Rain drops hit the pool deck. It was sometime around 1980. A group of about 10 of us kids sat on our towels joking that we needed a sun dance. Troy jumped up, raised his arms to the sky, kicked his legs and danced like no one was watching. We cheered Troy on from the sidelines. Troy’s brother quickly grabbed Troy’s hand and walked him to the locker room. Even though I didn’t really know Troy or his brother, I knew Troy had Down syndrome. Beyond that, I knew next to nothing about Down syndrome. I knew Troy went to a different classroom at school. I knew there were many doors closed to Troy that were open to us. And I didn’t know, until years later, that I personally closed one of those doors on Troy that day.
When Wil was about 7 years old, he developed a fear of going to the dentist. Our dentist said he could no longer treat Wil, and recommended a dentist who specialized in working with children with special needs. I walked into her office with great enthusiasm. She was sure to understand our situation and work with us. Instead, she was brusque and barked orders. But I brought Wil back to her because she was the labeled expert. She became increasingly frustrated with Wil, and it took all my energy to convince Wil to walk into her office. She told me she would need to use the papoose to restrain Wil. I looked at her like she was some medieval sorceress. There had to be a better way. I took Wil’s hand and couldn’t get him in the car fast enough. I threw my sunglasses on so he wouldn’t see me cry. (Wil gets very upset when he sees people cry, especially me.) I blasted our Music Together CD and we sang songs the entire way home in my attempt to put the dental experience as far behind us as possible.
I took a chance and called our new local dentist, Dr. LaRock. I figured since he was building his practice, he might be willing to work with us. Dr. LaRock said he would do his best to get to know Wil and better understand his situation. He thought their dental hygienist, Wendy Carpenter, would be a good fit for Wil. Wendy blocked out a two-hour time slot for Wil’s first visit. She didn’t perform dental work, but used their time together to form a relationship and familiarize Wil with the equipment. Wil left the office asking when he could come back to see Miss Wendy and Dr. LaRock again. With Wil’s words, I breathed out my pent-up anxiety and about melted in a puddle of happiness on the spot.
“Every 6 months, Wil.” I said. “I’m so proud of you.”
Wil grabbed my hand. “Hey Mom, let’s run!”
“Hey Wil, I think today deserves a dance!” Wil is never one to turn down a dance. We danced down Main Street, waving our arms, kicking our legs, and spinning around like no one was watching.
That dance was for you, too, Troy. I’m sorry I chose to cheer from the sidelines rather than stand up and dance with you in the rain. Now, I’d never miss an opportunity to dance and throw open as many doors as I can. One of them is bound to lead to something good.