Thursday, October 04, 2007


I met someone with Down Syndrome for the first time in my life (other than Ian, of course.) And it started off, as Bridget Jones so eloquently put it, "awkward as ass."

It was last night. Silvi and I were at our local park, she having run the entire three blocks there while I followed on my mid-life crutch, the new skateboard. (Jim, if you read this, you should be proud. I've actually used the thing three times so far.)

So there we were, Silvi dripping with sweat and me looking like I just survived a massive heart attack, when a young girl ran past me who obviously had Downs. She joined another group of kids running around a baseball diamond with their mother. A man, who I assumed was the little girl's father, stood off in the distance watching.

If you ever get to know me, you will know just how out of character my following actions were. The young girl with Downs left the group and went to join another girl shooting baskets. Nervous, I summed some courage by asking myself, "What would Barbara Walters do?" and then had Silvi go run with the kids while I approached the little girl's mother.

Me: "Umm, Hi, I'm Tom. Is that your daughter over there? I noticed that she might have, umm, Down Syndrome?"

Long pause.

Mother: "Uhhhh, I think he's a boy, and he just sort of started running with my kids. I'm not sure who he belongs to."

Another very long pause.

Me: "Oh. I thought it was someone I knew. I mean, well, my son was just born. My son is Down, has, Down Syndrome and....."

I trail off. She kicks the dirt. I excuse myself and call out to Silvi. I stand there, holding my skateboard, feeling much like George Bush must feel after giving a speech on foreign policy. Then I spot the little boy riding in the back of a bike trailer.

Forget Barbara Walters. I summon the strength of Larry King and call out to the father. "Excuse me! Hello!?"

He rode back to me. Close up, it's very evident that it is indeed a cute little boy, who immediately extends his hand for me to shake. He is four and tells me his name is O. (in case I befriend the parents and they stumble across this most awkward example of my ineptness.) The father is friendly and open, and Silvi and O. giggle with each other. After a few minutes of good conversation, Silvi and I head for home.

It is getting dark. As I skate toward home behind my sprinting little girl, I am happier than I've been in over a month.


Jessica said...

I remember my first "meeting" another parent. It really was extremely awkward but it felt so good to make that first step in meeting other parents. Now, it's nothing.

Leah said...

Ahhhh STALKING!!! Yep, been there, and am STILL THERE! LOL When Angela was about 8 weeks old I just couldn't see it. I knew she had it, but I couldn't see it, and I wondered if others could. Maybe my mother eyes were just blind? We were at the MN Zoo under the dolphin tank, my husband, 4 boys and tiny Angela. That's when I spotted them. A family with a little boy who appeared to be about 7 or so. I propped Angela up over my shoulder and stood so she was facing them, pretending to look for my other kids. When the family started moving on I quickly rounded up my gang and forced them onward too. I wanted to watch this little boy. My husband had no idea we were stalking anyone.

And that other family? Looking back I bet they were whispering to themselves, "Do you think that baby has DS? We should say something. What if we do and the baby DOESN'T have it? We better not say anything. She sure looks like she has it. I bet she has it. Maybe not. I don't know." I know this because I've had the same conversation with myself, a friend, or a spouse when out in public.

In order to avoid embarrassing myself I've come up with scripts. Things like, "I have a little girl who looks a lot like your daughter." And I keep a picture of Angela on my key chain. (I loved it when the Lifetouch company came out with these!) I also learned that only very rarely were other parents of kids who had DS unwilling to talk. Most parents will remember being where you are now. They'll remember the anxiety and uneasiness, and the "how do I DO THIS?" feeling when you want to start a conversation.

Good for you Tom. It's a HUGE step to just jump in with both feet. And look, you're still alive and breathing to tell about it! YAY you!

RK said...

I say way to go for making the effort... I've not been that brave yet in similar situations. Seriously, I'm impressed!

Karen said...

I, too, am impressed at how brave you were!

Lori said...

I am so happy for you! I had to think for a while to remember when the first time I saw someone with DS after Evan was born. Then I remembered that I was in the grocery store, carrying Evan in a little Snuggli against me. A mom walked up & introduced herself to me. She had a 6 year old with Downs. She was warm & encouraging. Like you, I felt much better for the first time since Ev was born. I have always remembered her kindness & done likewise whenever I see a family with a young one. Here's to many more meetings with new friends on the journey!

Kim Ayres said...

I'm impressed. I still have no idea how to react, even though I know I'd be perfectly happy to chat to anyone who wanted to talk to me about my daughter.

Tom said...

Jessica: I can't wait until the day that these awkward "meetings" are

Leah: Glad to know I'm not the only one out there "stalking." And those are some good ice breakers (the "scripts" you use and the photo). Thanks! (PS. The best place to find mangos are at the Global Market on Lake St.)

RK: Thanks! I'm still embarrassed when I think of it.

Karen: Also, thanks!

Lori: It's kind of amazing how just that short meeting somehow made things "different," and better. Appreciate the thoughts!

Kim: I'll check out your meeting "story." Cheers...

bella said...

It is amazing what we will find ourselves doing that once we would not have dared.
I am happy you had this "meeting", this first of what I sense will be many.
Being courageous, even in the smallest of things, is awkward. And freedom.