To My Daughter With Down Syndrome on Your First Day of Kindergarten
Today you enter kindergarten. You — a big, beautiful, grown-up little person — begin your educational journey.
It’s hard to believe you’re the broken baby I cried over in the NICU. It’s hard to believe your bouncing ponytail, infectious smile and sparkling blue eyes are in my life when I remember all too clearly placing a trembling hand on my swollen belly six years ago, scared at what Down syndrome would mean for the baby I had yet to meet.
Because I was scared. Terrified, actually. I received your diagnosis with bitter tears and twisted it to mean whatever my prejudices wanted it to mean. But I was wrong. There was nothing to be scared of. In the past five years, you have surprised me with your brilliance and ability, delighted me with a beautiful personality and humbled me with how blessed I am to be your mother.
Now as I think of you sitting tall in your seat marked with your name, listening to your teacher, learning alongside your peers and being a kindergartener, I am once again terrified. How will you do with the academic side of things? What if you become isolated from your peers because of your difference? What if you don’t like kindergarten? What if you are made fun of and I’m not there to protect you from it? What if you struggle to follow classroom instructions and rules? What if you don’t click with your new teacher? What if you fall too behind in the academics to successfully remain in the mainstream classroom?
You have been begging to go to school all summer, but yesterday when you realized that “school” was no longer your safe preschool classroom with the teacher you love so dearly, I could see you processing this all a bit differently.
I am terrified. This is a big change. For a big girl. For a big step toward the rest of your life.
And so I fall back on what you have taught me so far: Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate you. And so I won’t. I have utmost faith and confidence in your ability to adjust to this new thing. To not only adjust and survive but to thrive while doing it. I know you’ll carry that infectious smile and those sparkling blue eyes into the classroom with you. How can those other kids help but love you, too?
Remember what we have been working on: kind hands. Kind hands. Treat the other students the way you want to be treated. Obey. Do not just run off whenever you feel like it. Wash your hands. Frequently. And if you don’t get something the first time? Try again. And again. And as many times as you need to to learn new things because it’s worth it. (What am I talking about — you taught me that last point.)
I know you can do this. It might take a while for you to figure out the new classroom and the new expectations of kindergarten, but you’ve got this. (And I’ve packed your favorite chocolate milk in your lunch to help renew your superpowers halfway through the day.)
I love you, baby girl, and I’m so proud of you. You are amazing.
If you have such an awesome time at school that you forget about boring ol’ Mom, no worries. I’ll be the one standing over here in the cheerleading outfit holding pom-poms and yelling your name. (And remember who restocks the chocolate milk!)
Have a beautiful first day of the rest of your life. I can’t wait to hear all about it.
Deanna Smith is the author of “Motherhood Unexpected,” a Christian fiction novel exploring an unexpected diagnosis, an unexpected pregnancy and an unexpected source of healing.
Follow this journey on Everything and Nothing From Essex.