31 for 21: Close Encounters

So after running errands this morning, Finn and I ran into Rubio’s to pick up some lunch to go.  While we were waiting for our food, two guys walked in together.  Both appeared to be in their 20s, and one of them clearly had Down syndrome.

I think it’s inevitable, this phenomenon: once you have a kid with Down syndrome, you start noticing other people out in the world who also have Down syndrome.  You may have noticed them before, but it’s different now.  There’s this sudden desire to make a connection, however brief, and the desire leaves you trembling a little and your palms sweating.   I’m not sure what it is . . . for me it’s almost like seeing a celebrity.  Which sounds funny, because in truth, I absolutely do not subscribe to the notion that people with Down syndrome are “special” in the sense that they are otherworldly or divinely blessed.  It’s more just . . . I don’t know . . . it’s still fairly rare to see someone with Down syndrome, and when I do see someone, I feel like maybe I have an inkling of the hurdles they and their families face, and how wrong so many people are about them and their lives.

Anyway, when I run into these situations, a major stumbling block remains for me, even after all this time (although, I guess three years really isn’t all that long . . .).  I want to make a connection, but how?  “Hi, I see you have Down syndrome!”??  No, I don’t think so.  “Um, hi, I think you and my son have something in common . . .” Ummm, no, not quite.  Leaves too much open for guesswork.  “Hi, I think we belong to the same club!”  Uhh, no.  (My friend Chrystal was going to work on a secret handshake – I wonder if she ever made any headway with that . . . .)

So, what I did was, I stared.  Yes, that’s right, I stared.  Like a rude dork.  I kept hoping they’d notice me staring and say something (wuss that I am).  That didn’t work.  So I strategically angled the stroller in which Finn sat so that he would be facing them, yelling “HI!  HI!” at them, as he is wont to do to every stranger.  (For the record, I relayed this whole story to Kevin, my 14-year-old son, and when I got to this part, he rolled his eyes, slapped his forehead, and groaned, “No!  Mom, no!  FAIL!!”)  Well, that didn’t work, either.

So finally I sucked it up and said, “I hope you’ll forgive me for staring.  I really don’t mean to be rude.  It’s just that my son here has Down syndrome, and I never know how to approach these situations.”  Well, they were so nice (really, it would have been understandable had they both said, “Get lost, lady.”).  The one guy said that yes, he noticed that my son also has Down syndrome.  I asked if they were friends or brothers, and it turned out that the one guy works with the guy who has Ds at an adult day program (in a coach/client capacity).  The guy with Down syndrome introduced himself to me and shook my hand, and said “hi” to Finn.  The whole encounter lasted just a couple of minutes, and then they sat down to eat and I got my order, and I left with a smile in my heart that I’m not even sure I can explain.

I’m still interested in that secret handshake, though.

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