What My 11-Year-Old Self Didn't Know When I Saw a Boy With Down Syndrome on Vacation


I was 11 years old, and our family went on our first really big vacation. We stayed in hotels and flew on an airplane and everything. Ironically, what I remember most about the trip was a young man I met briefly by the pool.

I had wandered down to the pool to check it out for a few minutes while my parents and sister got ready to go out for the day. I noticed a young man running toward the pool, laughing. I found his mischievous giggles enchanting, and noticed he looked different, though I couldn’t quite tell how. During our stay I saw him a few more times. I loved how he appeared to live in the moment. He seemed to be enjoying himself more than everyone else.

We were back home at the kitchen table when my mom helped me unpack the experience. She explained the boy had Down syndrome, and gave me a basic rundown on what that meant. I got the impression Down syndrome might not be as idyllic as my perspective indicated, but undaunted, I looked at my mom and said, “Well if the world has people with Down syndrome in it, I think I might be a good parent to someone with Down syndrome some day.”

Fast forward 17 years, and the offhand prophecy was fulfilled. I had my second child, a boy, and he did have Down syndrome. Not too long after he was born my mom and I reminisced about that young man in by the pool.

family with two boys with down syndrome
Our family

I have since learned what I witnessed the young man at the pool doing that first day is called elopement and is maybe not quite as enchanting when you’re the mom.

I was right in my 11-year-old innocence: I am a good parent to not one, but two kids with Down syndrome — we adopted a second child with Down syndrome four years after giving birth to our first son. Of course they’re far more complex than my 11-year-old self understood, but, at least in my sons, that joy is very real.

I wish I knew where the boy I saw when I was 11 is now. I  wish I could hug his mom and tell her how grateful I am for that moment in time.

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