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To the Parents of the Child Staring at My Son With Down Syndrome

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Dear fellow moms and dads,

I believe we all want the same thing when it comes to our precious children. Whether we breastfeed or bottle-feed, home school, put them on that scary yellow bus or wave goodbye from the carpool lane. Whether we work or we don’t, give time outs or not, buy from the organic section or keep them on a steady cycle of almost-real chicken nuggets. Whether we go gluten free and media free, or hand them a TV dinner in front of their coveted iPad. Whether we hover or let them maneuver down the tallest and twistiest of slides. Whether we’re fresh off of a Pinterest board, completely winging it, rich or poor, typical or not; we all want what’s best for our babies. This is the truest thing I’ve ever known.

Beth's son smiling outdoors.

From my city school teaching experiences to my journey as a mom to a child with a disability, I’ve found the love a parent has for their child is palpable. It is unwavering and it is fierce, no matter what tools we have to work with. We all want our kids to be loved and have friends. We want them to remain the kind, confident, little magic makers that made them believe they would conquer the world as toddlers. And so we all are just doing the best we can out there, paving the road for the wee ones who own our heart.

That’s why we try so hard to preserve them as  they are, without fear, hurt or sadness.

But mamas and papas, occasionally we overcompensate in a desire to protect. I know I do. Without thinking, I sometimes gasp at a mini boo-boo, scaring my child into believing a red-stained, skinned knee is tragedy.
I use this example because it reminds me of the times your child stares at mine. I am aware of it. Every. Single. Time. You see, like you, I am on high alert. I too worry my child will encounter sadness, hurt or fear. And knowing what I know about the sometimes unforgiving world out there, I am also on the defense.

But my defense is not what you may think. I am armed with a kind smile, a wealth of information (if you want it) and a warm welcome into part of my world.

Beth's son making a goofy happy face.
So please don’t have your child turn away from mine in an effort to be polite. I get your goodwill, I so get it. I once did not have a child with a disability and I still remember averting my eyes. But sweet parents, your efforts are backfiring. They make your child fear mine the way a gasp makes my kid fear a scrape. There’s too much protecting and not enough inquiry.

Don’t worry, most parents of kids with disabilities don’t mind the questions. There is nothing more innocent and pure than a question from a child. Most of us aren’t sad and we aren’t attempting to hide our beloved son or daughter. Actually, we are trying to show him or her to the world.

Here’s where you can help. You can have your child say hello to mine, maybe even have them high-five each other. And you can always give us parents a knowing wink or smile — one that says, “We get it. We see you, fellow parent. We are out here loving our children just like you.”

In Solidarity,

Originally published: September 23, 2019
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