Our “outing” at the zoo

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.

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The kindness of a community

We had a wonderful day yesterday. We met with a lovely family that has 5 year old triplets, one who has Down syndrome. This beautiful family opened their home to us, complete strangers. It was reassuring to see how “normal” their day to day life is – well as normal as life can be with 5 year old triplets! The mom, Sheila, made it all look so easy. But she was completely honest with her struggles and what challenges they’ve faced.

I was a bit nervous before meeting with this family. I haven’t been around a child with Down syndrome before. Would I act uncomfortable? Say something inappropriate? Cry? (Seems silly but shortly after Eli’s diagnosis, Chuck and I saw a little girl at Costco who had Down syndrome and we had to leave because it upset us so much). Thankfully, this was not to be the case this time. We have changed, evolved in our feelings, and accepted.

We were welcomed by the whole family at the door. The triplets consisted of one boy, and two girls, one who had Down syndrome (Olivia). They had drawn pictures for us right before we arrived. So sweet! Olivia told us “bye bye” and then retreated to her room for a bit. She tends to be a little shy/uncomfortable around people she doesn’t know. We gave her some space and got comfortable playing with some toys on the floor. Cody warmed up quickly when he found a helicopter to play with. I was unsure how the conversation would flow but Sheila made us feel super comfortable and was basically just an open book of information. After some time, we went upstairs to Olivia’s room to check on her. Within minutes she grabbed my hands to play Ring Around the Rosie. I guess I passed the stranger test! Soon her and I were dancing to the Beatles. She is delayed in her speech but communicates through sign language. Her mom highly recommended it for our family since most children with Down syndrome have some speech delays. She especially thought Cody could benefit greatly from it so he could communicate with his little brother. She shared with us that most children with Down syndrome use signing so it’s a good way for them to stay connected with their “peeps”. πŸ˜„

One story Sheila relayed was how when her and her hubby were pre kids they hired a housekeeper. It is common practice to give the housekeeper, a total stranger, keys to their house. They wondered if this was a safe thing to do. They laugh about that now. You see, here we are on a Sunday morning, standing in her kitchen, complete strangers. She opened up her home and her hearts to us. She let us play with her children. She welcomed us into the “family”. The Down syndrome community has shown their kindness to us in more ways than I can count – and we’ve only been a part of this “club” for a couple of months. It’s a community that I didn’t think I wanted to be a part of but am now so happy to be welcomed in to. Maybe it’s that parents with children with special needs have to be compassionate, understanding, and kind. Maybe it’s that many can remember being in our shoes at one time and they can recall those strangers, that soon became friends, who helped them along the unknown path. Whatever their reasons, we have met some of the most gracious people in the start of our journey. I can only imagine the friends, who we’ve yet to meet, waiting for us in our future.

We finished the day by celebrating my mom’s birthday. Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am and that I’m a good mom (thank you!). I am the mom I am today because I learned from the best. My mom is the most giving, selfless, loving person I have ever met. She accepted Eli and his diagnosis immediately. She has been a rock of support for Chuck and I. If I can be to my children what my mom is to me, I will have succeeded greatly. Happy Birthday Mama! We love you.

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