Translating for Lions. 1

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“If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I’ve always liked this week’s quote, because it can be interpreted in many different ways, all of which are right.

Over the past few weeks, Momma Bird and I have talked about  how rarely we noticed people with Down Syndrome until Little Bird came along.  In fact, I can recall only having one conversation in my entire life with an adult with Down Syndrome.  Our conclusion was that we only see what we are looking for.

This was one reason I was looking forward to our local  Down Syndrome Guild’s annual picnic – thousands would be (and were) in attendance.  Because I had only spoken with one adult with Down Syndrome in 40+ years of life, I set a goal for myself to meet, and have conversations with, as many adults with Down Syndrome as I could.

Momma Bird and I settled in at the “New Parent’s” table, where as you might imagine, the talk centered on parental coping techniques, the stress of dealing with newborns, surgeries, and increasingly horrific birth stories (seriously, all you doctors out there, get some bedside manners…y’all can be real [expletive deleted] when delivering a DS diagnosis at birth).

At some point, I realized that a young  man, who I’ll call “Joe”, and his Mom had joined us at our table.

“Finally,” I thought, “someone I can talk to  about something other than Down Syndrome.”

Joe was really easy to talk with – he was in his early 20’s, and we shared an interest in baseball.  “Joe” was also a member of a group of young adults with Down Syndrome who went out together to various sporting events, plays, etc.  “Joe” and I  chatted about Yu Darvish’s near perfect game last week, and a particular theater  in Dallas where, apparently, it was expected that the audience throw popcorn at bad acting.

As much as I wanted to hear “Joe” talk more, the conversation became very labored.  Not because of “Joe” or me, but because of his Mom.

She would frequently jump in to finish his sentences.  At first, I thought she was trying to ‘translate’ what he said – as if she expected that I might be having difficulty understanding his speech.   “Joe” had no difficulty speaking, and I had no difficulty understanding him and so his mom’s behavior was even more perplexing.

It took a few minutes, but then it became clear  –  “Joe’s” mom was trying to  make “Joe” sound more insightful, more poignant, or perhaps more memorable, by dressing up his actual words and substituting them with her own.  I am not entirely sure she realized she was doing it.  “Joe”, however, did notice.  I shared a knowing smile with him, as he rolled his eyes at yet another maternal interruption.

Interruptions aside, the brief conversation I had with “Joe” was one of the more pleasant conversations I’ve had with another guy in a while.  There was no posturing, no assessment of motives, or race or class, or what-have-you. It was just talk.

I was doing just fine talking with this lion, until someone else decided I could not understand him.

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