Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I stared at an adult with disabilities, and wondered if I was seeing Max's future
I am sitting in the Whole Foods food court. I sometimes come here to work during the afternoon, when it's impossible to get stuff done at home. Sabrina is constantly by my side, wanting to go on the computer and mess around. Small wonder—she sees me on it all the time. "The Apple [computer] doesn't fall far from the tree," Dave likes to say.
So, here I am in Whole Foods. A woman's cleaning the tables. She has Down syndrome.
I watch her from behind my computer screen. She's pretty, with short, swingy brown hair, and precise in her movements: tear off two paper towels, fold neatly in half, spritz the table with cleaner, wipe in small circles.
As she sprays and wipes the tables, she is murmuring to herself and smiling. I wonder what she is saying.
I return my eyes to my computer screen, only I do not really see it. Because my mind is racing and I am thinking only about whether this is the sort of job Max might have someday.
This was not my plan for my child. Not that I had a specific plan, but it vaguely included brilliance, a top-notch college and a high-powered job. It did not include cleaning tables, mopping floors, pushing the mail cart around an office or other jobs I have seen people with disabilities doing.
Quit thinking like that, I command myself. How absolutely awful and demeaning to impose your idea of "success" on her. This is her job. It is a respectable job at a nice place. She takes pride in what she's doing.
Oh my God, if you write about this you might tick off the people with disabilities who read your blog. They will think you are slamming them.
But I am not slamming them. This is about a parent's latent grief. This is about letting go.
Seven years after Max's birth, I still mourn the loss of the child I expected, even though I love and adore the child that he is. And I think that is something you can only understand if you are a parent of a child with disabilities, not an adult with disabilities. Seeing an adult who's handicapped is a shock to the system, the same way I feel when the toy catalogs for disabled kids arrive in the mail, or when I am at the play area in the mall surrounded by kids clambering all over things and there's Max, struggling to climb a step. Except that seeing an adult who's disabled is even more unnerving; it is my fear of the future staring me in the face.
I have accepted Max the Child with disabilities; I have not yet come to terms with Max the Adult with disabilities. I will grow into it, I know, in the same way I grew to understand and accept Max's challenges. But right now, it is too difficult for me to grasp. And too painful.
I know that other moms have similar feelings. A reader recently e-mailed me about a friend of hers with a disabled kid who got livid when her son's counselor suggested that he could be a bagger at a supermarket.
I look up again and see her smiling sweetly to herself.
And suddenly, in the middle of Whole Foods food court on a sunny winter afternoon, I am getting choked up.
Stop it. Just stop it, I tell myself. You do not know how Max will turn out or what his abilities will be. Who knows what will happen. Whatever he is like, whatever his abilities, he will be OK.
And then, I am calm again.
And she is still cleaning: tear, fold, wipe.
And she is smiling again.
And she seems perfectly content.