Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies with Down syndrome Grow Up to be Prom Queen (or King)

I didn’t go to my prom. Neither did Ray. I’m not sure what he did that night, but I’m quite certain he didn’t attend a speech and debate tournament instead.

(Actually, I just asked him, since he’s across the kitchen making coffee. I’ll have to edit part of his response, but he said he’s not exactly sure, he probably played raquetball or watched a movie. “Speech and debate tournament?” he said, in response to his own query. “Wow. That’s pretty geeky.”)

So neither of us can say boo on the topic. If either of our daughters goes, it’ll be a genetic feat. But speaking of genetics, it’s always bugged me that so many kids with DS get elected prom king and queen. I know it’s not even Valentine’s Day, but this topic arose yesterday when I was telling a colleague about the Today Show basketball thing.

“Yeah, you don’t want your kid to be a mascot,” she said. “Like how they always elect the kids with Down syndrome to be prom king or queen. I hate that. It’s so insulting.”

This woman is considerably younger than I, so high school is fresher in her mind. And unlike me, she was probably considered cool — cool enough, as she admitted, to help engineer the prom king election of a kid who wasn’t disabled or anything, but really smelled. It was payback for the girl who was going to be prom queen — no one liked her. (Go figure, how’d she win?)

This woman’s point: It’s way worse to get elected for the wrong reasons, whether they be because you’re smelly and unpopular or because you’re the dorky kid with DS who high fives everyone in the hall.

I know, I know. I’m a real downer this week. (Which is odd, since I’m on such a high after Night Four of the Big Girl Bed. Borrowed time, I fear.) It’s one of those cases of overthinking, again. Really, if Sophie wants to be prom queen, I hope she wins. I guess. Honestly, I can’t say I’m sure I’ll feel that way. I’m willing to reserve complete judgement.

For the record, no, I didn’t get asked to prom. But I did come in FOURTH for Miss Olympian, which was our version of prom queen at Arcadia High School. I’m not sure I was supposed to know, only the top three were officially named; some kid in my English class was on student council and told me. True, I was in a lot of activities in high school, but I was also a total geek, so I’ll have to wonder my whole life why I got those votes at all.

I wonder if they’ll let Sophie on the speech and debate team. I wonder if she’ll want to be on it.



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7 responses to “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies with Down syndrome Grow Up to be Prom Queen (or King)

  1. I have the same mixed feelings about these “feel good” stories about Down syndrome (or any disability really). It shouldn’t BE newsworthy, it should just BE, if that makes any sense.

    Oddly enough, it’s a bit of a relief with my child never having to wonder if she’s really being included, or just included as a “charity case” (which is probably as bad as a sympathy, um, well you know). She’s so “delayed” she doesn’t chart, because the “chart” doesn’t go below 1/10 of 1 percentile. By high school she will never be included with her “typical peers”, so I guess it just won’t be an issue.

  2. Kittymama

    I find this something that’s important to keep in mind in general — despite the Golden Rule, people don’t always want for themselves what we’d want for ourselves. Ignoring that makes for a lot of wasted vicarious suffering, energy that could be taken up with finding out what someone really does care about . . .

  3. Kathy

    These are like Zen koans I think–questions that stand for themselves without necessarily landing in, or needing an answer but the question is important.

    I find myself a lot wondering if something is appropriate, PC, kind, good/bad etiquette around “minorities” for lack of a better word–people who are “different” for another lack of a better word.

    I am sentimental so stories about inclusion will always tear at my heartstrings. High schoolers are so competitive that even *noticing* someone who’s not in the competition sphere is impressive. I just don’t know and wouldn’t begin to offer an opinion on something like this prom question. Other than if Sophie was elected Prom Queen, I know she’d be up there smiling, with a dress designed by her sister and I’d be by your side (along with others I’m sure) Amy with ample kleenex. Bawling.

  4. Kathy

    PS. Meant to say “in” a dress….and I don’t think you’re a downer this week. I think you’re pensive. And there’s a lot of that going around right now and personally I think it’s a good thing.

  5. I don’t think that they are all charity cases. I suspect that some normal kids are actually appreciative of all the work a child with DS does to be included, and value the appreciation that it gives them for their own abilities.

  6. elewinnek

    My high school had more than 60 deaf kids: it was the state’s magnet school for deaf kids. They generally stuck to themselves, in their own corner where they could talk without being interrupted (you know, without some hearing person blocking their view) and laugh without getting funny looks (if you’ve never heard a deaf person laugh out loud, you don’t know what I’m talking about — but in high school, we were embarrassed for what they themselves couldn’t hear). We didn’t see much of them, because we were academically tracked, and for deaf people written English is a second or third language: they were generally pretty far behind.

    My odd public high school also had a lot of hippie teachers who liked to pretend that they were rock stars. They gave concerts twice a year or so, and at these concerts, we all pretended that we were rabid fans. Really, it was fun: I learned a lot of 1960s folksy songs, I got to see the math teacher in a red dress, and it wasn’t until some exchange student told me that this was surreal that I even thought it was unusual.

    The hippie-rock-star-wanna-be teachers always used the deaf kids as their backup singers and bodyguards. And here’s the thing that is prompting my too-long reply: I don’t think it was insulting. Sign-language isn’t that far from dance. Deaf singers sounds oxymoronic, I know, but they stood close enough to the amps that they could feel the vibrations, and they were terrific. They had these skills we hearing kids had never imagined they had. Suddenly, the deaf kids looked cool. Our hippie-rock-star teachers were encouraging us all to see each other in new ways, and in high school we really needed that.

    Maybe this story isn’t even parallel to Down Syndrome Prom Queens — and definitely I should ask one of my deaf high school classmates before I assume that being backup singer wasn’t insulting tokenism. But here’s my point: maybe tokenism isn’t necessarily insulting. In the spirit of my hippie-rock-star teachers, it worked. And I’m really grateful to them for giving me those high-school memories.

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