Tonawanda News

April 1, 2013

DOUBLE TROUBLE: A message to parents, from the mom of a kid who's different

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I was out somewhere with my older son last weekend, just sitting and hanging out on a rare mother-son snack date, when I saw her watching us.

My guess is that she was probably his age, or just a little bit younger. Now, I’m enough of a doting mom to admit that I think my boys are both pretty darned handsome (and they can be extreme flirts, too), but this wasn’t that kind of look. She was peering at him out of the corner of her eye, like she thought she was doing something she shouldn’t — like she was trying to figure him out.

Now, Jim’s a pretty typical kid. He fights with his brother, he loves school and he can be as stubborn as a mule. He sometimes talks back, and he slams his bedroom door when he’s annoyed with us.

But among his traits is the inescapable fact that, yes, he’s different. He has Down Syndrome. That’s simply a part of who he is.

He looks a little different. And sometimes he acts a little different, and there are things he can’t do — yet — that some other 8-year-olds (or even much younger children) can do with ease. It doesn’t faze him much. He’ll do it when he does it. And he doesn’t much care what people think about it. (I admire that about him, in a way.)

You can say “hi” to him. He might say “hi” back. He might not. He might ignore you, even when encouraged otherwise. You might get a giggle fit. You might get a blank look. It’s not personal. It’s just ... Jim.

She didn’t say hi. She stayed a few tables away, and just looked ... not disgusted, not upset, just curious. 

While she was watching him, I surreptitiously watched her. I wondered what she was thinking. I wondered what she knew, what she’d like to know. Maybe she was watching because she knew someone else with Down Syndrome. Maybe she didn’t, and she was wondering why he’s different.

(Or maybe she just thought he was cute. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

I wanted to tell her that it was OK. She could ask. We wouldn’t mind. But I didn’t know what her parents would think of that, or any conversation they might already have had, so I just smiled a little and returned to talking to Jimmy about fire trucks and milkshakes (two of his favorite things).

It’ll be a few weeks later when these words see print, but as I write this, it’s World Down Syndrome Day. It’s the second year the event has been officially observed by the United Nations, as part of a global awareness effort by Down Syndrome International and all of us who love and respect someone who has it.

The campaign is great, but people with Down Syndrome as more than that diagnosis. They’re artists, athletes, students, writers ... children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins ... friends.

I keep thinking about that little girl. I wonder what she thought, what I would have told her. Or what I would have told her parents.

Maybe that — as far as I’m concerned, anyway — it’s OK to look. I don’t mind. Neither does Jimmy. But when you do, remember that he’s more than a kid who looks, maybe acts, a little different, or at a slightly different level than his peers. He’s a son, a grandson, a nephew, a brother. He can be horribly charming, typically impish and annoyingly bratty. 

In short, he’s a kid.

Not so different from any other, no matter what he looks like.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at