I never know if Charley completely understands everything we talk about, but we talk about it just the same. I tend to think he's more savvy than I give him credit for.
I had this conversation with Charley that was eerily like the one we had last year at this time, only with a few differences. The basic premise is the same. It went like this…
“Member Mom, Marking Day a-mowwow.”
“Yeah. Thomas Center closed. Woohoo!” He punches the air with his fist.
Oh. I get it. He’s telling me that the Sertoma Center is closed tomorrow because it's Martin Luther King Day.
“You know, Son, there's much more to Martin Luther King Day than getting the day off.”
He studied me for a moment. “Yeah,” he said. “Martoofer birdday.”
“That’s right, it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.”
“Do you know who Martin Luther King was?”
“Well, who was he?”
“Do you know why we celebrate his birthday?”
I waited, thinking he’d offer the reason, but he was busy playing with the buttons on the car heater. Turning them up, turning them down. Burning us up, freezing us out.
“Well, why is his birthday so important?”
“No Thomas Center!”
“So that’s it? Sertoma Center is closed? Is that all?”
He then started playing with the radio station buttons. Country. “I Love You this Big.” Pop. “Baby, Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” Oldies. “Come On People Now, Smile on your Brother, Everybody Get Together, Try and Love one Another Right Now.”
“Hey, Charley, that’s the first song I ever learned to play on my guitar!” I said, “It’s a great song for Martin Luther King Day.”
More button pushing.
“Hurry into xxxxxx store for the Martin Luther King sale. Everything is 50% off,” the announcer said.
“See?” Charley said, "Martoofer birthday."
“Okay son, we need to talk. First of all, they are having a sale to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. That’s not what his birthday is all about.”
More radio station surfing.
“Mom, I boat.”
"I BOAT. Geeze, Mom." He rubbed his face with the palm of his hand like he does when he's close to calling me an idiot.
"Say it again, son."
“I boat. You boat. In da boof."
"You mean vote?"
“You get to vote for President?”
“Yeah, Pwesidence day.”
“That's right. We vote for President, but not for Martin Luther King.”
“Martin Luther King wasn’t President; he was a civil rights leader.”
“Do you know what civil rights means?”
“Stop it, Mom.”
“It means he fought for the rights of people like you, Charley.”
“Yes, you. And me, and Daddy.”
We didn't talk for a moment. Just listened to the next commercial, about some other MLK sale, and how we needed to hurry before everything was gone, because it only happens once a year.
I was the one who broke the silence.
“Charley, do you know what Down Syndrome is?”
“Do you know that you have Down Syndrome?”
“No I are not.”
“Yes you do.”
“Charley, Down Syndrome is not a bad thing. It just means you are special.”
“Yes. It means God loved you enough to give you an extra chromosome. That means you have something most of us don’t have. It means that some people think of you as different.”
“Not me,” he said.
“It’s okay to be different, Son.”
“Yes I are.”
“Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted everyone to be treated the same.”
One of the things I like most about Charley is that it's never occurred to him not to be comfortable in his own skin.
“Yay! I like dat King guy.”
“He would have like you too, son.”
* * *
Sherry McCaulley Palmer is the author of “Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption,” available on Amazon.com.
Perhaps my friend Stephanie Holland says it best on her blog. Please visit “The Road We've Shared” at this link: http://roadwevesharedgzp.weebly.com/the-roadmap-blog/wwmlkd-civil-rights-and-down-syndrome