Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on Walking...

It's kind of ironic, I used to hate walking.  In high school, my mom would darn near beg me to go on walks with her, and I would come up with every excuse in the book not to.  Why?  Because I was a lazy teenager.  When the haybales were put up and the calves fed, that was enough for me.  I bet my mom walked 10,000 miles while I was living at home, and I only joined her for about 10 of them.  Literally.

As an adult though, I LOVE walking!  For me, there is nothing better than stretching the legs on a brisk walk in the great outdoors.  It's even great to pack the stroller with a kid and go.  Where I live, I have to plan my walks carefully though - if I head east, I have to climb back up that massive hill.  But if I start out going west, I have to avoid being eaten by the man-eating chihuahua that lives next door.  Ok, it's not a chihuahua, but it's about the size of one, and ok, it probably couldn't take me down, but it'd be too close of a call for me to risk it.  Regardless, I make these treks regularly because I love walking.

People walk for causes all the time.  There's the Alzheimer's Walk, the Cancer Walk, the Walk for ALS, the AIDS Walk, and so many more.  We power walk, speed walk, and we walk and talk.  We put one foot in front of the other, and we walk.

How about a Buddy Walk?  In 1995, the Buddy Walk began as a way to raise awareness for Down syndrome - to promote acceptance and inclusion for individuals born with Down syndrome.  That first year, 17 walks took place across the United States.  This year, there will be over 250 walks held worldwide.  What for?  To open people's eyes, and raise awareness.

I participated in the Buddy Walk this past weekend in Watertown, SD.  I will confidently say it was the single most inspiring day of my life.  I was in awe as hundreds of people formed a line and walked to support people like Sam.  The day was filled with music, fun activities, great food and best of all, dancing clowns!  The whole atmosphere was one of celebration.  We were celebrating amazing lives and celebrating our own ability to advocate for people with Down syndrome and raise awareness that everyone, no matter what their ability or 'different'ability deserves acceptance and inclusion.  Let me say, it was pretty stinking cool.  It was pretty stinking emotional too - after gazing at the biggest American flag I've ever seen and listening to the National Anthem, the walk began with the song "Together We Can Change the World" blaring across the yard at the Redlin Art Museum.

Sam and David
Team Sam

Team Sam was represented by myself, my dear friend Jodi, Sam and my three girls.  We joined David's family at the walk - David's mom made a new tshirt for Sam that reads "Love doesn't count chromosomes."  We are gearing up for another walk in St. Paul.  The walk in St. Paul is actually a Step up for Downs walk, which has the same goal as the Buddy Walk - to raise awareness.

David and mom, Sam and myself
So, I have to be honest, I've been asking myself a lot lately - what exactly are we raising awareness of? I know that sounds silly, and the answer maybe is really obvious to the average passerby, but to me, it hits really close to home.  What is my goal as the mother of a son with Down syndrome - why am I walking?  What message do I want my miles to count for?

First, I not only want, I NEED people to know what Down syndrome is.  I can copy and paste another dictionary definition of it if I need to - but simply stated: at conception, the chromosomes split incorrectly, and a person ends up with three of the 21st chromosome instead of the usual two.  That may sound very scientific, but I also need people to understand (though it took me a while to understand this myself) that there was no science involved in Sam's third chromosome.

Second - I want people to understand what it means to have Down syndrome.  At this point in the game, I myself don't know the answer to this yet.  But as we continue this journey, I hope I can open myself up enough to fully understand what life will be like for Sam - the good and the bad.  As much as I fear that Sam may struggle with acceptance and inclusion,  I hope we can show the world that while there may be things he's not so great at, there are going to be things that he excels at.  And I pray we find ways to use those gifts of his to inspire others and open hearts to cheer him on along the way.  There's more to this...a lot more, I know I have a lot to learn yet.  Life right now is like it would be with any other baby - other than the bonus of having teachers and therapists here to help us progress.

Lastly, well, thirdly...(I suppose there will be no 'last' as this part of advocacy will continue throughout our lives) I want people to see the important role that people with Down syndrome play in our lives and in the communities in which they live.   A person with Down syndrome is as valuable to a community as is the bank president, as is the mayor, as is the teacher, as is the grocery store clerk.  Their friendships and relationships, responsibilities and achievements are as important as any other.

Without Sam in my life, I would still be the same closed minded judgmental person that I had tended to be in the past.  Without Sam in my life, the depth of my love would never have grown.  Without Sam in my life, my life would have been fairly simple - BUT, I would never have known my own strength and I would never have understood just how many blessings I have in my life.  As Kelly Clarkson said once or twice - "my life would suck without you."  With Sam, I see more, love more, understand more, believe more.  And that's just what he's doing in my life - imagine what he'll do in his community in the years to come.  If you take what he's done for me,  and multiply that by the number of people whose lives he's touched and will touch...it equals WOW.

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