When my husband and I announced to family and friends our decision to adopt our son, a 7-year-old boy with Down syndrome in Bulgaria, the news was not met with open arms. I knew that there would be a lot of skeptics, which is why we waited until we were pretty far along in the process to tell anyone. But I did not anticipate the pushback we were about to receive.
Everyone suddenly became an expert, and there were all sorts of questions and concerns thrown our way. I tried desperately to keep my cool and address everyone's issues in a calm manner, when all I really wanted to do was scream, "This is our life, and that is our son! You're either with us or you're not."
It's hard for people to understand loving, missing, and desperately wanting to defend and protect a child you have never even met. But that is exactly how I felt. People were attacking my child.
I was so confident in our decision to go and get our son that I was, for the most part, able to handle the criticism. But that didn't change the fact that it hurt deeply; that part was inevitable. "Why would anyone choose to raise a child with Down syndrome?" We were "crazy" (well, that one didn't really bother me as I am self-proclaimed crazy). We were going to "ruin our lives," we were going to "ruin our entire family." But the most common concern, and also the one thing that I really let get under my skin, was the idea that we were going to be ruining our 3-year-old daughter's life. "What about Ace?" They'd ask. "You might as well just push her to the side because you won't have time to pay any attention to her when you have a child with Down syndrome." The thought that my husband and I would ever do anything that would take away from the life of our little girl made me furious.
Any doubt that I had ever allowed to creep in along the way, was quickly erased on our first trip to Bulgaria to meet Archie. He and Ace had an instant connection that I can't even begin to explain, or even really understand myself. She jumped up and down the entire first day we were there. When he first saw her, he looked at her with a confused "what the heck is this girl doing?" look. Then our translator told him, "That's your sister." His face immediately lit up and he hugged her. And that was that.
Watching Ace hang out all day in an orphanage with kids who had all different types of special needs -- kids who did not look "cute" or "beautiful" by our world's standards -- loving on them, and caring for them, I knew all was right.
Ace understands Down syndrome as much as any 5-year-old can. We talk a lot in our house about accepting others no matter what. Being kind to everyone, no matter how different they are from us. And that is the most important message we can instill in our children. Jewel put it best when she said, "in the end, only kindness matters." We as parents get so wrapped up in trivial things, bogged down by the stresses of raising children in today's crazy competitive world, that we often forget what truly matters. Being good to people. Being kind to everyone.
Watch Ace talk about her brother in this YouTube video that now has almost 500,000 views:
Ace and Archie were made for each other. She is his protector, his boss, his teacher, his security blanket. He is her world. I have witnessed her defend him with a fiery passion to friends if they even think about leaving him out of something. And I have overheard her sticking up for him in conversations with kids she doesn't even know. She is often asked, "What's wrong with him?" Her answers always vary, but my favorite was the other day at a playground when a little boy asked her, "What's wrong with your brother?" And she replied, "Nothing's wrong with him, he's just from Bulgaria."