“Who are your friends Quail?”
“Miley. Laurel. Brooks. Blair. “
She ticks them off on her fingers without hesitation. These are some of the children she plays with in her kindergarten class at school. Last year when we would ask the same question the answer was Nikaela, Oriana, Miley, Sydney, Kaden and Landon. The year before that Mariah. Such a small thing to be able to list off your friends- and yet in so many ways- this is such a big thing for her to list off her friends- both the literal ability to say their names, to count them on her fingers, to run and play and work with them in her day. The fact that they are friends- and from what I can see- the love-fest seems to be mutual between her and them. Many people worry that when your child has obvious differences they won’t be welcomed into their communities. That the social hurdles will be too much to deal with and your child will suffer so from that. Different friends have come and gone as they’ve moved, changed schools or daycares. The same as they have for her sister. In each instance the thing that struck me as she began to name them as friends in her life was these were children that she made friends with. These were not the children of the family friends whom she only got to see on weekends or special occasions. These were the children of her everyday. Of her community. The ones she sought out in her classroom and on her playgrounds and who seek her out in return. We try to make a point to introduce ourselves to these children’s parents when the opportunity pops up. We’d love to get to know their families- and sometimes the activities we do- they do include those families. But really, for the most part- the children she considers her besties have nothing to do with us. It’s been a couple of years since she would answer Sugarplum and Zuzu as her best friends. Ask her who loves her and that is a different set- that’s Mom, Dad, Sugarplum and Zuzu. But we aren’t her besties. That’s clear now.
The other night we went to a “McTeacher” fundraiser night for her school and from the moment the door to the playroom opened I could hear the chanting- “Quail! Quail! Quail!” I didn’t know who a number of the kids were- but little Miss Rockstar walked in that room like she owned it. Then proceeded to locate her buddies and go play. A while later I heard the chant again and looked up to see her being hugged. Another buddy and the buddy’s sister had found her and they were dancing around together. A few weeks earlier when I was cleaning out her backpack I had found a picture drawn by this buddy that showed the two of them playing in a field with the sun shining and hearts all around. When I shared it on Facebook with the friend’s mom, her teacher commented how,”Laurel worked so hard on this picture today! She kept coming over and telling me that she was making it for the Quail.”
Right now her ability to make friends is at an all time high. She has more ability to talk and include herself in her friends’ conversations and to run after them and play. Fortunately now she’s at an age where the majority of the time spent together is on play. There was a period of time two years ago where she began self-isolating- she was being pulled out of her 3 year old class to go to a lot of therapies- private and public school and spending two full mornings a week in special ed as well as being pulled with the students we pay to work with her. And on top of all of that, most of her buddies were able to talk conversationally now. That growth period from 2-3 is stunning for typical language development. To the extent, that one mother told me her son had hurt feelings that the Quail didn’t talk to him when he talked to her. He thought she didn’t like him. She did though. Very much so.We were able to clear that up because the mother took the time to tell us. At that age- she was really only speaking vowels and relying heavily on gestures and sign language to convey her needs. There was very little actual talking back then. At a school friend’s birthday party this past weekend her little buddy asked me why it was hard for the Quail to talk. Such a simple question, asked so kindly. And so we talked a little bit about Down syndrome in simple terms of what it is, what things the Quail does differently, where she might need help and what she can and does do herself. We talked until the little girl’s attention was diverted, by the Quail. Running at top speed hollering her name to come play with her- and off they went. It made me smile- for Laurel, for the Quail, for inclusion and this next generation. I know the time will come when the differences will be daunting. Peer pressure- it’s no easy road to travel through. But I have hope- hope that because the Quail is and has been with the kids in her community since she came along- that maybe, their acceptance of her among and with them won’t have to be such a big thing.