“If apples were pears
And peaches were plums,
And the rose had a different name.
If tigers were bears,
And fingers were thumbs,
I’d love you just the same.
Dearest Sharing Families,
Happy (belated) Down Syndrome Awareness Month! You know the labels our kids are given when they are born? Well, I am here to tell you, no words can ever fully describe who our children are and the magic they bring. This past Saturday, October 7, 2023, we hosted a Superhero Drive by where Ezra Cotter came to hand out the Superhero gift packages his, Taylor and Chelsea donated to us. When Ezra arrived, he was surprised to see the real Spider-man had shown up to help him. I thought my heart would melt when I saw Ezra go over and touch every part of his face as if to make sure he was the real Spider-man before he allowed him to help pass out gifts. (Watch the video here)
Being David’s mom has given me the gift of meeting new families when their babies are born. Recently, I visited a refugee family from Somalia and their beautiful son, “Abdesama.” Of course, I fell in love, but when his mom opened the front door holding him and wearing the biggest smile, it made me feel even more love.
I learned he was their tenth child. Now being a mom of seven of my own children, I know how much love children bring us, but I also know the work and worries that are a part of life when raising a family. I also knew when a baby has a disability, it can feel overwhelming at first. As her husband, Mohamed, proudly told me about his family, I became aware of the fact he understood that his son disability might make things a little different, but then he said the sweetest thing to me.
He told me they are of the Muslin faith and that their faith had taught them that all children are a gift from God and that we should thank God for them. I loved his words and I believe that as well.
As I was driving home from Phoenix, I thought of my beloved friend, Sanela who is Muslim as well. Sanela lives in Bosnia and we have been communicating over email and messaging, but I had never actually seen her or spoken to her until a week ago, when out of the blue she felt impressed to call me on a Sunday morning. I was so excited to see her in real time. She is not just a beloved friend; she is like a daughter to me.
She first reached out to me when her little brother Amir was born now almost 30 years ago. We have kept in touch and we write to each ever since. But her first correspondence was about her baby brother, Amir, who had been born with Down syndrome. She explained that in Bosnia there are no schools for children with disabilities.
They also do not have therapies or medical treatments like we do. In those first emails to me, her pain was palpable. I thought it was because of her baby brother’s disability. I knew how I grieved when I learned about David’s diagnosis, but soon I realized her pain went much deeper than that. She told me she lost two of her brothers during the Bosnian war. She lost her brother, Samir, who was two years older than she, when he was age 22, as the war had just begun. He was a soldier because her country had mandatory military enlistment, like ours did when my brother, Jeff, was sent to fight as an 18-year-old young man in Vietnam.
Tragically, just three years later, as the Bosnian war was winding down, Damir, her younger brother who was age 15, said he could not stand being cooped up in the house anymore. He said he just wanted to go and play in the hills behind their home, like he did before the war began. As soon as he went out the door, Sanela told me she felt a bad feeling and begged him not to go. Tragically, an explosive device had been buried in those hills and when Damir stepped on it, it took his life.
I could not fathom the pain Sanela and her parents had to endure. To lose not just one, but two sons. That horrible war was more like an ethnic cleansing to get rid of the Bosnia people. It has been concluded that about 100,000 people were killed in that war, both in the military and civilian populations.
Uncle Jeff & David
When that war began on April 1, 1992. I was a 41-year-old mother who had just delivered her 7th child two years before. I think I felt that connection to her not just because we both love someone with Down syndrome, but because I felt for her losing her brothers. My brother came home, but the PTSD that war brought to him is something he still struggles with to this day.
On September 11, 2002, our country witnessed the gut-wrenching terror attack when 19 extremists flew planes into our World Trade Center. On that day, Sanela wrote to me telling me how sorry she was. I usually would write back, but that experience was hard for not just me, but every single American citizen. I was trying to make sense of it all, but could not. During that same time frame, I was dealing with some struggles with a teenager, and my heart and mind grieved.
Sanela wrote to me the next day again, telling me how sorry she was. I again did not write back. But then the next day she wrote to me and her words hurt my heart. She told me she understood that I why I could no longer communicate with her. She said it was because she was Muslim, and they were Muslims who flew those planes into the Twin Towers. She was wrong. I knew it was not her religion that attacked our country, but rather it was her religion that had been ‘hijacked’ just as those planes had been.
If I have learned anything from being David’s Mom, it is that each day we get to live with our Superhero is a blessing. And no matter whether we live in Somalia or Bosnia or any other place in this world, and no matter what religion we are, though there will be always be times of sorrow and sadness, it is our children with Down syndrome who remind us of all the good in the world. They remind us to love and accept people for who they are.