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Beverly Beckham

Smiles, songs for a granddaughter who is just right

By Beverly Beckham
March 1, 2009
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Five hours in a car. It's a long time for a 5-year-old to be confined. But Lucy never complained. Not a tear. Not a tantrum. Not even a pout.

My granddaughter was happy, listening to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," and singing along. She ate chicken fingers in a nice restaurant overlooking the water, then she was back in her car seat, singing again.

She and her mother and I were on our way home from New York City. We had taken her to see her 19-month-old cousin. We had been to parks and museums, bookstores, and toy stores. We had walked and shopped and eaten and played.

I was thinking about this, about what a great kid she is, when I walked into my house and read the cover of the Boston Globe Magazine, which had come while I was away: "Pregnancy and Down syndrome; the agonizing decisions." Lucy has Down syndrome, so I sat and read it.

I wish I hadn't. Its negativity made me question reality. Did I invent this perfect week with my grandchild? Lucy's smiles and her songs. Lucy reading books and running through Central Park, raising her glass of milk and saying "cheers." Lucy remembering to say "please" and "thank you" to every person who held a door or brought her food or handed her a ticket.

The article was about two families who were told that their unborn babies had a 1-in-6 chance of being born with Down syndrome. One couple continued the pregnancy, the other aborted. As background, the author, Dr. Adam Wolfberg, wrote that Down syndrome "results in mental retardation and often a host of medical problems." That prospective parents use early prenatal testing to identify a baby with the syndrome "so that they can prepare to raise a child who will have profound medical, cognitive, and behavioral challenges." And that a determination of Down syndrome is "like a lottery no one wants to win."

The words Wolfberg chose to use stung not just because they make sweeping generalizations. But because, before Lucy, I would have believed them.

You see things one way when you're on the outside looking in. But when you're on the inside looking out? All you see is a child.

Our family had hoped for a baby without extra challenges. Doesn't everyone? When Lucy was born, she wasn't healthy. She had holes in her heart. She needed surgery. And she had Down syndrome.

Negative words decimated us. You play them over and over in your head and you worry and watch and wait. And you miss so much that is good because you are a wreck anticipating disaster.

And then you stop worrying. You stop projecting and imagining and you look at this child in your arms, whom the world deems inferior, and you think how wrong the world is. And how perfectly right she is.

Lucy listens as Julie Andrews sings. Then she belts out in her raspy child's voice what is true for Cinderella but even truer for all children like her. "Impossible things are happening every day."

Beverly Beckham can be reached at bevbeckham@aol.com.

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