We had just traveled across the country, I think it was about 9 hours worth of travel time, with our two youngest children. The baby was just 5 weeks old, and Mason was 17 months old. Still dealing with postpartum issues and sleepless nights, we were both exhausted and ready to enjoy a few days with good friends in San Diego.
There was a bit of confusion in our rental car arrangements, so we were sitting in the rental car lounge waiting for our vehicle to be ready.
It's not easy to sit anywhere with two very small children and go unnoticed. People started asking how far apart the two were in age, remarked on the cuteness of our children, and some even wanted to play with Mason.
About fifteen minutes into our wait, we noticed a family walk in. Dad, Mom, middle school aged son, and a younger daughter. It didn't take long for us to notice that the son had Down Syndrome.
He was a handsome and quiet guy. I couldn't help but watch their family interact. I overheard a little bit of their conversation, and learned that the daughter's name was Genevieve--pretty ironic.
Mason continued to grow louder as I played with him from our seat, and eventually the Mom turned around to see who was causing the commotion. She smiled at us, turned back around and I saw her say something to her husband. He turned around as well, and very quickly we had all exchanged knowing glances and smiles.
Instantly there was a bond. A bond of bearing, holding, loving, learning, grieving, cherishing, and living out life with a child who has Down Syndrome.
Everything in me wanted to run to them, hug them, and ask them all kinds of questions: "How did you potty train him?" "Is he in a regular classroom at school?" "When did he learn to talk?" "What advice can you give me?" "How am I supposed to do this?" "Can we please be friends?"
Since Mason was born, almost two years ago, these have often been my thoughts when I see people in public with someone who has Down Syndrome. I realize that in most circumstances running up to a complete stranger and bombarding them with these questions would be awkward at the least, and perhaps even inappropriate or offensive. So, I restrain. But, I've always wondered what to do and if I should say anything at all.
This family in the rental car lounge that day in San Diego completed their business, got their key, and started to leave the building. They passed by Bradley on their way out, and the Dad stopped and said to my husband,
"You have a beautiful family."
Five simple words that conveyed acknowledgement, understanding, love, and a desire to reach out.
Now I know what to say to the new mom who holds her baby tightly, hoping no one notices the different features of her baby's face.
"Your baby is beautiful."
I can smile and interact with the little boy running around the store with his tired mom.
"What a happy little boy you have."
I can go out of my way to speak to the young adults I see shopping in Wal-Mart with their caretaker, like I did yesterday:
"How are ya'll doing today?"
And in each of these situations I can connect with people who understand what it's like to live life with Down Syndrome.
Tomorrow is World Down Syndrome Day, so I want to take a minute to encourage you, whether you are raising a child with Down Syndrome, know someone who is, or just encounter strangers as you go through life.
People with Down Syndrome are longing to connect with you.
They have emotions, interests, concerns, insecurities, awkwardness at times, and maybe you won't be able to understand everything they say. But, you can connect with them. Just a few simple words to let them know that they are valued.
And, if you can't think of anything to say, just make eye contact and smile.
To read more about World Down Syndrome Day click here.