We’ve all experienced “the look” from folks whose mothers apparently didn’t teach them it’s not polite to stare. Sometimes it really bothers me. Sometimes not. Recently, I had the opportunity to unofficially analyze the look and figure out the difference…. for me!
I spent a day at the Bronx Zoo with my 3 beautiful children — two of whom share a birthday and an extra 21st chromosome each. People stared at us all day long!
I know that identical twins attract a LOT of attention. Add to that our BIG, red double-stroller and two beautiful boys with almond shaped eyes. We’re hard to miss. My guess is the twin-thing makes them look and the Down syndrome-thing makes them stare. Identical twins with Down syndrome is a rarity so it must be as surprising for others as it was for me initially…Still, manners are manners!
So here’s my analysis:
Scenario 1: Look, Recognize (the Down syndrome), Run: The “it’s not polite to stare” syndrome comes from folks who aren’t comfortable being around people with special needs. They think they know and have closed their minds to finding out the truth!
Scenario 2: Look, Recognize, Sideways Glance: Don’t be fooled by the “I’m not looking at your kid” ploy. They are — at them and me — and thinking (a) “WOW, She’s old!” (Exacerbated by my old-age paranoia); (b) “Those boys are too big for that stroller!” (Playing on my “I’m doing it all wrong” paranoia); or (c) “That poor woman [with those less-than-perfect kids]!” The “Better her than me” syndrome. (And, with an attitude like that, I agree, better me than her!).
Scenario 3: Look, Recognize, Engage: The “Embrace the World” minority! They say hello and ask outright, “Do your boys have Down syndrome?” Once confirmed, they (a) Regale me with tales of their well-loved relative with DS. (It’s an elite club, ya know!); (b) Ask intelligent questions about DS. (Education and an open-mind are a beautiful combination!); (c) Say, “Boy,YOU have your hands full.” (To which I respond, “All in good ways!”); or (d) Say, “You must be very special for God to have given you these kids.” These are “The Believers.” (And yes, I believe I am special… these amazing kids make me so… not vice versa!)
Scenario 4: Look, Don’t Recognize, Engage: The “Good-hearted” crowd. Unless they’re the ER Doc treating my boys for pneumonia, it doesn’t bother me that these folks don’t recognize that My Boys have Down syndrome because that also means they haven’t judged them! They engage because they think My Boys are worth their time. And they’re right!
Scenario 5: Don’t Look: Who cares?
So in the end, I discovered it’s not the look that bothers me. It’s the erroneous thinking behind the look. And, we parents of children with special needs have to figure out how we want to handle “the look” when it happens. For me, the closed-minded are barely worth the effort, but if I can catch their eye, I give ’em my “the truth will set you free” smile. It’s a start! For the mis/uneducated, there is no better education than meeting the face of Down syndrome up close and personal. I introduce The Boys and let the education begin. After all, seeing IS believing and My Boys can make a believer out of the biggest skeptic! I choose to engage and educate. That’s my gig.
So how will you address the look? Will you ignore it? Get angry? Or, will you engage and educate? Every LOOK is an opportunity.