Wednesday, April 8, 2020


Last night after dinner, Brad tried on his mask. I’d made it out of charcoal grey cotton yarn, and attached a coffee filter with safety pins. Not the best solution, I know, but as a home crafter, this was the material I had on hand.

Charley leaned in to get a better look. “Daaaad, what dat?”

“I’ve got one for me too,” I said, holding up my pink one. “What color do you want, Son?”

Charley kind of chuckled.


“Why dat mask?”

“Because it’s ninja week.” I said. Everyone is wearing a mask these days, at least for now. You see, there’s this horrible virus, and we have to wear face masks to protect ourselves and others.”

“Mo-ommmmm, come on.”

I asked if he wanted to try it on. 


I placed the yarn on the table and encouraged him to pick a color.

“I fine, Mom,” he said.

“Are you sure? I’ve got black - it’s your favorite.”


I explained to him that he could not leave the house without a mask.

Brad pointed to his mask, role modeling, encouraging Charley to do the same.

“Look Charley, it’s Sermon Man,” I said, attempting to lighten the tone, using his own words…Sermon Man has been a long-time nickname used by our son on Sundays.

He glared at me. “You said mask is bad.”

He was right.

The last time he had a mask was when we lived in West Virginia. Charley was eleven then and thought having a mask and a hat turned him into The Mask of Zorro, which wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t jumped out the second floor window thinking he'd land on Tornado, Zorro’s trusty horse.

Luckily, the railing on the deck below broke his fall, and he didn’t break his body. I made a big deal out of putting the mask, the cape, and hat - all into the garbage. “Say goodbye to this,” I said, “Masks are bad. You will never wear a mask again. Not on my watch.”

So what was I doing sitting here, crochet hook in hand, asking what color he wanted his mask to be? 

“Listen,” I said, “I know this changes things, but we are trying to comply with Government guidelines. We can make an exception, to the no-mask rule, especially if it keeps us all safe.”

Charley squinted his eyes. “I kick em,” said.

“You most certainly will not,” I said, thinking he was taking about Governor Andy Brashear. Charley watches him sometimes when we tune in at 5:00 for the Governor’s daily update.

I kick em,” he said again, then he went upstairs to his room.

A little while later he placed his nightly call to me on FaceTime. I could see him, lying on his bed, watching Batman. 

“See?” he said, “I got dis.” He pointed the camera at the tv screen where he had his DVD player hooked up. Sure enough, right there on the screen, Batman and Robin in full swing, mask and all.




“Dat mask,” he said, “Dat da weal mask.”

So you think my crocheted mask is fake?

He said, yeah, and explained in his way that a real mask would give you the power. Not like that imposter yarn stuff. Well, he didn’t say it in so many words, but I knew what he meant. I mean, let’s get real here. How could yarn give you the power?

The power.

I thought about that, and even slept on it. In my twilight, I couldn’t help but smile. 

Charley has always hero-worshipped his  superheroes. Spider Man, Superman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers.

Superheroes wear masks. It’s a given. Even the Lone Ranger wore a mask and thought no-one knew it was him.

The hero swoops in, kicks the problem in the rear, and just like that, the problem is solved.

How I wish this were the case.

How I wish we could just put on our masks and swoop in.

Kick the problem in the hind end.

Bake bread for our church members.

Take soup to the sick.

Fix our favorite dish for the church potluck.

Have Easter dinner with our families. Hide decorated eggs for the kids. Eat chocolate bunnies.

Gather at our local restaurants and banter with the community.

In Charley’s world, Superheroes wear masks. 

But not other people. 

Not adults.

When it comes down to it, unless it's on the face of a Superhero, Charley has always hated masks.

And why not? 

A mask hides the face. Hides the wearer. Hides the true self.

Charley finds wearing a mask absurd.

So absurd, in fact, that when I put my mask on, he said, "How rude!"

And so it is.

How rude it is, that something as faceless as a virus changes everything. How rude that fear propels even the best of us to resort to the internet as our main source of contact. To have online meetings where everyone talks over everyone, and no one hears anyone.

I’m no different than he is. I don’t like change. You know, the kind that demands we alter our routine, alter ourselves. Even our appearance. To stop being who we are, even if temporarily. It makes us feel powerless.

I don’t know about you, but I like being who I am. I like going to the store, talking to people, asking for help, providing help, being a wife, a sister, a Mom, a friend. Heck, I even like that not everyone likes me. It’s ok with me because I might not like them either. I just want to be me.

I learned all that from Charley. He sees no need to alter anything about himself. He’s just fine the way he is, thank you very much, so you goons who want to cover him with a mask can just for-get-it. 

How I wish I could take him to Walmart and let him ride around in the electric shopping cart. 

Say hi to everyone, and show his shopping haul to anyone who does and does not want to listen.

Let him pick out  Superhero movies in the five dollar bin. Fight with him over not being able to afford the new releases. No, we will have to wait till the price comes down.  

He knows that scene. But this one? This scene makes no sense to him.

People with Down Syndrome have this uncanny way of looking at the world.

There’s no faking anything and getting away with it. They always find you out.

So why? If I threw Mask of Zorro into the garbage, then how come I’m requiring him to become a ninja? 

I’m struggling. The right words elude me. 

“I’m doing this to give us the power,” I say.

“Who’s bad?” he wants to know.

“You mean who’s butt are we kicking?” 

He nods his head.

“The virus.” 

“What’s dat?”

“It’s what’s making people sick.”

“I fine,” he said. “Mom, I not sick.”

“I know you’re fine, and thank God for that. But other people are, and if we are not careful, we could get sick too.…”

“I watch my movie now,” he say.

“I crochet your mask now,” I say.

The screen goes blank.

Try explaining all this to a person who happens to have the 23rd chromosome, I double dare you. It’s abstract. Charley doesn’t do abstract. While the rest of us have all these gray areas, these things called a virus that we can’t see, and yet we can, there are these things that require us to explain until they make sense. People like my Charley are as grounded as it gets.

There is simply no way he can understand why his friend Ryan can’t come visit. Why he can’t see his friends at church. Why his friend Evelyn can’t bring him a cheeseburger and fries. Why Julie or Allison can’t come get him and take him for a joy ride.

When I was a teenager my folks would ground me when I didn’t follow the rules. And honey? When my mouth was rude, I got that extra added bonus of mouth sterilization, known as soap. Mom showed no mercy, I can tell you that. 

Now that I’m an adult, I follow the rules, as much as I can, and how about that - I’m grounded again. And so are you. And so is Charley. The big guy, grinning at me through the computer screen. “See Mom? Now that’s a mask.” 

Heaven forbid I should make him wear one of my stuck-at-home creations. Nothing sissyfied for him.

It hurts.

He thinks we are just being mean.

He wants to know why.

And so do I.


Why is this faceless mutant causing us to become paranoid that someone may have touched our stuff?

This faceless, killer, this thing that doesn’t even have a face. 

And yet, it does.
Even though we cannot see it, we see it. 

We see it in the tape on the floor that marks the 6 foot safety zones.

We see it in the shopping carts filled with items no one would ever dream of stockpiling. 

We see it in the tears of health workers. 
Business owners closing their doors. 
Friends, and family members who have lost their jobs, their loved ones.


And yet, isn’t it ironic, that this faceless monster has done what no one has been able to do (at least not in my lifetime). It has kept us distant, and yet closer than ever. For the first time, we are all on equal footing.

You are no better than me. I am no better than you. None of us has any power over this invisible out of control cruelty.

This cruelty that demands we isolate from loved ones. Demands that we shut others out. Keep your distance or else. 

And what does that mean, anyway? Does it mean we will treat each other better when the danger lifts? We certainly have plenty of time to think about it. How will I act? How will you act?

When we get the all clear, does it mean we will run to each others arms, and never let go? Does it mean that neighbors who never gave us a nod before will all of a sudden chat over the back fence?

And what does it mean for Charley?

Why wasn’t he allowed to wear a mask before, but now all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I’m demanding that he wear one. What do you know- Mask of Zorro isn’t in the garbage after all.


“Because I I want you to be safe.”

“From who?” he asks.

“From the virus.”

“Where?” he’s looking out the window, like there’s some intruder fixing to burst through the door.

“I no see it,” he says.

“I hope you never see it, Son.”

But still, he wants to know. Demands to know, “Where is it?”

“It’s an illness, Charley, it’s  not a person.”

“Mom, I fine.”

Guess I’d best put this in language he can understand.

“The mask will give you the power,” I tell him. “Power to kick the virus in the butt. I’m making this mask for you because I love you, and that gives me the power, which means you will wear it.”

“Or what?” he says.

“Or I will kick your butt,” I say. He makes some remark under his breath and stomps up the stairs.

He’s had just about enough of this.

And so have I.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Christmas Stocking for Charley

December 14, 2019

We can’t believe it’s been a year since we packed up our lives and moved to our home state. Our beloved Kentucky. It’s been everything we ever hoped for. Last year I dedicated this post to our new Churches, Greensburg Presbyterian and Ebenezer Presbyterian Churches. Thank you for inviting us into your lives and for becoming family. There’s a reason when I tell people about our churches, that I always say, “I want to be more like them.”

This year, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, it seems only right to dedicate this post to our churches again. There is no doubt that Christ is the center of their existence, and the very thought that we are able to be part of this community of believers is beyond any of our dreams.

Every year at Christmastime I repost this story.  This adventure of Life With Charley began in 1990 when Charley was our Christmas present to ourselves.

I wrote my book "Life with Charley: a memoir of Down syndrome adoption" when Charley was 21. He is 29 now. The book is out of print right now, but I'm working on editing to reprint. At least I will if I can ever find a new cover for my book. You see, I don’t own the cover. So I’m looking for a new one. If you know of anyone who can help me with that, well, you know where to find me.

Until then, this is the first chapter: my Christmas gift to you.

Warning...this post is lengthy. But no worries. There won’t be a quiz! Just read what you like and leave the rest.

That said, thanks for reading! Grab a cup of hot chocolate (don’t forget the marshmallows), and curl up in your favorite jammies as I invite you into the best day of our lives. This, our “Gotcha” day.

Blessings and  Merry Christmas from us Palmers, warts and all. And remember, we are flawed, but God is not.

Chapter 1

A Christmas Stocking for Charley

It was the best thing we ever did.
It was the day the two of us became three. The day a blond-haired,
ocean-blue-eyed, angel-faced, baby boy with Down syndrome
wiggled his way into our hearts. That’s the day he became
the rest of our lives.

We had been married for six years, during which headlines
included such historical events as the Space Shuttle Challenger
disaster, the release of Nelson Mandela after twenty-seven years
in captivity, and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops, setting off
the Persian Gulf War.1Life Goes On was on primetime television,
starring Chris Burke as Charles Thatcher, a teenager with Down
syndrome. And somewhere in Texas was a Desert Storm baby
in a foster home. He was soon to be ours. We would name him
“Charles” in honor of “Corky,” Chris Burke’s character.
We couldn’t wait to call our folks. We’ve all been there. You
pump yourself up and blurt out the words, but the party on the
other end of the phone isn’t sure they’ve heard you right.
“Mom, Dad, we’re adopting a baby. Oh, and by the way, he’s
got Down syndrome.”

“Mom? You there? Say something.”
Was it my imagination, or did Mom hang up on me? Well,
maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. She did, however, hand
the phone to Dad.

Ring after ring, Mom’s friends called to deliver the bad news.
“These kinds of babies require work,” they said, as though we’d
bought the defective model and could still take him back to
the store.
“All babies require work,” we said.
“You sure about this?”
“Yes, we’re sure.” I couldn’t help but chuckle while adding,
“Tell Mom I said hi.” Some of these do-gooders chuckled too.
“Team Mom” continued to call. Surely we would come to our
senses. Or not.
“Do you have any idea what you are getting into?”
And each time we answered, “No. No, no, for the last time,
no.” For that matter, does anyone ever know? Does any child come
with an instruction manual? And if so, what would it say? Proceed
with caution? Open at your own risk?
What did we know of Down syndrome? Not much.
What did we get? More than we ever hoped for.
“There are institutions for children with these types of disabilities,”
one caller said.
Somewhere between amusement and irritation, Brad and I
grinned at each other. “Thanks, but we’re keeping him.”

We lived in New Orleans. It’s a fun place to visit with the French
Quarter restaurants, its Muffulettas, its powdery sugar beignet
pillows that melt into your taste buds, and its crawfish raging with fiery spices so lethal that your angry lips throb until doused
with ice cubes. For the homegrown folk, it’s standard. But for
the occasional visitor not equipped with a cast iron stomach? It’s
good-bye happy tummy, hello Tums.

What is it they say about never, ever, say never? New Orleans
was my never-land. I never wanted to live there, so far away from
my folks. But then, I’m not the boss. I don’t get to say where we
live, or for how long. I am, after all, married to a pastor, which
I said I’d never do either. Me? Marry some stuffed shirt of a
preacher? Fat chance. No way, no how, no thanks.
But I did. I married a cloth-man. Dad was just fine with that.
He said, “Okay by me, won’t it be great to have someone in the
family who can marry and bury us?”

We moved twice before we were destined for the great city
famous for its Creole cuisine, its Mardi Gras parades, its Bourbon
Street, and its drive-through daiquiris. How was I to know the
very place I said I’d never live would become my reason to live?
My purpose? My call? How was I to know that this city they call
The Big Easy would manifest itself in a world of big blessings; a
world in the form of motherhood?

It is a twelve-hour drive from the Pelican State to the Bluegrass
Commonwealth of Kentucky, where our folks live. The one
promise Brad made when we married in 1985 was that if I would
follow him wherever his pastorate called, he would take me
home for Christmas. And he did every year. Whether it involved
a twenty-hour drive from Oklahoma or the twelve-hour drive
from Louisiana, we would be there for Christmas dinner with the
family. This year would be no different. We would make it home,
only we wouldn’t be driving. This year we would fly. And this time
there would be three of us. Not two.

I grew up in Louisville, home of what is known as the most
famous two minutes in sports, in the same house where loved
ones still gather for holidays, known to us as “8612.” It may look
large from the outside, but the two-story red brick Dutch colonial
is dwarfed by the combination of my mother’s Baldwin baby
grand piano, my grandmother’s antique couch, and the monstrosity
of a computer desk that shrinks the den—making it claustrophobic
at best. But that doesn’t stop us from rubbing shoulders
at the dinner table, squeezing into the matchbox quarters as Brad
bows his head to give the blessing, and then swapping stories and
laughing until our cheeks hurt.

One of the highlights is gathering around the room and handing
out the Christmas stockings, each of which has been handknit
by Mom, complete with a fuzzy angora Santa beard and the
name knit into the Kelly green, white, and rich red heirloom. It’s
a unique gift, which she makes to welcome newcomers to the
family, such as spouses and grandchildren. In our house, a new
stocking is an initiation into the family. It says, “You are now one
of us.”
It was only natural that I would long to see a stocking for
Charley. He’d come into our lives just eleven days earlier at the
tender age of two months.

I was thirty-six then. I’d struggled for years with endometriosis,
eventually undergoing ovarian cyst surgery, which left me
with half an ovary. The doctor said I could still have children, but
I wasn’t so sure. Uncontrollable bleeding was becoming a way of
life, so much so that the subject of children took a back seat to my
monthly visits to the emergency room. Not that we didn’t want a
family, but we weren’t in any rush. If it was supposed to happen,
it would.
The kind of job I had didn’t help either. I was working as a
consultant for a nursing home company, traveling to several different states and spending at least three nights each week away
from home when one day, out of nowhere, Brad said, “You need
a baby.”
“Is that so?” I said.
“Just think about it, okay?”

Surely he was joking. Or was he? The anticipation in his eyes
pleaded otherwise. My God, I thought, he’s serious.
To make matters worse, I was a minister’s wife. And that
meant certain things. Babies. Toddlers. Casseroles. Sunday
school. Diapers. At least, I thought those were the expectations.
By then we’d served three churches as a clergy couple. One
in Oklahoma, and two in Louisiana. First stop—Oklahoma, and
a small white church three hours from Oklahoma City in the
middle of what I called “wilderness central,” twenty hours away
from loved ones. My first church as a pastor’s wife, and what did
I know of that? Nothing. How could I? I’d tried on religions like
my sister tries on shoes.

As an infant, I was presented for baptism in the Catholic
Church, but grew up Episcopalian. Later, I returned to the
Catholic Church while in college at Eastern Kentucky University
so I could play my guitar during mass and withdrew when the
priest hurt my feelings one Ash Wednesday by denying me communion at the altar. The next day I walked into the Baptist Student
Union, where I turned my life over to Jesus and was baptized for
the second time in my life, only this time it was a conscious decision.
Over the next two years, I drove my family crazy trying to
evangelize them every chance I got as if they didn’t already have a
church of their own. “Are you born again yet, sister?” I’d say. “God
wants you to give your life to Him, little brother!” I still believe
it. God does want us.

I don’t remember how it came about, but during my sophomore
year, I found myself spending time with a crowd that spoke
in tongues. I never did, though. Not that I dispute things like that
can happen, but it wasn’t for me.
On Thursday nights, I stood outside the local bar with my
newfound holy friends shaking my Bible at people passing by.
“Jesus is the way!”
“He’s your one-way ticket to heaven!” I still believe that too.

By the time I met Brad, I attended a small Christian church
in Lyndon, Kentucky. It was an active church with a young adult
singles group and I sang in the choir. Once again, I was baptized.
Secretly, though, I was beginning to wonder how many times I
needed to be dunked to prove my faith.
Then Brad walked into my life. I was drawn to him instantly.
With his quick wit and a booming laugh that drives my mother
crazy, Brad was anything but a stuffed shirt and unlike any minister
I’d known. And yet, he was everything a minister should be.
As our pastor friend J. Pat Kennedy says, “Brad has a minister’s
heart.” There’s little you could tell him that would shock him, and
there’s nothing you could tell him that would make him judge
you. He is a God-man—but doesn’t beat you over the head with
it. When I attend church I want to be challenged by the message,
but I also want to hear that God loves me. I don’t want to
be yelled at from the pulpit. Or scolded. Or threatened. I knew in
my gut that Brad was the guy for me the first time I heard him
preach. Whether or not I was clergy spouse material remained to
be seen.

Maybe it was my imagination but didn’t all ministers’ wives
wear polyester jumpers and have a baby propped on one hip?
At least, that was my perception. Well, not me, buster. “I don’t
have time for a baby,” I said. My time was spoken for. I was
Mrs. Church, Mrs. Potluck Casserole, Mrs. Preacher’s Wife,
Mrs. Nursing Home Do-gooder, Mrs. Working Woman, Mrs.

“I don’t do kids,” I told him. There’s a word for people like me:
coward. Thing is, kids scare me. Had I neglected to mention that
when the church moms asked me to teach Sunday school, and I
said, “No, it isn’t my thing,” that it wasn’t my thing? I knew nothing about kids. And for good reason.

My babysitting days ended with a pot of boiling milk. I was
sixteen, standing at the stove making hot chocolate for the three
kids I was supposed to be watching, stirring the milk as it came to
a rapid boil. And who was watching them? Don’t ask me, because
when I lifted the pan to pour the milk into a cup, one of the kids
ran under my arm. There went the boiling milk, all over little
Pammy’s head. From then on, I begged Mom and Dad for a loan
when I had to, but never set foot in babysitting territory again.

I should have told the church moms that, but didn’t know how.
What would I say? If you allow me to supervise your kids, we’ll see who can make it to the emergency room first? So, no. I had no intention of doing wee worship, or whatever they called it. To teach
Sunday school would be perfect-pastor’s-wife suicide, so I said
no. No. No. No, thank you, no. But church people have a way of
wearing you down, and I should have stuck with the word “no”
instead of allowing them to beg until I caved and said, “I’d love to.”

The poor mothers. How were they to know I was telling a big
fat lie? I’ve never figured out how to contain a room full of squirming toddlers when one is threatening to eat glue, another is calling me “fatso,” and another is having diarrhea, all at the same time.

I did my time, though. For six months, I did the cliché. grinand-
bear-it. No, I take that back. I grinned, and the tiny tots
bared it (well, every time one of them escaped and ran around
the church without their Huggies). And what did this get me? A
committee of young mothers (in the Presbyterian Church there
is a committee for everything) who felt the need to suggest (and
not so nicely) that if I intended to teach Sunday school (more
like toddler patrol), it might be a good idea if I would stop running
around the room like a beheaded bird. 

If I had to pinpoint when my preacher’s wife paranoia began,
this was it. I don’t care if people talk about me behind my back.
But when they say it to my face? That’s when it hurts my feelings.
And say it they did. “You might look like your the one in
charge.” Which brings me to my next point. Who said I wanted
to be in charge?

I thought about this. Perhaps it’s my approach. Perhaps I should
act a smidge more authoritative, so I plastered my face with the
happiest smile I could plaster, opened the door to the Sunday
school room, and announced, “Okay, kids (ankle biters), let’s try
something new this morning. You will shut your little yippee
yaps, and you will mind me so I don’t look like an incompetent
wingless wonder in front of your parents. Anyone attempting to
leave this room will be caught. And we are all going to have fun.
Do you understand me? Fun.”

A half an hour later the little half-pints were running through
the sanctuary while I took little Susie to the bathroom, again.
Before I knew it, the other mothers were assisting me in the
Sunday school class. From then on I was honest about my Sunday
school teaching disabilities, and when I said no, I meant it.
My people-pleasing-at-church days were over, at least until
the next time. For the time being, what they had was a made-from-
scratch, non-cookie-cutter minister’s wife. Whatever weird
ailment I had that made me desire kids was rattled out of me on
Sunday mornings. A miracle cure, that’s what it was. But just so
the parishioners would think I was anything resembling normal,
I’d say, “I love kids.” If only I knew what to do with them.
I never even knew I wanted a child. Or did I? Maybe I just
didn’t notice.

Brad, however, did. He noticed every time I walked out of the
room when a baby commercial came on TV, and by the graceful
way I declined invitations to baby showers. He noticed the way I
sprinted past the baby clothes in stores, and how I barely held my
nieces. He noticed when my lifelong soul sister, Barb, called to
deliver the news that she was pregnant. “That’s great,” I said. “I’m
so happy for you.” I swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Barb’s going to be a great mom,” I said to Brad.
“She sure will,” he said. “What about you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I have all the babies I can handle.”
“But you stopped teaching Sunday school two years ago.”
“Drop it, Brad,” I said. And he did. Well, until I brought it up
“You’d think a person is only half a person unless she’s got a
baby,” I told him once, after seeing a commercial for baby wipes.
He cleared his throat and said, “Yeah, what about that.”

The next day, without my knowledge, he contacted an adoption

That fall we attended a Thanksgiving dinner with other families
who had adopted special needs children. As I sat there wondering
what in the world I was doing at such an event, I looked
around the room. It was packed with kids crawling, rolling, and
running around all over the place. Mothers everywhere. Dads.
Kids with squinty eyes. Downy fluff. Ambrosia with feet.
The director of the agency had a ten-month-old. For some
reason, I reached out and took her out of her mother’s arms, and
the strangest thing happened. It felt like a bolt of lightning went
right through me because the instant I touched her I remember
thinking, “This is what I am supposed to do.” 

Imagine that. Me, a mom-to-be. Who knew? The Holy Spirit, that’s who. How do I know this? Because from that moment, everything fell into place.

One morning about a month later Brad and I found ourselves
sitting across the desk from a social worker who explained that
if we planned on adopting a “normal” baby, it could take months,
maybe even years.
“Well, that’s it,” I said and picked up my purse. “No babies.
Thanks for your time. Come on, Brad, let’s go.”
I got about as far as the end of the couch in her office when
she said, “Would you consider a baby with special needs?”
Brad and I answered at the same time, “Yes.” We looked at
each other, surprised. Had we forgotten to talk about this?
“What type of special needs would you be willing to take?”
she asked.
Again, we answered at the same time, “Down syndrome,” and
then our mouths dropped.

Two Tickets to Texas…

Another month passed. I was in a staff meeting when the speakerphone
buzzed, and then, the secretary’s voice. “There’s an emergency
phone call for Sherry.”

I braced myself, picked up the receiver, and gave a shaky,
Brad was on the other end. “Hi, Mom.”
“Excuse me?”
“I said, hi, Mom.”
“Knock it off, Brad, I’m in a meeting.”
“Congratulations,” he said. “You’re going to be a mother.”
What the…
“The adoption agency called and said there’s a baby available
in Texas. The only thing is, we have to tell them we want him
today because if no one claims him the state is scheduled to take
custody of him tomorrow.”
What was I supposed to say? “We’ll talk about this later over
dinner?” I was at my company’s corporate office in Shreveport,
and Brad was six hours away in New Orleans on the other end
of the phone.
“Sherry, are you there?”
The faces of my coworkers and my bosses blurred into a sea
of raised eyebrows, all waiting to know what the emergency was.
“I don’t know, it seems so sudden,” I said, barely able to breathe.
“What do you say, honey? This is our big chance.”
“What do we know about him?” I asked.
“Not much,” he said. “He’s two months old and has Down
syndrome. The agency says he’s been in a foster home since he
was born. His birth mother is a college student and has had no
prenatal care. That’s about all I know.”

Thump, thump. My heart hammered the walls of my chest.
I tried to swallow, but couldn’t.
My face was wet. Was I crying? And in a business meeting?
Everyone in the working world knows you don’t cry at work.
Even if you are celebrating what should be a private moment
between you and your husband.

What would it do to my career? I was all about work—suits
and low pumps, pantyhose designed to cut off the circulation to
my fat little thighs, briefcases, making it to the plane on time,
jet-setting off to the next work assignment, and knocking myself
out to impress the boss. I’d come a long way from activity director
to corporate consultant. I had arrived, and I wasn’t about to give
it up now. I wasn’t the diaper bag, sterilized-bottle-toting type.
Was I?

I sat plastered to the chair, everything around me suspended.
The color must have deserted my face because someone sat a
cup of water in front of me and then I heard myself say, “Listen
here, you. I don’t make decisions that fast. You call that social
worker back right this minute and tell her we’ll take him.”
I tipped the cup and sipped the water.
My boss looked at me for a moment and then said, “Sherry,
what’s wrong?”
“Brace yourselves,” I said. “I’m sort of pregnant.”
The room exploded. People were on their feet hugging me and
asking, “So when are you due?”
“As soon as we can fly to Texas and pick him up.”

And just like that, our destination became our destiny: our
bags got packed, and operation adoption was set in motion. We
were about to meet the rest of our lives. The tiny human being
who would permanently shape every thought, every decision, and
every minute of every day. Forevermore, we would look at the
world through a pair of crescent-moon-shaped eyes—the eyes of
Down syndrome.

We had chosen it. But why? Why would we want an infant
with DS? There’s a genetic test called amniocentesis to help parents avoid such things. Perhaps we were asking the wrong question.

Maybe the question wasn’t why, but why not? He was just
a baby, not a birth defect. True, he was a baby with Down syndrome, but that wasn’t the issue. The fact was, we adopted because we wanted to be parents. Nothing more. No hidden agendas, no cause c.l.bre.

Where the problem presented was when others learned of his
DS. In those days he wasn’t considered “normal,” whatever normal
is. Which begs the question: should any child be regarded
as abnormal? Less perfect? Is that what it means to have Down
syndrome? And while we’re at it, what is normal? Does normal
mean being a carbon copy of everyone else? And does being a
clone mean you are worth more? More worthy of love?

Did we know that other kids would be afraid of him? Whisper
about him? Hide behind their mothers when he was around?
Maybe not. Did we know that other mothers would cling to their
children, afraid it might be contagious? Probably not. Did we
know that we would put ourselves between him and ogling eyes
to shield him from the gawking? Definitely not.

Since Brad and I both worked with people with Down syndrome
when we were younger, we thought we knew all we needed
to know, which amounted to knowing a whole lot of nothing.
We flew to Texas two weeks before Christmas. It was blind
faith that drove our rental car to the social worker’s office where
we would meet our future. As Brad and I sat there clinging to
each other, we were filled with questions: Was he healthy? What
would he look like? What the heck were we doing?
“What if I fail?” I said to Brad.
“You’ll be a great mom.” Then Brad asked, “What if I fail?”
“You’ll be an awesome dad,” I said, and just then the door
opened. In walked the social worker, holding a bundle.
“Get ready for more love than you ever thought possible,” she
said and handed him to me.
I looked into the baby’s eyes, and I heard a voice say, “You’ll
have to move out, you know.”
What? I looked at Brad, but his lips weren’t moving. Great,
now I’m hearing voices.

“You. Yes, you. Move out.”
Move out of where?
“Yourself. Get out of yourself so we can move in.”
“Me and the baby,” the voice said. “There’s no room for us—
you are too full of you.”
I looked at the baby. He blinked his eyes.

I blinked back.
“Why me, Lord?”
“Why not you?” He said.
“You’re going to have to help me.”
“I thought you’d never ask.”

Again, my heart beat. Thump. Thump.
The baby studied me. Who was I? What was I? Why was I
holding him?
Brad stuck out his finger so the baby could wrap his tiny hand
around it. “He’s got quite a grip.”
I cried and cried, and finally said, “Hi.”
Later that same day, armed with a full diaper bag and baby
formula, we flew back to New Orleans to begin our life as a new
family. I eventually stopped crying and started smiling.
I had a baby.
Me. The girl who botched babysitting.
I was a mother.
Me. The girl who said she’d never be one of those polyester
pastors’ wives—part parishioner, part nursery attendant. The one
who was done with Sunday school forever and ever, amen.
Me. A mom.

I was overjoyed. I was ecstatic. I was…gagging.
“How could you?” I said as I sat in the middle of the floor of
the ladies room at the airport. The restroom was crowded, but
only three people existed at that moment. Me and him. And the
lady bending over me. “What an adorable baby,” she said, and at
that, I burst into tears. “Thank you, I think.”
“Well, honey, what’s wrong?” she said.
I didn’t dare let her catch my eye. “He’s stinky,” I said.
“So, I’ve never changed a diaper before.”
She stood back bewildered. “Are you his mother?”
“Well, technically, yes.”
“What do you mean, technically?” By now more than one person
stood over me.

“I just got him today,” I said.
“About an hour ago,” I said and told her about our adoption.
And God bless her, that woman sat down right next to me (in
her dress, high heels, and all) and took me step by step through
how to change a diaper. I could have just kissed her because I no
longer needed to kill myself. I begged her to please come home
with me for the next fifteen years, but unfortunately, she already
had her own life.
After I thanked her and she left, I looked at Charley and said,
“You, my friend, are forbidden to ever mess your britches again.”
That was the first time he smiled at me, and now that I think
about it, he seemed to flash a big silly grin every time I changed
his diapers from then on.

Three Tickets to Louisville…

The following week we took Charley home to meet his new family.
From the initial home study in September to taking him home
in December, we’d barely had time to process it ourselves, much
less expect anyone else to. How could they? It’s not as if they’d
had the traditional nine months to get excited about a new baby,
and yet here we were, bringing him home for Christmas. We had
no idea how it would go. It’s not like our news was received without reserve. But, since things happen in God’s time (not mine), I would just have to trust that the same family who loves me would
love me enough to love him.

Brad and I knew we were asking a lot of our families. We
asked that they accept the fact that they would now have to say
things like, “My grandson has Down syndrome,” “My nephew
has DS,” and “My cousin has Down syndrome.”

Besides Brad and me, Joanna (Brad’s sister) was the only other
person in our families to have associated with DS. And to my
knowledge, no one had ever mentioned the word adoption, let
alone special needs. And yet, despite my Mom’s phone calling
campaign trying to talk us out of it, we stood in line at the airport,
flying higher than we thought possible, hoping that things
would click. Praying that Mom would take one look at Charley and fall in love, like an overjoyed grandma. “Here, let me have him,” I heard her say in my self-talk. And in my mind, I pictured her setting the baby down on a freshly laundered towel to change a diaper and blowing raspberry kisses onto the bottoms of his vanilla
tootsie roll toes as the rest of the family looked on.

But when I opened my eyes, the questions were still there:
Will they accept him? Will they love him? Was I asking too
much? Praying enough? I would soon know the answer.
8612 is a backdoor house. No one comes to the front door
unless you are delivering a package or are selling something.
Family, friends, neighbors—we all enter through the kitchen, and
when we do, we find everyone. It’s where you find the iced tea, the
blue cheese ball, the munchies. Not that the space is big enough.
It’s standing room only, along with the chaos of hugs and kisses
as you move from person to person, yakking, helping yourself to
the snacks, yakking some more.

This Christmas visit was no different, except along with the
hugs and kisses, there was one tiny tyke, looking up from his carrier from face to face. And the faces? Oh, boy, did they study him.
“He’s a big boy,” Dad said.
Marcy (my sister) reached out and played with his hand. “Hi,
Mom leaned in for a closer look. “Hi there.”
Brad and I beamed. “Isn’t he perfect?”
Marcy and Mom directed me upstairs to what would be our
room while we were there. In the room was a crib with stuffed
animals. I swallowed hard. They did want him. I wondered what
brought them to this moment. Was it their love for me? The resignation that there was a new family member, like it or not? May
as well get on board? I drank in the details. Look at the work that
went into all this. “Thanks,” I said, and they hugged me.

I headed back down the stairs and into the living room where
the decorations sparkled with everything Christmas. Southern
Living, that’s what it was. Collectible carolers in their Charles
Dickens outfits warmed the china cabinet with garland and berries
(Marcy is quite the decorator) and the table had our traditional
apple tree centerpiece (Mom makes one every year). The
hallway smiled with tinsel and lights, and there, sitting on the
top of the piano was the handmade porcelain nativity set that
Mom bought when she was first married. But even with all the
trimmings, as lovely as they were, the display I wanted to see
more than anything was the mantel lined with the dog tags that
belonged to our beloved boxer Max (they’ve hung there since he
died), and the stockings, hand-knit by Mom.

I felt a pit in my gut. I knew Mom hadn’t had time to make
one on such short notice, but still, I hoped. Please, God, let there
be a stocking for my baby. I braced myself and turned toward the
mantel. My heart sank. There they were—the stockings, hanging
side by side, except for one.

Swallowing hard, I walked into the kitchen, dropped into a
chair, and wondered how I would make it through the Christmas
holidays knowing Charley had no stocking. Why wasn’t it there?
Was he that different? Was it because he was adopted? Because he
had DS? Couldn’t they at least have bought him a stocking until
Mom could knit one? Tears streamed down my cheeks. Brad
walked in, took one look at my face, and read my mind. “I think
you’d better look again,” he said. “It’s there, hanging behind
April’s stocking.”

I rushed back to the living room. And then I saw it—a beautiful
hand-knit stocking inscribed with the name “C-H-A-R-LE-
Y.” Knit by the same Mom who answered with the silent treatment
when I called to deliver the news of our special delivery.
Knit by the same Mom whose friends phoned to caution us
about adopting a child like this.

A child like this.

Different? Yes. 

Perfect? Absolutely.

Would she ever know how this moment would live forever as
part of me?

There was room in our family.
There was room in their hearts.
There was a Christmas stocking for Charley.

Charley, 28 years old