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To the Mother of the Adult Son With Down Syndrome in the Grocery Store Today

Dear Mother,

I saw you as we were all on our way to check out. I noticed your son instantly. Big cowboy hat, American flag vest, short stature, almond-shaped eyes. Down syndrome. I almost followed you into your line, but that seemed like stalking, so I spied the lengths of the other lines first, only joining yours when it was the shortest.

I was alone, stopping for a few necessities on my way home from work. I thought about saying something to you. But I stopped myself. Your son is so much older. You’ve been on this road a long time. Maybe you’re tired of it all. Maybe you don’t want to engage with a fresh-faced newbie like me.

Worse, maybe you’re resentful of this life you are forced to lead. You are of retirement age. Your friends are probably snowbirds who get to travel at will while you stay behind caring for a child who, in other circumstances, would have left the nest years ago. Maybe you wish you had more freedom at this stage of your life. Maybe if I talked to you, I’d come away discouraged. I’m feeling a little raw right now. I’ve heard too many naysayers tell me how cute they are now, but just wait…

So I stayed quiet. And watched.

I saw your son point to the gum and say something to your husband, who seemed genuinely interested and continued the conversation before putting a protective arm around his shoulders. I watched as he smiled when he listened to him. I saw you laugh as you added your two cents to the conversation.

I decided then that maybe you were safe to approach, but I didn’t know how.

You smiled at me as I unloaded my cart, but still I didn’t know what to say.

When a woman talked to your son about his hat, I pounced.

“Is he a magnet for attention?” I asked you.

You smiled and responded that he is and that he fancies himself Tim McGraw. I grinned and mentioned that I, too, noticed his awesome hat.

Then I plunged ahead.

“I have two boys with Down syndrome, too. Five and four. They’re attention magnets, as well.”

You looked surprised and murmured, “How wonderful,” but then looked away like you were trying to decide if you’d really heard me. Looking up again you clarified, “You have two boys…?”

“With Down syndrome, yes,” I finished for you. “One homegrown and one adopted from Serbia.”

Then you smiled broadly, and said conspiratorially, “They’re really a lot of fun aren’t they?” Before I had a chance to respond, you turned to fill your husband and son in on all you’d learned about me.

We exchanged some other pleasantries as you finished your transaction and bid each other a good day.

I bumped into you again outside at the cart corral and I felt then, as I did inside, that our brief interlude was filled with pregnant pauses as we were each searching for what we really wanted to communicate in the confines of social pleasantries with a stranger.

I drove away thinking that I’d blown it.

Because if I could do it again, dear mother, I would not hesitate to thank you.

I would thank you for paving the road for my boys.

I am not the best judge of ages, but I imagine it’s safe to assume that when your son was born, at least one professional told you he’d be better off in an institution. It was a suggestion you clearly did not choose to follow. Thank you for that. Because of mothers like you, I didn’t have to fight that battle from my own hospital bed.

Thank you for being a warrior mom who learned to ignore the stares and whispers and who proudly shares her boy with the world. You are changing hearts and minds in your clear love and acceptance of him. He is changing hearts and minds just by being. Because of both of you, acceptance of my boys comes just a bit easier for others.

Thank you for letting him have his own style, for encouraging his passion, for letting him shine in his cowboy hat and rocking vest. He’s making people smile. And in so doing, without realizing it, he’s being an advocate for my boys, too.

Thank you for any part you played, no matter how small, in the enactment of, or amendments to, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While we continue to fight for a quality education for our children at every IEP meeting, we don’t have to fight for them to be educated at all or to attend school in the first place because of parents like you.

Thank you for walking this road when you probably felt unbelievably alone, before the support of social media, before Google, before WebMD. Thank you for standing up for the rights of your child, for challenging the status quo, for following your mother’s heart.

In short, it sounds ridiculous to say, which is probably why I didn’t, but thank you for loving your son. In accepting, raising, being proud of and loving him, you not only paved the way for him, you paved the way for me.

I am grateful.

And yes, they really are a lot of fun!

two boys standing on a railing overlooking the beach

This post was originally published on Lakes’ personal blog, Simeon’s Trail.

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