A Road Less Travelled
One common experience that most parents of a baby with Down's syndrome recount is wanting to know what their entire lives hold for them while they are still a babe in arms. I was no exception, trying to envisage whether infant Natalia would get a job, have friends, marry or live independently, and all within the first few hours of her life.
I worried too whether she would ever experience a holiday or even visit our local Cornish beaches again. That all seems ridiculous now, Natty being a beach babe par excellence!
|Natty's friendships are very precious to her
This just doesn't seem to happen when your newborn doesn't have an extra chromosome, and I guess it's all part of the natural adjustments we are making in our minds as we adapt to unexpected news, learn to distinguish outdated stereotype and myth from here-and-now fact and set off on the slightly different than imagined journey we suddenly find ourselves on.
It's the secret gem of a road trip that no-one wants to take, but when you do, you're so glad you swapped the high speed autobahn for it.
And it is this scenic, if occasionally bumpy route that Natty has led us on for a more leisurely trip, and one filled with wonderful scenery, fresh sea air, hilarious and often impromptu pitstops and the very best travelling companions anyone could wish to meet along the way.
Travelling Companions for Life
|The friends we have met along the way are friends for life
Natty met Olly about 6 years ago when his Mum Sally Phillips was creating her award-winning documentary A World Without Downs. Olly is a dashingly handsome young man a couple of years her senior. He's witty, amusing, caring and shares her love of acting out Mamma Mia and taking silly selfies. He tells her she's beautiful, and loves her just the way she is.
And just like Natty, Olly has Down's syndrome.
I have watched their friendship unfold with envy, for Natty and Olly bring an honesty to the relationship table that the rest of us would do well to adopt. After meeting Natty for the first time, Olly drew a beautiful picture of the house he hoped they would one day call home together: and he labelled it No.3 by the Sea.
No hiding his feelings until a socially acceptable time scale had passed, or playing cool mind games.... he just told her what he felt.
Nowadays, their phone calls start with an exchange of 'I love and I miss yous', headlining phrases that most of us squeeze in just before hanging up at the tail end of our conversations.
Olly carries Natty if her legs are tired, provides a shoulder for her to rest on when she is tired and is super protective of his smaller friend. The duo adore making each other giggle with funny stories or reciting lists of the daftest words they know. They love getting dressed up in their own flamboyant way, and there is never a hint of embarrassment if Natty chooses a tiara or Olly an umbrella hat.
Both are incredible gift givers too; picking out fun badges, temporary tattoos, lovely cards or pieces of jewellery they know the other will love.
They are too young to be in a romantic relationship, and both seem clear that they are just friends. But both are in love with the idea of being in love and all the trappings that come with it. Olly's Mum and I secretly dream of a time in the future when perhaps they can live together with other friends as independently as possible with our support.
Friends for Life
One thing is for sure, Olly is the longest-standing and closest friend Natty has and around whom she has a certain ease. And somehow when you have a learning disability those special friendships are even rarer and more precious. They need nurturing and a little support from the adults around.
So who knows, perhaps one day, Natty and Olly will cement their love and begin writing their own real life romantic comedy musical.
They might seal their relationship with a kiss and vintage rings (or something one of them has fashioned by hand with wire, sea glass and a dollop of love) in front of a group of tiara-wearing friends cheering them on, before heading home to No.3 by the Sea for bottomless bowls of raspberry ripple ice cream, twirly swirly dancing, fancy dress karaoke and hours in a selfie booth packed with beach-themed props and tropical inflatables.
What more, I wonder, could any of us wish for... 💖
*This is a collaborative post.