October is Down Syndrome Awareness month. It’s also the month which sees the fantastic Baboro Children’s Festival take place here in Galway. This is the first year since 2011 that I haven’t been working at the festival and the first time in two years that Mini hasn’t been its (unofficial) poster child but it’s still something we greatly enjoy. We have a fun family day out planned for the weekend( the Frenchman has a rare Saturday off!) where we have lots of Baboro activities planned but on that was still a whole week away and I was determined to put the week from hell (mortgage rejections, vomiting bugs, teething babies, with a side helping of sleepless nights) behind me so off we went to Limerick (I’m also broke and payday is still half a month away!) to visit Granny and Grandad and the inaugural kiddies festival, Bualadh Bos.
We got to check out a lovely little play in the Lime Tree Theatre in Mary Immaculate College as part of the festival. This was my alma mater but I hardly recognise the place-such is the impressive upgrade it’s received in the (cough) number of years since I was a student.
Sweet Hands, Spicy Feet was the play we were off to see. It was a play weaving stories and music from the Caribbean. I was advised upon entering the door with wriggly baby in one arm and runaway toddler straining to pull away from my other arm, that I needed to be mindful of Mini that she wasn’t “too vocal” as it was a play for young babies. The steward delivering the advice was pleasant enough but I was instantly plunged into an a state of high anxiety. I knew already that keeping the two minis seated for the whole performance would be a hard enough task to complete successfully. Short of gagging her, I couldn’t think of another way to keep Mini quiet.
My anxiety grew as we removed our shoes and took our seats on the soft bean bags. Mini was instantly attracted to the percussion section.
“Look a big girl”, exclaimed one of the mums. Again not in a malicious way, just the kind of observational discourse we have with our babies as we teach them about their surroundings. It made my anxiety kick it up a few notches and my horrible way of comparing Mini to other kids. I know this is futile and silly and I thought I had finally put this behind me but it seems I just can’t help myself. Especially when listening to the babies “chatter” on either side of me. Mini’s babbling was not unlike that of the much, much younger kiddies. I watched as a child of about fifteen months pointed out different things in the room-butterfly, girl, boy, mammy, daddy. Mini is slow to spontaneous speech like this. Most of her talking is concerned with requests-banana, please, thank you, ice cream, Peppa Pig, etc. She will point out people she knows in photos-Papa, Mama, baby (her and her sister!) but it’s far from real conversation.
She’s also quite the wanderer and when the performers made an announcement that we were waiting on two more audience members to arrive, my heart sank a little.Would I be able to get her to stay seated for the whole performance?Deciding to hedge my bets and leave her to her own devices until the latecomers arrived proved to be the best choice. I let go of my grip on her and left her up to the performers where she launched into a big spiel of Mini-ese to the whole room. One of the performers described her as the stage manager, inspecting the set up, at which point Mini nodded her head, gave a big round of applause and came to sit back down next to me. The audience loved this and when Mini went up for a second time to inspect the percussion section, and point at the musician, he obliged with some music to which she responded with an even greater round of applause, as did the audience.
She was as usual the centre of attention as we waited for the final ticket holders to arrive. It reminds me of the unique contribution people with Down syndrome can make to our every day social interactions. Nobody could quite understand what Mini was saying but she made a positive impression on everyone who cheered along with her. It was another way of looking at things and a different way of connecting with people rather than the conversational norms, whatever they are!It was lovely and instantly banished my anxieties at having brought a child with “special needs” to a public performance.
It reminded me of that great Maya Angelou quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I can’t think of a more positive statement for Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Baboró continues to run at various venues around Galway until Sunday 19th October.