When I was pregnant with Moxie, I heard that “Down syndrome kids are just angels“, heard an awful lot about this “happy”, eternally “angelic” disposition that are the supposed trademark of those with an extra chromosome, right along with the ubiquitous (and to me, smotheringly condescending) piece about “special babies for special mothers.”
Having a child with Down syndrome being my greatest fear, these nuggets of cliched wisdom did more than nothing for me; they depressed me right down into a hole of near-despair.
The interesting thing?
In my small town of Alameda, there were only two people with Down syndrome that I could see. One was a cigarette-smoking drunk and the other was a member of a motorcycle gang. The guy in the gang just sat with this people, clad in his leathers and bandana. I’d walk by him and steal long looks, wondering if something like that was in my unborn baby’s future? I didn’t mind it so much; he seemed to be quite collected, reserved but when he talked, he spoke without hesitation. I liked that.
The other guy…well, that was harder. I wouldn’t want a lot of drinking or smoking on anyone, least of all my children – I know firsthand after all, what a wreck it makes of your body, how unhappy you are inside.
Fast forward two years.
I haven’t seen the guy with the motorcycle gang in quite a while but the guy who was a drunk has cleaned himself up quite a bit. He’s still very public, very present in the center of Alameda. He doesn’t reek of alcohol anymore. I don’t know if he’s quit drinking or just toned down but he seems to be pretty happy and has a job holding signs and dancing – which he rocks.
The other day we went to get some ground coffee from Peets. He was in there, and while I was taking Micah to the bathroom, he approached Mikey and Moxie…“excuse me,” he said, “your daughter…” and here, Mikey said he looked very nervous, very worried, “does she have, does she have Down syndrome?“
Mikey said yes.
And William (because that is his name) just lit up and said, “YES! I knew it! I thought I could tell!” When I came out of the bathroom, and approached, saying, “hi”, he said, “your daughter! She has Down syndrome!” and I had to laugh. “Uh huh! Yeah, she does!” I said and he all but happy danced, “me too! I do too! I could tell in her face!“
I asked if he’d like me to take a photo of them together and he was psyched. I was going to place Moxie in his arms for him to carry and he backed away a bit, “I’ve never held a baby” – he wanted her placed on the ledge and for him to be standing beside her. So that’s what we arranged.
After, he asked if I’d send the photos to him. I said “sure! What’s your email address?” and he grew a bit impatient with me and finally, saying “here,” took my iPhone from me and starting fiddling with it. I got nervous (my iPhone! my lifeline!) and then I saw that within the span of a few very brief minutes, he’d set himself up as a contact complete with photo and sent all the photos he wanted to himself, I started to glow. He totally made my day. He knew how to use that iPhone better than me.
While he was sending the photos we had taken to himself, he also chose a few of just Moxie that he saw and liked while scrolling through my photos on my phone.
That made me laugh too. And made me pretty glad that everything on my phone is so clean and okay for stranger-viewing.
Relatively speaking, anyway.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.