I took Tessa on an all-day shopping trip with my friend and her daughter over the weekend. It was my first time taking her, but I knew she would do fine. Even though I knew there was a chance for major over-stimulation, I also knew that she would appreciate all that she would see and do that day. After a rough car ride, we made it to Kohl’s to do our first round of damage.
That is where it started. Tessa has been in my life for almost three years now so I am used to this but I still notice every person, every time.
I pushed her in the cart through the store catching your stares out of the corner of my eye or right in front me. I notice the whispers as you thoroughly glance her over. Here is a cute child…you are certain she is a girl…but then you see her hair. The questions and possible scenarios begin piling up in your head. I see your analyzing and personal assessments begging to know more about the child jabbering away in my cart. I caught the half-hearted smiles and the sympathetic ones, too. But I pushed her through, asking her if she thought that green shirt was cute. She did. I put it in my cart and bought it, too.
So clearly can I see what you are thinking. They are the same faces I would see when people noticed that she had Down syndrome the first two years of her life. “There is something different about her. Look, but don’t look too long,” they say to themselves. Only now they see the bald headed child with Down syndrome. Thankfully I dress her in lots of pink and purple and girly attire when we go out to help with the gender-confusion. It doesn’t help.
I saw you, too Dad of the teen daughter as you very specifically turned her into a different rack as we walked near you.
I saw the young child with his head curiously slanted, “does her mom cut her hair like that?”
The elderly women often confronting me, “is it a girl?”
“Does she have cancer?”
“How is she doing?”
“Why did this happen?”
“What did she go through?”
I noticed the man at Chili’s lean away from her as she reached out to touch his shoulder.
I know when someone thinks she is adorable. I know when pity is being cast through a glance.
I watch the blank stares and double-takers.
“WHAT IS HER STORY?”
I see those who have been there and those “who can’t imagine…”
You think I did not see you, but I did. I always do.
I am not mad at you for looking. I am not mad at you for staring. I have been there. We’re human. I am also not mad that you turned away. I get it that you think we are different. Not entirely, but I sort of get it. I get that we might be uncomfortable to pass by…for whatever reason. But we carry on anyway.
I have studied these looks her entire life. I have exchanged them myself. I know. I know you want to know more about her. I know you are concerned. I witness the unknown draw curiosity to you at light speed. I smile as I watch you struggling to decide if you should say something to me or if you should let us be. We carry on normally. In order to help you solve a little bit of the mystery, I let you know that she is great by interacting with her as I would any other time or place. And I don’t say a word to you. She usually asks for a high-five or knuckles. She always says, “Hi” and blows a kiss.
For a moment, you smile. Your questions and your concerns subside.
You will think of her later. She has that affect on people.
And if you see us again, you can say “Hi.” You can talk to us. We are happy to share her story. We are happy to meet you.