24 October 2010

Please, God, Let Her Be Smart

This weekend Sheridan and I took a trip to the grocery store (who am I kidding, we go almost every day). As I was lifting Sheridan out of the basket to put him in the car, I overheard three women in the parking lot talking (loudly) about their children, and about their pregnancies with said children.

One woman offered up, laughing, "My sister wanted her girl to be pretty. I didn't care about that. I just wanted my daughter to be smart. Please, God, let her be smart."

The other women laughed in agreement.

My heart sank a little. I was so disappointed to hear her say that. I might have even been a little mad, because of the inherent importance and superiority it displays of "smart" children over "not-as-smart" children.

But really, who doesn't hope for that? I had to check myself and cut the woman some slack.

Those women all had very natural, expected desires for their babies. I mean, really, who proclaims, "Please let my child have below-average intelligence"?

I know for a fact that Gary and I hoped - expected - our child to be intelligent. Most people do. Just like everyone hopes to have a "healthy" baby (which means overall general health, and also means no spina bifida, no Ds, etc.). Can I blame them (and us) for that? Absolutely not.

But it is an example of how we, as a society, place importance on - even rank order, if you will - human life.

And here's the kicker...

Sheridan is smart. He's very clever. He's certainly earned Gary's new nickname for him: Mr. Mischievous.

But most people will not see Sheridan as smart, they will only see his diagnosis. And his intelligence doesn't even matter. He's brilliant in many ways... his musicality, his empathy, his kindness, the list goes on... and so many people will miss all of it.

Yes, it is their loss, but in some ways it's ours (and especially Sheridan's), too. How many opportunities will he be denied because of traditionally narrow definitions of intelligence, and society's easy dismissal of those who who have an intellectual disability? It hurts me to the depth of my soul to think of others marginalizing Sheridan. Pushing people with intellectual disabilities into invisible shadows.

I have no doubt that if the woman in the parking lot had a child with Ds, she could rise to the occasion and would have a different perspective on her comment.

And just to keep it real here... as I mentioned, I'm not immune to these perceptions myself. On Sheridan's very first IFSP (when he was only a few weeks old), we were asked what our biggest concerns were. What were our biggest priorities? Here was our response, as written by Sheridan's service coordinator:

cognitive development

A whole big box full of room to list concerns, and that was it. Two words. The biggest concern for us at the top of heap.

The telling thing is, those two words haven't made the top of the list (or even been written in that box at all) since then.

[As an aside, all these thoughts, observations, and realizations remind me of a great post and the discussion that ensued (read the comments following the post).]


  1. Good on you.

    It shows your own intelligence, especially your emotional intelligence, that you would write this.

  2. Love this post, I can really relate.

    Sadly when I was pregnant I was hoping my baby would be cute, how shallow is that? I guess I assumed too that he would be intelligent. I don't know why these things seemed so important but they aren't now. I do think my son is smart and I will never limit him because of his diagnosis. This has been a huge learning process for me and I am grateful for it.

  3. Dreams, hopes and expectations are a normal part of pregnancy. But most parents don't also consider the implications. When you think about it, having "hopes" and "expectations" is as unfair to our children as societal standards of beauty, intelligence, and worth.

    What if our child doesn't fulfill *our* dreams? What if the child isn't smart, or pretty, or motivated, or socially adept, or athletic or ______ as we had hoped? They have disappointed us...simply by being who they are.

    Being able to see a wider definition of human worth and potential is one of the benefits of raising a "non-typical" child.

    Having six kids (at all ends of the spectrum in terms of cognition, physical coordination, social intelligence, etc.), I've realized that whatever their skills and challenges, we need to let our children do the dreaming for themselves.

    There is worth and brilliance in every one of us.

    Shine on :).

  4. Lisa, that's exactly it, right? We have to realize that those are *our* hopes and dreams, not our children's. They have the right to pursue their own goals, desires, ideas... their worth and potential is completely theirs. It's not ours to determine. And having Sheridan was that one pivotal moment in my life that brought that into focus. :)

  5. I have tears in my eyes Lisa. Your post just reminds me of my greatest goal in life which is to love others with no stigmas, no expectations - just genuinely see the good in others and love others as God has called us to do. Sheridan is perfect, smart and everything he's supposed to be - but you're right, the rest of the world is just a little to distracted with "perfect" to realize that. You are an amazing woman and mother. I really am so privileged to read your posts. Thank you!

  6. Oh Lisa! You hit the nail on the head!!! I loved this...I am so glad I see life with a brighter, clearer pair of eyes. I owe that to Kamryn.