Marcus and I sat beside each other at our favorite Scooters coffee shop to write. We’re regulars at one particular Scooters, where they are nice to us. The general public, on occasion, puts me on edge. You see, I’m a bit paranoid and particularly attentive to who’s nice to us because Marcus is my adult son and he has Down syndrome. The patrons and employees at this Scooters tend to acknowledge Marcus but not bristle, are nice but not patronizing, a surprisingly tricky balance for some.
Because October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, a website we are a part of called The Road We’ve Shared is preparing to “spotlight” Marcus. So while we sipped our hot drinks, I began asking him a few questions, finding out some of his favorite things to include in the note.
I learned from my questions that Marcus’ favorite Muppet is Walter (the new guy). His favorite pop song is “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons, and his favorite food is peanut butter and jelly. (Of course, I knew that last one. He makes at least one a day, it can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner.) As I typed up his replies, I sat a little surprised at his quick answers because historically, Marcus doesn’t pick a single favorite, usually he answers with, “A-bunch.” But this day, he popped out answers easily and wanted more questions when I was done. It had become The Favorites Game. “All right,” so I continued.
When I got through all of the favorites I could think of, I asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s one of my go-to questions to ask anyone, regardless of age.
Marcus blinked once and said, “Myself.”
Somewhere in my brain I heard a snap. By Jove – he’s right! Frankly speaking, those of us with only 46 chromosomes, tend to talk about being something, some title, some job. Wouldn’t it be neat if, instead, we said to ourselves – When I grow up, I’m going to be myself. The most true and best possible me. Holy cow!
When Marcus was born, I was bombarded with strangers telling me what he would never do. (Most of it was Baloney.) However one book, which I have sadly lost over the years, emphasized instead the concept of potential. A person with Down syndrome, as I remember it, given the opportunity will continue learning their whole life and have a much better chance of reaching his or her potential than many of us “normal” folks, who pretty much plateau on the learning front after age 18. Marcus is 24 and still learning all the time. I am amazed at the new concepts he embraces or new skills he attains.
Here’s something else to consider, surveys show that most people with Down syndrome tend to not only be happier than the general public but also happier with themselves and who they are. It’s only speculation as to if this is inherent in the genetics. Nature or nurture, we can learn from this attitude.
My job as a mother is to help Marcus become the best possible version of himself. I do this by encouraging his strengths and his creative nature. I try to enable further opportunities to learn and embrace new skills. I also am working on doing better at letting go, not my strength, and allowing him more independence as reaches for it. (Harder some days for me than for him.)”Go ahead, Mom,” he says, “I do it myself.”
My job as a human is to become the best possible version of myself. There is no one better than Marcus to teach me how to do that. When I vent to my husband about people’s actions I have seen or read, Marcus gently reminds me, “No one is perfect, Mom.” When I don’t know what to say to a friend in pain, Marcus responds to them with only a hug. The best and right answer, of course. When I’m too self-conscious to dance, he dances anyway.
How about you? What are you going to be when you grow up? Try the answer, “Myself.” Where would that take you next? Are you walking that path? It’s another good day to follow Marcus’ lesson.
Bio: By day Mardra Sikora balances a patchwork of community, advocacy, work and family. Also by day she writes. You can find more on her blog Grown Ups & Downs, on Facebook, and her favorite hangout, Twitter.