Welcome to part 1 of a very special blog series I have created to show how beautiful and wonderful diversity is - mermaid edition! Being a mermaid is such a magical and whimsical experience and I believe that everyone should have representation! To kick it off my most special guest and daughter of my life long friend - Laila. Please feel free to share her beautiful story and raise awareness!
Images by Brandee Anthony Media
"Diversity is the magic. It is the first manifestation, the first beginning of the differentiation of a thing and of simple identity. The greater the diversity, the greater the perfection."
My name is Kristen Cagadas and I am the proud and absolutely smitten mom of Laila, our 17 month old daughter. Brandee is my first and oldest friend – 25 years of friendship and counting! As lake neighbors, rarely did a day go by in which we weren’t running over to one another’s yards or trying to convince our parents to let us have another sleepover. Our friendship has seen kindergarten, college, marriage, kids, hard life moments and the funniest moments I’ve ever experienced. We’ve been together through it all.
Laila is our first child – a little boy will be joining our family in November and we can’t wait! As first time parents, we’ve learned how to operate off little sleep, how to make the quickest pot of coffee, how to change diapers on every surface and most importantly, how to navigate being parents of a child with special needs.
On January 10th, 2019 at 10:00AM, I became a mother. With a thick head of black hair and just under 6 pounds, I fell head over heels in love with my daughter Laila. The first time I held her I felt the greatest joy I’ve ever known and in that moment, her life instantly became the focus and the most important part of mine.
When Laila was a little less than two months old, she was diagnosed with a rare chromosomal disorder called Williams syndrome. Approximately 1 in 10,000 individuals have Williams syndrome – the same odds as finding a four leaf clover – definitely not a coincidence in my book!
From the Williams Syndrome Association website: Williams syndrome (WS) is a genetic condition that is present at birth and can affect anyone. It is characterized by medical problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning challenges. These often occur side by side with striking verbal abilities, highly social personalities and an affinity for music. More information can be found at www.williams-syndrome.org.
Laila’s care team consists of approximately 10 different specialists. Her health is stable and looking good at the moment - we are extremely grateful! The best part about Laila’s diagnosis is her personality. She is super friendly, social, loving, charismatic and joyful. I guarantee that just a moment with her would brighten your day. The medical stuff can be difficult and emotional, but everything else about her is pure perfection. I wouldn’t change her diagnosis for the world.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
A diagnosis is not a definition or a life sentence. It gives us cues on what to be on the lookout for/what should be on our radar and what can help. It does not define our capabilities, outline what you are capable of or categorize who you are as a person. Your life is still a blank slate full of possibilities.
The word ‘normal’ should be stripped from our vocabulary when referring to human beings. Being described as not normal implies there is something wrong or bad about the situation. Laila is unique, beautiful and perfect. She may not fit the “typical” mold, but she was created the way she was intended to be.
We celebrate ALL of her milestones. Some might take a little longer to get to, but that just means we get to celebrate a little harder. We find so much joy in all of the little moments. This is something I think everyone should do more of.
I see far more beauty and grace in the world. I have more tolerance. More appreciation. More admiration. No one is better than anyone else. No one is less. We all have our unique challenges and extraordinary gifts.
What I would love for others to know:
Laila is a child WITH special needs – not a special needs child. It is important to always use person-first language with all individuals. Williams syndrome is part of Laila’s identity, but that is not all that she is.
Differences are often the most obvious thing we notice when we meet others. BUT – I bet you (and your children) share more similarities than differences with a lot of individuals that have special needs. Laila loves music, dogs, laughing, cheese, looking at herself in the mirror, going for walks, giving snuggles – just like many other people! It is important to always focus on what we have in common as people.
We all benefit from inclusion and acceptance. Laila’s personality is pure joy. She will give anyone a smile and she lights up when she receives them. I have yet to meet someone that doesn’t smile as soon as they see her – what a gift. Individuals with special needs have so much to teach us and if we are open, accepting and include them in our lives, I guarantee you will be a better person for it.
The pictures Brandee took of Laila dressed as a mermaid are not only absolutely adorable, but also carry so much meaning for our family. Laila was absolutely ecstatic when she had on the mermaid tail and wouldn’t stop touching it or kicking her legs. She didn’t stop smiling the entire time. Brandee welcomed her into the mermaid community and seeing her included in something so magical meant the world to us. I also know that Brandee didn’t stop smiling the entire time when she saw how much Laila loved it.
Representation, inclusion and acceptance create magic. How special to bring that into such a magical community.
Brandee, you’ve made me smile for 25 years and now you do that for my daughter. I love you so much and you are such a blessing!
“It is important to remember that we all have magic inside us.” – J.K. Rowling