A couple of weeks ago, I got the chance to meet a family that had just welcomed a beautiful baby with Down syndrome. While the mom and I had talked on the phone and had been texting for a few months, we had never actually met in person.
When Moses was a baby, I can remember almost desperately looking to other families with kids with Down syndrome for reassurance that everything really was going to be okay. Normal even. I was so excited that now it was my turn to make a great impression about having a child with Down syndrome and show her what an amazing, normal family we really are.
When we got to their house, Moses had decided to take off his shoes, braces, and socks on the drive over. While I was putting them back on, Josie had taken the baby’s gift and gone up to the front door. After I got Moses situated and out of the van, I got the coffees I had picked up on the way and started herding him towards the door where Josie was semi-patiently waiting. When Moses and I got to the steps on the sidewalk, I put the coffees down to get him down the steps a little quicker. Of course, he wasn’t having any of that since he can do it on his own, so I picked the coffees back up and semi-patiently waited for him to get down the first step.
By this point, Josie can hardly stand that she hasn’t gotten to meet the new baby yet, so I told her she could go ahead and knock on the door. Moses was making his way towards the second step, but his progress was slowed by the leaves and sticks that needed to be examined on his path. When the door to the house opened, a sweet yellow lab came barreling out, right past the child that loves animals and straight to the one that has a healthy dislike of them. So now Moses is not moving at all, my hands are full with the drinks, and Josie’s welcoming herself into this new home.
The mom came out and got the dog, but Moses wasn’t making any effort to continue his trek down the steps. So I walked to the porch, put the coffee cups down, went back to pick him up before he could head back to the van, and got him to the front door. After I put him back down and picked up the coffees, I was ready to meet that baby and hopefully calm any reservations or fears the mom might be having about having a child with Down syndrome, if she was having any at all.
After introductions were made, Josie and I went right over to where that sweet baby was sleeping and we ooh’d and aww’d over her perfect little eyes, nose, mouth, and hands, and we giggled at how her hair stood straight up. Standing up, I said, “Moses, come see the baby!” and looked over to where I thought he was.
He wasn’t there.
“Moses?” The mom said she thought he was in the middle of the fort her other kiddos had been working on. I walked over and looked. Nope, not there. I stuck my head around the corner into the playroom.
Not there, either.
“I brought him inside right?” As I said those words, I was inwardly cringing at what this mom must be thinking of me. Pretty sure losing your kid within the first three minutes of meeting does not elicit feelings of confidence and normalcy. The mom said she was pretty sure he came inside, but as I was opening the front door to make sure, I heard him.
“Moses! Where are you?” And then he appeared at the top of the steps. While Josie and I had made a beeline for the baby, Moses made himself at home and went straight upstairs. Apologizing, I ran up the stairs and carried him back down. The mom assured me he was fine and that there was nothing up there that he could hurt.
Now, I’m the type of person that doesn’t say such things if I don’t mean them, so when others say such things to me, I go with it. So after he looked at the baby for about 7 seconds and walked away, I wasn’t worried about where he was going since I knew he was at least safely inside.
As the mom and I talked and got to know each other, Josie went off to play with the other kids for a few minutes, but then she was back to ask if she could hold the baby. Josie loves babies. She pretends like she’s pregnant at least once a week and then loves those babies after they magically get out of her stomach. Getting to hold a real baby is like holding a little piece of heaven for that girl.
While Josie sat on the couch and held the baby, the mom and I continued chatting while I made sure that Josie was supporting the baby’s head and kept an eye out for Moses. After a few minutes, it was becoming clear that the baby was hungry, so I took her from Josie to give her to her momma. As the mom got settled in to nurse her, Josie went over and sat right next to her. Like she wanted to watch to see exactly how this baby was getting fed since as there was no bottle in sight.
“Josie, go play.”
“Josie, go check on your brother. Now.”
Reluctantly, Josie left the room and thankfully didn’t come back until after the baby had finished nursing.
In the time that we were there, I could tell that this was a mom that I could totally be friends with. She was easy to talk to, and we talked about several things in addition to some questions she had about my experiences with Moses and Down syndrome.
As we talked, it was kind of cool for me to realize how normal Down syndrome really has become for me and my family. I vividly remember being in her shoes with a newborn and learning about First Steps, therapies, health screenings, etc. I did my best to assure her that while I know it can be overwhelming at first, there really are great supports available and it doesn’t take too long to settle in to this new normal place.
And then the hour I had given us to stay was up. I called for Josie and walked over to call Moses to come downstairs only to find that he had thrown no less than 15 stuffed animals and a couple of books down the stairs.
He appeared at the top of the steps with a huge smile and another stuffed animal to chuck down the steps.
Apologizing, I told Josie to help me clean up the carnage, but the mom stopped us and assured me it was no big deal and that her other kids would take them back upstairs. Praying that she meant what she said and that she wasn’t crying on the inside, I went to gather up Moses who had wandered into the playroom. Before he could make any more of a mess, I told him to come say goodbye. Carrying a toy with him, he came over and said, “Bye.”
Josie, seeing an opportunity to be helpful, grabbed the toy and when Moses tried to pull it back, he fell and hit his head pretty hard on my knee. I prayed it would play it tough, but he promptly started wailing. Doing my best to act like this was nothing, I gave the mom a quick hug, told her how amazing it was to meet her and her kiddos, and told her to call or text me if she needed anything.
Moses cried the whole walk back to the van then promptly stopped and smiled when I told him he could watch Elmo on the way home. By the time we pulled away, he was happy watching Elmo, Josie was talking about the sweet little baby, and I was thinking that I had absolutely failed at making a great first impression. I wanted to say to her, “I promise we’re totally normal!” But as I drove, I started laughing at the whole ordeal and decided that while it may not have been a great impression, it definitely wasn’t a boring one!
We may not have made the impression I had hoped to make, but I do pray that she saw that we are more or less an amazing, normal family. I think when some parents have a baby with Down syndrome, there is an apprehension that there will be a lack of normalcy – with the baby and life in general. The awesome thing is that life with a baby with Down syndrome is totally normal. If anything, the only way it’s abnormal is that it’s better than you could have ever imagined.