Penny Finishes Kindergarten

There she was, my little girl, standing in the front row, wearing a dress from my childhood and her patent leather pink party shoes, singing every word of the kindergarten concert. Wait–I should say–belting out every word of the kindergarten concert, performing every motion, playing her sticks in time with the music, and standing still (mostly) between the songs. There she was, my little girl. My little girl with Down syndrome.

I suspect that every parent feels a surge of pride and joy and gratitude in watching their child love life. But I wonder whether that pride and joy and gratitude is amplified, if it swells the heart just a little further, when that child has a disability. All I know is that my heart was about to burst on Friday when I sat with William in my lap watching Penny and her peers serenade us all.

We moved on to the party in her classroom. Each student had prepared a paper of “My Favorite Things” to read aloud to the parents and grandparents and siblings assembled. Some kids mumbled. Others spoke up. Some spoke in sentences. Others needed prompting. It came to Penny, and she stood up as tall as her little frame would allow. Her voice was clear and strong as she read, “My favorite subject is reading. My favorite school lunch is yogurt. The best thing that happened to me in school this year was reading a book. My favorite place in school is library. This year, I learned a lot about reading.” She turned over her laminated paper to show us her drawing, and she narrated: “This is me. Reading.”

Penny's first day of kindergarten

I look back to my first post about kindergarten and through the year as she began to make friends and now, as she reads books all by herself and is teaching William to spell and as her friends yell out to me, “Mrs. Becker, when can I have a playdate with Penny?”–and I hardly know how to contain my gratitude.

She struggles. There are still days when she comes home with “lots of x’s,” which usually involves a report that she has stepped on a friend’s hand or poked someone with a pencil or picked her nose and stuck it on someone’s arm or, in the most humorous of said reports, mooned her classmates.  The school system struggles to accommodate her needs. Outside the school walls, people use language  and make assumptions that sting. But at the end of the day, my daughter has been included and accepted for who she is. She has grown in immeasurable ways because she has been loved and been able to love in return.

In A Good and Perfect Gift, I recorded a journal entry from December of 2006, when Penny was almost one year old:

I am filled with contradictory emotions: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Struck by how much hope I have for Penny–that she will live a full life with friends and laughter and arguments with her siblings and an ability to give back to her community and a knowledge of God’s love. Hope that she will go to public school and that her heart will heal and that she will speak clearly and read and write and walk and run and dance. Hope that she will sing and play music and ride horses. Hope that she will be received by many for who she is, valued by many, loved. Hope that she will surpass expectations–physical, mental, social, emotional. So much hope.

It almost feels funny to quote the rest of that journal entry, as every statement of hope I recorded six years ago has indeed come to pass. She argues with William every day. She makes me laugh every day. The thing she said she wanted to learn more about next year–music. So much hope. But back then, when I couldn’t have known, I also wrote:

And with that hope comes intense fear that little of it will come to pass, that she will suffer, be mocked, that her little body will betray her. Fear that she won’t succeed, or that she won’t have friends, or that we won’t be able to give her what she needs. Fear that Down syndrome is what I thought it was a year ago. Fear that our culture is right, that she is undesirable, that an extra chromosome is a mistake. I don’t want to hope, sometimes, because I don’t want the fear that accompanies the hope.

There’s still fear as I look ahead and we move to a new school. But it is easier than ever to hope.

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).


  1. Hooray Penny Becker!!

  2. Nancy French says:

    Yay, Penny!!

  3. Hooray, Penny! Congratulations on such an accomplishment!

  4. Thanks for this beautiful reminiscence. I have had many similar emotions, then and now, especially this morning as I wrote to my son’s fifth grade teachers. He too has a ‘disability’ and we’ve had some hard years, but it was amazing to sit there today at his 5th grade moving on ceremony knowing that he has been learning and is “ready” for middle school. And when I sent him off to kindergarten I didn’t know if he would ever learn to read, or speak comfortably to other children, or fit in.

  5. Congratulations Becker family! That is so excellent. I know exactly what you mean when you wonder if your heart would be as full of pride if things were different. Cate also graduated from kindergarten and as each child crossed the bridge at the ceremony the told the assembly what they learned this year. Kids said to count, to read, about animals while I sat there nervous for Cate thinking wondering if she’d do it. I found out later that she had never done it one time in a month of performance practice so her para-pro was accompying her. First she turned to the para-pro and said “I don’t need you” then shoo’d her off the stage. Then she looked at the crowded and said “Hello, my name is Cate. I love my mommy, my daddy, my grandma, my grandpa and my sister”. Tear running down my face I video’d it while the crowd clapped so loudly and I saw many around me dabbing their eyes. My baby is not so little anymore and with all my worries about what she would face – she had an excellent year and even taught a lot of people a new definition of “special”.

  6. Kathie S says:

    Great job Penny, the sky is the limit. I have had so many of those same emotions with my daughters who both have Down syndrome. I am happy to hear she has learned so much and loves to read. My oldest just graduated from Fifth Grade and is now a middle schooler and my youngest is now a Third Grader and I couldn’t be prouder of either one of them. They are both in a CI classroom and Inclusion(or what I call Visitation) as it is a fight. Keep fighting for her and what she needs. Those behaviors she gets the x’s for as I volunteer in the classrooms are pretty typical behaviors of most kids but ours are just watched more closely and tattled on more. Loved reading this.

  7. Ann Holmes says:

    GREAT post that brings tears to my eyes. Our 15-year-old granddaughter (today) has Downs. She will never do what Penny can do but she has a huge heart of love and touches everyone in her life with her smile and love!

  8. Congratulations!!! I love the comparison and I love that she has become so much of what you have dreamed. Dream bigger now!!

  9. What a beautiful post. I’m so happy for all of you! Keep dreaming.

  10. Penny looks so adorable in those pics frmo teh first and last day of K. Nice job, Mom! And she really mooned her classmates? Awesome!


    P.S. New guest post at Jenny Rae Armstrong’s place. I linked it through my name above; hope you have time to check it out.

  11. Penny you rock! You & your mom made my day.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing! Happy for you and your sweet little girl!

  13. Such an encouraging post! I have a beautiful 14 month old boy with Downs and am very much at the stage you were, Amy Julia, when Penny was almost 1 – hopes for the best future and yet still many fears that he may never speak clearly, or learn to read, or learn to walk…and fears also that we are not doing enough to help him get there. I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I read the truth of your fears being over-turned into delighted pride and joy – thankyou for sharing your journey!

  14. Juliana Rowland says:

    I’m so glad I found your blog! Your fears from 2006 ring so true to me as my little Owen has just turned one himself. You make me hopeful that there are many good things to come for him. :-)