I saw you with your frizzy red pigtails, freckled face and soaking wet yellow dress. I saw you watching my daughter. I saw you sitting near her, not too close, but close enough to watch her expression as she concentrated on watching the buckets fill with water and then pour down. Most kids would be standing under that water. Mine likes to watch from a distance. I saw you smile at her. And then I saw you look up at me.
You walked to me, shivering in the air. And you smiled this beautiful, crooked smile with your front teeth missing. I smiled back. And you sat next to me and watched my daughter again. Here is where I brace myself as a mom.
My daughter has down syndrome. She’s nonverbal and may be on the autism spectrum. She doesn’t know how to relate to other kids, sometimes doesn’t mind just watching others. Some kids watch it and ignore it. Some kids ask questions.
What is wrong with her?
Why doesn’t she talk?
Why is she mean? (if she pushes somebody too close to her out of the way)
Why is she yelling?
As her family we are used to these behaviors. The kids she has gone to school with for the past few years know her quirks. But new children are rarely accepting of a child with special needs. Especially when she’s 9 and doesn’t speak.
So I braced myself when you looked up to me.
“Is that your daughter?” you asked.
I said yes.
“What is her name?”
And with that reply you got off the bench and went back to sit by her.
“Hi!” you said brightly, plopping yourself on the cement right next to her. She looked at you, but instead of shrieking, she smiled back. You wrapped your arm around her and laughed as the water bucket poured down. She looked at your arm, and I stood up, expecting her to shriek and push you away. See, she generally doesn’t like being touched.
But my daughter like me sensed your beauty. Instead of yelling “no!” she did something amazing. She leaned in and hugged you back. And laughed as well. And I sat down again. You were too far away for me to hear your conversation. But I saw you talking to my girl. And not caring if she didn’t reply back. I saw you both laugh. I saw her touch your red hair and smile.
When your mom called you, you walked over to me wrapped up in a beautiful handmade quilt. I smiled again, as I was still speechless. Instead of me thanking you, you thanked me as your teeth chattered. “Your daughter was so much fun to play with! Have a great day!” you chimed as you started to run to your mom.
I’m sorry I couldn’t say thank you at that moment. But, you see, I rarely see friends with my daughter. You gave us the most beautiful gift that day. You gave us a day of making friends and laughing. For that I will always be grateful. And I hope I see your frizzy red pigtails again. This time I will make sure to thank you.