Saturday, 29 September 2012

On potential

One of the things I really perseverated on when we found out that Phoenix had DS was how I perceived her potential to be limited. She was never going to be a doctor or a lawyer. She wasn't going to be able to go to university. She wouldn't get married and have children. I would never be a grandmother.

Potential is an interesting thing. As I look back now, I can see that I had a very narrow view at the time of what potential meant. I mean, there are literally thousands of possible jobs or careers that people can have, and I focus on these two that are out of reach for Phoenix?  And who says that being a doctor or lawyer is the pinnacle of what it means to be successful? I am a teacher and am in my dream job working with disenfranchised (and often behavioural) teens. Who dreams of that? (Me now, but that's beside the point).

And regardless, I don't really believe that potential is unlimited in anyone no matter how many chromosomes they happen to be born with. We are all limited. We have faults. We have things, no matter how hard we try at them, that we simply are not good at. In my instance it is dancing. The song of my life could be called "white, pudgy, Canadian girls can't dance". Seriously. I am that bad. We can't be good at everything so when we tell our kids that they can be anything when they grow up we are lying. Oh, it is a feel good lie to be sure. It's a bit like Santa Claus, or the Easter bunny. We embrace them because they make everyone feel good about themselves. I am not hating on Christmas or Easter here. Nor am I hating on potential. I simply believe that as humans we are not perfect and therefore cannot be unlimited in our potential.

When I really want to look at what potential means I need look no farther than my immediate family. Sister #1 and myself are fraternal twins. Our strengths, gifts and talents are very similar although we have developed these gifts in very different ways.  Communication is a strength for both of us. I focused my writing energy on a philosophy degree and graduate work in special education. I learned to write great papers and to argue convincingly in the academic arena. I also communicate pretty effectively with young people as a teacher. I help anxious learners feel comfortable and insecure learners develop confidence. My job requires me to work with a wide variety of professionals and students and to modify my communication style from person to person.

Sister #1 developed her writing skills through journalism. She communicates both through writing and taking stunning pictures. She tells stories through her images and conveys her own perspective through her photos, writing and editing. Brother's talent is also communicating. He has incredible verbal skills. He's a salesman and he is very good at convincing others to trust him.

Here's where the idea of potential really hits home for me. Sister #1 and myself have worked really hard to build careers we can be proud of. We have developed our skills honestly and have worked consistently to achieve our goals. We have both worked to our potential. Brother has as much potential as we do. He is smart, charismatic, and really has the ability to be great at any number of things. Instead, he has used this potential to take advantage of almost anyone who has had the misfortune of becoming close to him. He has swindled and stolen from friends and family and still to this day attempts to steal customers from my parents' family business while our father deals with medical issues. Yet he has just as much 'potential' as we do.

Which brings me back to Phoenix. She's only two and a half, so we are just beginning to get a glimpse of her gifts and talents. However, it is already clear that Phoenix has an incredible gift that will help her find success: she draws people into her world. She actively seeks out attention from others everywhere we go - and gets it. People love her. Strangers stop us in the street to interact with us. She makes friends in the grocery store, the park, the neighbourhood. This lady stopped her run to interact with Phoenix while we were taking pictures:

She even stopped foot traffic on Yonge Street this summer. One lady in the grocery store last year described it as her 'super power'. Her super power. I like that.

I think the moral of all this is that Phoenix does have potential. We just don't know for what yet. And she is only 2 and a half, so she has a little time left to figure it all out. Just like I do, thank goodness.

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