Friday, March 6, 2009

Saving Face But Not My Own February 10, 2006

Odd ... three years later ... I remember this day and this entry as if it were yesterday. I'm weeding out my old journal and eventually plan to delete the 851 posts of five years on AOL-J. This is a post I feel worth sharing more than once in my life time. I hope you do too.

I'm not sure where this entry is going as I write. More than likely it will jump around a bit as I try to corral my scattered thoughts. I do know where it will end up. It will end up with me saving face, but not my own. Some lady's face. In the grocery store. She seemed innocuous enough. She was beet red-faced. She needed to be saved.

:::sigh::: Why me?

I know that I am sick to death of this happening. It's not like we're a freak family or anything. We don't have blue, pink, green, purple or orange hair. No facial piercing -- no naval or nipple piercing. No split tongues, no dark menacing clothing. No spikes or leather jewelry. No nothing out of the ordinary. We're normal. Average. Right? Two arms, hands, ears, two eyes, a mouth, a nose, a chin. Two eyebrows. Two legs, two feet. Neatly trimmed hair. Your typical casual outfits. We fit in. Apparently not.

I'm worn out from coping and dealing. Ah-ha! But it's in my job description. I am a mother and mothers are on duty 24/7. That hunk of rock in the pit of my stomach, the one I refuse to let into my heart? Well, it got a little larger today. Not once, but twice. It grew a little last week too. And the week before. And the day before that week. It's grown from a grain of sand many years ago to a rock large enough to make my stomach flip-flop and give me butterflies. But not the good kind. These butterflies are more like hornets that have had their nest knocked around.

I am at the grocery store. Or anywhere. I am accompanied by and with Emily. Different Emily. But not funny looking Emily. Different looking Emily. But not funny looking. We walk up and down the aisles paying little attention to those around us except for the stranger contacts you make when excusing yourself or avoiding a carriage collision. We chatter and make choices and talk about what it is we are purchasing. But I am really quite in error here. I pay no attention to what's going on around me. I'm focused on the job at hand and I am teaching Emily the simple, normal things she needs to know. She, on the other hand, is paying close attention to everyone around us. She is watching and learning and experiencing.

It comes as no surprise to me when she asks me, 'Why little boy/girl lady/man looking at me? Him/her staring at me!" I simply reply that they are looking at her because she is pretty. Some days I say she is cute. Some days, beautiful. You have such beautiful blue eyes, they can't help but look. It is always because they are attracted to her by her good looks, regardless the descriptor used.

Who's the dope here?

Not Emily. She used to accept my comment as chapter and verse. Not so anymore. She knows that she is different than other people. She knows that she doesn't look the same as others. Now when someone stares, we have to have a discussion about being polite and not staring. We have to discuss how people don't mean to be rude, but sometimes they are. We have to discuss her differences. Not at home where I would like to discuss it, but rather, right out there in a public place in the middle of a grocery store aisle with people walking by. Eavesdropping. Good. I hope they learn something from the experience.

You know, Emily doesn't want to be different. But me? I wouldn't change one thing about her. Nope. Not a one. She, on the other hand, wants to drive, to go out alone with friends, to have a boyfriend and go to the prom, not with 'kid like me' but with 'those kids'. Who knew she could be so smart? Don't ever underestimate the brain power of an individual with Down syndrome. They may be slow movers and slow thinkers, but they are smart and deep thinkers.

Three kids with Mom. Mom, like me is focused on the task at hand.... tug at my sleeve. Stage whisper, "Mom, girl looking at me. Why?" Because you are the most beautiful girl in the store. "She rude." She doesn't mean to be, honey. Just ignore her. Don't look. "I no like it."

A thought runs through my head, 'me neither.'. Keep moving, don't pay attention, just get the groceries and get away from that little girl. Not that the little girl is wrong. Or bad. Or rude. She's seeing someone very different from herself. There is no one to tell her why, what, how.

It's taco night at our house. We head up the aisle for taco items. There is another mother with two little ones. A girl, about two, a boy probably four years old. They are riding in one of those nifty fire engine grocery carts. I noticed them but only in terms of trying not to ram their cart in the narrow aisle. Pretty blond mom with two pretty tow heads. ... tug at my sleeve. Stage whisper, "Mom" What Emily? "I'm no look funny." No, you don't. I continue to browse the items. Why can't I find what I'm looking for? Stage whisper, "MOM!" What Emily? Emily, just helped me find the right taco sauce. "MO-OM" What?! "He picking on me. " Who? " That boy." Emily, don't pay any attention. It's okay.

Now I begin to tune in to what is going on.

There's the mother, squatting down looking to pick up an item on the lower shelf. She is behind her carriage. Her little boy is looking at Emily. Loud voice, "Mommy, that girl is funny looking! " Whisper, "Michael, that's not nice. She's not funny looking." "YES SHE IS! SHE IS FUNNY LOOKING!" Normal voice, "Michael. She is not funny looking and you are being naughty. You'll hurt her feelings."

Too late lady. Damage is done and today I am out of damage control. But let me just look into the bottomless pit of my pocketbook and see if I can come up with some more. JUST FOR YOU. Mom grabs her item and stands up. She looks at me. She looks at Emily. Honestly, I would've moved on if her carriage wasn't parked in front of the item I was looking for. "I am SO sorry." "Don't be sorry. He's a little boy. He's just telling it like he sees it." "I am soooooo embarrassed. So very sorry. I don't want him to hurt her feelings." "Oh, she's tough ... getting tougher. She'll be fine."

I would have liked to stand there and yell at her kid! I would have liked to stand there and yell at her! I wanted to sit on the floor in that aisle, gather Emily up in my lap and have a good cry with her. Right there. In front of all those shoppers. I don't. I say, "He doesn't mean she's funny looking. Not like a clown or a funny face. He means she's different looking than say, you or I." "No harm done." Stammering a bit, "I'm so very, very sorry." "Really," "Don't be sorry. Explain to him what is different about her. Try teaching him about people that are different than he is. He has no knowledge of Down syndrome or people in wheel chairs or with canes. He didn't have the 'right' word to use, so he used funny. That's all."

I am so tired of -- people. I understand why this occurs with children. They don't have the same experiences as you or I. They aren't exposed to the hard, cruel world. What I don't understand is why an adult can't take a minute or two to explain to a child what it is they are seeing. "He uses a wheel chair because he can't walk." "She has a cane because she is blind" "What he's doing with his hands is sign language because he can't hear." Young children don't need the long version. A simple statement does the trick. You might get a question or two. An honest answer will suffice.

"I don't know" is never wrong when you add, "but I'll find out."

Let me be honest. I would rather someone walked up to me and asked me, "what's your daughters disability?" than to have them walk on in continued ignorance sputtering an explanation to a child.

Ask me. I'll tell you.

I'll introduce you to Emily. She'll charm the daylights out of you.

You will be richer for the experience. Your child will too.


lisaram said...

Thank you, Kathy. This is a wonderful post. We could all use to learn from one who walks in your shoes.

JACKIE said...

Emily of the milllion megawatt smile. I'd walk a mile out of my way to get a smile like that. Hugs.


emmapeelDallas said...

I agree, this is a wonderful post, and I'm really glad that you posted it. And Emily looks like a beautiful girl to me.


alphawoman said...

This made me tear up. Children can be little monsters. Anyone who is different is a target. Emily is lovely. Her beauty shines and the love that surrounds her is apparent in her smile.

TJ said...

Adults should still expect that children will be hard as it is.
Children can respond appropriately if given the right information.
I think you are doing just fine, blowing off a little steam is good. Emily is a pearl and we all come from different shells. Right?

sunflowerkat321 said...

This is a wonderful post and I'm glad I got a chance to read it. As a matter of fact, I wish that everyone with a child or a grandchild had a chance to learn from your experiences. She is a beautiful girl and I'm sure she has a spirit to match. I think you're doing a wonderful job teaching her how to cope with an ignorant/insensitive world. I'm sure it's not an easy task, and your frustration with people is understandable.