Do you ever look back at the way you used to think and feel ashamed? Ashamed about thoughts you had, judgements you made, words you said?
When Smiler was a couple of months old he had an appointment at as children's centre in Clifton. I took Smiler on the bus in a sling, and sat in the waiting room, wondering how late the appointments were running. The door opened, and in came a group of five or six women chattering happily to one another, each with a baby or child in their arms. The youngest child of the group was snuggled into a bucket seat, fast asleep while her mother carried her past me and down a corridor along with the rest of the group.
I estimated the child as being between twelve and eighteen months - she had silky wisps of blond hair, a bunch of plastic keys clutched in a pudgy hand, and the facial characteristics of a child with Downs. I looked down at my Smiler baby, snoozing in my arms, looked back at the child being carried in front of me and thought 'at least he's not as bad as that'.
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The parents were taking their children to Sunbeams, kind of an invitation-only baby and toddler group for children with disabilities, to which Smiler was invited six months later. I saw that little girl often - even after we'd left Sunbeams we saw her around and about, as you do, and when Smiler started at Gateway Club, run by Mencap, we found she attended too. She's sixteen months older than Smiler, and does indeed have Downs syndrome.
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Every single time I see her, it hurts. I think because I have such a clear memory of comparing her to Smiler - we all know we shouldn't, but the reality is that we all do it, even if it's not a conscious thing. She was babbling at two, single words six months later, and speaking in sentences a year after that. She walked at three, toilet trained at four, mainstream school at five.
Day to day with Smiler, you just get on with it - you do all those things that need doing. Get him dressed, change his pad, translate what he says to people around him, catch him as he falls, help him eat, read stories to him in funny voices. And every time I see that girl, I notice. I notice all those things he needs help with, all the things we have to do for him. All the things that are so far out of his reach that that he doesn't even have any concept of them. All those skills he won't master. And it hurts all over again.
To that little girl, that day, I'm sorry about all those judgements I made about you in a split second.
To that mother, that day, I'm sorry that I looked at you and felt pity for your lot in life.
To that girl, today, I'm sorry about the hot flash of anger I feel towards you every single time I see you.
To that mother, today, I'm sorry for the sharp stab of jealousy that I feel every time we cross paths.
To my baby, my Smiler, every day, I'm sorry I couldn't make the world safe for you. I'm sorry you've endured so much pain, so much frustration, so much confusion. I'm sorry that I used to be as judgmental as the people I now battle with. I'm sorry.
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Thanks for reading, and I hope you have the chance to laugh today.