Valley Life for All: Meet Tessa – Redefining the perception of challenge |

Valley Life for All: Meet Tessa – Redefining the perception of challenge

Erin Gallimore
Special to The Aspen Times

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities. Twenty-seven percent of Americans experience some disability. One hundred percent are a part of our community. Each has a story.

Meet Tessa and her mother, Maggie: Tessa is a curious, fun-loving little girl who loves all things little girls her age love. Tessa was born with Down syndrome, which is the most frequently occurring chromosomal disorder and the leading cause of intellectual and developmental delay in the U.S. and the world. The two moms in this story beautifully enlighten our understanding of Down syndrome and guide us in sharing that understanding with our children.

Their story is worth your time:

To the mom I saw in the store:

Well, that was a little awkward, wasn’t it?

Truth be told, my family is a chaotic mess when we shop together. We do it often, hoping it will get better as we practice. So far, we haven’t much improved, but we keep charging through it anyway. You had it together much more than we did, pushing your two little girls through the aisles. We are a tornado, so it’s no wonder that your daughter noticed mine. They may not look it, but they are probably the same age.

“Momma, look at that girl’s face!” she exclaimed. You were very sweet in your response. “Oh, isn’t she pretty? She’s so cute.” Your daughter persisted, and you stayed positive. “She has such a pretty smile!”

I couldn’t look up at you at the moment. I just grabbed my lunch meat and Kraft singles and hightailed it out of there, shouting to my husband to choose a pinot grigio and not a chardonnay.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably still thinking about today just a little bit, wondering if you handled our interaction well. You might be thinking about your little girl, like I am mine, and hoping that you helped her see the beauty in what is different.

I wanted to thank you, to tell you that I appreciated that you didn’t scold your daughter for her statement. She’s so young and curious. If I had been less frantic, and more brave, I would have smiled back and told her that Tessa looks a little different because she has Down syndrome. And I would have told her that, even though Tessa looks different, she loves Moana and pink and Goldfish crackers, just like I bet she does.

I want you to know that it is OK for you to use the words “Down syndrome” to explain one of the things that makes our girl unique. We don’t whisper those words in our house; Down syndrome doesn’t hurt our feelings. And, while it does not define who Tessa is, it certainly does help our little ones understand why she is a little bit different.

I’m sure we will cross paths again. When we do, I will be brave and thank you in person. I hope you know how happy it made me to hear someone speak so sweetly about my daughter. Not everyone sees what we see, and I thank you for that. You’re doing a great job.

All the best,


Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. We want to hear your voice. Request a training or join the conversation at or #voicability4all. Help us redefine the perception of challenge.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User