Thursday, April 9, 2009

19. Secret Agent

I had a brush with Down syndrome at the grocery store the other day. I was waiting in line to check out, and a young boy with DS was in line with his mother in the next aisle. At first he had his back turned to me, but somehow I instantly knew he had DS. As his mother was paying, he turned around and saw me and my cart piled high with food. Apparently it sang a siren song, because he walked right over and announced that he was going to help me. He pushed my cart back and got between it and the register and started unloading it with an eagerness and determination I rarely see from a cashier. To be clear, he was not an employee, he just really wanted to help. It was touching and comical and sort of profound for me – I felt like I could be looking at my own son in 15 years. Moments like that tend to hit like a punch in the gut in way I can't fully express in words.

Anyway, his mother finally saw what was happening and rushed over to convince him to let my cashier handle it. She apologized to me and thanked me for being generous enough to allow him to handle my food. I tried to tell her it was absolutely no problem, and I smiled a big smile and watched them walk away. The boy hugged the manager as he walked out.

So here's the interesting thing: I wanted desperately to tell her she had no idea how much I understood, but I didn't really know how to tell her that my own son has DS. I just couldn't fit it into that brief encounter. I looked for her as I walked out of the store, still not sure what to say but wanting to say something. But I didn't see her.

On the way home I tried to think about exactly what I should have said. I settled on "It's perfectly alright, I have a son just like him."

As I thought about it later, I was struck by how often I now feel like a secret agent - no one knows my true identity. It's irritating that we DS parents can't identify each other when we aren't with our kids. We need a secret handshake or something. Maybe I'll invent one.