This season as I mulled over each habit or practice I should change, improve, or drop, I also gave thought to the wisdom my son Marcus shared with me last fall while we sat at our favorite coffee shop. 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 how folks look at and react to us because Marcus, my adult son, has Down syndrome, and 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.
That month a website called The Road We’ve Shared was preparing to “spotlight” Marcus. So while we sipped our hot drinks, I asked him a few questions, finding out some of his favorite things to include in the note.
I learned 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 PB&J 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! The majority of us with only 46 chromosomes tend to talk about being something, like some title or some job. “I want to be a manager,” “a chef,” “a rock star.” 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 or could never be (most of it was baloney). However one book, which I have sadly lost over the years, emphasized instead the concept of potential. As I remember it, people with Down syndrome, given the opportunity, will continue learning their whole life and have a much better chance of reaching their 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. Studies show that most people with Down syndrome are happier than the general public and are 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? Now is the perfect time to follow Marcus’ lesson.