The other day, a well-meaning friend asked about Ellen. Knowing that this person has not had a lot of experience with or knowledge about children with Trisomy 21, and having a gut feeling that she has doubts about Ellen’s potential, I answered what most parents do: she’s enjoying summer school (very common in Hawaii), she has had some great playdates, she loves the museum we take her to every weekend. I also did what I’ve been known to do most of my life: I pushed the envelope a little. I mentioned that Ellen was really looking forward to first grade, that she would be in a regular classroom.
I saw my friend’s face twitch a bit. She said, “Good for her.” I went a little further and said Ellen was thriving. The friend said, “Well, you want her to grow up to be independent, to find an occupation where she will succeed.” I said, “Oh, she will, I’m sure, after college.”
I continued, “We all found our occupations after college, didn’t we? I bet Ellen will too.” I saw the face twitch again. My friend — and it has been a friendship where we both have tried hard and come a long way with each other — talked about how much teasing Ellen will face in the coming years. I guess she was pushing the envelope too! I smiled and said that if that were the case, then I would be an ideal coach.
Suffice it to say, I hope my husband and I, and Ellen’s many fans, are giving her the foundation she will need when the teasing starts — for her confidence, for turning the other cheek, for not letting it eat away at her self-esteem.
Fortunately, Ellen is very verbal and she easily speaks her mind (and puts together words logically and clearly). Fortunately as well, the times, they are a changin’.
When I was growing up, a few teachers spoke out if I were harassed. Some looked the other way. A few, I’m sorry to say, encouraged it. I’d go home devastated. My family would often give me “pointers” on how to be less gay, analyzing everything from my facial expressions, to how I talked with my hands, to how I dressed, to what I said and how I said it. I did not like my voice. As a young journalist, I would listen to interviews I had tape recorded when I was writing my articles. I cringed when I heard my voice. Years later, when I tried to make it more “manly,” my mother told me how much she loved it.
My family was trying to be protective, just like my husband and I are when we talk to Ellen about a few of her habits that might leave her open to teasing. Unlike me, Ellen appears not to get down on herself. It took me forever to embrace who I am. Fortunately, I see Ellen thrilled to be Ellen.
We are very lucky to be part of many communities in Hawaii. People who have become part of our extended family, or Team Ellen, are looking out for her. It’s probably a good thing I’m not around Ellen when she is in school. I’d be unnecessarily fierce, a bad cliché. Something tells me Ellen will be her own best advocate if we succeed as parents.