Monday, September 15, 2008

Revelation at the creek

"Hi guys!" With that greeting, a fit teenage boy suddenly jumped into the water beside us.

The Tank and I had taken Caden to a creek that runs through a local park along with the Tank's father and brother. Caden likes to sit in the shallow water in the shade and throw stones into the creek. Sometimes he breaks out his engineering skills and builds a dam but today we were just doing the stone-throwing thing. He finds it particularly hilarious when a big round rock pitched just so makes a deep kerplunk sound as the water swallows it.

When this young teenager jumped in to join us, I was really caught off-guard. I hadn't heard him approaching and he seemed to come out of nowhere to play with us. But more than that, I was surprised to recognize him. This was the young man with Down syndrome I had spotted at the pool a couple months back (see post here). I distinctly remember being impressed with him that day, swimming and diving alone, tall and fit for his age. Now here he was talking about the new Incredible Hulk movie to the Tank as if they were long-time pals. I looked around to see who might have brought him to the park and there was his mother approaching us. My heart rate started rising with anticipation. I feel so indebted to the parents who have gone before us for they are the ones who demanded proper medical care, education, inclusion and respect for children with Down syndrome and this has made our journey with Caden that much easier. I always want to reach out, say thank you, borrow some advice and yet not come across as some random crazy lady when I meet other parents.

She unfolded a camping chair close to us and said "Whenever I bring my son here, I have to allow at least 2 hours. He loves to play in the water." I jumped at the opening. "Me too! That's my son there." I pointed, hoping she would notice Caden also had an extra chromosome. Of course she did. We shook hands and half an hour later I'd learned that her son was 19 years old and was the first child with special needs to receive an inclusive education in my school district. Ever. She said she had to fight every step of the way but she had made it happen. She was obviously a strong advocate and very committed to presenting her son with numerous and varied opportunities. He was the first child to take gymnastics at the same location where I have Caden enrolled, coincidentally. They tried therapeutic horseback riding, aquatherapy, even music therapy which Caden also receives. Her son has a gym membership with a personal trainer and will be a junior in high school. We discussed medical care, community acceptance, and even shared how we dealt with the initial diagnosis. I carefully observed her son, how he interacted, how he spoke, how "normal" he seemed talking to my single brother-in-law about girls.

I began to feel lost in time. Would I be this woman in 16 years and did she see in me her 16 year journey to this moment? I felt a karmic torch being passed and was overwhelmed with emotion. My heart soared and because I didn't want to cry in front of her (again that random crazy lady paranoia), I told the Tank it was time to go. I thanked this amazing woman for her time, for sharing, for the inspiration, and most importantly for going before us. She looked a little surprised and gave me a what-did-I-do look. She had just been doing what was best for her son, never anticipating it might impact other lives. I squashed the urge to hug her and waved goodbye. "Bye guys!" her son called after us as cheerfully as he had first greeted us.

I couldn't help but look at Caden and think "Wow, buddy, we have some big shoes to fill." But those big shoes blazed the trail for us and I will silently thank them every step of the way while hoping we can do a little trail maintenance ourselves for those who will follow.


Kristi Mantoni said...

I'm crying reading this. I can't imagine how you kept it together!

Sharon said...

I read this post when you originally wrote it and have thought of it often since then. It is hard to fully comprehend what the parents who have gone before us had to do in order to give our children the care and opportunities that they have today. My hope is that I will be able to do my part to better our childrens lives as well.