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"I Want to Be Like Penny"

I dropped Penny off at school this morning, and a mom of another little girl in her class pulled me aside. "Alli insisted on wearing sunglasses this morning because she wanted to be like Penny."

I turn around and there's Alli (not her real name), in her raincoat and hat and boots, on this gray and dreary day, pulling out her sunglasses because she wants to be like her friend Penny, whose pink spectacles are perched on her nose.I grinned and said, "That's fabulous," but it took me until I got home and sat down with a cup of tea to realize what had just happened. Penny, as I've reported before, goes to school in an integrated classroom. Which means that there are eight "typically-developing" children, and five or six kids with "special needs" of some sort or another. Penny is the only child in her class with Down syndrome, the only one who wears glasses. Not long ago, it would have been unthinkable for a child with Down syndrome to be in a classroom with typically developing peers, not to mention unthinkable for that child to sometimes lead the class in reading books out loud or shout out answers to the teacher's questions. And I have to imagine that not long ago, it would have been unthinkable for another little girl to want to wear glasses just like her friend with Down syndrome. Of course, Alli doesn't think about Penny as her friend with Down syndrome. She just thinks about her as her friend. I've been told that this–friendship in particular– will all get harder as Penny gets older. And yet I'm hopeful that the relationships that are forming now, the assumptions being overcome now, will pave the way for possibilities that once seemed impossible. I'm hopeful that years from now, I'll still know kids who want to be like Penny. For now, I'm content to smile at Alli in her sunglasses in the rain.

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