How 2 Words From a Stranger Took Away My Fears About Our Son’s Future


It wasn’t much to say, but there he went and said it. “First steps.”

He looked about in his late 60s  — one tanned guy full of vitality, pausing from his bicycle jaunt around the beautiful South Devon seafront. We were in the middle of our end of the summer vacation, strolling along, soaking up the last rays of sunshine before the rainy season closed in. Our son, Rukai, had one hand in mine, one in my husband’s and two feet chasing each other’s shadows down the pavement in that gangly, stompy, slightly stiff-legged way all new walkers do.

Toddle, toddle. Pause. Look at shoes. Look up at me, grinning. At Dad, grinning. Toddle, toddle.

We’d been observing the boats moored in the harbor and turned to find him there — an apparition of hope perched on two wheels, uttering those two magic words:

“First steps.”

A huge smile. We all smiled back. But Rukai had more important things to do than to engage in conversation. No time, Mama. I’m practicing. He tugged us back towards the path.

Toddle, toddle.

Sweet Rukai had been missing during the past few days and was substituted by his secret ornery persona we lovingly call Captain Crabbo. He wouldn’t eat what we gave him. He didn’t want to be in the house or leave it. He didn’t want to be in the car or the swimming pool. I wasn’t allowed to dress him or help him get dressed. I couldn’t brush his teeth, peel a banana the right way, sing along with anything on TV or even breathe to his satisfaction. Yet we persevered.

With Down syndrome and its delay, the terrible twos can become an entirely new adventure. He’s going on 4. This is a long road.

All kids go through terrible twos, but for us, the longevity of this developmental stage brings with it a slew of questions: What if he has a sensory disorder? Why doesn’t he talk yet? How can I get him to control that spoon better?

For days, the sense of being overwhelmed quietly threatened like black boiling clouds that precede a hurricane. It’s the big fear. The great unknown. Ye olde “what if.”

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But not today. No what if. Just what is. One older man on a bike grinning at a toddler toddling. Two male creatures on either end of the life cycle grooving in the sunshine. The timing of this encounter was impeccable.

We bid farewell to the bicycle guy, looked back at each other and smiled. Yes, these days are new. But aren’t they all?

He is 3. These are indeed first steps. There will be seconds. Twentieths. They will all come one after the other, toppling like dominos. That happy click-clacking reminds us that in order to get there we always have to start from somewhere. Tip the first block and every one thereafter will fall into its place. Still, we can’t predict precisely what that place will be. Life’s mystery.

“First steps.”

Easy does it. Every new experience we take as it comes, one foot in front of the other. Our first steps as a family. Our first steps on this unknown journey.

We walk together along the sunny seafront that keeps those crashing waves at bay.

Follow this journey on Down in Front, Please.

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