Monday, June 20, 2011

running interference

I have a hard time stopping myself from preemptively running interference between my daughter and the world. I often find myself presuming the judgments that others make of her. I adopt a knee-jerk defensive posture, and I know this is the wrong thing to do. By doing so, I am complicit with the very notions that I want to keep her safe from, I insult others, and I injure her dignity.

Mary is 2 1/2. She was born two weeks late, the smallest of all my babies. She was perfectly and wonderfully made. She is bright. She is funny. She is very pretty. Sometimes, she is a little fresh. She loves doggies. She dances at prayer time, because she thinks we are singing. She is the joy and love and delight of her brothers and sisters. She is totally innocent. Mary has Down Syndrome.

My protective instinct about her trisomy is primarily in reaction to the abortive culture we live in, and has little to do with Mary. Sometimes I feel that when people see Mary, they don't see a unique and wonderful individual; a whole person. I hear "They are so happy, aren't they?" I hear "Did you know she had Downs before she was born?" The proverbial "they", as if another category other than human; less than human. The "testing" question, as if a test should have made any difference at all; as if it would have been perfectly fine if we chose not to have her. Don't they know? Can't they SEE her perfection? Don't they recognize the work of God? So, in instances when I don't need to say anything at all, I feel the need to address the elephant in the middle of the room. I want to pave the way for her, before people meet her, to make it a smooth meeting, and I want to dictate people's reactions to her. To tell them "you WILL love my baby." I want to make people accept and WANT people with Down Syndrome, all by myself. This is really all wrong, and it presumes the worst of people. I try not to do this, but don't always succeed, even though it undermines Mary on her own merit and God's handiwork. I don't trust. And that's just not fair.

Mary, upon meeting someone, looks up from shy eyes, as she backs away a little bit. Her wonderful belly juts out, and sometimes her hands come up, and she makes the sign for "mom", just for a little reassurance. Sometimes she waves, sometimes she claps, and sometimes she'll allow someone to hold her, but only with her head down on their shoulder, and looking the other way. She smiles, she runs, she hides and then peeks back around a corner. She laughs and yells and points. She'll lift up her shirt and advertise how wonderful her belly is. She'll bend in half and bellow, as if she has just heard the FUNNIEST joke in the whole world. And then, there are times that she's just, really, not in the mood to meet someone, and will cry, and only want Mom.

At the doctor's office, there are certain predictions and expectations for Mary. Sometimes she's just achieving them; sometimes she's far surpassed them, but generally speaking, the doc is usually impressed with her ability. I get to brag, there. I tout her accomplishments, cognitive skills, appetite, and physical prowess. And Mary gets to show off her belly for another audience.

In short, Mary is her own ombudsman. She makes people love her and respect her, all by herself. She needs to learn her own way in the world (though hopefully not any time soon), and she'll need to handle, or maybe not notice, anyone who might have a negative reaction to her. I need to make myself trust that Mary is witness to God and a reflection of His pure love. Mary already, in the little bit of time she's been on this earth, has opened up a world of love, acceptance, and humility to so many people. Mary is going to change hearts with each one that she touches. And she cannot do that with her mother running intereference.