Thursday, March 5, 2009

Saving Face But Not My Own February 10, 2006

Odd ... three years later ... I remember this day and this entry as if it were yesterday. I'm weeding out in the old 'Life on Flamingo Row' and eventually plan to delete the 851 posts of five years on AOL-J.

I'm not sure where this entry is going as I write. More than likely it will jump around a bit as I try to corral my scattered thoughts. I do know where it will end up. It will end up with me saving face, but not my own.

Some lady's face. In the grocery store. She seemed innocuous enough. She was beet red-faced. She needed to be saved.

:::sigh::: Why me?

I know that I am sick to death of this happening. It's not like we're a freak family or anything. We don't have blue, pink, green, purple or orange hair. No facial piercing -- no naval or nipple piercing. No split tongues, no dark menacing clothing. No spikes or leather jewelry. No nothing out of the ordinary. We're normal. Average. Right? Two arms, hands, ears, two eyes, a mouth, a nose, a chin. Two eyebrows. Two legs, two feet. Neatly trimmed hair. Your typical casual outfits.

Apparently not.

I'm worn out from coping and dealing. Ah-ha! But it's in my job description. I am a mother and mothers are on duty 24/7. That hunk of rock in the pit of my stomach, the one I refuse to let into my heart? Well, it got a little larger today. Not once, but twice. It grew a little last week too. And the week before. And the day before that week. It's grown from a grain of sand many years ago to a rock large enough to make my stomach flip- flop and give me butterflies. But not the good kind. These butterflies are more like hornets that have had their nest knocked around.

I am at the grocery store. Or anywhere. I am accompanied by Emily. Different Emily. But not funny looking Emily. Different looking Emily. But not funny looking. We walk up and down the aisles paying little attention to those around us except for the stranger contacts you make when excusing yourself or avoiding a carriage collision. We chatter and make choices and talk about what it is we are purchasing. But I am really quite in error here. I pay no attention to what's going on around me. I'm focused on the job at hand and I am teaching Emily the simple, normal things she needs to know. She, on the other hand, is paying close attention to everyone around us. She is watching and learning and experiencing. It comes as no surprise to me when she asks me, 'Why little boy/girl lady/man looking at me? Him/her staring at me!" I simply reply that they are looking at her because she is pretty. Some days I say she is cute. Some days, beautiful. You have such beautiful blue eyes, they can't help but look. It is always because they are attracted to her by her good looks, regardless the descriptor used.

Who's the dope here? Not Emily. She used to accept my comment as chapter and verse. Not so anymore. She knows that she is different than other people. She knows that she doesn't look the same as others. Now when someone stares, we have to have a discussion about being polite and not staring. We have to discuss how people don't mean to be rude, but sometimes they are. We have to discuss her differences. Not at home where I would like to discuss it, but rather, right out there in a public place in the middle of a grocery store aisle with people walking by. Eavesdropping.

Good. I hope they learn something from the experience. You know, Emily doesn't want to be different. But me? I wouldn't change one thing about her. Nope. Not a one.

She, on the other hand, wants to drive, to go out alone with friends, to have a boyfriend and go to the prom, not with 'kid like me' but with 'those kids'. Who knew she could be so smart? Don't ever underestimate the brain power of an individual with Down syndrome. They may be slow movers and slow thinkers, but they are smart and deep thinkers.

Three kids with Mom. Mom, like me is focused on the task at hand.... tug at my sleeve. Stage whisper, "Mom, girl looking at me. Why?" Because you are the most beautiful girl in the store. "She rude." She doesn't mean to be, honey. Just ignore her. Don't look. "I no like it." A thought runs through my head, 'me neither.'. Keep moving, don't pay attention, just get the groceries and get away from that little girl.

Not that the little girl is wrong. Or bad. Or rude. She's seeing someone very different from herself. There is no one to tell her why, what, how. It's taco night at our house. We head up the aisle for taco items. There is another mother with two little ones. A girl, about two, a boy probably four years old. They are riding in one of those nifty fire engine grocery carts. I noticed them but only in terms of trying not to ram their cart in the narrow aisle. Pretty blond mom with two pretty tow heads.

... tug at my sleeve. Stage whisper, "Mom" What Emily? "I'm no look funny." No, you don't. I continue to browse the items. Why can't I find what I'm looking for? Stage whisper, "MOM!" What Emily? Emily, just helped me find the right taco sauce. "MO-OM" What?! "He picking on me. " Who? " That boy." Emily, don't pay any attention. It's okay. Now I begin to tune in to what is going on. There's the mother, squatting down looking to pick up an item on the lower shelf. She is behind her carriage. Her little boy is looking at Emily. Loud voice, "Mommy, that girl is funny looking! " Whisper, "Michael, that's not nice. She's not funny looking." "YES SHE IS! SHE IS FUNNY LOOKING!" Normal voice, "Michael. She is not funny looking and you are being naughty. You'll hurt her feelings."

Too late lady. Damage is done and today I am out of damage control. But let me just look into the bottomless pit of my pocketbook and see if I can come up with some more. JUST FOR YOU. Mom grabs her item and stands up. She looks at me. She looks at Emily. Honestly, I would've moved on if her carriage wasn't parked in front of the item I was looking for. "I am SO sorry." "Don't be sorry. He's a little boy. He's just telling it like he sees it." "I am soooooo embarrassed. So very sorry. I don't want him to hurt her feelings." "Oh, she's tough ... getting tougher. She'll be fine."

I would have liked to stand there and yell at her kid! I have liked to stand there and yell at her! I wanted to sit on the floor in that aisle, gather Emily up in my lap and have a good cry with her. Right there. In front of all those shoppers. I don't.

I say, "He doesn't mean she's funny looking. Not like a clown or a funny face. He means she's different looking than say, you or I." "No harm done."

Stammering a bit, "I'm so very, very sorry."

"Really""Don't be sorry. Explain to him what is different about her. Try teaching him about people that are different than he is. He has no knowledge of Down syndrome or people in wheel chairs or with canes. He didn't have the 'right' word to use, so he used funny. That's all."

I am so tired of -- people. I understand why this occurs with children. They don't have the same experiences as you or I. They aren't exposed to the hard, cruel world. What I don't understand is why an adult can't take a minute or two to explain to a child what it is they are seeing. "He uses a wheel chair because he can't walk." "She has a cane because she is blind" "What he's doing with his hands is sign language because he can't hear." Young children don't need the long version. A simple statement does the trick. You might get a question or two. An honest answer will suffice. "I don't know" is never wrong when you add, "but I'll find out."

Let me be honest. I would rather someone walked up to me and asked me, "what's your daughters disability?" than to have them walk on in continued ignorance sputtering an explanation to a child.

Ask me. I'll tell you.

I'll introduce you to Emily. She'll charm the daylights out of you. You will be richer for the experience. Your child will too.


Donna said...

What a wonderful, straight-from-a-mother's-heart entry. Emily is beautiful and so is her mother.

Robin said...

We never had this kind of situation with our Gabby. I don't know if it is because she was exposed to all kinds of people/kids early on...different races, different disabilities, etc. Or maybe we taught her to embrace the difference in each other. I personally grew up with a best friend who was in a wheel chair and the crazy thing is...I used to WANT to be like HER! I never saw her chair as something bad. I also grew up on a street with a child who has down syndrome and as I grew I became her babysitter. Maybe my being exposed to it helped me teach my child about our differences.

In preschool Gabby also was involved in a brief "inclusion" each day with a special needs class...again exposed to different children. For her it was no big deal but I did see other kids in her class who were shocked and stared.

I think we are all different. Some of us just show our differences on the outside more. I for one would be honored to cruise the grocery store isles with your Emily!

Astaryth said...

This was a wonderful entry when you first published it and it still is! I have grown to know Emily in the years I've been reading your blog, and I can honestly tell you that I love Emily entries. They are the best. She is a remarkable young lady and a joy!!

Lisa :-] said...

Oh, Kathy...what a lovely essay. JUST the kind of thing that could be cross-posted at "Women On."

I know we all kinda read the same blogs, and anyone who sees an entry at "Women On" would probably have already read it here...but some day, I'm hoping for "Women..." to have a larger following. And this piece is just perfect.

Okay...I'll shut up now. ;)

FrankandMary said...

I cannot believe this was a 06 post because I remember it so very well. It is a prescriptive post. Really. We should all have to read it, & not very hard to do, since you have written it so well.

I think a lot of internal damage taints the way adults react in a situation like that. I can remember they way the sea freakin parted when I took mom places once she was blind, limping & so very slow, adults were so damn afraid of her. They would pull their kids away. I'd think: Is it ok that my mother still likes to get out of the house some damn time or does this affront you? I know that does not completely dovetail with your situation, but it is what comes to my mind immediately. ~Mary

Sugar said...

Wonderful entry! I was sent here by Mary, & will feature this entry on J-Land Central as a High Lighted Blog.
God bless...

Just Bill said...

God bless you and Emily.
You both aare doing the best you can and doing it well in my opinion.
Yes, I too wish everyone would read this blog and learn from it. Mary sent me also and I thank her for that.
Love to you both, Bill

Odd Mom Out said...

She is perfectly beautiful!

Lisa said...

Oh Emily... I just want to say I love you just as you are and that you are beautiful and perfect in every way. Emily is a gift to teach the rest of how we should behave. We are the ones who are in need of help but Emily is going to be just fine, especially with a mom like you!! I love this entry Kathy... straight from the heart. I felt like I was with you the whole time and I wanted to sit on the grocery floor with you and Emily and have a good cry from the cruelty and ignorance of others.

~ Lor said...

I remember this one and it touched me as much reading it this time as it did the first. You and Emily are beautiful people inside and out. Wish more people in the world were like you. hugs, ~ L