When moms and dads read Today's Parent or visit todaysparent.com, we want them to recognize their families in the challenges we tackle and the joys we celebrate in our stories. We also want them to see themselves (or at least a version of themselves) and their children in the images we choose. Media creates and molds our perception of the world, so what conclusion can a family reach when they rarely see similar people represented? They are invisible, marginalized, forgotten.
We met 18-month-old Reid, who goes by Pip, through our Today's Parent community when Kingston, Ont. mom Tara McCallan shared her Happy Soul Project blog with us. Happy Soul Project is all about finding beauty in difference. Tara's journey to this hard-won world view began when Pip was diagnosed with Down syndrome three days after her birth. Already a mom to son Noal, now 3, Tara and husband Craig grieved the family they'd imagined. But as they emerged from the darkness, they found happiness surprisingly easy to come by. As Tara explains through her writing, her blog is about "accepting the life fate gave you, seeing the beauty in the challenges and the hope in the hardships. It's about finding joy unexpectedly, becoming a kinder person and continuing to always have an open mind."
It's not hard to fall in love with Pip at first sight (that smile is too much!), but the more we read about her, the deeper we fell. Then we met her. You would never know this kid struggles with heart problems and has been through three eye surgeries. Sitting on our set, clapping her hands and bobbing to Pharrell's "Happy," she was the picture of pure glee.
Today's Parent has actually featured a child with Down syndrome on the cover once before, but it has been almost 20 years. We knew the time was right to shine the spotlight on Pip. "To see kids like Pip or other kids with differences in mainstream media is so important," says Tara. "I want my little girl to open Today's Parent and see herself. I think it's really important, not only for Pip but for society as a whole to embrace the love and the differences in everyone."
And in the end, Pip met all the requirements we have for a cover kid: she's engaging, easygoing through multiple wardrobe changes and off-the-charts cute. Ditto for big brother, Noal, who was achingly sweet with her, patting her head and giving her those patented preschooler choke-hugs throughout the shoot.
We weren't the only ones who fell hard for Pip. The day after our shoot in mid-May, a Toronto radio station unveiled a billboard starring Pip at one of the city's biggest intersections. Happy Soul Project had won the spot in a contest after more than 40,000 votes from listeners. Then, a few weeks later, Tara wrote a blog post for HuffPost that went viral. Multiples media outlets, including Good Morning America and ABC News, picked up her story.
Pip is ready to take on the world, and the world is clearly ready for her. We're proud and honored to be a part of it.
Look for the August issue of Today's Parent on iPad July 8 and on newsstands in Canada July 21.