Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Harsh Reality.. In My Opinion

I've been letting this next post kinda marinate for a week now.  I know I have strong feelings about the topic... I just hope I am able to express my thoughts keeping the big picture in mind and that those reading will not get caught up in being politically correct.  Maybe, just let what you read sit with you for awhile before becoming offended or angry :)  If  you feel differently, I would love to hear your thoughts too.

I've always had this thing about trying to make sure Sadie looked 'cute'.  I have three older girls, so pretty dresses, cute hair styles, fashionable outfits is no new thing around the Teague home.  But, with Sadie... I have found myself a bit more controlling about it.  That doesn't mean I always succeed- especially those days I am literally sitting on Sadie's back and brushing her hair like a bad round of WWF.  There has been the not so cute bangs, the very short bangs, the too short and tight shirts that caressed her Buddha belly, and the jeans that either a) are too short or b) are too big causing her to have a bad case of 'plumber butt'; but overall she leaves looking clean and cute.

I'm no fool!  I know this is a case of pride and in the grand scheme of things is very worldly and her outfit will make her no better of a person.  I've tried to loosen up- really I have.  I know exactly why Sadie looking 'cute' is important to me.  You know why too... Chances are you probably won't say it out loud.  That would be awful and shallow.

Now, let's go back a week.  I'm sitting in the first class of the school year at the Learning Program through our local Down Syndrome Association.  The topic (not word for word) was basically 'How to have a successful relationship with your child's school'.  To say I was overwhelmed with all the information being pelted in our direction would be an understatement.  I made a few notes under the 'if I ever get super powers' category.  Great ideas, support, and action plans for being that approachable and easy to work with mama.  Then, like it was an after thought, the presenter says something like 'You always want  your kids to look good.  Don't think you can always shop at target.  Go buy the nice surf shirt- Heck, I spend more money on his clothes than I do mine.  If you think people want to work with someone who is not nicely groomed... think again.  Sometimes I see a child and think- that would look dorky on a kid without Down Syndrome.  Please don't wear that!'

Your probably thinking... wow, lady- harsh!  Because that is the PC thing to do.  The 'everyone is a child of God and we are all beautiful in the inside' thing to do.  I wish that was what I was thinking; but it wasn't.  I was like, "Amen sister!  I am a believer."  Yeah, I'm embarrassed.  I like to think 'I don't judge a book by it's cover'.  I like to think I look in the inside and embrace a person's soul.  Why then, do I feel so strongly about my Sadie 'looking cute'?

BECAUSE.... that's why.  Because, people do like working with nice looking people.  Because, kids like to have friends that look cool.  Because, I don't want shallow people to only see DS when they see my Sadie... BECAUSE she is so much more!  Because, no matter what I believe about everyone being a child of God and everyone being equal in His eyes... THE WORLD DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY!

Just yesterday, I was picking up Sadie from a church activity.  A friend I have known all of Sadie's life was sharing some observations she had while teaching the girls how to exercise.  Basically she said Sadie is so cute (over and over) and then shared with me that  her son and daughter-in-law (in her late 30's) have not had a child yet.  Because of her age she has a higher risk for having a child with DS.  She then said after watching Sadie (and  other Down's kids- her words don't slam me) she sees how easy going and loving they are (haha, easy going- what?).  Then she said, "it wouldn't be so bad.  It would be nice.  Not that I would ever wish for it; but it would be good if it happened".  Before you get all DS advocate on her- she was honest, loving, and she has not made the journey we have... so I took it as a compliment; because I truly believe that is where it was coming from.  Anyway, until yesterday because she had never worked directly with her... all she knew of Sadie was how cute she was dressed on Sunday, how cute she looked singing infront of the congregation, and how much we adored her.

I think my daughter shared a good example of what I am trying to say.  She had a friend in school who had a deformed hand.  My daughter is no stranger to accepting others and how the differences in others do not define who they are. However, a couple of weeks ago she said, 'Mom, she is so cool.  For the longest time all I could think about was her hand.  Now that I know her... I hardly remember her hand.' 

I wish everyone knew my Sadie for who she really is.  She is funny, smart, stubborn, kind, loving, crazy, and compassionate.  Unfortunately, that is not who a majority of the world sees when they first meet her.  Too many see Down Syndrome.  Until they can peel the layers and get to know the real Sadie... I'm going to play the game and dress her cute!


Becca said...

Ahhhhh, I'm with you here. I actually decided the other day to create a new blog about creating great fashion for kids (especially girls) on a dime. I refuse to spend a lot, but I'm hell-bent on making sure my kid looks great when she leaves the house. It's always a different story when Daddy gets her dressed himself...LOL I'll milk it for all it's worth while Samantha's still young enough to not care what I dress her in each day. Once she starts to assert her opinion, we'll have to take a different tactic, though. Bashing stereotypes is a part of what it's all about sometimes, making sure she's fashionable and accepted by her peers is so important. Creating the right image of people with Ds for those who are not connected to the "Ds family" is important, too. Great post!

The Westbrooks said...

I'm in total disagreement with this! You're teaching Sadie that she has to dress cute to have friends, be liked or be treated fairly. That in order for people to see past her DS, she has to look attractive. That's horrible! Instead, teach her that no matter what she wears, it's her attitude and her actions that attract or detract people to her. She can't help the way genetics has shaped her body (in fact, none of us can) but her genes can't shape her words, her choices or how she treats others. THOSE are the qualities which make a person likeable; not their wardrobe.

Yes, there are people in the world (myself excluded) who look at DS kids, or burn victims or quadriplegics or bald cancer patients and think "oh dang, they look so weird. I'm not talking to them.". Those people exist. But there are also people who see the features of DS and think "Man, you never see a bad looking DS kid.".

Those people who would judge your child (or anyone for that matter) on how cute they look aren't worthy of her time or affection. Would you encourage your daughter to marry someone who only liked her for her looks? No, because a marriage requires so much more than physical attraction. Same with friendship. Any person who is worth having as a friend won't have to be "lured in" to Sadie; they'll see past any flaws in her clothes or hair just as easily as they'll see past the DS.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't look nice. We should. But we should do it because it makes us feel good about ourselves; not because it makes us more likely to have friends. I'd much rather have friends who like me for my character than my clothes. You can buy clothes; you can't buy character.

And on another note: your friend who mentioned that Sadie is so cute; you never quoted her as saying "I wouldn't mind if I had a DS grand child because I'm sure we could dress her nicely.". Don't you think that when she says "Sadie is so cute" she's referring to more than the clothes on her body? When I say that about your Sadie, I'm not talking about her clothes. I'm talking about her adorable smile, her silliness and her sense of humor.

Down Syndrome is interesting in that it's retarded Sadie in some ways. She doesn't learn as quickly as her peers, for instance. But it's required her to grow up quickly, too. She's seen more operating tables than most 40 year olds. She's experienced more prejudices and social stigmas than most adults and she's had to overcome so many hurdles (physically, mentally, developmentally, socially, etc) so far. This whole "playing the game and dressing her to the 9's" issue is part of her growing up too fast. Most adults have trouble saying "I have value and worth, and anyone who can't see my value because of my physical appearance isn't worth spending time with."; but it's something Sadie needs to learn, and quickly.

She'll only receive the respect she demands. She'll accept the love she thinks she deserves. If she's confident in her attitude, character and value, she won't need to rely on "looking cute".

angela michelle said...

I think you're smart. The reality is that Sadie is kind of an ambassador for DS. We all do this to some extent--we all make our kids wipe the peanut butter off their faces before we go to Target; we all have certain lines for what is acceptable to wear in public and what isn't. Just because you're helping Sadie with her PR by dressing her cute doesn't mean you're sending her bad messages about her self-image. In fact, I bet you send her fantastic messages about her worth every day.

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