My little girl had her first real dance a couple weeks ago. She’s been to a couple school dances but they were just casual after school things. This was a fancy dinner dance. She had been looking forward to it for weeks. We spend two days shopping for the perfect dress, shoes and accessories. She took all her stuff to school that day and the little girls in her after school program helped her do her hair and makeup.
All the little girls were very excited for her. They’re all a lot younger than her (K-5th grade) and they’re at the age where they dream of going to school dances. Jessica loved being put together. By the time I got there she was absolutely glowing.
I drove her to the school and walked her to the door. The girls were all squealing with delight over glittering dresses and sky high heels. The boys were all awkwardly pulling at collars and ties. Parents were fluttering about like paparazzi.
In the middle of it all there was Jess. Twirling and smiling, she was absolutely caught up in the magic of the evening. We were entering a world neither one of us had ever been before. She was heading into a dance that had nothing to do with special education or her ALE class. This was all regular students and regular teachers. I was entering a world where parents drop their children off at 6pm and then pick them up at 9pm. This seems normal for parents with regular kids. But when your kid has Down’s this is completely out of the question. Jessica has never been with strangers. She’s always been with me or family or her class or daycare. This was my first time letting her go. My first time letting her be a regular teenage girl.
She walked into the glittering decorations and I stood in front of the door not really knowing what to do. One of the teachers invited me in to take pictures. Jess was already at a table chatting with a group of girls. I called her over and she says “MOM! You’re EMBARRASSING me!!!!” She reluctantly let me take a picture then told me to go home.
I sat outside for a minute. I worried about her being included. I was scared she would be sitting alone in a dark corner trying to break into the “normal” world. I forced myself to get in the car and go home.
And I waited.
I’m not sure time has ever passed so slowly.
When I got back to the school, the dance was still in full swing. One Direction blasted on the speakers as a hoard of teenage girls screamed “THAT’S MY SONG!!!!”
As I stood in the shadows hoping for a glimpse of my baby a girl came and asked if I was looking for Jess. She said that Jessica was having a great time. She told me Jess had been dancing nonstop all night. I fought back tears and told her that I had been worried Jess wouldn’t be included. She smiled and told me that everyone loved Jess. She said Jess had initially been worried that she wasn’t beautiful. All the other girls were in really formal gowns and Jess was in a simple dress. After the girl assured Jess that she was beautiful, it was all forgotten and Jess decided to jump in and enjoy herself.
Around that time the shimmer of a white skirt caught my eye and I saw Jessica dancing with a group of kids. I managed to sneak a picture of her. It’s not a clear picture but it’s probably my favourite picture. I look at this picture and it’s hard not to feel so overwhelmed. There was my little girl just being herself. Her happy go lucky in love with the world self.
I walked out of the dance and let her have the rest of her evening. This wasn’t the place for parents. This was for 8th graders enjoying their last dance as kings and queens of their school. Next year they will be freshmen in high school and back to the bottom of the pecking order.
I sat outside and marveled at the young lady my daughter is becoming. She is bold and fearless. She’s 14 years old and she has Down Syndrome but she’s doing something I never could at her age. She went to a social function and didn’t care that she didn’t have a date or a group of friends to go with. She wasn’t shy or over self conscious and she didn’t give much of a toss what anyone thought of her. She was just a girl that wanted to go dance and have fun. This is one of those things the Down’s couldn’t take away. There are a lot of things the Down’s robbed from us, but this wasn’t one of them.
This was a night where a young girl taught her mom that it’s okay to let go and that she’s going to be just fine in this big world.