Sunday, March 09, 2008


"Here Mom."

"Thank you sweetie."

Everyone was getting a tad impatient. Because we are all terribly important and terribly busy. But she didn't seem to notice or, more likely, did notice but didn't care. Her boy was on his tippy toes reaching into the cart and handing her one item at a time. His short arms were just long enough to reach, but not without struggle, not without time. When done, he looked back at us and smiled - the smile that has raised millions for Down Syndrome support services all over the world. It's a keeper smile, that's for sure.

I thought of him, of them, only this morning as I sat down to write this blog post. The story I wanted to tell was of our shopping trip yesterday to Zehrs in North Barrie. We had headed to a movie but by the time we got up there the snow was falling thick and fast, we realized that by the time the movie was over and we went to do the grocery shopping the roads would be dangerous. So we skipped the movie and headed right to the store.

Joe let me off right at the front of the store and then went to park. He came and and we started shopping together. Maybe the snow created a Christmassy atmosphere because everyone in the store seemed hell bent on helping me as I shopped. All I had to do was stop to look at something and someone was asking to reach something for me, get something for me, or expressed concern that I was 'all right'. I was in a 'just be polite' mood and I thanked everyone for their offer of help as I refused the same.

I could tell by the look on Joe's face that he was relieved that I wasn't going to get all strident with everyone. There are times he just wants to shop, be together without 'issues' with disability getting into the mix. And, frankly, there I times I want the same. So we just shopped, picked up some treats we couldn't really afford but - it was a snowy day.

Joe got in line at one of the checkout tills and I told him I'd roll on over to the front of the store. I was brought up short just short of my goal but a rack of bargain DVD's. This rack was just in front of one of the self check outs so I parked, got my reading glasses out of my wheelchair bag, and began to browse. I love to browse. Time passes so deliciously when browsing, I think. A moment later a guy, about my age (why does my age look older on them than it does on me?) asked if the self serve stand in front of me was being used. I said, "No go ahead," and went back to browsing.

I glanced up at him and he had one of those really pleasant faces that men get when they are old enough to be grandparents. He was picking up each item, finding the bar code and scanning it in. Then all activity stopped he was looking at a tomato with great frustration. Then he looked over at me and said, while thrusting the tomato in my direction, "Can you read that number for me, I forgot to bring my glasses." I glanced at the yellow sticky on the tomato and read out several numbers for him. He keyed the numbers in and went on with his purchase.

A smile must have flickered across my face because he said to me, "Did I say something funny?" His tone was definately not hostile but intensely curious. I was a bit startled, I hadn't felt the smile - my body must have been having it's own private response to his request - like it was secretly pleased to be asked to help. "No, no," I stumbled at bit, "It's just that the whole time I've been here in this store, people have been thrusting their help onto me, I didn't want it, didn't need it, didn't ask for it - but they offered anyways. It was just really nice to be asked to give help, not take it."

He nodded as if that all made sense to him and then went back to scanning items.

Now I get what that kid was smiling about. I get what that mother was doing. She was letting him be able, letting him help, letting him do what he could. His smile said to all of us that he could do things to help - he didn't need to take constantly. I'm not sure anyone got the lesson, being blinded by the beauty of that smile. And I don't think I really did myself, until now. Realizing that my body smiled when being asked to give, to assist someone else I kind of get what was going on. What kind of parenting was happening.

It's nice to be needed.

It's nice to give help.

I'm so thankful that he forgot his glasses. That he came to the till in front of me. That he had me read his tomato. It was a small thing, but it changed my perception of the day. Of myself. Something rearranged inside of me. I knew I still had something to offer.

That was the reason, I think ...

for the smile.


Anonymous said...

You should be a Zhers when me & my son go shopping. A trip that would take me 10 minutes on my own lasts almost an hour with him. We need to stop to get a cookie from the bakery. We have to stop to chat with the lobsters. When we get to the check-out, Adam helps to unload the groceries (making sure that the donuts stay with him), and he helps to scan my debit card. He pushes the "OK" button, and the "Checking" button. Lord help me when he figures out my PIN code! I am so proud of him. No "Life Skills" class is going to teach my son how to do groceries. I will teach him that, thank you very much. Let me tell you, he knows alot more about doing groceries at 5 than my girls did at that age.
So, if you ever happen to visit the Zhers in Niagara Falls, please stop & say hi to us. You can't miss us. Especially now since Adam has figured out how to use the do-it-yourself check out. Wjat was I thinking??? Our trips are going to be closer to 2 hours now!

Anjie (mom to Adam)

Kei said...

Yes, but Anjie, Adam is just so darn cute with that brilliant flashing smile and those twinkling blue eyes!
William loves to help at the grocery store too, handing me things, handing the clerk the frequent shopper card. His big thing is stopping by the books/magazine section and pouring over the books to find one he really wants.
He has learned to ask for help when he wants it, and he does say, "no, thank you" when I offer to help and he doesn't want it. Which shortly afterwards is followed by, "see, I did it myself!"

rechal said...

About 20-25 years ago, McDonald's did a commercial starring a young man with Down Syndrome. The last line was something like, "All my life people have wanted to help me. Now I like to say, 'Welcome to McDonald's. May I help you?'"

rechal said...

Ha! Found it on YouTube. It aired during the SuperBowl in 1991.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anjie. I teach my daughter life skills all the time. My daughter loves to press the ok button too. So much of her life has negative comparisons in it, what she can't do that other kids her age can do. But sometimes I am surprised by things that she can do and do better than her older brothers could do at her age.
Her disabilities don't mean that she isn't plenty able too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

I keep wanting to help my in-law relative, visiting for a few days. I don't know if that help is wanted. In-law does ask for help when needed, and specifies exactly what and how and where. So it's not like *all* help is unwanted, or like I *never* know what to do. But I keep wanting to do *more*.

So thank you. Thank you for breaking through, I think, to the well-meaning but more than a little dopey clueless in-law that is me.