Me, My Kid, And Risk Aversion



Photo via Wiki Commons

There was an article in the Washington Post last week about middle schoolers and risk taking. Essentially, it said: in order for children to morph into adults, they have to take risks–defined as anything that takes them outside their comfort zone: crazy hair, weird clothes, a new activity–or scarier alternatives like drugs, sex and alcohol. Kids are going to take some sort of risk whether you like it or not; that’s what makes them grow into adults.

I dug into my memory, looking for confirmation of this argument in my own experience, and I came up blank.

I have never liked risk. I have always been a homebody who wants things to stay familiar and comfortable. My mother had to plant a boot on my butt and make me get my driver’s license, for goodness sake. And I was so intimidated by walking into fast food restaurants and asking for job applications, she had to issue an ultimatum before I would do it.

Even these days I loathe risk. There’s a lot of it involved in writing. The obvious is the risk of rejection, but there are many others: the risk of making oneself vulnerable to criticism (can you say “reviews”?), the risk of intellectual property violation, and so on. To me, risk is a nasty but unavoidable side effect of the drive to create.

Hence my continuing problems with anxiety.

Miscellaneous July 018 smallBut all that is just navel-gazing. The reason any of this is blog-worthy is that I have a nine year old who is already broody and moody, teetering at the edge of the adolescent abyss. It seems ludicrous to suggest such a thing, the distance between 9 and 13 being almost half the length of his life thus far. But he’s definitely changing. More to the point, he’s me with an XY instead of two Xs.

In this case, that means he does not like risk. Which is defined as “anything new that does not involve a video game or a mythology-spinoff book.”

He’s eligible to be an altar server this year, but he doesn’t want to do it. When I asked why not, he said he didn’t want to be up in front where everyone was looking at him. I pointed out that nobody is supposed to be looking at the altar servers. I pointed out that he likes acting, where people are supposed to be looking at him. He did not answer. (Whatever that means.)

I don’t like to make the kids do things they don’t want to do, but in this case we thought it was too important not to. This is entry-level ministerial work: service to the people of God. So last night I took him to altar server training.

And you know what? Once they got to the part where they were learning about the items used at Mass–once they got to pass around the huge Lectionary and the heavy, gilded Book of the Gospels and touch the paten and chalice–I could see interest in my son’s  eyes.

That is basically the shape of my own life: parental foot on butt, shoving me out of the nest; insides quivering with terror; followed, at some point (not always right away) by the discovery that I’m having fun.

Blog-sweet boysI had to be forced to take risks, and Alex is shaping up to be the same. In fact, I think I need to harden myself to the necessity of being the foot-on-butt. My risk-averse personality caused me to play it safe far more than I should have in adolescence. Instead of venturing out, I built a safe cocoon around myself. And when it was time to fly the coop I had to be kicked out of the nest, because I didn’t want to leave home. It took me until I was twenty-five to learn to be friends with a man, independent of romantic entanglements, and until I was almost forty to be able to interact with liturgical music colleagues as, yanno, an adult and not a fan girl. I always knew I came into my own much later than I should, but until now it never really occurred to me why.

So maybe I have to stuff that I-don’t-want-my-kid-to-suffer empathy into an iron box and shove it in some deep dark corner of my soul for the next few years. Maybe I have to force my mini-me to take some of the risks I was too scared to take when I was his age. And maybe…just maybe…I can spare him some of what I have suffered because of my own risk-aversion.

Child Abuse, Part 2: Personal Defense


SEX ED (Photo credit: 707d3k)

A commenter once took issue with a post I wrote about parents’ responsibility to arm their children against the threat of child abuse by teaching children about their dignity as human beings, and in particular the dignity of the human body. This person took issue with the idea that such concepts can provide any protection against predators. I’d like to address that as a starting point today.

Realistically, there is no foolproof way to protect our children from any of the dangers they may face. But to me it seems self-evident that whatever defenses we can arm them with are wise investments. I do believe that young women and men who truly understand their value and dignity as human beings are more likely to be capable of protest when they are pressured, either by peers or by authority figures, to do things that violate that dignity. It’s no guarantee, but it’s another tool in the arsenal.

I used to believe young children should be shielded from all references to sexuality, because it would sully their innocence. But this implies that sexuality is a) not innocent, and b) something separate from personhood, when the truth is that the two are braided together so tightly that separating them leads to dysfunction.

I am now convinced that lessons about sexuality cannot be imparted in a single conversation upon the onset of puberty, but must, MUST be introduced a bit at a time. You don’t dump Pi r squared on a student without laying the foundations first; they’ll never, ever understand it. They might be able to plug in numbers to a formula, but they won’t understand. The same is true of sexuality. A child’s psyche isn’t prepared to deal with so much earthy, bodily frankness if it’s never been introduced before.

So in our family we start in early childhood by laying foundations.

1. The key concept is this: the body is holy because it is the dwelling place of God. God lives in the soul, and the soul is housed in the body. Our bodies were given to us in order to make the world a better place. A place that looks more like what God’s vision for it.

2. Because of this, we take care of our bodies. We don’t play with them as if they’re toys, and certain parts of us are not meant to be touched by anyone other than a parent or perhaps a doctor in an examination, and beyond a certain age, not even by a parent. We care for our bodies by keeping them clean, well-nourished (healthy eating and exercise are part of this lesson) and well rested.

3. We call body parts by their proper names. Euphemisms and slang imply that there’s something that needs to be hidden because it’s bad to talk about. The kids are comfortable with words like breast and penis and labia and scrotum. (More comfortable than we are, to be honest.)

Once these foundational concepts are worked into life, it’s not such a stretch to talk about where babies come from. God puts the baby in the mommy’s tummy, but you know the child is going to ask how. It would be easy to punt and say something lame and evasive, but I think that’s shortsighted. Kids need to understand that something holy and miraculous happens in the sexual act, and that they have a part to play–that their choices and their dignity are relevant.

So I tell the kids that mommies and daddies have a special hug they give each other, and sometimes when they do, God takes something from the mommy and something from the daddy and makes it into a baby that grows inside the mommy.

Alex has probed further, and I have had to say, “You don’t need to know that yet.” I think of Corrie Ten Boom’s story about the suitcase a lot.

Now, when we need to address abuse by authority figures or even something Alex sees in the movies that doesn’t add up, we aren’t constructing elaborate evasions in a misguided attempt to preserve his innocence. This weekend we were watching Superman Returns and Alex, puzzled by the complicated relationship between Lois, Superman and Richard, and how that boy could be Superman’s kid, asked, “So…are they married?”

“Alex,” I said, “the thing you have to understand is that the special hug is meant to be given by people who are married to each other, because that special hug makes babies, and every baby has a right to grow up in a family with a mom and a dad who are married to each other. But the hug can be done by people who aren’t married. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, but sometimes people do.”

What I’m trying to get at is that the issues of sexuality are all tied together. You can’t just address child abuse in a vacuum. Because then, yes, it does destroy a child’s innocence. But if you give them a vision of their own dignity as human beings, that facilitates those other, more difficult, conversations. It gives them one more ring of defense in case, God forbid, they do face a situation you can’t protect them from. And in the long run, it should help them live an integrated, holistic life, too. This is my theory. I’m the first to admit it’s unproven, but it’s in the testing phase, and so far the indications look good.

Rhyme And Reason (or: the Reason she can’t Rhyme)

Helping make cake pops, post-glasses breakage

Helping make cake pops, post-glasses breakage

I haven’t written about Julianna’s speech and cognitive development in a while. You’re ready for a post on that, right?

Last Friday morning, hours before the second day of school post-Christmas, Julianna woke up at 4:30 a.m. with terrible respiratory distress and a moderately high fever. By 7:30 a.m. I was sending emails and calling off the bus. Along with the email to her teacher, I crowed about Julianna knowing how to spell all of the “no excuse” words they’d given her. Pretty quickly I got a note back, saying basically: Yup, we know she can spell. She’s great at memorization. Not so great at concepts like “how many syllables?” and rhyming.

Rhyming! Rats. I’d forgotten that one. They told me at her parent-teacher conference last fall that we needed to work on that. So Friday morning I sacrificed my writing time to bring Julianna over to the computer and find some rhyming games.

She was abysmal at it. Nicholas can rhyme better than she can. I drew out syllables until even I was ready to smack myself for being so annoying: “Does Ha-a-a-a-a-at rhyme with Fr-o-o-o-o-g? Does Ha-a-a-a-a-at rhyme with Fr-o-o-o-o-g?” Almost half the time she just said “yes” no matter what I said.

I started having her try to say the words, and that’s when it smacked me upside the head: she can’t identify rhymes because she can’t say them. She can hear and distinguish words, yes, but her pronunciations are so far off on so many words, and it’s in the sound production that you really begin to make those kinds of connections.

In fact, her speech is actually worse lately (at least in terms of us comprehending it!), because 1) she’s trying to say so much more, to communicate so much of what’s in her head, and her poor muscles just won’t cooperate, and 2) they’ve been working with her on ending consonants, which has for some reason caused her to warp all her middle vowels. Hence, “milk” becomes “mocha” and “drink” we’ve only re-identified in the last two days as “doh-koh.” (Which is better: “deee” or “doh-koh”? Agh!) It’ll all come together eventually, but it was quite the light bulb moment, realizing that what appears to be a cognitive deficiency is actually–still–the fault of low muscle tone.

Every problem this girl has is low muscle tone related: her health problems, her speech problems…

Well, I guess the attitude can’t be blamed on that, right? 🙂

A Portrait of Nicholas


This isn’t something I do often, but just for my own sake, I want to share a glimpse of my kids, separate from how they interact with me (which is what I usually write). Since I’ve been struggling with the stage Nicholas is in a lot lately, it seems like a good idea to start with him, and what an amazing kid he really is.

  • He adores his baby brother, even though said brother has usurped his place in the world. He giggles every time Michael’s wildly-flailing fists contact any part of his body.
  • The cute speech-isms of new speaker are fast fading. This week I realized that “too-ie” has now become “cookie,” and “the nail has a tail” (the snail has a tail–sounds rather Dr. Suessish, doesn’t it?) has now become “the sail has a tail.” He drives Alex crazy by repeating everything he says. A few days ago we spent Michael’s morning nursing going back and forth on the word “harmonica.” He tried it five times, and three of them came out as “formica,” “Mo-hannah” and “har-monta.”
  • He’s getting to be a whiz at puzzles; this part of the age of three I do love, because I love doing puzzles. He’s working a 100-piece Thomas puzzle and a 30-piece fire station puzzle all by himself. Welll, mostly all by himself.
  • He loves to paint.
  • His conversations with Julianna are adorable. They trade off big sibling status; they bicker over toys three dozen times a day, but in between, they crack each other up. They like to hold hands, and he takes the lead in this matter all the time.
  • He instinctively understands that he has to ask Julianna yes or no questions, so they can converse quite fluently despite Julianna’s limited and still barely intelligible vocabulary. In fact, they converse much better with each other than Julianna does with any of the rest of us.
  • We have never had a conversation with him about Down syndrome, and thus he’s growing up with a much more organic picture of what it means to be Julianna’s brother than Alex has. It will be interesting to see how he and Alex process the subject when they get older.
  • He’s so ready to go to school. In two weeks, he’ll be screened as a peer mentor for next fall, and we plan to send him to preschool at Early Childhood Special Ed. Every day, he tells someone that “Juweeanna wides the ye-ow bus, and I wide the bwue one.” (That would be a city bus…but he’s never been on one, except in his dreams.)
  • He’s been dry at night several times, with help. We’ve undertaken a new project, you see, tired of quadruple diapering at night, and we’re getting the kids up at our bedtime and in the middle of the night when Michael nurses. Trying to train little bodies to wake up when bladders get full.
  • And yesterday, Hallelujah Lord, he reached for the open compartment on the printer….and then, remembering how many times he’s been scolded not to touch it , he stopped, looked at me and said meekly, “Do you need that closed, Mommy?” As a reward for asking, I let him close it. And then I gave him a big hug and told him how proud of him I was.

And–how appropriate–he just came over and said, “Mommy, I need you.” Translated: I want to sit on your lap. So here he sits, asking where O is and what the camera is, and did I push the “i”? and “N starts with me!” (Meaning, his name starts with N.) Another day in the life begins.

“Eyes Ahead”


If you’ve never been walking with Julianna when she runs smack into something at eye level, you might not understand why we laughed so hard when this book came home in her backpack.

My name is Julianna.

This is a story about keeping my eyes ahead.

Sometimes when I walk,
I look down at the ground.

When I look down at the ground,
I can run into things and get hurt.

Sometimes I run into walls.
It is not safe to run into walls.

Sometimes I run into doors.
It is not safe to run into doors.

Sometimes I run into friends.
It is not safe to run into friends.

If I keep my eyes ahead,
I will not run into my friends.
I will be safe.

If I keep my eyes ahead,
I will not run into doors.
I will be safe.

If I keep my eyes ahead,
I will not run into walls.
I will be safe.

My name is Julianna.
I will keep my eyes ahead.
I will be safe.

Well…at least we know what language to use now!

A Kerfuffle About Doughnuts (or, The Rules Apply to Special Needs Kids, Too!)

Doughnut covered with coconut flakes

Image via Wikipedia

By the time I got there, Alex was crying.

It began, as far too many of these encounters do, with Julianna. She took advantage of the fact that her parents were caught in conversations after church and helped herself to someone else’s juice cup. We saw her, but the people talking to us were not to be sidetracked. “Alex,” Christian said, “go get the cup away from Julianna.”

I shot Christian a glare; it’s totally inappropriate to saddle Alex with this task—for one thing, because it encourages his bossy side, but at a more basic level, Julianna doesn’t recognize his authority and it always gets ugly—but I couldn’t get out of the conversation. (I mean I couldn’t get out of it. You know the type.)

By the time I got disentangled, Alex was huddled on the floor crying with a grownup leaning over him and Julianna continuing to drink someone else’s juice in blissful…or should I say willful…unawareness of the drama playing out behind her back.

The Julianna damage was done, so I focused on Alex. I drew him into a hug, comforting him, whispering in his ear that he was in the right, no matter what the adults said.

The man looked abashed. “He tried to take the juice from her,” he said, “and I told him it would be nice of him to let her have it.”

How can I respond? He doesn’t know the history of the Julianna-versus-the-doughnut-war. For several weeks this summer, the choir had to warm up in the room where coffee and doughnuts are served after Masses. No matter what we did, she always managed to figure out when I was focused on conducting, and slip in to steal a sweet treat. Once, we managed to keep her out of them until we were packing up to head over to church. By then, the last Mass had let out and the line of people waiting for doughnuts had begun to file past the boxes. While we were stacking books and answering questions, Julianna walked straight to the front of the front of the line and grabbed a doughnut right in front of an adult…WHO LET HER DO IT.

The next week, we resolved to win the battle. We dragged her away from the table three times. She knew the rules, and was responding with a petulance that proved it. And yet the fourth time we looked her way, there she sat, eating a doughnut with one of the women staffing the table, who (it transpired) had given her one despite Alex protesting that she wasn’t allowed. (A child with special needs is never as clueless as they want you to think they are.)

Are you getting the idea, people? THE GROWNUPS ARE THE PROBLEM.

You think she’s cute, and she is. You feel sorry for her, and you decide the rules don’t apply because she has Down syndrome/cerebral palsy/autism/fill in the blank. You don’t want to be a jerk to a child with special needs, or you think they don’t understand, so you treat them as if the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them, because of their disability.

It sounds ugly, but be honest. If a “normal” child came up and tried to butt in line ahead of you and steal a doughnut, would you let him? If a “normal” child took a cup of juice from your table, would you chuckle and say “oh, how cute”? No way! You’d be firm, tell them “no,” and possibly mutter about their parents.

Think for a minute. What if my child had celiac disease? What if she was diabetic? Forget all that, let’s just talk about life. If you decide that standards of behavior don’t apply to kids with special needs, how are they supposed to turn into anything but self-centered jerks who use manipulation and a victim complex to make life living hell for everyone around them?

Kids know better. I’ve yet to see a kid that let Julianna get away with anything. Kids come to the parents and say, “Miss Kate, Julianna pushed me!” exactly as they would if the name was “Alex” or “Nicholas.” No, it’s the grownups who are the problem.

I’m fully aware that as Julianna’s parents, it’s our job to teach her acceptable and unacceptable behavior—not yours. Believe me, we’re working on it. But you make our task far more difficult when you apply double standards in the way you treat children. You add bricks to the wall that separates her from integrating into society. Because though you may think you’re acting with compassion, other children see only injustice.

And they’re right.

Pixie vs. My Little Linebacker: Smackdown!


I always expected that Nicholas would leapfrog past Julianna by the age of two, and that they would switch places in the family, he taking the position of role model, she becoming the one who looks up and tries to imitate.

It turns out it’s not that simple. This isn’t going to be a deep, insightful blog post, but I thought it might paint an interesting picture of life with Down syndrome to try to show the dynamics of these two children’s development.

In many ways, my little ones are still twins. As Nicholas grows and Julianna stays tiny and pixielike, they’re starting to look the part—enough that a mom at a birthday party the other day was shocked to discover Julianna was two years older.

The place I really expected the difference to manifest was in speech, and I was right. At 2 ¼, Nicholas is a little parrot, repeating every sound combination he can figure out, and making hilarious guesses at all the rest. We’re constantly trying to decipher what he’s trying to say, because 75% of the time he’s trying to communicate. “Five plus two,” Alex yelled from the living room the other day, and from the level of my knees, where Nicholas was helping pull dishes out of the dishwasher, I began hearing “I…puh…too. I…puh…too.” He doesn’t bother with details like closing consonants—or midword consonants, for that matter. “Daddy” becomes “Da-ee,” doggie becomes “dah-ee,” and so on.

Meanwhile, Julianna continues to communicate by yelling, pointing, grunting and signing. She has the same three or four words she’s had for quite a while: “mmmmmmmmmAH!” (moon), “d-d-d-da!” (dog), “bBAH!” (ball), and so on. (1. Yes, they all have exclamation points at the end. Speech is hard for her, and she puts her whole body into the effort.) (2. “Mama” and “dada” are not on the list, but “Ba-ba”, grandpa/grandma, makes an occasional appearance.) I’m trying now to stop responding to her demands for drinks unless she says “wawa” or “mmmmmmmuh.”

But speech delay does not mean an equivalent delay in cognition. For Julianna, the difficulty in speech is physical. Speech is largely a physical task. With “hypotonia” (low muscle tone), every physical task is harder—thus, she didn’t walk till 2½ (although the last ½ year of that delay had more to do with major illness than low muscle tone). Speech requires your tongue to do incredibly tiny, complex movements in quick succession. For one who struggles with all physical tasks, speech is bound to be delayed—but that doesn’t mean understanding lags equally.

Emotionally, Nicholas is still far behind his big sister. He follows instructions better, but it’s not because she doesn’t understand. It’s because she doesn’t want to comply…because it’s hard. I’ll hand her a pair of underwear and say, “Put on your underpants,” and she’ll hang her head and stare at my midsection, she’ll yell and point to the music box playing in the background, she’ll sign “book”—anything to avoid the task at hand. At least three times during the dressing process each morning, I have to count backward from 5. If she’s in a good mood, she hops to as soon as I start. On a bad day, I get all the way to one. But she always does the job in the end.

She understands. Oh, yes, she does. She just knows there’s something different about her, and she’s figured out how to use it to her advantage.

Another example: evening chores. At the table one night, Christian told Alex his new job was sweeping under the table after dinner, and that the little ones would take over his old job, clearing the table. Of the two little ones, Nicholas was the first one finished. We told him to take his plate to the dishwasher. Next thing I knew, Miss Stealth herself had slid down from her chair and was plodding across the kitchen floor carrying her own plate, without even being told.

Consider this your lesson in interaction with children with disabilities. Difficulty in speech does not an equally-slow brain make.

Julianna is toilet trained—Nicholas is about 1/3 of the way there. They both recognize about half the letters of the alphabet. Julianna can say “k” (when she really wants to, but it’s hard) while Nicholas still skips it or substitutes “t/d”.

Well, I’m getting long…time to stop. But we’re uniquely positioned to be able to visualize how incredibly complex is the nature of developmental delay, and I wanted to try to share that with all you fine people. I’m interested to hear from you: did this give you an “aha” moment? Was this something you already knew? Can you share examples from your own experience?

7 Quick Takes, vol. 103



I hardly ever click on anything in the Facebook sidebar, but this one caught my eye:  “What’s the point of Girls? Challenge one father’s goal for what he’s trying to raise his father to become by clicking here.”  Uh-oh, I thought.

But I was wrong. His post is stellar, and although at first I thought, “I wish I had a daughter this applied to,” I realized almost immediately that it’s even more applicable to Julianna than to her typically-developing peers. Check it out.


You know it’s campaign season when you find yourself witnessing the worst of human behavior from people you don’t even know. Here’s  an excerpt from a series of emails I got this week:

Oh, come on, people.  Really?  You are going to vote against a law that will reduce the number of breeding animals in a puppy mill from thousands to 50?  Please, think about this. 

 The HSUS sponsored Prop B was passed in California and now they pay $7.00 for a dozen eggs. The HSUS doesn’t care about puppies! They only want to turn the human race into vegitarians. They have stated they would rather see the human race die off so the other species could have the earth. I say let them lead by example. The left has always tried to use compasion as a lever to get their agenda passed. Do your research on the proposal’s sponsors and find out for yourself.

$7 for a dozen eggs in CA?  I Googled “Price of one dozen eggs in CA” and immediately found this:

Please look at response number 8, dated August, 2010.  Eggs in CA are a whopping $2.50.

As for your ludicrous portrayal of the HSUS…poppycock.  Please include the source of this rumor in your next email, I’d love to see it. 

And please, Mr. ——, use your spell check.  It’s hard to take your email seriously if you won’t even bother to present your ideas in a literate manner.


When I start getting emails like these, I just want to retreat from social media. C’mon, people. No wonder the candidates treat each other the way they do, if this is what they see from their constituents!


Well, there are happier subjects to address. I’ve been meaning to make note of it for two weeks: Nicholas has taken his first baby step out of TwinLand and ahead of his big sister. He can now repeat Mama, Dada, Wawa, Gege, Yiyi, Nana and Vava at will, on command. He’s also made progress on the toilet in the last week, for what that’s worth. But Julianna’s starting to show signs of a difference in the way she thinks & communicates, too. Christian brought home a new Signing Times video from the library, and she keeps coming up to me and signing Daddy–baby. Baby being code for her videos. After a while I realized she was asking for the Daddy Signing Times video. Ain’t that just too cute?


It’s another sleepy morning. I stayed up to finish reading Catching Fire. If you haven’t heard of this latest YA book craze, it’s time to go to the library and put your name on the waiting list. Suzanne Collins makes me despair of being able to write a well-plotted, compelling book. She’s got it down, man. When was the last time I read a book between sunup and sundown? Oh, yeah. Six weeks ago, when I read The Hunger Games.


I’ve been hard at work this week, clearing out writing projects and trying to outline in bits & pieces, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, which for those who are unfamiliar is a really stupid, hard-to-write-and-say abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. Let me tell you, I am feeling intimidated. I know all the back stories for my characters, all the things that have to happen to them, but the thought of figuring out what events it takes to get them there, and have those events actually draw people in…I don’t know, from this side of November 1st, that just seems more than a little overwhelming!


But I’m sure once I get started writing, things will begin to flow. There’s only so much you can do in prep, and then you just have to plunge in. And I warn you, I have quite a few writing blog topics in mind.

Have a great Halloween!

7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 103)

At the Grocery Store

The first course of an Aldi-Nord Filiale in Do...

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe it only happens to me, but it seems like some of the most profound experiences happen in the grocery store. There was the day when judgment turned into compassion. The encounter with people who really do “have their hands full.”

And then, this.

Sunday afternoon at Aldi. The usual motley assortment of people: an older black woman with long hair extensions; the mixed-race couple with an adorable little girl in Target-size polka dots; the huge black guy calling home for instructions; me, the slobbily-dressed white woman. And a middle-aged hippy-esque white woman, admonishing, “This will take a lot less time if you’re nice,” echoing the sentiments I communicate every time I’m forced to grocery shop with my munchkins. Only she is talking to a person who is very obviously not a small child. A 4 ½-foot tall person with straight dark hair, like my daughter’s. A person who walks on the insides of her feet, just like my daughter.

My insides electrify. Trying not to stare, I work my way up the warehouse-stacked aisle, consult my list. Flour. Saltines. Olives. I pull even with the cart. The woman has disappeared around the corner, and the girl has her face buried in her hands, crying. Exactly like Julianna cries when she gets scolded. It’s all I can do not to throw my arms around her and rock her.

The mother comes back and fixes me with a fiercely protective glare. Hastily, I stop looking, open the glass door and pull out a jug of 2% milk. Behind me, the woman murmurs kind words, and her daughter stops crying.

Must not stare, I tell myself, and linger at the butter and yogurt while they continue on ahead.

I catch up to them again halfway up the next aisle. They are talking as I speed past without turning my head to look. Nothing profound. Just “do you want?” and “can I have?” Simple, everyday words. Such beauty: words. Out of the mouth of a girl who was once just like mine.

Stop staring. Tomato juice. Pepparoni stick. I must look like such a jerk to this mother. I want to stop and say, I’m not a creep. I have a daughter with Down’s. I want to take her by the elbow and say, “Tell me everything! Seeing you is like glimpsing my own future. I knew it would be good, but it’s so much more beautiful than I could have guessed!”

I’m sure she would melt instantly, open up and tell me more than I could possibly process in one encounter. That’s how I would react. Parents who share this experience are almost universally unable to shut up when we encounter each other. I’ve had profound conversations with complete strangers whose children look like mine at Kidz Court, at O’Hare International, and at Tampa International airports. (And I hardly ever fly.)

But today, my inhibitions stop me. Because this child is older—on the cusp of adulthood, even. And now her feelings must be consulted, too. We can no longer talk around her, speak for her. And I don’t know how to do that without talking down to her.

And yet, the glow of that near miss remains with me two days later, promising that my heart is poised to expand again. Coming as it does on the heels of reading some heartbreakingly callous comments online, I can only whisper inadequately: Thank you.

Visit On, In and Around Mondays for more snapshots of place and time.

Alex faces


He goes off to school now, and last night, as I lay awake thinking about him, I realized that he spends more of his day away from me than with me. He has a whole series of experiences every day that have nothing to do with me, experiences that I will never share, the way I shared his first years.

Case in point: He’s been a Batman boy for almost a year, after a years-long stint as Superman, and yet his kindergarten friend had only to talk for a week about Iron Man for Alex to shift loyalty completely to a superhero about whom we know very little. (Although we’re learning.)

It doesn’t make me weepy or anything…in fact, Alex is a whole other world from the little ones. All of a sudden, right before school started, he climbed another notch on the developmental ladder, coloring neatly, making recognizable drawings and recognizable Lego creations. This one, for instance, developed into a basketball player with his leg bent and resting on the ball shortly after I took the picture. Being his parent, I have the luxury (if I want to) of sitting back and just watching it all happen…a far cry from my second-born with her endless delays and my third-born, who seems unmotivated to exit babyhood. Alex goes full-speed ahead.

It’s often hard to remember, then, that he’s still a little boy, who falls apart when he gets tired, who has to wear pullups to bed, who needs to be taught how to clean his room. It must be hard to be the oldest in a family with so much babyhood hanging around.

But then I see those big eyes, glowing brown in the sun, and I turn all gooey inside, and I grab my Iron Man and pull him on my lap and tickle him and chew on his cheeks and rub noses with him, and we reset to Mommy and little boy all over again. And life is good.

Linked to “You Capture: Faces” at I Should Be Folding Laundry.