This painting is one I would love to hang on my wall. I find it beautiful for two reasons: because it is lovely and because it was painted by someone with Down syndrome.
I don't need to tell you that Peggy LeAnn Tyler is accomplished. You can see it in the art she is holding and in the art on the wall behind her. You can read her success story here.
In recent years, more stories like hers are being picked up by the media and, as we read them, we find ourselves deeply inspired and unusually moved.
All parents have dreams for their children, but for those of us who have given birth to a child with Down syndrome, we may feel that our dreams have been shattered. We read stories like this and we realize that there are still goals to inspire us. But we also realize, eventually, that for every individual with Down syndrome who becomes a "success" story, there will also be many individuals who will never be noticed, never achieve anything of fame, never be labeled "high functioning".
And what then? What about "those"?
Culture has ingrained within us the paradigm of being identified by what we do rather than by who we are. We hear people say, "I'm a doctor, psychiatrist, musician, artist, dancer, etc." and we think that by hearing the title we know who they are.
Sometimes, then, we project these cultural images of success onto our children with disabilities, never realizing the damage we may be doing by putting them into situations that please us rather than them.
Does putting Sandy on the stage with the other dancers make her a success?
Does allowing Johnny to be a model for Target ads make him a success?
Does telling Kayla she can be anything she dreams make her more apt to succeed?
There is nothing wrong with striving for dreams and encouraging children to be the best they can be.
But while we are dreaming, let's not forget the noble things of Every Day that are just as worthy to achieve (or more) as all the accolades of fame.
Responsibility, good manners, respect, completion of household chores, empathy, encouragement, and genuine love: these achievements are quiet ones. But they are also honorable.
Our children do not need a place on the world stage in order to be a success.
They do need us to allow them to shine at the little things--dusting the house, taking out the garbage, folding the laundry. We need to let them know that by contributing essential jobs within the family they are just as accomplished as those who command the attention of the crowds.
Wade has a pretty little girl friend at school. As most girls do, she has a reason for the boy she likes. She told her mom,
"I like Wade. He pats my back when I fall down."
Some of us weren't designed with a world stage in mind. Some of us are here to pat the backs of others when they fall.
If that is the sole legacy of Wade's whole life, I think it will be enough.