I’m driving my daughter to preschool. She’s three. Today we’re supposed to bring in “beautiful things” – mostly things from the recycling. The directions are to bring things that are primary colors – red, blue and yellow.
As the parent of a child with Down syndrome, I am constantly afraid that my daughter will require extra attention, and that other parents will resent us – even as they smile their inclusive Portland smiles. I worry about my daughter even when it’s her classmate who flails on the ground, another who eats sand at the sand table. Then there’s the girl who takes off all her clothes to go to the bathroom and won’t put them on again. All of these – typical children. Still, I worry.
So when the teachers ask us to bring in our beautiful things, I dig through the closets. I open drawers I haven’t opened since we moved in. I go outside to the recycling bin, get a step stool and bend over digging through it like a giant raccoon.
I sit with my daughter on the rug and tell her about pri-mare-ee colors. She says “li-brar-ee colors” and nods, like, “got it.” I say pri-mare-ee colors are reeed, bluuue, and yellow. She says reed, bluuue, and yell-O, like it rhymes with “hello”. I get out the Legos and make three towers. I hand her a yellow and ask “Where does this go?” and she puts it on the yellow tower. I hand her a red and she puts it on the red tower. She picks up a blue Lego on her own and sticks it to the blue tower.
Just to make sure, we do this every afternoon for five days.
On Tuesday morning as we drive to school, I ask her what the primary colors are and watch in the rearview mirror while she answers. At school, I unbuckle her car seat and say, “What are the primary colors?” She says “red, blue and yellow”. Not even yell-OH, just plain old yellow, which makes me a little sad though I don’t know why.
We walk down the hall to her classroom. A strong suggestion by the school is that you promote your children’s competence by having them carry their own backpacks.
On both sides of us are dads with princess backpacks over their shoulders, moms with two backpacks and a purse in the crook of their arms. Since the first day of school, my daughter has carried her own backpack. I will not let her be seen not carrying her own backpack. And my daughter is barely bigger than a backpack. Promote competence? Check.
Does everyone see my responsible, competent child? Do you see her making it in typical preschool with two hundred of Portland’s most organic children? Do you see her here in the main stream, not off in some side stream, some trickle going nowhere?
We walk into the classroom and I tell the teacher that we brought our primary colors. If it were my son when he was three, I would have told the teacher that at first he called them library colors and we would have chuckled about how cute that was.
It’s cute if you’re a typical kid. If you’re a kid with a disability, it’s an expressive-language delay.
The teacher points to a table with a red, yellow, and blue bowl. “She can help me sort them.”
Okay, Sweetie, here’s our opening. Show them what you’ve got.
“Do you want to help?” I ask my daughter, trying to keep the stage parent out of my voice.
Her voice is clear: “No.”
“I’ll do it too,” I say. “Want to do it with Mommy?” This won’t be as impressive but it’s better than nothing.
C’mon honey, we’ve got this. We’re all over primary colors.
My daughter points to the puzzle area, where some brilliant educator has set out a new puzzle with a giant, happy, hyperactive clown face. My daughter points. “Clown puzzle.”
Her teacher moves her braid off her shoulder. “It’s fine if she doesn’t want to,” she says, which follows the school’s philosophy of letting children choose what they are interested in but which at this moment I interpret as her lowering her expectations.
I follow my daughter and her sudden interest in clown puzzles. “Mommy, sit,” she says, patting the chair next to her. I look down at this silly clown – and then over at the other kids sorting my recyclables, my ribbons, my spools of thread, the lid to my almond butter jar that I hadn’t even finished eating.
My heart is thumping. I sit, breathing in and out.
What exactly is the problem? Is it one I’ve created? My daughter is happy, the teachers are happy, the clown is super happy. That clown is on amphetamines. And…that is kind of interesting, now isn’t it? Yes it is, honey. No, I don’t know why his mouth is so big. No, your mouth is not that big. What color is his mouth, honey? Reeeeeeed.
I stay five more minutes before parents are supposed to leave. It’s not great. But it’s not terrible.