It was a cold afternoon but I’d agreed to a play date at the park and so I trundled the four littles into the van for what I hoped would be a bit of fun. The playground had a fenced in area that would allow the five, four and two year old to play without me hovering. It was ideal for someone with a lot of little people. Other mothers apparently thought so as well, as I spied other moms with kids in tow, helping their kids to get on the swings and enjoy the slides. The women I’d planned to meet hadn’t yet shown but it felt good to be out in the world. Winter and having a two month old had created a sort of cloistered existence for a while.
We began the usual Stay at Hom Mom inquiries of each other, name, number of children, what you did before you were a mom, while coaxing nervous children to adventure out and adventurous children to tone it down. Paul wasn’t interested in being out in the world. Normally he loves the park but today, he stayed clinging to my side. The other mom tried to get his attention. Paul looked away. She asked how old my son was. Her toddler was 2 1/2, the same as mine. Hers was talking. Mine was not. There was a visible size difference. She was putting the pieces together before I volunteered that Paul had a disability. In almost that same moment, Paul hugged me and said in his deep blurred voice, “Iloveyu.” to me. She beamed. “He said ‘I love you.’ I heard it.”
I agreed and gave my son a hug.
“I used to work as a translator for the deaf.” she explained. I talked about how Paul liked to sign baby and eat and a few other words. “You know, I knew a woman with Down Syndrome.” she volunteered.
Paul may not say much, but he triggers a lot of conversations, stories that should be shared and need to be told. She agreed to share her story.
“When I had my third son, there were medical complications. I had to stay in the hospital for a week.” she began. Her voice got a bit shakey. The next part of the story was hard even in retrospect. “When I came home, my son who was three had spent those seven days at his Aunt, my sister’s house. He didn’t talk for three years after that.” We sat staring at the children at play for a moment.
I shared how my own daughter had elected to remain mostly mute for several months after Paul’s birth and subsequent hospitalization. I knew the pain of having someone so precious, so young, so deliberately silent. It had taken six months of therapy to unleash the happy chatty person I now shared my days with; whereas this mother had to wait three years.
She nodded her head and resumed. “We tried everything, sign, (It’s how I learned enough to be able to translate), therapy, loads of stuff. Nothing worked. But this woman at the grocery store, she bagged our food and every time, she would just talk and talk and talk to my son. She connected with him. She made him feel comfortable. Even if we were in another line, she’d stop what she was doing and come over and say, “They’re my family.” and take over. She’d bag our stuff and help push the cart out, all the time talking talking talking to my son. Then one day, he talked back. To her.”
It was the beginning of his return to the speaking world.
“When we moved,” she paused, “I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get her address so we could keep in touch. My son still remembers her and asks if we will ever see her again and I can’t say that we will because I don’t know.” She patted my son’s head.
“That’s a great story.” I started to say.
But she wasn’t finished. “I tell you this so you’ll know that he’ll turn out okay. You know, we all want our children to grow up to be successful, to be
scientists or teachers or lawyers or elected officials. We want to say they are valedictorians and scholars and athletes and wondrous in ways that the world can easily acknowledge and already has.”
She teared for a moment, “But this woman, who by the world’s standards, would not amount to much, living in a group home, working as a grocery bagger, having Down Syndrome and married to a man with Down Syndrome, gave to my son the gift of accessibility, of speech.” She’d given him a gift that would serve him his whole life, alter his whole life in as radically positive a way as silence had before then in a negative manner. She pointed to her now ten year old son sitting on the swings sandwiched between his two brothers and a friend. They were laughing and joking about something. This moment was due to all of those moments with a person who had Trisomy 21.
The very necessary nature of everyone became evident. I would not have heard this beautiful story but for Paul. We would not have come to the park but for friends inviting us. She would not have had this story to tell but for this woman building a bridge for her son from the silence to the rest of the world
and this woman would not have been there for her son if some other woman, the mother of this woman had not been willing to have a child deemed less than perfect by the world.
Trisomy 21 means the person has one more chromosome than a non disabled person; a little extra as versus the rest of the world. That little extra made her a bag checker but it also allowed her to speak openly to a sad little boy. That little extra made her more willing to extend herself for someone other than herself. Would that all of us would more willingly reach down and find that little extra to help build a bridge from a smaller world to a greater one of possibilities for someone. We could all go on to do great things for someone’s world that would be forever remembered. Perhaps then, the world would be so overflowing with joy, so filled with freed voices, that it could never stop singing.
Copyright 2011 Sherry Antonetti