Tuesday, September 8, 2015

For the First Time

Waving to the kids down the street...

Two boys knocked on our door last week.

“Do you have any work we can do?” they asked.

Charley stood on the stoop and sized them up. He’d seen these boys before. They are part of the neighborhood group that plays basketball a few doors down. The group that laughs and runs and throws the ball with Charley, the “Down syndrome” guy watching from the doorway. Knowing he wants to play, but rarely asking him to join. “You can’t just invite yourself,” I tell him. This makes no sense to Charley.

Helicopter parent. That’s me. I could and probably should just let him go, grab a basketball, and strut his stuff. But somehow, I can’t stomach the thought that they might snub him and hurt his feelings. They look to be around middle school age.

“What kind of work?” I asked, thinking of all the nerve. You can’t ask Charley to play, but you can ask me for work.

“Anything,” the boys said, proceeding to tell me they were saving up to go to camp.

I thought about this. Might be good for Charley to see the neighborhood kids taking the initiative to look for work and pay their own way. Might rub off on him.

On the other hand, it might be good for the neighborhood kids to interact a little with him, that “down syndrome” guy who lives on their street.

“I do have a project, but it’s a bear,” I said. “Think you’re up to it?”


“And I can pay you, but not a lot.”

“That’s okay.”

We stood there a few minutes longer chatting about their school, exchanging names.

“All right then, come over around 10:00 the morning of Labor Day, and we’ll have a project for you.

Now here’s the thing. I hadn’t forgotten about these boys. But they weren’t exactly the first thing I thought of when I got out of bed this morning. Nor did I expect them to show up at 8:00 a.m. It’s a holiday. I slept in. First cup of coffee. You know how it is. And just about the time you think about jumping into the shower, ringy dingy.

Charley is like the doorbell police.

“Whozit?” he says.

“It’s us, we’re here to work.”

Charley looked at Brad and me. “We’re here to work,” he said. Never let it be said that he was about to let those boys work in his house. Not unless he was in the thick of it.

He opened the door and invited the boys in.

“You sure this is okay with your Mom?” I asked.

“We don’t have a Mom,” one of the boys said. “We haven’t seen her for years. She walked out on us. We live with our Grandma.”

I could feel Charley’s eyes on me like he was seeing me for the first time. He put his arm around my shoulder. “My mom,” he said, under his breath.

I explained that the garage was more than a one day job, but that this was their lucky day. “We’re cleaning the closets today.”

“Sounds good,” one of the boys said.

“You haven’t seen the closets yet,” I said.

“How bad can it be?” The other boy said.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “My mom has given me bags and bags of her clothes. We have to go through them and hang them up.”

Brad and I headed back to the bedroom and opened his closet door. 

I saw the boys exchange glances. Yep. It could be bad.

Brad looked at the closet. Not that he doesn't see it every day, but it was almost as if he was seeing it for the first time. "Yikes."

“Let the digging begin,” I said.

We each had a job.

The boys pulled things out of the closet.

Charley stuffed bags and boxes full of clothes for the clothes closet at church. 
Out of the closet and into the car...

Brad cleared the racks for clothes to be hung.

I made the decisions. Brad would override them. Then he’d make decisions and I would override them. The boys scratched their heads. Charley rolled his eyes.

About an hour later, The boys downed a bottled water while Charley crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame.

“Whew!” one of the boys said.

“Glad that’s done,” the other boy said.

“That’s the first closet,” I said. “One closet down, one to go.”

The boys exchanged glances again.

Charley opened my closet door. He put his hand on his hips. “Mommy a mess,” he said to the boys.
"Mom's closet a mess..."

“That’s a lot of stuff,” one of the boys said.

“This could take hours,” the other boy said.

“That’s why they call it Labor Day,” I smiled.

“That’s my mom,” Charley said, patting me on the back.

Closet number two was different from closet number one. And why not? A woman’s closet is different than a man’s. I had to try on each piece of clothing, hold it up, and assess whether it was to stay or go, while the boys goofed off with Charley. Trying on scarves, putting boxes over their heads, comparing cell phones. Whooping it up. There comes a time when you no longer hand items to the person across the room. You launch it and hope it doesn’t take the ceiling fan down in the process. 

About a half hour into this fiasco, Brad reached his limit of letting me take my time, and into the closet he went. Flinging hangers around. Dropping things. He was ready to throw it all out. 

At one point I looked up and there were three of us in the bedroom. Charley, Brad, and me. And where were the boys? Kicked back in our recliners in the living room. I had to laugh.

“We’re almost done,” I said.

The boys went back to the bedroom to finish the job. 

All four guys in the bedroom. Having their way with my closet.  I could have used a box over my head, I can tell you that. I thought about marching back to the room and controlling the situation. Instead, I assumed the position in on the couch and waited them out.

About 20 minutes later, they emerged. “Done,” they announced.

We told the boys earlier that we would have to pay them later today, to which they agreed, but we thought it best to remind them.

“We don’t have any money on us at the moment,” Brad said. Before he could reiterate that he would stop by their house and pay them later, Charley reached into his pocket, pulled out a dollar, and handed it to one of the boys. “Good job,” he said.

The boy looked at the dollar, like surely this isn’t all we’re getting paid.

He looked at me.

“We’ll stop over at your house later after we’ve been to the bank,” I said.

He started to hand the dollar back to Charley. “You need to accept that dollar,” I told him.

The boy stuck the dollar in his pocket. "Thanks man," he said.

“Charley, do you have a dollar for the other boy?”

“No, that’s all,” he said, standing a little taller, with a big grin on his face. I could see he was proud to be giving that boy his last dollar.

You can't buy a priceless moment like that

You can’t buy a priceless moment like that.

Here was a boy I thought could role model a good work ethic for Charley, and he did.

But just when you think you’ve got it all neatly wrapped, you find a little gift you never expected. Because here was my supposedly special needs son, role modeling generosity for him.

The expression on the boy’s face said it all. He didn’t look at him like that “Down syndrome” guy.  He looked at him with respect.

Like he was seeing Charley for the first time.

Delivering money to the boys at their house

Bio:  Sherry Palmer is the author of “Life With Charley: A Memoir of Down Syndrome Adoption.” You can find it at: Life with Charley

Please visit Charley on Facebook at: Life With Charley - And Down Syndrome

Thank you!