My thirteen-year-old daughter, Sophie, has Down syndrome. With some assistance, she's kept up with her typical peers and is currently included in regular classrooms in eighth grade. Sophie's speech is really good, but she has fine motor challenges. Handwriting is tough for her; she still can't tie her shoes or ride a bike. She also can't button her skinny jeans, or do the buckle on her strappy wedge heels. Thank goodness for jeggings (although she'll only wear the expensive Lucky ones that look like real jeans). And those strappy wedges have a zipper down the back for easy off-on, which is convenient since Sophie insists on wearing them to school every day.
She wants to impress her boyfriend.
My teenage daughter still sucks her thumb and refuses to brush her hair, but she spends half an hour in the bathroom each morning with a giant leopard-print box full of makeup. She watches Peppa Pig and Saturday Night Live with equal enthusiasm, although her favorites are the YouTube tutorials about choosing just the right back-to-school supplies. Even though high school doesn't start for nine months, Sophie's ready.
Of all the things that have gone down with this Down-syndrome business — the surgeries, the orthotics, potty training at age five, hours of meetings to put her in regular classes at school and keep it that way — nothing has confounded me more than puberty, which has arrived right on schedule, and which Sophie has embraced with gusto.
Perhaps this is because of my own arrested development. I do not recall having a real conversation with a boy 'til graduate school. Wallflower was putting it mildly, and I was keenly aware of my status. I wore a frumpy, pale-brown shirtdress and clunky, wooden, it-was-the-end-of-the-'70s sandals to the eighth-grade graduation dance at my school, and I can still feel my heart pounding as I watched one of the cutest, most popular boys cross the room and stop in front of me (ME!) and ask me to dance. It was one of those slow-motion, underwater moments that seemed to last for days and that I'll remember forever. I said no thanks, positive it was a prank. I never did know for sure, and that's OK with me.
Contrast this with Sophie, who has no problem FaceTiming a boy fourteen times even after he's broken up with her. And get this — it works. The other day we were out running errands, and she looked at her phone, sighed happily, and said, "Sam texted me. He loves me and we're back together."
(By the way, Sam does not have Down syndrome. He's a pretty typical kid with a soft spot for mine. I'd be worried, except their time together is limited to lunch in the crowded cafeteria, or "dates" at Peter Piper Pizza, chaperoned by both his mom and me.)
I reached for the phone and confirmed:
Sophie: Boyfriend and girlfriend?
Sam: Sorry, I can't talk right now.
Sophie: It is fine. Boyfriend and girlfriend?
Sam: I do love u so much be my girlfriend.
It's like she's a witch (in the best possible sense).
Sophie's older sister shares my awe. Annabelle, 15, goes to a fancy charter school where she dances en pointe and reads The Iliad and Howard Zinn. Her idea of a fashion risk is pink Converse instead of white. On Saturday nights she stays home and bakes cookies, and at this rate is probably not going to have a serious conversation with a boy 'til she's in her twenties. Annabelle and I are constantly shaking our heads with envy at Sophie's ability to navigate her social world in ways neither of us can.