Friday, August 2, 2013

A Case of Mistaken Identity

"How old is he?"

I get this question a lot... as do most parents. I constantly have to remind myself that it's just a normal way to start a conversation with a mom. But I still feel like the answer requires an explanation. "He's 3," I begin, but knowing that he doesn't look or act like a typical 3-year-old, I always feel like I should say more. This time, though, I just leave it at that.

It's the 4th of July, and we are in the middle of the KidZone at Fair St. Louis. Monkey is waiting in line for his oh-so-stellar face painting job, and Mr. Fantastic is waiting with him. Lamb, Roo, and I are enjoying some music. For a brief moment, it seemed like a good idea to let Roo out of the stroller, and he is dancing up a storm.

"He's a cutie."

"Thank you. He's a lot of fun."

"Yeah............ it's been six times for me."

OK, now I'm confused. Six times for what? Wait a second... does this guy have SIX kids with Down's? How is that possible? How many are biological? Where are they? Wait... what?

"He's worth it, though."

My mind is reeling. What is he talking about?

"So don't give up, 'cause he sure won't." And then he walked away.

And that's when it hit me. He thought Roo had cancer. This guy has had CANCER six times. He came to encourage me, to give me hope for my little, bald boy.

I didn't know what to do. It seemed odd to chase a stranger down to say, "Thanks, but he doesn't have cancer." I decided that it probably did his heart good to pass along encouragement to someone else. I'm glad we could help him in that.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. Throw in one flooded basement, one long ride home, and we are back in the great state of Ohio (via Colorado), sitting in a mall food court. (Stop hating on my glamorous life.)

A lady at the next table keeps glancing up and smiling at my kids. I notice but don't pay too much attention. Roo is, after all, a total rock star with fans everywhere we go. After a few minutes, she finishes her lunch and leaves.

And then I feel a hand on my shoulder. It's her. "Are these your children?"

"They are," I say proudly. (Proudly because they are all sitting in their chairs, no one is crying, and they are eating like actual human beings, not puppies, as one or more of them is likely to do at any given moment.)

"They are so sweet," she tells me. Yes, they are. For now. But she has something else on her mind. "You... your family... you remind me of my son and daughter-in-law..." She chokes up. I immediately determine that she must mean that they have--or had, since she is teary--a child with Down's, and I smile kindly. She grabs my hand and says, "You guys are heroes." And as she walks quickly away, I realize that she has put money in my palm. Money. About enough to cover the kids' lunches.

And I realize that is has happened again. She thought Roo was showing the signs of chemo. And again, I'm left with the dilemma of the mistaken identity. Do I chase her down and give her the money back? Do I explain that "he's bald because his hair fell out", as my brother would say? I feel like that would be disrespectful to her, to whatever memory brought tears to her eyes as she spoke.

So I keep the money. And I decide that I will use it to pass kindness on to someone else.

It is a strange honor, this glimpse into people's hearts. They are entrusting me with a struggle, a vulnerability in their lives, a chink in their armor, under the premise of a common bond. And though it is built upon a mistake, a bond is in fact forged. I pray for these people, I am humbled by their gestures, and I will treat their stories with dignity.

Thank you for your encouragement, for your willingness to bridge the gap between us and share a piece of your heart. I hope that it brought as much comfort to you as it has to me.

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