“Aren’t you a pretty girl? You are just so sweet! You are a precious ‘special’ girl, aren’t you?” I started to feel my cheeks turn pink. I was nervous and even a little annoyed, thinking to myself, “Oh please don’t tell me how happy they all are and how they all love to dance.” Ugh.
I was at Target with Ellie doing some shopping and was in line checking out. I could tell this woman, who was most likely in her 70s, had noticed that Ellie has Down syndrome. I feel bad now that I assumed that she was going that route — the generalized, “They are all happy” route — but I hear it practically every time I take my girl out in public. I smiled at the woman and started heading out the door and she quickly yells… “I have one too, my daughter!” I turned around and said, “Oh that’s awesome!” and walked to my car, but I wanted to run back and ask her all about her daughter. Unfortunately my nerves got the best of me. But then at my next stop that day, I got that chance.
Ellie and I were strolling along the granola bar section at Costco, and I was stopped by a couple who were probably in their late 60s. They couldn’t keep their eyes off Ellie and were asking me all about her. She was doing her usual double-handed giant wave and “smizing” (smiling with her eyes), and they were loving it. Finally the woman says, “We also have a special angel,” to which I asked, “Oh, how old is she?” They went on to explain that her name was Andrea, and she had passed away when she was 9 years old. She had multiple health issues in her short life. My heart sank. The man grabbed his wallet and pulled out a torn and faded school picture. She was beautiful with her brown hair falling down around her pretty slanted eyes. He handed me the picture and I showed Ellie. She immediately gave the photo a kiss. I had tears in my eyes as they proudly talked about their daughter. She would be 35 if she were still here — the same age as me. I was so grateful for that couple who shared their gorgeous Andrea with me that day.
As I was checking out I couldn’t stop thinking about that couple and their girl. I was turning to leave and my new friend came up behind me. “Can we exchange numbers?” she asked. I was so excited. “Yes!” I gave her my info and she gave me hers. She has a friend who has a daughter in her 20s with Down syndrome who lives downtown Portland, takes the Max to work and is in Zumba class. She is independent and doing awesome. She wants to introduce me to this gal’s mother, who she said was such an advocate for her daughter who is doing so well. I hope I see this woman again someday. She really made my day, and I honestly think I was meant to meet her.
I can’t quite put my finger on what the “thing” is that happens when I meet other families who have been touched by Down syndrome, but it’s amazing to me. It’s like a secret club, a connection, a feeling of knowing, and it’s beyond just having something in common. My family feels it, and even my friends too. Even the connection I have with the moms I’ve met online is hard to put into words. They are from all walks of life and across the globe. We have spent countless hours sharing advice, worries and triumphs. I haven’t met them in person yet I feel a bond to these ladies. I have met families in real life and can’t help but feel like there is something more. When Ellie was around 6 months old, I read a very interesting book and this paragraph gave me goose bumps:
“When I spoke with parents of handicapped children, all commented on the extraordinary people they met as a result of their children’s handicaps – people they felt they already knew. In all likelihood, they did. There is often a special bond that goes well beyond the commonality of having handicapped children.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever unlock the mystery to this connection I feel to these families, so I’m just going to go with it. I’m going to count my blessings and just be grateful every single day. I know that I will continue to meet new people who are on the same journey as me. They will be just beginning or will be more seasoned pros offering invaluable advice. I look forward to talking to new moms and to be able tell them, “It will be OK, I promise,” just like others told me.
This post was originally published on “Our Three Little Birds.”