It was a weekend for parents. It had been well planned, they had day activities for children (of all ages) and long breaks with good food. The idea was to create an atmosphere where parents could both get information and be pampered all at the same time. It was perfect for me, as the speaker, too. I mean I like long breaks and good food too.
Though most of the parents came in couples, my audience was primarily singles. Many of the dads decided that goofing off in the city was a much more interesting way to spend time than sitting listening to someone talk about their child's disability. None of the women seemed to mind, some even seemed relieved. There were a few men there, all but one sat dutifully by their wives sides. This guy just sat on his own, listening and taking notes. He asked a couple of questions and there was something about him that really impressed me.
At one of the long breaks he sat down beside me and we chatted. It turned out that his wife was with him but was staying back at the hotel keeping an eye on their son. They felt that he was too young to be left in day care and they didn't want to miss the opportunity to get away and to learn things to help them parent. "Before you even think it," he said defensively, "I'm here because I'm better at taking notes and keeping information arranged than my wife is. I take just as much care of our son."
We chatted about their little boy, Owen, and he was bubbly with love for the kid. Something was really odd though. He seemed to have had no difficulty adjusting to a child with Down Syndrome. Most parents get to the point of total love and acceptance of their child, but for many there's a bit of a journey through grief and a time of adjustment. I felt none of that from this man. I didn't know how to ask, but I wanted to know, "Excuse me for asking, and there is no easy way to do this, did you have any difficulty at all with learning your child had Down Syndrome."
"No, not at all," he said and his smile widened.
I told him that I was surprised, just a bit, by this.
He said, "We have George to thank for that."
There was a story there and I asked to hear it. He tapped his watch indicating that break was over and I had to return to the podium. I went back to talking, he went back to making notes, but my mind spent all of it's time glancing at the watch wanting to hear about George. When I finished the day was over and I caught him packing up and asked him to tell me the story, he said that he'd tell me the next day as he had to get back and give his wife a breather. She was going shopping and meeting with some friends. He didn't want to keep her waiting.
So he kept me waiting.
And I am keeping you waiting.
That's how things work in the real world.
The next morning he arrived just before the day started. His wife and baby Owen were in tow and everyone fussed around mother and child. Then it was time to start. She and Owen headed out for the day and hubby took his seat amongst the others. Finally, at first break, we were able to talk again.
Dad told me that he worked in a factory that made paint. I told him that until he said it I kind of thought that paint cans were picked off trees. I had no idea that someone actually made paint. Then he began the story. George was a guy with Down Syndrome who had a job placement at the paint factory. He worked with the janitorial team and was scheduled to be there only for a couple of weeks. But he took to the job, the men took to him, and he was hired. Full time at full pay. He was just part of the crew. This was, he said, several years before his wife would become pregnant with Owen.
He'd forgotten that George had Down Syndrome for the most part as the years past George was just George. Part of the janitorial crew, part of his shift rotation, part of the team. Big deal he had Down Syndrome, bigger deal was that he got along famously with everyone and had a wicked sense of humour. He knew little about George's private life and didn't much think about it either. When his wife became pregnant and he announced it to the team, George gave him a hug and told him he'd be a great Dad. He stopped here, looked away from me and blinked tears away. Back in control he told me that he was grateful for this because he wanted to be a Dad but was afraid of all the responsibility, the reassurance was just what he needed.
That summer, the summer of his wife's pregnancy, at the annual company picnic and baseball tournament, George suprised everyone by showing up with his girlfriend. He could tell she had a disability but he didn't have Down Syndrome like George. About midway through the picnic one of the bosses called everyone to order and said that George had an announcement to make. George came to the front with his girlfriend and announced that they were engaged to be married. The place cheered George who grinned back at everyone.
It would be almost one week later that he and his wife would get the news that the baby had an extra chromosone, Down Syndrome. The doctor, after delivering the news said, "I think it's best that we schedule the abortion now."
His wife, reeling from the shock of the news said, "Wait."
She turned to him and said, "What if this is George? He's got a job, he's engaged. What if we are giving up George."
He turned to the doctor and said, "Thanks for the information, but we're having this baby."
The doctor did not look kindly on their decision but saw that they were resolute.
So Owen George was borne.
They gave their baby that middle name to remind them of all the possibilities they wanted for Owen as he grew, but also because one day Owen would ask where his names came from. And they had a story to tell him.