The elevator door opened. Right in front of us were a young, and handsome, couple who were pushing a stroller with a very young child, a girl, who was looking up at us and smiling. Because they needed a little time to move over for us to get out, I had a chance to wave at and say hello to the baby.
I think I need to stop now and say that I'm a 'baby-wave-at' kind of person. I like babies, I like how they look at me. Sometimes they look at me as if I'm magical, seeing me glide across a room in my wheelchair. I like the wonder in their eyes. Being magical beats being marginal every day of the week. So, I baby wave.
The baby grinned at me and I said to her parents, "What a beautiful kid you've got there." I meant it. They knew it. As we passed them I caught the little girl's father's eye. He looked at me with ...
Now this is difficult. I knew I saw something in those eyes. I knew it. As Joe and I did our business in the mall, those eyes came back to haunt me. I knew immediately that the look he'd given me had been, at least partially, because his little girl had Down Syndrome. You may wonder how I knew his look was related to his child's difference. Well, because I'm a baby wave at kind of person. I've done it for years. I've seen a lot of parents eyes. Some think it's weird, but there are surprisingly few of those, I think, maybe, because there are a lot of us who do the same thing. Most smile and help the baby wave back or in some other way acknowledge the greeting their child has received. So, I'm a bit of an expert. I can say no other parent, not one, had the eyes of that man with that child waiting for that elevator.
I thought at first that what I saw was a kind of gratitude. I wondered if it was because his child was getting the kind of ordinary kind of interaction that children get when they are that young. But I knew, somehow, that that didn't fit.
It didn't fit with the tiredness I saw in his eyes.
It didn't fit with the wariness I saw in his eyes.
It didn't fit with the readiness I saw in his eyes.
Then, it struck me. I knew.
His eyes showed his relief. Relief that his child was receiving a normal, typical reaction that babies get from total strangers. Relief, not gratitude. I don't think he'd be grateful for such a thing. I think he was relieved that, this time, his child wasn't receiving the kind of reaction that is reserved for children with disabilities, the kind of reaction that is most pronounced with children with Down Syndrome.
And I felt for him.
And I felt for his wife.
They will have to bear watching their child bear those reactions. Reactions that judge. Reactions that diminish. Reactions that demean. Reactionary reactions of those who reject difference and are repelled by disability.
But then ...
I realized a mistake. I felt all these things for the parents. I do feel all these things for parents. But I forgot to realize that this months old baby, like all babies, is learning about her world. And that she is learning that the world she lives in isn't as welcoming, isn't as safe and isn't as inclusive as she needs. She is learning from the stares, and the whispers, and from being struck as the pitying glances glance off her parents armour and strike her instead. She is learning.
Our work for an inclusive society hasnt' been fast enough for her.
Our work for a welcoming community hasn't been fast enough for her.
Our work for the opportunity to have a loving family and access to a real childhood has come in time.
And because of that there is hope that one day there will also be an inclusive, welcoming world for her to live in.
Judging by the wariness and the readiness in her father's eyes, judging by the way her mother spoke to her so lovingly, they know that she will need their love, their protection and their advocacy until she can grow into her own voice in her own world where she will make her own way.