Jack didn’t waste any time in showing us that he and his “bonus chromosome” would do far more for his Down syndrome family than we would ever do for him.
You’ll Never Give More Than You Get
Of course we thought we could do just that. My wife, Amy, and I had three biological sons when complications left us to find other options for adding to our family. (We wanted girls, too.) Initially we thought that people in our situation just found a young mother-to-be who couldn’t take care of her baby and wanted to put off parenting for a few years. Yes, we really were that naïve. At that point we never considered the possibility that we might become a Down syndrome family.
As we glimpsed the adoption world we quickly realized that it was vast and extremely complicated. Something else was immediately clear. There were far fewer Caucasian infants without challenges than there were parents who wanted to adopt them. (Though I am extremely happy with the make-up of our family and the way our family grew—even with the challenges—I have learned enough to lament my race requirement in adoption.)
We imagined that by becoming a Down syndrome family, we could add to our family and do something more for someone else than they could ever do for us.
Before long, Amy and I realized that if we stuck to our guns with our adoption requirements, we were only fueling an ugly monster that caused adoption to do more damage than good in many situations. We wanted to do the right thing more than we wanted a Caucasian infant—who had no challenges. Soon we considered the many areas where we had been extremely fortunate in our own lives. We thought about “giving back.” We imagined that by becoming a Down syndrome family, we could add to our family and do something more for someone else than they could ever do for us. If you are offended by that statement, you should be. I know that it sounds condescending and self-righteous, but really, for us, it was more naïveté.
Jack was a month old when we picked him up from the adoption agency in Las Vegas, Nevada. He didn’t waste any time in showing us that he and his “bonus chromosome” would do far more for his Down syndrome family than we would ever do for him. By the time Jack was in high school, he had become one of my mentors. He had taught me more than anyone else in my life. It wasn’t just me. Our Down syndrome family was a university for successful life and Jack was the dean.
Though Down syndrome didn’t give Jack a personality, it enhanced the happy, animated and optimistic outlook that was uniquely his, at birth. And that personality became one of the pillars in our Down syndrome family.
Whether it was about the importance of people over things, loving life even when it doesn’t give you what you want, or how to measure success in unconventional situations, we found the answers in our son. Though Down syndrome didn’t give Jack a personality, it enhanced the happy, animated and optimistic outlook that was uniquely his, at birth. And that personality became one of the pillars in our Down syndrome family.
Our Down syndrome family now knows what most Down syndrome families know: Each person in a family is unique and brings their own assets and challenges to the brood. A third twenty-first chromosome doesn’t change that fact. What that bonus chromosome does do is that it adds perspective that simply cannot come from those (like most of us) who find it difficult to slow down enough to appreciate and enjoy the smaller things in life. It also forces us to realize what is most important to us when all the pomp, glitter, busyness and confusion blow away.
I’m so glad that my wife and I were wrong when we thought that we could do more for Jack than he could do for us and for our family. We are smarter and stronger because of him. Our community is enhanced by his presence and attitude. Oh, our Down syndrome family and our community still try to out-do my son. We go to great lengths to get ahead. But in the end, almost without exception, we wind up walking away with more food in our bags than we brought to the party.
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