A few days ago I took Elias with me to the grocery store, to have some alone time with him. Alone time with my children is hard to find, I'm always grateful for it.
We went to the grocery store I’ve been taking him to since he was a baby. I remember those days. He was bundled close to my heart in my baby carrier. I would look down and see his little eyes peeking out as he would try to focus on the bright lights and blur of people walking by. I remember kissing his soft newborn fuzz on the top of his head while I would shop. I would stop and chat with the lady at the sample counter. We talked about a lot of things, but I didn’t tell her about my secret. Elias was quiet and comfortable next to my beating heart. No one knew that he had Down syndrome, I was still too emotional to talk about it. We strolled the aisles quietly. In those days, if anyone stopped to stare, it was because they wanted to see the precious face of a little baby finding comfort and protection next to his mother.
Over four years have gone by, and we are still wandering the aisles of the same store. Except Elias isn’t nuzzled under my chin in my baby carrier anymore. He is more independent and he knows what he wants. As we wander up the first aisle, we stop and talk to the sample lady. The same sweet lady that has been giving us little cups of cookies and hearing bits and pieces of our journey for the past four years. She puts a few extra cookies into the cup. Elias smiles and tells the lady, “Good job!” He admires the little cup in his hand, "Aww, cute..." And as loud as his grateful mouth can say it, he yells out a big, “Thank you!” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see heads turn. The sweet sample lady is blushing, she loves when Elias comes in.
I continue on with my shopping. I know my time is limited and there are only so many cookies in the little cup. Soon enough the last cookie is eaten and Elias, with his chocolate-coated lips, tells me he wants more. When I tell Elias to "Hold on," and "Let's finish our shopping," I know he doesn’t understand. I’ve just told my four-year-old son who loves cookies that he can’t have more, and he doesn’t know why. He looks me in the eyes and lets out a loud yell. The lady next next to me turns around to defend herself as she lets out a surprised whimper. This is when I pull out my confident mama-to-a-child-with-Down-syndrome skills. I speak slowly and quietly, but not too quiet because I need to reasure everyone whose necks suffer from whiplash after Elias’ yell, that everything will be ok. “No cookies right now, Elias, you have to wait. We’re almost done.” Then I turn on my playful side and try to distract Elias with the alphabet song. But since the song only has twenty-six letters, we have to sing it a few times.
Halfway through the store and a dozen more yells, I do a run by the sample counter to get one more cup of cookies. My heart just about melted into a puddle on the floor when I saw a little cup waiting on the counter for Elias. She smiled at me, and without words she let me know that she was proud of my son.
By the time we were ready to check out, Elias finished his last cookie and became frustrated again. My eyes moved quickly to find the checker that would be most patient with my son. I quickly scooted my cart around a few customers like an obstacle course, and let out a sigh of relief when I came to Elaine’s line. I feel safe with her. She has a connection with Elias. Over the last few years we’ve talked about her uncle who had Down syndrome, and how he was her favorite. I remember when she told me her uncle died. I began to cry unexpectedly and tell her how sorry I was. “It’s ok, he was a good man and he lived a good life,” she said.
So here I was, standing in front of a woman who values my son. She wasn’t scared of him or nervous being around him. She treated him like any child. Then she started handing him the groceries. One by one, he place them gently into the brown paper bags. After he carefully placed the food into the bag, he would smile and shake his whole body in anticipation for the next thing. I stood there in shock and just watched what was happening. As the line grew longer and Elias became happier, I tried to hold back tears.
Elaine wasn’t worried about holding up her line. She was more concerned with Elias. She loved him through his differences. His sounds that made other people irritated and uncomfortable didn’t bother her. She treated him like she loved him.
I will never forget the way that the sample lady and Elaine loved my son. Even if I told them, they will never know how my heart felt that day.