Friday, December 12, 2008

The Girl at the Grocery Store

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this just from the title. Yes, there is a girl who bags groceries at my local grocery store, and she has Ds. (I know I mentioned her in some of my very early posts.) I don't know her name. I don't know how old she is, but she looks to be a young adult . . . in the 18 - 22ish range? I've never spoken with her, except to say "thank you" when she has bagged my groceries, and that was before Finn was born and before I was in this situation.

Lately, though, whenever I see her, I have this longing to talk to her. I want to ask her about her life. What does she do for fun? What is her living arrangement? Does she go to school? Does she have a boyfriend? Is she happy? (Contrary to the stereotypes that run rampant out there, this girl does not look compulsively happy.)

Do you know, in my entire life, I've never had a single conversation with a person with Down syndrome. For some reason that makes me feel very sad. I've encountered people with Ds, but I've never spoken to any :( A couple years ago, I hired a fellow MOMS Club member to watch my little ones a couple times a week so I could run errands and stuff (her kids would be at school). She has a daughter with Ds, who at the time was 7 or 8 years old. She brought her over with her once, and I did encounter her at a few park days, but I never conversed with her. The truth is, she intimidated me. I am very, very ashamed of those feelings now. The mom and I have since lost touch, and in fact, it ended very badly (it didn't have anything to do with her daughter).

Back to The Girl at the Grocery Store. The last several times I've been there (this isn't the market I usually go to, it's my "alternate" market), I see her from a distance, bagging someone else's groceries in another checkout lane. And I always wish that I'd "luck out" and end up with her bagging my groceries (you know how the baggers move around from checkout to checkout). I almost always have Finn with me, so I think to myself, "If she sees him, maybe she'll see that he has Ds, and maybe she'll strike up a conversation with me about him . . . ???"

I dunno. It's weird. What right do I have, anyway, to want to intrude into her life, just because I suddenly find myself the parent of a child with Ds? Seriously.

And how do you approach someone for the first time, anyway - either a person with Ds, or a parent of a child with Ds? I have no idea what the "correct" or "proper" way to introduce the subject is. "So, I notice you have Down syndrome. My baby has Down syndrome. Can we talk?" Really. And as a parent, I ask myself how I would want to be approached (nobody has come out and asked me yet about Finn and whether he has Ds . . . but maybe that's because I spent so much time blurting it out to anyone who glanced in my direction, that now everyone in my county knows already?). But I have no answer to this either. Honestly, if someone approached me and asked point blank "Does your son have Ds?" I would probably feel a little heartbroken because there's still a part of me that wants to believe that it doesn't show on his face . . . much. And anyway, you can't just ask someone that. What if you're wrong?

Anyhow, I know for certain that The Girl at the Grocery Store has Ds. But I don't know what to say to her, and I don't know that I really have the right to say anything at all to her.


Chrystal said...

I have "The Girl at My Job" and I completely understand what you mean. I want to talk to her, but who says she wants to talk to me?!

Nick McGivney said...

I think that you might find that being direct and honest gets you what you need to know. If she's having a bad day you'll see it. If she wants to connect you'll see it. Would you think so hard about it if you shared a love of abstract math, or would you just immerse? Try it. It's just living. Also, for what it's worth, Dan Drinker's blog (check him out in NY in the latest post) always keeps me grounded.

Ruby's Mom said...

I know exactly what you're talking about.Since I've had my baby girl who has DS I just want to talk to everyone I see that has DS or sometimes whoever is with them but I always think,can I do that?Will they be insulted? I don't think I would feel upset if someone like you or another mom of a child with DS came up to me to talk.I would feel I had found a kindred spirit.

Keri said...

Because of my cousin, I've never been daunted by speaking to those with DS. When I was in high school, this meant that I had all the kids with DS bagging for me when I worked as a cashier. Partly this was due to the fact that I wasn't uncomfortable working with them and partly because I was good at teaching the new kids to bag, so I trained most of the baggers I worked with anyways. Based on this experience, I'd advise you NOT to speak to the girl while she is working unless she speaks to you first (other than the traditional paper or plastic question). Some of the kids with DS I had bagging for me were really low functioning and really had to concentrate on what they were doing (and boy did they take pride in doing a good job!). Others could chat- and did. Mostly questions about new foods that they thought looked good. :)

As for addressing adults with DS children, my cousin tells me that she was always happy to connect with another parent. She said the best conversations she had generally started with people asking if she had a minute to talk (because she didn't always have a minute and appreciated being able to delay the conversation to another time), then asking if my cousin's daughter had DS. She preferred (irrationally according to her) that people didn't assume. I know everyone will be different, but I hope this helps!

Darla said...

I had two stepbrothers. One was Todd, the other was Tony. Tony had down syndrome and he was definitely the better of the two. If I was sad, Tony would come and pet my hair. He cried if I cried. He couldn't stand to see pain. He hugged tighter than other people. If anyone was getting yelled at or a spanking, he would cover his ears and yell No! He loved animals and was so gentle. He should have worked with animals when he got older. He had a sense if humor and laughed a lot. I knew he was different than other people and I had heard the ugly word mongoloid ( I will never stop hating this word, it sounds inhuman) mentioned in reference to him, but as a child I didn't know what made Tony different. I just knew I loved him dearly. He was the best kind of human being.

This is back when..and I still get choked up and brought to tears when I think about it...people used to institutionalize children that had down syndrome. He wasn't with us all the time, just one weekend a month usually. For a long time, he never wanted to go back to his other "home" when he came to visit but there came a time when he was an adult that he didn't want to leave his other home to come see us.

I blamed my stepmother for this. She was normal but because of having Tony and then several miscarriages, she found out that she had mosaic down syndrome in some of her cells and was considered to be a genetic carrier. It had never shown in her family before, but at the time she was conceived, both of her parents were airlplane mechanics, so who knows? The genetic revelation made her feel defective in some way and she actually was uncomfortable having Tony around because he reminded her of her own perceived imperfections. I am sure it was painful to her but from a child's perspective, the situation was monstrous.

As we became adults, the chances to see him were few and far between. No matter how I changed ( that extra 40 pounds for example ) or how long it had been (the longest was 5 years) , he still remembered me. If I had a baby etc, he would say, "Is this your baby, Darla? What's his name?"

He is now 42. I want to see him again but because my father and stepmother are ashamed about how little effort they've made to see him and have even moved away from the area he lives in, they wont tell me where he is so that I can visit. They say it will just upset him. I could choke them when they say it. I want him to know that I still love him, for what it's worth.

Because of Tony, I have always made the effort to talk to people with down syndrome and I notice them probably as much as you do. I want to make them feel like everyone else and so I try to treat them the same as I do everyone else. I extend my hand and say, "Hi, I'm Darla, what's your name?"

Your motivation is no less than mine. Just say Hi like you would to anyone else. It can't hurt. You can also try volunteering at an organization near you that supports kids and or adults with down syndrome.

Now you know the other reasons why I follow your blog. I want everyone to live happily ever after.

heather said...

We have a boy that is the bagger at our grocery store. I always try to get his check out lane when he is working. I just talk to him as he bags my groceries. Not about down syndrome or MOrgan but just talk to him. His name is Andy so I usually say, "How's your day going today, Andy"? And he just starts talking away to me. He usually tells me what his plans are for the evening, what he did last night, and goes on and on. I love it! As far as the question on how to address another family with a child with Ds. I've struggled with that one. But I know that when someone has approached me I have felt a little like kindred spirits. But you have to be careful because I know one of my friends approached someone at a bball game and said, "Oh, I see your baby has Down syndrome...So does our son." To which the person got a little offended and let him know their baby did NOT have Down syndrome. Sometimes it's hard to tell! :) I usually make some sort of comment to the mom in passing that we also have an angel in our family or something in that regard. They always get what I mean and seem to be glad to have someone reach out to them. Actually some of my closest friends in the beginning were other moms that I met at Costco! :)I know I've said this before...but I so love following your journey. I've been there before and it's fun to be able to remember all the thoughts, fears, hopes, questions from those first years! You are doing a great job with Finn!

I know this is getting long but I wanted to add that when MOrgan was first born my biggest disappointment was that she was going to look different. I really got hung up on the looks. I thought about how family pictures were always going to be different now, etc. And then I talked to a mom that had a daughter in her 20s that really struggled with the mental retardation aspect. She made a comment that she doesn't care that she isn't a beauty queen or the prettiest girl in the neighborhood but that she had a really hard time understanding why no matter how hard she tried her ability to learn would always be limited. I completely understand her now. Morgan looking different doesn't matter to me anymore. I think she is beautiful! The hardest thing for me now is the mental retardation but the nice thing is is that she CAN learn and do so much--so much more than I ever imagined when I was told my daughter had Down syndrome. She is talking, reading sight words, and really doing everything other kids in kindergarten are doing at this age. Finn is going to AMAZE you! I promise! :)

Erin said...

I have the same impulse to talk to any and every person I see with DS. And...well...I think I have! And I haven't had a bad experience yet, most times the parents have always been so eager to talk to me and answer any questions I have. And I had a close friend whose cousin had DS and she came over one day after Addie was born and we just sat and talked just so I could interact with her as I hadn't had any experience with people with DS. And she really enjoyed it! She still talks to her mom about that day so that makes me feel good that I wasn't intruding on her life....hope this helps! I think you should say hi and just tell her that seeing her has been an encouragment for you since you just had a child with DS....I think it would make her day.

Kari said...

Hello My name is Kari. Happy I stumbled across your blog. I found it via Gifts Personal blogs. I can really relate to this post. There is a man at our dollar store that has T21 and he is always staring at Tristan. He often looks at me like he wants to ask me something. One day I gently smiled and nodded at him and sure enough he smiled back with the knowing look. Now he always smiles and waves to me. The kind of smile that says we share a special bond or secret or something. Unfortunately the man only speaks French so we cant communicate much further than that as my french is horrible. He gave Tristan a candy cane the other day and wished him a Merry Christmas. :) Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

"I have no idea what the "correct" or "proper" way to introduce the subject is".

I love this post, Lisa. How about a simple, friendly, hi or hello.

rickismom said...

I would advice not "talking" to the person with DS at their job. One, they may well have been taught (as they should have been) to be wary of anyone attempting non-standard conversation. Two, sone adults with Down syndrome are touchey about the subject. My daughter, age 14, knows she has Down syndrome, but doesn't like too much to talk about it. Sometimes she will give a knowing smile if she sees a kid with Down s., other days she's not in the mood.
I have friends, and I have seen their adult kids with DS (their kids haven't met me) in public, and as much as I wanted to say "Hi, I know your Mom.,I squashed the impulse....
As for "(Contrary to the stereotypes that run rampant out there, this girl does not look compulsively happy.)" , FORGET that stereotype. I just "ain't so"!

As for approuching parents with younger kids, IF your child is with you, a few glances and smiles will usually do it. If not, USUALLY it is pretty safe, but you never know for sure.
Anyone interested in a view of life with a child with DS, who is 14, is welcome to come "visit":