Sometimes it must be hard to be Charley. Wanting to fit in. Sitting on the fence of different and same. If he stays on the side of different, the way is cleared for him to be a twenty-two year old boy in a man’s body, refusing to take a shower. If he stays on the side of sameness, wanting to be like everyone else, then what we have is a man in a man’s body, expected to take the shower like a man.
What we forget is that his Down syndrome is the gateway to rising to the next level. The person who sat in the back seat asking, “Where goin’ Daddy?” is the same person who went with us to the Camp and Conference center for an Advent dinner Friday evening. He didn’t want to go. Not for one moment did he want to put on a suit coat, and hang out with us old fogies. Typical.
From the moment we arrived, he tried his best to mingle. Those of us who live with Down syndrome know only too well how the tangled tongue gets in the way of casual conversation, so he stood with chatting people, trying to act like them, until he couldn’t stand it. “I got me wawet,” he blurted. But try as they might, they had no idea what he was saying, and quizzed him until he finally pulled out his wallet only to show them a picture of Harry, from Harry and the Henderson’s.
So much for mixing. He plopped onto the couch and slumped into the cushions. I walked over to see if he was okay. “Dis bo-wing,” he said. And why wouldn’t he be bored? The people at the party didn’t speak CharleyEase, which made him odd man out. Meanwhile, I felt a lump in my throat and visited with other partygoers, while watching him out of the corner of my eye. Poor guy. Poor him. Poor man who wants to fit in.
“He’s doing well,” someone said. “You aren’t kidding,” I said, because right about then in walked a blonde girl (we’ll call her Girl #1), and she was what Charley would call, “Hot.” And just like that, he had a date. Well, he had a dance. The music duo played their guitar and fiddle. Hootenanny, anyone?
He thanked Girl #1 for the dance, and in my watchful silence I thanked her too, for saving an evening that had the potential to crush my son under the weight of the knowledge that he was and always will be Downs and that there’s not a thing he can do bout that.
Still, Girl #1 put a smile on his lips, and just as we thought that was that, in walked Girl #2, a brunette, who accepted his invitation to dance.
The next time I looked, he was dining at Girl #2’s table, following her to the buffet, helping himself to an iced tea he had no intention of drinking, and glaring at me like I’d better stop watching him or else. I tried not to look. I did. But what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t give him a dirty look when he used his sleeve as a napkin?
Meanwhile, Girl #2 spent the rest of the evening with him, and Charley was no longer odd man, he was simply a man.
Because different or same, when you have Downs it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on, as long as the girl’s on your side.