Wil double-stepped down the broad concrete steps. He paused. Then he threw both arms back, hinged forward at the waist, and propelled himself over the last step. Mid-air he hollered, “Jump!”
He landed flat-footed and straight-legged.
Dang, when will he ever bend his knees?
“Mom, jump!” He yelled.
I exaggeratedly swung my left arm back, but kept my right elbow tucked in tight to protect a cup of lidded coffee. I jumped and landed softly with bent knees, then lifted my right arm in an effort to match the flow of my coffee. A deep brown dribble of coffee escaped the small hole in the lid and slid into the rim. I sipped it from the rim and raised my cup to Wil.
“Woohoo!” He yelled.
“Woohoo!” I yelled back.
“They are angels.” A woman said. I spun around. She sat on one of the ornate ice cream parlor chairs in front of the coffee shop. She was dressed in full-on Kelly green. I could barely discern where her shirt ended and her pants began.
“I’ve worked with many Down’s people. All angels.” She said.
I heard Elizabeth and Katherine, as clearly as if they were there, burst out in laughter. Then in my mind I heard Elizabeth say, “Does an angel throw your favorite comb down the heat vent?”
My mom-mind immediately targeted the woman’s lack of person-first language. But like Wil’s straight-legged landing, a correction would have stolen the meaning of the moment. The woman clearly cared about the person; she cared enough to reach out to a stranger and share the ultimate compliment.
So I smiled. I listened. Then Wil got antsy. I wished her a blessed day.
Still, her comment sat like a lead ball in the pit of my stomach. I needed to reach down deep, lift it up and roll it around until I could identify what the weight meant to me.
Then I saw it…she had put individuals with Down syndrome in a box. It was a beautiful white-feathered box placed on the very top shelf, with the utmost care and kindness; but it was still a box.
I realized I had put myself in a box too; labeled: to educate or not to educate. It’s a grown habit that becomes ingrained over the years of hearing stereotypes both well-meaning and not. Of watching your child reach milestones in micro-moments, so even the slightest bend in the knee does not go undetected.
But sometimes moments are meant to be moments. Moments to take a leap and land just the way you are. Moments to accept a stranger’s kindness by her intent rather than her words. Moments to unravel what sits heavy with you, unwrap it and let it go.
If there was an angel that day, it was one who whispered the vision of Katherine and Elizabeth in my mind; filled with laughter and words to match the moment and burst open the box.