Monday, January 18, 2010

49. Bananas

Lunch in the dining hall at my alma mater. Catfish, sweet potatoes, squash - things sure have gotten healthier around here in the decade since I graduated. One of the cafeteria workers catches my eye. A grown man with Ds. I watch as he methodically, deliberately refills baskets of bananas at the fruit station. Students buzz around him.

Suddenly, everything is buzzing around me, too.

I wonder what it feels like to go to college every day, but not really go to college? What's it like to serve these students? Are they kind to him? Do they talk to him? Would I have talked to him when I was a student? I probably would have said hi.

I am captivated by this man. Why? He's just a man. Look away, take a bite. Look back. He doesn't see me. He's busy. I'm a jerk for staring at him. Look away.

Maybe Ozzie could work here one day.

I feel like I'm sinking. Look back at him. I'm Mr. Down syndrome now, why don't I go over and say hi? But what am I supposed to say? If I was him, would I want some guy walking up and butting into my life?

I bet he could tell me something profound. He could shine a light for me. Everyone could use a little more light. Maybe he and I could get to know each other. He might be really interesting. Look away.

My friends must think I look spaced out right now. I must be a terrible lunch companion. I'm not even here. I'm somewhere else, lost. Maybe they haven't noticed.

Look back. He's still there.

A lot of fruit passes through this joint, apparently.

Hell, why don't I just go over and say hi? I could use a banana. No, no.

This is ridiculous - why aren't I talking to him? Am I a fraud? Damn, man - I'm making this about me, and it's not about me, and it's not about Ozzie. I'll tell you why I'm not talking to him - because his life is none of my business, that's why. He's just a stranger doing his job. And I'm sitting here dissecting him like he's a lab frog. That's offensive. Look away.

Why am I so obsessed with him? What about these other cafeteria workers? Why don't I take interest in their lives? I bet they are so bitter, serving up these children of privilege day after day.

Oh come on dude, this is a state school.

Still, I bet these workers are bitter. But I bet he isn't. Look back at him. He's still at the fruit counter, just doing his job. He's so gentle with the produce. As a former produce clerk, I can appreciate that. Nobody likes the bruised fruit...

I'm such an ass.

How can one tiny chromosome wield such power over me?

He's a short guy.

I bet Ozzie will be short like that. That's a good height for Ozzie, really. It's the perfect height for me to put my arm around his shoulders as we stroll along the sidewalk.

That will be nice someday. Yes, someday, that will be nice.


Molly said...

I'm telling you. This is why we need a secret handshake or something. Because yesterday I saw a beautiful boy in a stroller/wheelchair and I wanted to say hi to him or his father. He had the sweetest face. and I wanted to say "Hi. you have a beautiful child" but I didn't. We need a secret handshake/fist bump

Anonymous said...

You have moved me. Very far this time.

TUC said...

I nominate this post for TPFFDSBB. And I agree with Molly, we need a secret handshake of some sort.

Mel said...

I was doing the same thing at the pool the other day- checking out this kid. Is he, isn't he? Yes, definitely. So when the mum came over I smiled at her and said hello to the little boy. She carried on, stole a look at my boy. Looked away. Looked back again. Looked at me. I nodded "Yep". So she stopped and we had a chat. It was nice.But the dance at the beginning is always the same!

Anonymous said...

I think it's kind of like in my 'retraining the inner snark' post... you see the potential for a connection, but in this case, it's not another parent or family member or friend with a kid with Ds, it's the person himself. And you're torn between comment #1 "hey I'm in your world" and comment #2 "hey your world is THE world and you shouldn't have a separate world" which of course we know is not always the case (see possible comment #1). 'cause yeah, he's just a guy doing his job. And that's awesome. But you see his uniqueness because you're in on it.

I feel your pain.

There's a guy who works at our local Costco with Ds. He knows where absolutely everything in the store is and is the most helpful employee in the whole place, I swear. I always try to be in his line (he does the re-packing of the cart after items are scanned) but I never know what to say to him besides the normal stuff I would say to anyone putting my groceries in my cart. And I guess that is just the way it should be. (I haven't ever gone through line with E along, though.)

How would you want someone to treat Ozzie if it were 20 years from now and he were the one standing there refilling baskets of bananas? Like something special, or like an ordinary guy?

and lastly *poke* don't be so hard on yourself, Dan :)

Hector and Jennifer Varanini Sanchez said...

Oh this post is all too familiar...I'm at the point where I have no problem now striking up a conversation with a parent who has a child with DS but when the actual person has DS? That's hard! It's just how you put want to respect their privacy and their independence but you also want to connect...SOOOO hard!

Lisa said...

I second TUC's nomination... all those in favor?

I so know how this feels. The juxtaposition of paying-no-mind and trying-to-connect are often both about respect for me. Out of respect I want to let people do their own thing without me being all up in their grill. But I also genuinely want to connect because everyone is valuable and I value relationships.

I can't wait to see the photograph of you and Oz walking down the sidewalk...

Yo Mamma Mamma! said...

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a 26 year old woman with Down syndrome who is fantastic on the computer (she is our self advocate on the Cincinnati DS Board.) Anyway, they are looking for more advocates for the advocates group they have. I told her that one of the guys that works at our Kroger would be really good - he's darling. I got up the courage to talk to him once, right after Vi was born - I told him he had something in common with my baby - they both have Down syndrome. Ya know what he said? "That's cool."

Anyway, my self advocate friend (who has a job, with benefits, fwiw) suggested that I ought to mearly go up to him introduce myself to him, and suggest that he be a part of the "Advocates at the Table" group with DSAGC. I keep chickening out. She's called me a chicken, and said "just go up and talk to him."

I can tell you, as a person with a child with Down syndrome, having an adult friend with DS is what we all should be doing...I've encouraged our group to have the adults with Down syndrome help out with the events for the babies. It gets them out of the house in social situations, gets us more exposed to them and offers good opportunities all around. They came to the Birth-5 Ice Cream Social that they had this summer, and it was a big success for all involved!

I love this post, Dan.

Anonymous said...

All of which you have spoken, I have felt too. My job at the Health Dept. gives me opportunities to meet and speak to children, youth, and adults who have down syndrome. What do I do? I try to treat them with the same respect that I would want someone to treat Ozzie. If the situation avails itself, of course I smile and speak, if not, I just watch and wonder about Ozzie's future. And so far, I have ended up feeling pretty good about his future. Does it hurt sometimes? Yes, dreadfully, completely, painfully etc.(add your own adjectives). But you know, none of us can see the future and none of us know whether our children or grandchildren will be working in the bananas or whether their life will take a different turn. Let us not forget that life holds miracles as well as disappointments and I hope all of you reading this will remember that!

Amy aka Mom (Dan's)

datri said...

Well, I'm a total Ds stalker. Although with adults I usually just say a friendly hello and leave it at that, like the bagger at our grocery store. I have to say, I do get a bit irritated at people who have children with Ds who swear their kids will never be a bagger, or janitor, or whatever job people see as menial. Because the young man who works at the grocery store seems very happy and takes great care in his work. Isn't that what we all want in a job?

Cheri said...

I love your comment:

"I bet Ozzie will be short like that. That's a good height for Ozzie, really. It's the perfect height for me to put my arm around his shoulders as we stroll along the sidewalk."

....Dan, you are a great dad!! I really enjoyed this post!

Sean Tevis said...

Blogger needs a "like" or "upvote" function. Alas, it does't so I'll just write it out:

I like this. A lot. :-)

Sally said...

Yeah, what they said. I've got tears from reading this. At the pool with my 'typical' kid, he wants to know who has DS. So he points and asks me 'that one? How about that one?' Sometimes I try to engage with the subjects of our attention but so far we haven't got past a smile. What if we all just started splashing each other and having a great time? I'm a chicken, maybe they don't want to be splashed.

I'm all for the secret handshake or hand signal.

オテモヤン said...


mom2graceaidenfinn said...

I'm new to reading blogs. My girlfriend sent me the link to a blog written by a mom who just gave birth to a baby girl w/DS, which was beautifully written, honest and so very familiar to me. (Our oldest child, Grace, has DS, and is 9 y.o.) And now I've found yours. I understand you, and am so grateful for the words you share-it's therapy
and yes...we do need a secret handshake!

Jules363 said...

I totally hear you on this one, Dan! Actually I hear you on just about everything you write. I was at the local shopping mall the other day, in the food court, and there was a group of adults with Down syndrome there, eating their lunch, with a few carers. I was trying (and I thought successfully!) to watch discretely, respectfully, but not to stare, how they are managing their lunch, are they chatting to each other etc. As I left, I walked past with a smile, and one of the carers gave me the foulest look! You see, I didn't have my 2yo daughter with Down syndrome with me, and she logically just thought I was staring. Perhaps she thought I was rude. I wanted to protest, "no, no, it's not like that!!" But I think I had already dug a big enough hole for myself!

Emily said...

dig it. dig you. thank you so much. i can't wait to follow you, and be inspired by you, and watch ozzie grow as i watch my sweet new ds daughter grow, too.