My son Zion is six years old and has Down Syndrome. As I write about the many challenges of parenting a child with special needs, I also recognize that Zion has given my life new meaning in ways that have completely surprised me. Here are a few of the gifts I receive each day. How lucky am I?
1. He's Compassionate
My son seems to have a sixth sense for those in distress. He once approached a homeless man eating cereal in front of a grocery store; Zion hugged him and put his head on his shoulder, then turned around and came back to me. The man, who had the clearest blue eyes and a gash in his forehead with dried blood around it, said to me, "He’s special." I just nodded and went into the store holding my son's hand.
2. He's Affectionate
Zion could start a business giving out hugs. As we walk down the street, stand in line at the store or navigate the crowds at the farmers market, he is always wandering off to hug strangers (see #1) and other little people. Sometimes he kisses little girls on the lips. I have to move fast, if I am to stop him.
My son does not eat sugar. He hates candy, rolls his eyes at ice cream and turns his head at the thought of cake. I don't know why, but my son simply does not like things that are too sugary. He can be in a room with thirty other children eating cupcakes and ice cream and he will not indulge. After blowing out the candles on his birthday, he gives his cupcake to another kid. I'm baffled, but I don't complain.
4. He's Noncompliant
Zion is not a people-pleaser. His teachers complain, and I struggle within myself, but I believe that my son has an inner knowing that guides him. Yes, there are times when I insist on certain behavior; when we are under time constraints, and when he wants to do something dangerous. But most of the time I allow him to assert himself. I want him to feel powerful in this world and to trust and love himself enough to follow his own path.
5. He Sings—Loudly
My son loves singing pop songs really loudly even though he has a speech delay. I'm so filled with joy as I listen to him sing the songs of Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Beyoncé, or Adele. Sometimes I can understand only a fraction of his words, but his passion and enthusiasm can't be matched. Occasionally I'll sing along with him, and he'll say, "No singing mommy," as if I'm a bad singer or ruining his groove. Once I've stopped, he'll resume singing with all of his heart and soul. It's magical.
Because Zion's development is delayed in some areas, I get to see it up close so I don't miss a moment of his process and progress. We might be in the grocery store, and he'll say a word that he couldn't clearly articulate just days before. We work on enunciation and sounds together, and soon, he gets it. It's as if Santa Claus brings me sweet little gifts each and every day. I'm actually witnessing a person coming into being, and because I'm deeply involved in the process, I appreciate all the steps toward the goal.
7. His Smile
My son smiles with all of his teeth. I don't care what type of day I’m having, when this boy smiles it takes my breath away. His joy and happiness is palatable and can fill a room.