There aren’t many times that I can scream from the rooftops about something so joyful. I am so grateful to have found Tessa Zoeller.
I received an email from Kristian Zoeller, Tessa’s dad, about his daughter’s 8th grade graduation ceremony at Hampton Academy. Tessa has Down’s syndrome.
A little about Tessa
Tessa was born on February 6, 2007. Her parents, Kristian and Michelle Zoeller, didn’t even know she had DS until 2 weeks after birth. That February day, Michelle was going to the doctor for a routine check-up when she went into labor.
Scary time for Tess’ parents
Time was running out when the doctor discovered that the baby’s heartbeat had slowed considerably and she needed to be taken by cesarean section. Doctors didn’t even have time to give Michelle a traditional anesthetic because the circumstances had become dangerous. Tessa had to be delivered immediately.
It bears repeating. Doctors didn’t have time to administer traditional anesthesia, and they took the baby by Caesarean section while Kristian held Michelle’s hand. Wow. Wow. and … one more … WOW. As Kristian said:
I say this often, but she (Michelle) is the strongest woman I know. Tessa was born into a family that fought for her from the start, even though it was not known that she had DS.
Tessa grew up to surprise everyone around her and is now extremely capable and healthy.
Hampton Academy made her day extra special
Last week, June 16, 2021, there was another milestone in Tess’ life. At 14, she graduated from Hampton Academy. Tessa has been attending the Hampton school system since she was in kindergarten and is very close to her friends and peers, so they decided to make her feel special on graduation day.
Warning: this is where you might need a handkerchief handy. Watch the children on the stands as Tess’s name is called out. Then stay for the end. Love and joy are everywhere and you can see it very clearly. In fact, you might want to watch it 3 or 4 times in a row. Not that I did that or anything …
According to Kristian and Michelle, Tessa didn’t stop talking about it for days, exclaiming that they really loved him.
Hampton Academy ROCKS
The Zoellers asked me to write this to express their gratitude to such an amazing school and to recognize the love and acceptance of Tess’ peers and the community. Kristian and Michelle would also like to thank Tessa’s case manager with the ELP program, Bonnie Heath. Bonnie has been Tess’ assistant for the past 3 years and the Zoellers call her “absolutely amazing … a godsend”.
Having a child with Down’s syndrome is such a gift. I am the mother-in-law of an incredible adult with Down’s syndrome, Audrey, whom I have known since the age of 11. I wasn’t there when my husband David and Audrey’s mother Barb found out she had special needs, but I’m sure it was a scary and confusing time. They did not yet know at the time what Audrey IS gift to the world.
In an email, Kristian sent an article written by Emily Perl Kingsley which describes how they felt at the time:
Welcome to Holland: BY EMILY PERL KINGSLEY
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – of trying to help people who have not shared this unique experience to understand it, to imagine how they would feel. It’s like thatâ¦
When you go to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guides and make some wonderful plans. The Coliseum. Michelangelo’s David. Gondolas in Venice. You can learn some useful phrases in Italian. It’s very exciting.
After months of impatience, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. A few hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland ?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life, I have dreamed of going to Italy.
But there was a change in the flight plan. They landed in Holland and you must stay there. The important thing is that they did not take you to a horrible, disgusting and filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you have to go out and buy some new guides. And you have to learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people that you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look aroundâ¦ and you start to notice that Holland has windmillsâ¦ and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italyâ¦ and they’re all bragging about their past there. And for the rest of your life, you’ll say, âYeah, that’s where I was supposed to go. This is what I had planned.
And the pain of that will never, never, never, ever go awayâ¦ because the loss of this dream is a very, very important loss.
Butâ¦ if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t go to Italy, you might never be free to enjoy the very special, very beautiful thingsâ¦ of Holland.
Here’s the graduation video for all Hampton Academy students last week:
Thanks Kristian, Michelle and Tessa for sharing this with me. I loved the video. Hope we can continue to spread the word about how FABULOUS people with Down’s syndrome are. Here is my Audrey running my trumpet. Joy, I’m telling you … Just joy.
A last cry to the community of parents with DS children.
Our friend Bryan Killough has a beautiful DS baby boy, Augie, and is in the process of adopting another child with DS. Because he and his wife are cool like that.
Congratulations, Tessa! And … Keep blowing that horn, Audrey!
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