanna was put in the place of the previously weak one. As Addison struggled to learn in a different way, I was forced to put aside my tunnel vision of life and explore this different way with her. As Addison walked, talked, and demonstrated knowledge in her very unique, different ways- I rejoiced with more exuberance than I ever before thought possible as I learned how difference can bring so much appreciation for skills and processes I previously took for granted.

I often tell you (shout to you from the rooftops) that Addison is just like any other girl. And this is true up to a point. She loves to live life doing the things she wants to do. She loves to dress up in pretty clothes. She loves to steal toys from her brother. She loves to eat sweet foods. She loves to play with her dolls/stuffed animals. She is stubborn. She is sweet. She cries when she doesn't get her way, and she laughs hysterically when something strikes her as funny. She shows opinions, personality, and reasoning skills. She loves. She hates. She whines. She talks.

Addison is just as deeply dimensioned as any other little girl, which is why I often focus on the fact that she is JUST like any other child- deserving of the same love, compassion, and respect.

But in the same breath, I would be lying if I didn't also say that she is different.

I don't say that with shame, hurt, or sheepish disappointment.

I say that with pride.

Because she has taught me that it is OK to be different. It is wonderful. It is a new world full of amazing possibilities.

After three years of immersion? I am a proud new citizen of this country. I am a proud participant in celebrating difference. I am a happy mother to a perfectly different little girl.

Tomorrow is World Down Syndrome Day. Maybe you don't know anyone with Down syndrome in person. Maybe you don't know how to celebrate a holiday focusing on a syndrome that you only know through a cute little girl's smile on this blog.

I see it as a chance to celebrate difference. Not expecting the world to conform to our own ideals. Not turning away from those who don't communicate on our level. Not snubbing, judging, or laughing at difference.

But rather accepting it for what it is- a perfect variation on the theme of life.

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