Summer's almost here, and I know it because A. is singing in her backyard. She lives next door to us and every year, she starts her solos around Memorial Day, usually in the early evening. I watch her from our back door. She stands beneath a giant oak tree, always alone. I'm never quite sure what she's singing, but her voice is clear and mesmerizing. She holds a microphone in her hand and raises it high at times, as if she is dedicating songs to God.
A. has Down syndrome. She is in her early twenties, and gives me the biggest wave hello whenever she sees me. She is the last of 16 children. After Max was born, I hoped that we might glean words of wisdom about raising him from her dad, Mr. R. Over the years, though, he's mostly just told us how impressed he is with Max's progress. "Hey there, Max, looking good!" he'd say from his front porch as Max wobbled by on his walker and then, later, on his adapted tricycle and these days, on the green tractor he drives like a demon.
I don't see A. that much. Every morning, our state's transportation service for the differently-abled arrives to take her to work shortly before Max gets on his yellow bus. I am not sure where A. works now. She used to help out at a frame store, but I think she switched jobs. I can always count on seeing her Halloween night, because she is a diehard trick-or-treater who seems to rack up the most candy in our neighborhood. Mr. R. is famous for giving out full-size candy bars.
Before I had Max, I felt sorry for A.
Now that I have Max, I don't feel sorry for her at all.
I notice how good her speech is and all the activities she loves to do, including playing croquet and growing a vegetable garden. I see how happy she seems, and how loved she is.
Our families are the only ones in the neighborhood with kids who have major special needs. I find it comforting to have A. next door. It makes me feel less alone.
I look at A. and wonder if I am seeing the life the future holds for Max. I'd like to know what Mr. R. and his wife have planned for her after they're gone; they are in their late seventies, maybe even early eighties. With all those siblings, surely one will be there for her.
Tonight, though, A. is singing in her backyard, I am watching her, and she is perfectly content.
It is good to have her there.
Can you understand why?