We’ve been outed. For the first time since Eli was born, someone (besides doctors and nurses) acknowledged that they knew he had Down syndrome.
We went to the zoo on Sunday. There was a family there that had a little girl with Down syndrome, she was maybe 8 or 9. The group she was with was quite large. Too many kids and adults to try and figure out who belonged to who. But, one woman (someone’s mother I’m assuming) looked at Eli in the stroller and did a double take. She knew. I took him out and we sat down to “play with” the otters (through the glass). I could see her out of the corner of my eye watching him. Now I know what other parents must feel like when I’m staring at their child. I’m not really staring – more like watching admiringly and/or trying to decide if I’m confident enough that the child actually has Ds to say something. We definitely need a secret sign or handshake that signifies we’re part of the “club” to eliminate any awkwardness that could be created by the not staring. As I noticed her watching him, I started to get nervous. What if she asks me if he has Down syndrome? I thought to myself, feeling a little panicked. You see, most of my friends have already had their moment. That moment when someone “outs” them as having a child with Ds. I’ve always said I think I’ll cry when someone finally asks me. I’m actually not quite sure why, but I was always afraid that would be my reaction.
After a few minutes with the otters, the lady and her group started to exit the exhibit. We were heading out as well. As we were passing each other, she leaned over to me and said, “Your son is beautiful” and then she looked at Chuck and said, “Really, he’s absolutely beautiful.” What a wonderful way of acknowledging that she knew. I didn’t cry. I beamed. I’ve decided that will be the way I acknowledge parents of children with Ds from now on. It can be our not so secret “handshake”. It’s so much more pleasant than “Does your child have Down syndrome?”. There’s always a fear that you could be wrong and unwittingly (and unnecessarily) upset the parents. Plus, what’s the point of asking? The only real reason is so you can point out that you too are part of the “club”.
It may sound weird to refer to Down syndrome parenting as a club but that’s the best way to describe it. At first, you don’t want to be a part of this club. But eventually you come to realize something I actually just told a new mommy today – “Welcome to the best club you never knew you wanted to be a part of”!
Anyway, thank you to that wonderful woman at the Woodland Park Zoo for acknowledging that we too are part of the wonderful club known as Down syndrome. Thank you for acknowledging Eli in such a meaningful way. I will never forget it.