On June 23, Jennifer Kiss-Engele, whose son Sawyer has Down syndrome, posted an open letter on Facebook to the parent who invited every single kid in the class to her kid's party—except Sawyer. The letter was reposted by Facebook group Love What Matters, where it's been shared almost 4,000 times in one day. You might want to grab a tissue or two (or the whole box).
Here's an excerpt from the letter, which you can read in full on Kiss-Engele's Facebook page:
I know we don’t know each other well but my son Sawyer and your child are in the same class. I understand that your child recently delivered birthday invitations to the entire class except to Sawyer, who was not invited. I also understand that this was not an oversight on your part, that it was an intentional decision to not to include my son.
I want you to know that we don’t have an expectation of being invited to every birthday party. In fact, when Sawyer celebrated his birthday last year we only invited a few close friends as we wanted to keep it small, since it was over the Christmas break. But in your case, this is not the same reason. In fact, you have invited all 22 other children from the class except for my son. I know it’s not because he’s mean, you couldn’t meet a happier child. I know it’s not because he’s not fun, he has a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh. I know it’s not because your child and him don’t get along, he’s brought up your child’s name on several occasions. The only reason why you decided it was OK to not invite my son to your child’s birthday party is because he has Down Syndrome.
I am sorry that you are not informed, maybe scared, or uncertain about what it means to have Down Syndrome. I know if you knew more about Down Syndrome you wouldn’t have made this decision. I am not mad at you. Rather, I think this is an opportunity for you to get to know my son better. You see, having Down Syndrome doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have friends. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean you don’t like to go to birthday parties. People with Down Syndrome want the same things that you and I want. They want to have close relationships, they want to feel love, they want to contribute, they want to have meaningful lives, and they want to go to birthday parties. It may be more difficult at times to understand my child. But the laughter and love that you share doesn’t need interpretation.
It’s only until this happened that I realized myself that Sawyer hasn’t been invited to hardly anyone’s birthday party this past year. The kids are getting to that age where they often only invite a few children to their parties and he hasn’t made the cut. Other parents I know that have children with Down Syndrome have often started the school year by educating the class and I haven’t done that. He’s always just been Sawyer to me and I haven’t felt the need to talk about Down Syndrome to his class until this moment. I realize now that I have let him down. I have let a year slip away where I could have done more to educate families. Perhaps then we wouldn’t be in this situation. I realize that it’s my obligation as his parent and advocate to educate people more about what it means to have Down Syndrome and how they are more like you than different. I now know how important it is to talk about it and it’s something I am committed to doing a better job of.
Please know that I am here to talk if you would like. I may be a mama bear but I am not a scary person. I recognize that we all make mistakes and at the end of the day, I think we both could have done better.
Jennifer (Sawyer’s Mom)
Kiss-Engele updated her post with some good news:
I want you to know that there is a happy ending to this story. The parent read my letter, spoke to their child about Sawyer, and the child created a special birthday invite for Sawyer. Of course he's been beaming ever since and can't stop talking about it.
I'm really proud that my letter has reached so many people because it's not just this birthday party and its not just Sawyer. There are so many kids with special needs (and without of course) that just don't make the cut. I think as parents we all need to do a better job of fostering these relationships, myself included.
I hope that parents who read this will help open that dialogue with their own child and perhaps make that one 'extra' invitation.
Just like some famous guy once said, "All's well that ends well." Here's to more parents working together and educating each other to ensure their kids have happier childhoods. Nobody should ever be the only person not invited to a party.