Sunday, April 01, 2007

Universal Travel Ambassadors: Down Syndrome

Our son, Dan, has Down Syndrome. Here he is, propping up his Dad at Special Olympics soccer.

Travel. Anywhere. Wherever we go, we see others like him - usually with the nod and smile of recognition, the stop on the walkway, the passing-by and then the return to hover at the table. We couldn't count the exchanges, the nods and thumbs-ups, that this everywhere situation so often produces. Dan literally opens doors. We usually find welcome, and enthusiasm - and somebody who wants to tell us where someone is in the village who is like Dan, and what that person means to them, and does there, where that child was planted. Rural Romania in a farm area local pub, Spain - a storefront offering services inside for Down citizens, in France where people came and sat down with us to talk of their niece, their child, sibling, uncle.

Our only significant negative came in Germany, where people with visible handicaps are hardly ever. I became accustomed to odd looks. We are an unusal couple. At an ordinary American hotel chain, however (never our first choice if local hotels have room) a German diner was offended that we were ushered to a place in the dining roomand spoke to the maitre d' - in French, in case we spoke German, I suppose --"Il n'est pas normale." Thank you, hotel, for placating her somehow and showing her back to her seat. But now I understand why they had walked us 'way to the back to begin with. Traditions get inbred.

Lady, lady. And Germany. Unclench yourselves and open your arms and maybe life can get in.

Dan's response: Questioning, wondering what he did wrong. Dan, who is a bagger at a supermarket, sometimes encounters someone having a bad hair day. He looked over as this little drama was going on (he does not know French except for the grey-poupon exchange). Our usual routine is to that bad hair days are all over the world, probably. And went back to our meal. He handles life pretty well.

Back home. America: The Princeton Inn. They also hustled us from the front door, quickly to the back, where there were high backs to booths, with the effect that we couldn't see out much, and noone could see well in. That was offensive, thank you, but not worth clenching about. Just don't go there.

Or better yet, everyone go there. And with a hey-down-a-down-dilly-down. This ivy league ivy strangled.