Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Gift of Confidence

How is it December already? I mean, seriously, where on earth has this year gone? I keep thinking, I’ll get round to writing about when Emily was a bridesmaid soon, and yet, here we are eight months later and it’s still unwritten. So here goes….

Emily’s big sister Laura decided she wanted to marry a handsome young man from America and that their wedding was going to be held across the water in North Carolina. Not a bad place to start. North Carolina is a land of simple beauty and it is simply beautiful; the long sandy beaches of the Outer Banks, the majestic wonderment of the Great Smoky Mountains, countless lakes and forests and the kindest, most hospitable people you could ever wish to meet. 

Emily had never been a bridesmaid before so she was thrilled to be a key part of Laura’s big day. She took the rehearsal extremely seriously and knew exactly where she was supposed to be at any given moment. Not only that, she knew where everyone else was supposed to be too!

On the day itself Emily was faultless. She looked stunning; every inch the sensible, mature adult and the bridesmaid all the groomsmen wanted to walk down the aisle next to. In then end she walked with the grooms brother who is significantly taller than Emily. They looked like little and large or Mick Fleetwood with Samantha Fox for anyone who can remember the Brit Awards from a couple of years ago. Ok so it was more than a couple of years ago but, like I said, where does the time go?

The reception was very informal. It was a lovely, very warm Spring day. We were in a small rustic barn on a beautiful golf course – fairy lights and candles, hay bales and burlap. Speeches were short and appropriate…until my speech that is. Not one to miss an opportunity to say a few words I decided that my speech could be a little bit different. So I invited Emily up to the front, to take the microphone and say what was on her heart.

“Hi everyone! Do you wanna build a snowman?” she began to sing. She’d picked up that someone earlier had mentioned Frozen in their speech so Emily figured it was a great way to get people laughing. Clever.

Emily then went on to deliver what was the most beautiful wedding speech I have ever heard in my life. She had no notes, no preparation, no gags looked up on the internet, no rude jokes, crude statements or carefully crafted stories. Just Emily being Emily, saying what was on her heart. She thanked everyone for turning up. She thanked Laura’s husband Mac, “I want to thank Mac…..I love you Mac…’re the best brother in law I ever had!”

Everyone was laughing or crying or both. She was in no rush to give up her place in the spotlight. She went on and on. It was delightful and serendipitous in that it was an off the cuff moment, unplanned but charming and made the day even more special. I was the proudest Dad that day. My first born daughter married, happy, stunningly beautiful. Proud Dad. Emily though, had shown something that so many people today do not possess – confidence. She was confident to stand on her own two feet. Confident to stand in front of a crowd, some of whom she didn’t know. Confident to take a microphone, hold it to her mouth and begin to talk, knowing that every word was being amplified around the barn. Confident to say what was on her heart. Confident to open up, be vulnerable in the right kind of way. Confident to say aloud the words “I love you”. Confident to be who she is and not who she thinks other people want to see.

Proud Dad.

In all our trials and tribulations, in all our chores and challenges, when the days seem long and the nights even longer, remember that everything you are doing is helping to define the person your young one is and who they are going to be. So my encouragement to you is this; create a space where young people with Down’s syndrome can have a go; a safe space; a space where if they don’t get it quite right, it’s ok. Create opportunities for them to try new things. Give them the freedom to explore. Allow an amount of measured risk. Give them a voice. Allow them to speak. Let them be who they were created to be. Give them the gift of confidence.

Now don't get me wrong, there are unfamiliar circumstances in which Emily struggles. If you read my recent post One of those days you will remember that Emily is undergoing independent travel training and she is not confident in this area, especially as the evenings draw in. Confidence is gained in different areas of our lives at different times. It's something we all have to make an effort to grow into. It's also something we can help others to learn.

The gift of confidence is one of the greatest gifts we, as parents and teachers, can bestow upon our children. Maybe then we will begin to learn from them how we may begin to apply it to our own lives.