Archive | January, 2012

Truth in Advertising

Facebook and blogs have been abuzz with talk of the recently run ads by mega retailers Nordstrom and Target featuring a boy with Down syndrome.  The most notable thing, possibly, is that neither company made a big deal about it, and that, my friends, says a lot.  It says that he’s just a kid in their eyes, and they didn’t set out to capitalize on what sets him apart from the typical models they use.

Nordstrom ad

Target ad

This actually isn’t the first time Target has run an ad featuring a child with Down syndrome.  Check this one out:

I did a quick web search of other ads featuring people with Down syndrome.  I’m sure (hoping) there are more out there than what I came up with, but here are a few:

Toys R Us ad

Here’s an old McDonald’s commercial – I actually remember this being run!

Here’s an article I found about another child model who happens to have Down syndrome:

Little Girl With Down Syndrome Takes Modeling World by Storm

It’s all about inclusion.  In every aspect of life.  Inclusion is good for everyone.  Opening doors and providing opportunities to people with Down syndrome allows them to achieve things that in years past we never dreamed possible.  And being exposed to people with differences in everyday situations tears down walls and promotes acceptance.

And that’s the truth.

I Live With Peter Pan: A Look At Some of the Deeper Issues

I remember very well struggling with what to tell our other kids about Finn.  I wrote about it here.  I remember not wanting to scare them, and not wanting to portray Down syndrome in a way that would make Finn seem like less than to his siblings.  It was somewhat of a challenge – at least anticipating the conversation – because Michael and I really knew so little about Down syndrome ourselves at the time.  In the end, we were just very matter-of-fact with the kids.  That tends to be the way we handle most topics with our kids – no beating around the bush, no sugar-coating.  Of course we are always mindful of what’s age-appropriate, but I’m not a fan of turning the facts of life into fairy tales for my kids.  It’s about respecting them as developing, autonomous human beings: trust that they can handle things provided we the parents have equipped them with age appropriate coping skills and wisdom.  Sheltering them by making up stories does nobody any favors in the end.

Another thing to consider is that kids will almost always follow the cues of the adults in their lives.  If the adults present issues matter-of-factly with appropriate optimism and/or gravity, the kids will usually follow suit.  We have found that to be true over and over with our kids with issues ranging from Down syndrome, to death, to how babies are made, to Daddy having cancer.  The kids are generally not going to freak out if the parents aren’t freaking out.

And so, it is difficult for me to understand Missy Vaughn’s desire to frame her son’s Down syndrome in terms of a caricature, or fairy tale character.  But certainly, to each his own.  It’s not up to me to tell her or anyone how to parent their children.  However, she seems intent on promoting her book as a tool for everyone to discuss Down syndrome – parents and other family members, educators, librarians, and so forth.  Her supporters are suggesting (on Amazon) that it’s a wonderful book for children and adults alike.

In addition to remembering what it was like to talk about Down syndrome with our other kids in those early days and weeks, I also remember my own fears and misconceptions as a new parent to a child with Down syndrome, having had virtually no prior exposure to, and therefore virtually no real knowledge of, Down syndrome.  One of the biggest, and I believe most widespread fears among new parents of a child with Down syndrome is that the child is going to remain forever childlike and utterly dependent (Ms. Vaughn said herself in an early blog post:

“One of my thoughts I had said was that I don’t want to change a 40 year old’s diapers.  I Don’t want to have a kid the rest of my life.”

So it’s interesting that she went on to write and publish a book that glorifies that very notion: that kids with Down syndrome remain childlike forever (or at least want to, which the author has repeatedly said in defense of her book; I’m scratching my head, wondering how she knows that kids with Ds don’t want to grow up). I won’t guess at the psychological process that went into her coming to this conclusion, but I will say that as a new parent, if this book had landed in my hands, I would have cried my eyes out.  It would not have comforted me or encouraged me – it would have confirmed exactly what I was most afraid of: that my kid was never going to grow up.  So I think for this reason alone, Ms. Vaughn is sorely misguided in thinking that her book will be helpful to new parents.

She also emphasizes, as do her supporters (and it should be noted that the vast majority of people she has recruited to post glowing reviews of her book on Amazon are close to her personally but do not themselves have any direct connection to Down syndrome beyond her), that her book is intended for young children.  As I said in the comments section of my last post, my (as well as many others’) feeling is that young children comprise the very worst possible audience for this book and its message.  Young children are extremely impressionable, and having Down syndrome equated with Peter Pan will only sow the seeds for their acceptance of misconceptions and stereotypes.  Children, even very young children, deserve facts, not fairy tales.  Furthermore, insisting that the book is intended for young children completely ignores the fact that it will be adults reading the book to those young children; thus, adults are asked to accept and embrace the book’s message as well.

It saddens me that the author seems unwilling to take a step back and look at this from a broader perspective.  If her true intention is to be an instrument that benefits the Down syndrome community, then she would better serve everyone by setting aside her own personal feelings and really listening to what people are saying about her book.  Nobody is setting out to be mean to her or to squelch her dream of being an author; our concerns are genuine, heartfelt, and valid.  To call oneself an advocate and then wilfully brush off members of the very audience one is targeting who are saying “Hey, your message hurts.  Can you reconsider it, please?” is not true advocacy.  It seems that Ms. Vaughn has lost sight of her original goal and is now only tenaciously holding onto her position at any cost.

My Kid Isn’t (Like) Peter Pan

A while back I posted this review of Missy Vaughn’s I Live With Peter Pan, a self-published book aimed at explaining Down syndrome to young children.  As I stated in my review, I didn’t care for the book, as I feel that, however well-intentioned it might be, it paints an unfair picture of Down syndrome and does a disservice to those touched by Down syndrome.

Normally, I read a book, post a review and that’s that.  There are good books out there and not-so-good books.  Sometimes, however, a book keeps drawing me back.  The Shape of the Eye was like that; it’s so full of good information and skillful writing that I really wanted to promote it.

I Live With Peter Pan keeps drawing me back, too, but not in a positive way.  It’s more than the fact that I feel that the premise of the book promulgates an offensive stereotype – it’s the fact that the author has undertaken a zealous campaign to promote her book as a learning tool, with hopes and efforts being made to get as many copies of the book as possible into the hands of families of children with Down syndrome, as well as schools.

Though I did have a brief interaction with the author after I posted my review a few weeks ago (and not a very friendly one), my goal is not to launch personal attacks on her.  I have no doubt that she loves her son and feels that she has undertaken a positive endeavor in writing, publishing, and marketing her book.  That said, I strongly object to equating children with Down syndrome to Peter Pan, who never grew up or never wanted to grow up.  I think her belief that this is a positive analogy is extremely misguided, and rather than being an instrument of advocacy, or even accurate teaching, it encourages misconceptions and sets ideas about Down syndrome back at least a couple of decades.

Let me be clear: Finn is no Peter Pan.  He’s a kid who may be different in some ways, but a kid nonetheless, and one whom I have no doubt will grow up and do things that will blow my socks off.  I don’t want him held back by this notion that he will always remain charmingly childlike.  I’m not kidding myself; I know that Finn will always have certain limitations, but who knows what those limitations might be?  So Michael and I and Finn’s brothers and sisters will continue to shoot for the stars when it comes to the possibilities of Finn’s life.

Because I feel so strongly about this, I am heartsick over the fact that Missy Vaughn, and some no doubt well-meaning friends and family of hers, want to put this book, I Live With Peter Pan, into the hands of families and schoolchildren – the vast majority of whom will likely have had no previous exposure to Down syndrome.  This is not what I want people to learn about Down syndrome.  This is not what I want people to learn about my son.

So I make an appeal here: if you object to children with Down syndrome being painted as caricatures, being boxed in by stereotypes, being equated to the likes of Peter Pan, then please speak up.  Talk about it, spread the word, and let the author know that however well-intended her message might be, it’s not one that the greater Down syndrome community wants to see promoted.

How 2011 Added Up

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 82,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

This is pretty cool, but this is how the year added up for my blog.  How did 2011 add up in real life?  Well, it was quite a year, full of ups and downs, turmoil and surprises.  My husband got very sick and almost died, my oldest child traveled to the other side of the country without us and later started high school, my second youngest started kindergarten, I felt like my children were leaving the nest too quickly and my heart broke a little.  My marriage was tested, I rediscovered the value of true friendship, we got rid of a dog, I got pregnant, and we adopted a new dog.   I’ve found myself at times in despair and at times swelling with hope and optimism.  It’s been a learning experience, and hopefully a growing experience.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I got to be 16 weeks pregnant.  The weeks are flying by, and I often forget I’m even pregnant.

I feel good – better, probably, than a 44-year-old woman should feel with her sixth pregnancy.  I have been feeling the faint stirrings of this new life within me, gradually growing stronger, and I am again aware of the magic of it all, and I am grateful.  Scared of what the future might hold, but grateful.

As I grow this baby and attempt to potty train both a toddler and a puppy, all the while still trying to keep all my ducks in a row, I am ready to move on to a new year, however arbitrary it is.  After all, tomorrow’s just another day, isn’t it?  But I’m hopeful.  For peace, and good health, and contentment, and yes, love.

A big thank you to everyone who takes a few minutes out of their day or week to read my humble blog; I appreciate you.

Happy New Year.

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