What do you see when you look at this face? A little boy or JUST Down syndrome? I will tell you what I see. I see a little boy. I see determination and joy. I see love. I see laughter. I see empathy and understanding. I see innocence. I also see Down syndrome, but I see it after ALL of those other things.
At the children’s museum the other day there was this mom that wouldn’t stop staring at him. She didn’t say a word- just stared. I don’t think she knew that I noticed. But how could I not? I could feel it. Even when I wasn’t looking at her- I could feel her eyes following us. It made my stomach curl into knots. I was so uncomfortable.
The staring isn’t necessarily what bothers me- it’s the thoughts that come with it. She made me so uncomfortable because I couldn’t stop thinking, “what is she thinking about when she looks at him?” Is she staring because she thinks he’s cute? Is she staring because he is so rambunctious and loud? Is she staring because he has Down syndrome? Does she think he’s weird? Is she thinking unkind thoughts? Is she trying to keep her child away from mine?!
I know this sounds terrible but I couldn’t take it anymore. I scooped Easton up and left. I didn’t say anything to her. I just ran away from the situation. When I got to the car, I sat there holding Easton in the front seat and cried. I cried for so many reasons. I felt like a coward for running away. I should have spoken to her. Maybe she was just curious. I could have educated her a little bit. I felt like I was unfit to be his mother. I am supposed to be this strong person, and stand up for him. But in that moment, I felt as thought I had completely let him down.
I also cried because what if she was thinking unkind thoughts toward my boy. That thought just makes me so unbelievably sad. Tears are running down my face right now just thinking about it. I don’t understand how anyone could look at him and not see love and joy. It literally overflows from every pore of his body. His empathy and love for others is already so present at 16 months old. For example, earlier in the day a little girl was crying because she was just overwhelmed. Places like that can be a major sensory overload. Easton saw that she was upset. He did hesitate. He crawled right over to her, put his little hand on her back, and started talking in his own little language to her. I swear I could tell he was telling her that it was okay. Everything was alright, and there was nothing to be afraid of. I was so proud of him in that moment. He also noticed I was crying in the car. When he did, he stopped playing with the steering wheel (which is a big deal) to turn, put his hands on my cheeks, and give me a sweet little kiss. His kisses are rare these days. He is too busy lately to stop to give mom kisses. So this was a special treat. He knew I needed it at that exact moment.
I just don’t understand how anyone could think any sort of negative thought towards him, or anyone like him. Maybe that woman wasn’t thinking all the thoughts that I let myself think. Maybe she was just curious. Curiosity is human nature, which I completely understand. I always try to assume good intent in people, but those other thoughts do creep in at times. They definitely got the best of me here.
If you ever see someone in public who is different than you, and you find yourself staring, that’s fine. We should recognize and honor the differences in each other. But recognize that you are doing it, and try to think about how the person you are staring at might be feeling. Do something else to show that you only have good intentions with your staring. A kind smile would suffice. You could say hi, wave, ask questions, ANYTHING. But please- don’t just stare. It hurts. If you think they don’t know you’re staring, you’re wrong. They do.
As Easton grows older, I pray my courage to be his mother grows. I pray that I don’t run from those situations. I pray that I am able to give people grace, assume good intentions, and have the right words to say at the right moments. I pray that people are kind to my boy. I want them to see him for who he is. I want them to love and enjoy for his differences, not in spite of them. I want people to see a little boy. I want them to see a boy who is loud, determined, kind, loving, funny, empathetic as hell, with some attitude on the side. I want people to see the joy he exudes.
Do I want them to see Down syndrome? Yes, I do. He has Down syndrome. I’m not trying to hide it. I want people to recognize it as a quality or feature of him. But I want it to be seen amongst all the other qualities he possesses, not just the only one.
He is so much more than that.