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It’s been seven years since my son was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome and I finally stepped out to participate in an event that happens in cities across the country, The Buddy Walk. The Buddy Walk was established in 1995 to celebrate National Down Syndrome Month during October. For years I have been saying I need to learn more about this event, but it took a family friend insisting that Zion might be well served to meet other children who have Down syndrome — and registering my entire family — for me to get involved.
The event takes place at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and there are many booths with information, families picnicking, free food, performances by the children and adults in the community and lots of supportive family and friends.
I hadn’t invited my entire family or friends because I wanted to check out the event for the first time without the feeling like I was wasting the time of relatives who I know have other things to do in the middle of a Saturday, but when folks got wind of what we were doing, they came without thought. There were at least 100 families participating in games, dancing, music and just celebrating the accomplishments of this community.
The most inspiring part of this event was the families who gathered in huge groups with banners and matching T-shirts bearing the name of their family member to walk and cheer around City Hall. Each family walks and raises money for the National Advocates for People with Down Syndrome. The NDSS is an organization that supports families raising children with Down syndrome into adulthood. It's organizations like these that help make living with Down more mainstream, while providing community and tools that make life enjoyable.
This turn of events brought home for me the importance of Zion having a community to go where he is not different and where he can be celebrated for just being himself.
I happened to find another black family and took it upon myself to introduce myself to the mother. She said she treats this event just like a birthday each year for her daughter. Her best friends from college, her mother and brother were also in attendance. They all donned matching shirts, and her daughter was quite excited to be the focus that day. They had set up several tables, cooked lots of food and were planning to be there all day long. She and her family made me see this as something I can do yearly. Having his own community will be crazily beneficial to Zion’s life.
Finally the day ended in typical Zion fashion. If it’s one thing I know for sure, it's that if Zion hears music of any sort, he will not hesitate to break out into his dance moves. Within minutes there were other children and adults all gathered to dance with the little party animal. This turn of events brought home for me the importance of Zion having a community to go where he is not different and where he can be celebrated for just being himself.
As parents, Zion’s father and I must constantly manage how to best serve our child, who’s growing up in a world where he is unique and does things more slowly than or differently from his peers. Zion is involved with lots of activities where he is the only child with special needs. I watch him struggle to communicate and act out when he can’t express his feeling effectively with his typical peers, but I think that these experiences will help him be ready for the world and what is to come.
However, I also want him to know what it’s like to be with others who are just like he is, others who know his struggles and share his victories. This event offered just what Zion needs when I can’t understand his journey. There are people here who will walk with him because they are going his way.