What if I told you that I have a box containing the secrets to happiness? Its exterior, its wrapping, may look a bit different than other boxes you are used to seeing, but in the end it's a box like any other. What if I told you that its contents, will change your life forever in the most beautiful ways?
Would you get close to the box? Would you open it?
Since many people are unfamiliar with this box they might hesitate to look inside, missing out on the best experiences of their lives without ever knowing it.
That was my case with Down syndrome (DS) before September 16, 2011. That Friday afternoon, my daughter Valentina Guerrero was born, and that's when I found out she came with a little something extra, an additional chromosome on the 21st pair. Up until that day, I had never even met anyone with trisomy 21, or Down syndrome. I was very ignorant about the condition, which led me to a state of shock for a few weeks after her birth. Until then, all I had heard or read focused on the limitations of people with Down syndrome (which at this point are less and less)--I only knew the box looked different on the outside.
Little by little, with some research and the support of good friends, family and organizations, I started understanding that people with DS are capable of living a pretty independent life and achieving great things. The similarities of a person with DS and a typical person are far greater than the differences.
What nobody told me is that people with trisomy 21 are incredibly evolved on a spiritual level. With every day actions I see how they take on challenges with a different attitude than most people, and their view of life is very positive. If we all had an ounce of their bright disposition, the world would be a much better place.
When my daughter was born my mother started pointing out things that Valentina does that most typical individuals don't do, especially at such a young age, and I realized why she is so special, not because of her condition, but because she can teach me much more than I will ever teach her. I consider Valentina my guru, who by example has taught me the keys to a full life:
1. Persevere no matter what: Since she was 3 months old, Valentina has been working hard every weekday morning to achieve her goals which went from lifting up her neck, to sitting, crawling and now walking. She gives her best effort and always with a smile.
2. Be patient: Everything will take her a little longer, but we're in no rush--we now know that everything has its timing. For example she is talking a little longer than the typical baby to walk, but we know she'll do it eventually, so we don't stress about it; actually most parents tell us that every milestone happens too fast for them, and Valentina gives us the chance to enjoy every part of the childhood process a little longer.
She is now saying some words like "Mama", "Papa", "Hola", "Sí" and "Bye" and until she masters the rest she is communicating through Sign Language, she knows over 10 words in this format. I can technically say she is trilingual because she communicates in Spanish, English and Sign Language!
3. Stay positive: Our focus, at any point, is on the glass half full.
4. Live in the moment: We've learned not to worry about the future because you never know what destiny may bring.