Mom Captures 6-Year-Old With Down Syndrome 'Flirting' With Her First Crush & It's Melting Hearts

Paperdolls Photography
Paperdolls Photography

Most of us remember the stirrings of a first crush, but few of us will have those memories beautifully saved in photographs forever. Thanks to photographer Stephanie Mullowney, though, her daughter Hannah Grace will. Stephanie, who owns Paperdolls Photography in Nashville, Tennessee, captures all the important moments of her 6-year-old's life. But Stephanie tells CafeMom that she knew she was truly snapping something special when she photographed sweet moments between her daughter and her crush, Eli Roberts, who both have Down syndrome. The results of that sweet photo shoot are going viral, and causing hearts everywhere to melt.

  • Stephanie says she first met Eli's parents through her photography studio, which focuses on special needs portraiture.

    Stephanie created Paperdolls Photography in March 2016. It was only a few years after she learned of her daughter's Down syndrome diagnosis -- a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome -- and was left by Hannah Grace's father when the girl was only five days old.

    "My mission is inclusion and to try and show the world what I see through my lens," she says. "Individuals who are beautiful, capable, loved, and worthy of life regardless of how many chromosomes someone has or their specific diagnosis."

    The Roberts are just one of many families Stephanie has photographed over the years.

    "I met the family two years ago when I was on tour in Indiana," she recalls. "I travel each year and go on tour doing sessions for families in various states and donating part of the proceeds to local nonprofits there that support Down syndrome and other disabilities."

    Before a few weeks ago, 6-year-old Eli and Hannah Grace had never met.

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  • Stephanie admits that at first, it didn't seem as if Hannah Grace and Eli actually got along that well.

    The Roberts family had graciously invited Stephanie and Hannah Grace, who is nonverbal, to stay with them recently when they were visiting nearby. But Stephanie says she quickly noticed her daughter was acting a little different around Eli -- taking his toys and "aggravating the snot out of him."

    "Hannah Grace would not leave him alone. Every time he picked up a new toy, she would go over and take it away and run off with it," Stephanie says. "Each time it started out as a little game of tug-of-war, and she always managed to weasel it out of his hands and run away.

    "I was so surprised at her because she’s usually really sweet around other kids, but for some reason she was really trying to get a reaction out of Eli," she says. 

    But it didn't too long for the mom to figure out what was going on. "I suppose that was her way of flirting," she says.

  • Hannah Grace was even a little shy when her mom first started taking photos.

    "When it came time for the photo session, I could barely get her to move or blink," Stephanie says. "She was like a deer in the headlights, frozen solid."

    In an attempt to break the ice (and cool down Eli's temper because he was rightfully miffed at having his toys stolen) Stephanie says she gave Eli some flowers to give to her daughter "and it was all smiles for the rest of the session."

    Stephanie says that Hannah Grace "didn’t know what to think" about all the sudden -- and very sweet -- attention she was suddenly getting from Eli. "I guess once she got all that attention, she didn’t know what to do with it."

  • That was when Stephanie captured something extra special: her daughter's first peck on the cheek.

    "It was so precious to watch her be so shy after being so selfish with his toys, and she was like a completely different little girl once he gave her that little kiss on her cheek," the mom recalls.

    After the photo shoot was over, Stephanie shared the photos to her Paperdolls Photography Facebook page November 10, where she hoped it would bring smiles to more faces. She says she wanted to share her project to show people that "individuals who are differently abled are more than capable of not only love, but all sorts of other emotions as well." 

    And she certainly has.

    "A lot of times specifically people with Down syndrome are given the common misconception of being happy all the time, and there’s also a misconception that lack of verbal communication equals the lack of understanding, and that could not be further from the truth," she continues. "People with Down syndrome have a plethora of emotions; they can be sad, happy, excited, or any other emotion that you could possibly think of." 

    Most importantly, Stephanie's "sassy" little girl is proof that "people with Down syndrome can be shy as well as outgoing just like anyone else can be," she says. "Not all communication is verbal."

  • Most of all, Stephanie hopes that her photos will teach people to "see with their heart" a little more often.

    Hannah Grace will have a full and excited life ahead of her -- love included. Her mom hopes that by sharing these photos, other people will learn that "every life has worth regardless of the amount of chromosomes you have or don’t have."

    "A person's worth should never be measured by the diagnosis someone has," she adds. "My tagline for my business and universal mantra in general is, 'Look with your eyes, but see with your heart.' If everyone could just do that, the world would be more of a loving and accepting place for individuals with varying abilities."

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