“She has Down syndrome…or Autism…or something…just get away from her,” were the words spoken by a mom this week when my daughter, Hope, who has Down syndrome, tried to give her little girl a hug in the swimming pool. She whispered the statement, but made sure her words were loud enough for me to hear and to get the message: Her daughter was not going to be welcomed for any interaction with my Hopey.
It happens all too frequently. I’ve said many times that a disability is a mirror from which the best and the worst is reflected in the human race. At restaurants, when I walk in with TWO special needs kiddos, people either offer a warm smile or quickly look away with a furrowed brow or a smirk…more times than I’d like to recount, folks have even asked to be moved. To another table. Far away from us. Because my children have ‘Down syndrome…or Autism…or something’. I’ve been turned away by churches, told by complete strangers to ‘use more discipline’, and have been uninvited to social gatherings. And while all of those instances have been hurtful, they haven’t stung near as much as what happened this week in that darned swimming pool.
All moms love their children and work diligently to protect them. For special needs moms, that “love and protect” meter goes up around 1000%. It’s true. With stealth-like skill, I now pride myself on how quickly I can re-direct Hope and Charlie’s attention, standing as an obstacle between them and stares that last a little too long, or how I can break out into an impromptu song whenever I hear careless words being uttered a bit too close for comfort. I’m a one-person act at all times, pulling tricks out of my hat wherever I go. Just watch me…you’ll see. A pediatrician once told me it would be impossible for me to keep Hope and Charlie in my bubble. “The world may sometimes be cruel,” he said, shaking his head, “but they are going to have to learn to live in it.” I laughed in his face, and told him I’d bounce them around in that bubble until my dying breath. haha. But he was right. On this particular day in the swimming pool, the bubble I had created, popped. Whooooosh! There it was, smack dab in front of me…Hope seeking to make a friend, and a mom pulling her daughter away from my daughter because of a stupid label. Let me tell you, THAT is hard. Unbearably hard.
Yes, of course, I tried to create a distraction by making a complete fool of myself. Pretending to be a fish, I ducked my head into the water and blew bubbles, spouted water from my mouth, and even nibbled at my daughter’s toes as they dangled in the water…no matter what I did, though, Hopey still strained her head around to watch as that mother pulled her daughter out of the pool. My little girl may be non-verbal, but the look on her face spoke volumes as she sought to process the rejection. And that’s exactly what it was. Rejection.
Hopey is ten and Charlie is seven. I am many things, but I am not naive. Both kiddos have mountains to climb due to everything that makes them “special”, but I fear their Mount Everest will be learning to live in a society that is sometimes unwilling to embrace them as they are. Think about it. Rejection is difficult for those of us who don’t have special needs and who can understand that sometimes people are just cruel, thoughtless, or even afraid. But imagine if you were unable to understand. Lord Jesus! Right? All of this became crystal clear to me this week. And it changed me. While my desire has always been to protect Hope and Charlie, perhaps the better alternative is that I tell their stories, sharing how they are much more like everyone else than they are different….until they are accepted and don’t need to be protected any longer. Oh, what a wonderful world that would be.
“Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for ME…” ~Jesus