While it was a huge honor to be asked, I've never given a speech before, especially not to a more 'civilized' audience. (I give speeches to my kids every day, if I'm honest, but those are more of the rambling kind, if you know what I mean.) I wrote my speech, had someone proof it for 'flow', and then practiced talking through it endlessly in front of Maddux and in my car. For weeks I would dance around the words, trying to find the best phrasing and cadence.
Imagine you are invited to the biggest party of the year. For months you search for the perfect dress. You want to find the shoes that make just the right statement, and your jewelry has to be just right. To say you are excited is an understatement. But as you open the door to enter, all noise stops and everyone's eyes are on you. Your excitement changes to panic as you realize that not only are you late, but you are way overdressed. Every table is at capacity, every seat is taken. And now people are staring - but trying not to stare - as you nervously move around the room, anxiously searching for an available chair. Finally, you see one. You rush over and sit down, breathing a sigh of relief as you hear the party start back up around you. And what's even better, when you look around the table, you find friendly faces offering you a drink and asking about your day.
When my daughter Ruby was born, the new world we found ourselves in was that party, and Gigi's Playhouse was that table.
We did not have a prenatal diagnosis, so when Ruby was born with Down syndrome we were thrown into something we had never prepared for. We had no connection to anything related to Down syndrome, but luckily for us, a close friend found Gigi's Playhouse through a Google search. I still remember the first time Ruby and I visited Gigi's. We attended Therapeutic Thursday, which is a program involving physical therapists and speech therapists and occupational therapists, all working with attendees and their children in whatever capacity needed. But the therapy part is not what I remember most about that morning; it was the instant connection I had with two other moms I met. We talked all morning, exchanging similar diagnosis stories and comparing notes. The next week, I couldn't wait to go back. But instead of those two moms, I met and connected with a few different moms, with different aged kids and different stories. And the following week, the pattern continued.
It's easy to see how I quickly became a Gigi's Playhouse addict. It gave me such an great opportunity to join up with other families, families who were walking the same walk as us and who just got it. Not to mention, every time I attended, there was a volunteer therapist there helping me. This was huge - HUGE - for our family, especially in the early days when we did not have an established community to go to with our questions and concerns.
We celebrated my daughter's fifth birthday yesterday. Five years of Ruby. Five years of Gigi's. In the last five years, Ruby has visited Gigi's pretty much every week of her life, even through an eight month season of leukemia. And why? Because she has therapists and tutors and volunteers... and friends. She has more friends through Gigi's than either of her siblings ever had. And those older siblings have been to Gigi's Playhouse dozens of times to participate in programs with her. They know Gigi's kids by name, and they have seen the great worth of our Down syndrome community. And me? I have a tribe, A HUGE tribe, that wouldn't be nearly the size it is without Gigi's Playhouse as it's backbone. This community is so important to me, so vital to my daily success as Ruby's mom that I even got a matching tattoo with a bunch of them earlier this year.
My family is forever grateful to all of you for supporting the efforts at Gigi's Playhouse, for seeing the potential of our kids, and for giving us a seat at the table.